Communist China's president Xi Jinping yesterday acknowledged its founding father Mao Zedong made "mistakes", as admirers celebrated the 120th anniversary of the late leader's birth with noodles and fireworks.
Mao is the centrepiece of the ruling party's pantheon and commands reverence among many Chinese, including some frustrated by the current state of the nation, but is also condemned by those who say his political and economic campaigns caused tens of millions of deaths.
The combination left authorities looking to mark the occasion with a tricky balancing act.
"Mao is a great figure who changed the face of the nation and led the Chinese people to a new destiny," Xi said in Beijing, according to the official news agency Xinhua.
But he added: "Revolutionary leaders are not gods, but human beings. (We) cannot worship them like gods or refuse to allow people to point out and correct their errors just because they are great.
"Neither can we totally repudiate them and erase their historical feats just because they made mistakes."
Xi -- who has regularly cited Mao's theories -- and six other top-ranked leaders visited Mao's mausoleum in the morning where they bowed three times to his statue and "jointly recalled Comrade Mao's glorious achievements", Xinhua said.
The 12-decade anniversary has a special resonance in China, which traditionally measured time in 60-year cycles.
Near Mao's childhood home in Shaoshan, in the central province of Hunan, thousands of fans stood through the night and praised the founder of the People's Republic, who led the country for 27 years until his death in 1976.
Mao's sometimes autocratic rule remains a divisive topic in China, where the Communist Party's official stance is that he was "70 percent right and 30 percent wrong". Mao's "Great Leap Forward" is estimated by Western historians to have led to as many as 45 million deaths from famine, and his Cultural Revolution plunged China into a decade of violent chaos.