Mao Zedung was born to a farming family in the Hunan Province in 1893. After witnessing the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the early years of China's awakening nationalism, he served briefly in the Hunan Republican Army.
Here, Mao came into contact with socialist ideals, and embarked on a self-directed course of political and economic study, inspired primarily by Marx's class struggle and Lenin's anti-imperialist stance.
In 1921, Mao was amongst the feuding members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In 1925 he returned to Hunan, fleeing from the Nationalist Party's (Guo Midung or GMD) persecution of Communists under Chiang Kai-Shek. Two years later, Mao carried out a study of the impoverished Hunanene peasantry, concluding that the countryside, and not the cities, could launch the Chinese Communist Revolution.
Between 1934-35, under threat from the GMD, Mao led the Long March to Yan'du, where they built their headquarters and Mao became Chairman of the CCP. The rest of the decade was distinguished by CCP and GMD efforts against Japanese invasion.
In 1949, with Russia's support, the CCP consolidated a series of victories against the GMD by seizing power. 'Mao Thought', as outlined in the 1942-44 rectification campaign had been adopted as CCP doctrine. This enabled Mao to launch the Land Reform, the First Five Year Plan and the Great Leap Forward in 1958. The latter was an affort to rapidly modernise and industrialise China, that resulted in a disastrous famine that claimed aproximately 20 million lives between 1959-1962, but did little to harm the authority of Mao.
The Socialist education movement of the early 1960s laid the groundwork for the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. Under the pretext that certain liberal "bourgeois" elements of society, labeled as class enemies, continue to threaten the socialist framework under the existing dictatorship of the proletariat, the idea that a Cultural Revolution must continue after armed struggle allowed Mao to circumvent the Communist Party hierarchy by giving power directly to the Red Guards, groups of young people, often teenagers, who set up their own tribunals. Chaos reigned over the country and millions were prosecuted and ultimately killed during a dark period in the country's history.
After a series of illnesses, Mao Zedung died in September 1976. In the reformist atmosphere of the years following his death, the CCP acknowledged Mao had made errors, in the cautious ratio of 70% right and 30% wrong.