"Mao Zedong was an idealist who had lost touch with reality." How much do you agree with this statement?
The previous answers display an almost absurd level of charitableness toward Mao. Substitute "Hitler" in the above and you may have some grasp of what I mean. "Differing opinions on Hitler's legacy"? "some may not support his ideas"?
Mao's failed policies killed at least twenty million people. Possibly forty million.
Mao's insanity killed as many people as the population of Greater Los Angeles. This is not controversial among serious historians.
The question really is only what manner Mao was insane. He was either a delusional idealist, as the quote would imply, or a murderous psychopath. Those are the only two options when we're trying to explain a man who killed 20 million people.
I actually lean toward the theory of the quote, that Mao was an idealist who honestly believed he was making China better, but became completely detached from reality and continued to believe his policies were working even as millions of people starved.
You can compare him to Stalin, another communist tyrant whose decisions caused millions of deaths. Stalin was obviously a murderous psychopath; while he put out propaganda saying he was making the Soviet Union better, almost everything he did either advanced his own interests or suppressed dissent against him. He was paranoid, but not otherwise delusional---and certainly no idealist.
But Mao seems different in many ways. Many of his policies don't seem corrupt and tyrannical the way Stalin's did; they just seem... nonsensical. Why would anyone think that industrial factories could suddenly be replaced by homemade furnaces constructed by uneducated farmers without any loss of production of either industry or food? Why would anyone think that workers would produce better with guns to their head than they did when they were selling for profit? His goal of a more equal society may seem benevolent enough, but his methods for doing so don't make any sense.
Stalin even warned Mao that the USSR would stop supporting him if he continued with the madness of the Great Leap Forward, but he did it anyway. (And sure enough, Stalin cut off aid.) That doesn't seem like something a rational psychopath would do; it seems like something a delusional fanatic would do.
It would be unfair to say that Mao Zedong was an idealist who lost touch with reality. China was struggling mightily in the first half of the 1900s. There was constant turmoil in China. The warlords were fighting each other. Instead of putting the country of China ahead of their own needs and wants, the warlords continued to fight each other for power.
The Nationalists, under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen, and later Chiang Kai-shek, weren’t able to stop the fighting of the warlords by themselves. However, working with Mao Zedong, there was some progress against some of the warlords. When the Nationalists later turned on the Communists by attacking and killing them, Mao Zedong and the Communists fought Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists for the leadership of China. During this time period, China was unable to stop foreigner invasions. Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 and also invaded China in 1937. While the fighting between the two groups temporarily stopped after Japan invaded China, it resumed when World War II ended. Mao Zedong had his vision of China and was willing to fight for it. Mao Zedong and Communists won the civil war, forcing the Nationalists from power. Mao Zedong was now able to implement his ideas and plans for improving China.
While non-communists may not support the ideas of communists, it would be unfair to say that Mao Zedong was an idealist who was out of touch with reality. He was trying to do what he thought would make China a stronger country and a better functioning country. While some of his plans weren’t successful in solving China’s issues, Mao was trying to do what he thought was best to help China move forward.
Even among native Chinese there are differing opinions about Mao’s lingering legacy. Few people would argue against the ideal of a more equal society, like the one Mao hoped to achieve. However, in the case of China, the means used towards this goal reveal a leader who lost sight and connection with the very people whose lives he was trying to improve. For example, the Great Leap Forward was intended as a means of growing industry and agriculture, while emphasizing the importance of equal labor contributions in the countryside. Sadly, its hasty implementation over just three years led to large-scale famine, affecting some twenty million Chinese, and a complete breakdown of the Chinese economy.