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China Observes Mao's Birthday With Mixed Feelings

China held scaled-back celebrations Thursday for the 120th birth anniversary of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People's Republic of China.

President Xi Jinping and the other six members of the Communist Party's elite Politburo Standing Committee marked the occasion by paying respects at Mao's mausoleum in Tiananmen Square.

The Xinhua news agency said Mr. Xi and the other leaders bowed three times in front of a statue of the revolutionary leader, recalling what it called his "great achievements."

But in a speech to party leaders, President Xi acknowledged Mao made mistakes, even though he said the country's founding leaders should not be judged based on today's standards.

Mao's supporters say he helped free China from foreign influence, pulling it out of chaos to create a unified country.

Others blame him for the deaths of tens of millions as a result of controversial social experiments such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Since his death in 1976, the official government position has been to recognize Mao's contributions as 70 percent positive and 30 percent negative.

A poll by the state-run Global Times this week suggested Chinese view him even more positively than that, with 85 percent of respondents saying Mao's merits outweigh his mistakes.

Even still, those critical of Mao's legacy seem to be increasing. The Global Times poll suggested the younger and more educated are less likely to revere the revolutionary leader.

Confronting the socialist elements of Mao's legacy is also complicated for Chinese leaders, who have undertaken a series of market reforms since his death.

To deal with this contradiction, Beijing has referred to China's hybrid form of economy, as not just socialist, but "socialist with Chinese characteristics."

The reforms have brought great wealth to China, but they have also come with a rise in corruption and waste that has prompted a fierce public backlash.

Reflecting these sensitivities, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for solemn, simple and pragmatic celebrations to mark Mao's birthday.