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Mao remains a controversial figure and there is little agreement over his legacy both in China and abroad. He is regarded as one of the most important and influential individuals in the twentieth century. He is also known as a political intellect, theorist, military strategist, poet, and visionary. Supporters generally credit and praise him for driving imperialism out of China, having unified China and for ending the previous decades of civil war. He is also credited for having improved the status of women in China and for improving literacy and education. In December 2013, a poll from the state-run Global Times indicated that roughly 85% of the 1,045 respondents surveyed felt that Mao's achievements outweighed his mistakes.
His policies resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people in China during his 27-year reign, more than any other 20th-century leader; estimates of the number of people who died under his regime range from 40 million to as many as 80 million, done through starvation, persecution, prison labour in Laogai, and mass executions. In spite of such shortcomings, supporters respond that life expectancy, education, and health care improved during his period of rule, and state that he rapidly industrialised China; however, others have claimed that his policies, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, were impediments to industrialisation and modernisation. His supporters say that his policies laid the groundwork for China's later rise to become an economic superpower, while others state that his policies delayed economic development and that China's economy underwent its rapid growth only after Mao's policies had been widely abandoned. China's population grew from around 550 million to over 900 million under his rule while the government did not strictly enforce its family planning policy, leading his successors such as Deng Xiaoping to take a strict one-child policy to cope with the human overpopulation. Mao's revolutionary tactics continue to be used by insurgents, and his political ideology continues to be embraced by many Communist organizations around the world.
There continue to be disagreements on Mao's legacy. Former party official Su Shachi has opined that "he was a great historical criminal, but he was also a great force for good." In a similar vein, journalist Liu Binyan has described Mao as "both monster and a genius." Some historians argue that Mao was "one of the great tyrants of the twentieth century", and a dictator comparable to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, with a death toll surpassing both. In The Black Book of Communism, Jean Louis Margolin writes that "Mao Zedong was so powerful that he was often known as the Red Emperor. ... the violence he erected into a whole system far exceeds any national tradition of violence that we might find in China." Mao was frequently likened to China's First Emperor Qin Shi Huang, notorious for purportedly burying alive hundreds of scholars, and personally enjoyed the comparison. During a speech to party cadre in 1958, Mao said he had far outdone Qin Shi Huang in his policy against intellectuals: "What did he amount to? He only buried alive 460 scholars, while we buried 46,000. In our suppression of the counter-revolutionaries, did we not kill some counter-revolutionary intellectuals? I once debated with the democratic people: You accuse us of acting like Ch'in-shih-huang, but you are wrong; we surpass him 100 times." As a result of such tactics, critics have compared it to Nazi Germany.[b]
Others, such as Philip Short in Mao: A Life, reject comparisons by saying that whereas the deaths caused by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were largely systematic and deliberate, the overwhelming majority of the deaths under Mao were unintended consequences of famine. Short stated that landlord class were not exterminated as a people due to Mao's belief in redemption through thought reform, and compared Mao with 19th-century Chinese reformers who challenged China's traditional beliefs in the era of China's clashes with Western colonial powers. Short writes that "Mao's tragedy and his grandeur were that he remained to the end in thrall to his own revolutionary dreams. ... He freed China from the straitjacket of its Confucian past, but the bright Red future he promised turned out to be a sterile purgatory. In their 2013 biography, Mao: The Real Story, Alexander V. Pantsov and Steven I. Levine assert that Mao was both "a successful creator and ultimately an evil destroyer" but also argue that he was a complicated figure who should not be lionized as a saint or reduced to a demon, as he "indeed tried his best to bring about prosperity and gain international respect for his country."
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