The main thing that Mao Zedong is famous for is leading China's Communist Party to victory in their struggle against the Kuomintang. In 1921, Mao helped to found the Communist Party. This party fought the Nationalists for power from then until 1949. (However, they both fought each other and sometimes collaborated against the Japanese in WWII.) In 1949, the communists won and China became a communist country. Mao then ruled China until his death in 1976.
Mao is infamous for his intiatives that were known as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Both of these caused terrible numbers of deaths and untold suffering for the people of China.
The communist government, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, implemented a series of campaigns to eradicate domestic enemies. An example of such campaigns was the “Suppress Counterrevolutionaries” campaign (1950-1952), which targeted Westerners and local spies suspected to be working for the foreign powers. Land reforms were also initiated to eliminate the presence of local landlords. Mao also launched the Great Leap Forward, an economic and social campaign, in 1958, that aimed to industrialise China and transform it from a backward, agrarian country to a modern nation. A policy of rapid industrialisation and collectivisation was advocated, large amounts of funds were used to construct huge state enterprises for steel production, peasants were encouraged to establish small-scale backyard furnaces to produce iron and steel, and communist organisations, known as the “People’s Communes”, were set up, where private ownership was abolished. The campaign was a disaster of unprecedented proportions, resulting in a great famine that destroyed 30-40% of houses in China saw more than 30 million people dead at the end of it. Mao’s reputation declined and he was forced to cede the presidency to Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who rose in power within the Communist Party.
Mao was, however, unwilling to give up his power to others and was determined to take back control. He attempted to do so by launching the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Instead of directly running the movement, Mao recruited students, known as the Red Guard, to carry out the revolution, which aimed to destroy the “Four Olds” (old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits of the capitalist class). Any individuals who were perceived to be a rightist was beaten to death, exposed to personal criticisms or sent to the countryside to “re-educate” themselves through labour. The movement met its dramatic end in 1976, when Mao and Zhou Enlai dead and the four radical leaders of the movement, led by Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, were arrested.