SHAOSHAN - Admirers of Communist China's founder Mao Zedong celebrated the 120th anniversary of his birth Thursday with noodles and fireworks, as President Xi Jinping carefully marked the occasion by visiting the controversial leader's preserved corpse.
Mao - the founder of the People's Republic who led the country for 27 years until his death in 1976 - commands reverence among many Chinese but also condemnation by critics who say his disastrous political and economic campaigns led to tens of millions of deaths.
The ruling Communist Party has sought to balance praising the so-called Great Helmsman - from whom the legitimacy of its leadership derives - while also acknowledging that he made "mistakes".
At the same time Mao has emerged as a rallying point for those discontented with the stark inequality and widespread corruption that have accompanied China's market-led boom.
Thousands stood through the night near his childhood home in Shaoshan, in the central province of Hunan, where fireworks streaked the sky above a giant statue of him.
"Mao was a great leader of the Chinese nation, he was a perfect person and for us young people he is someone to learn from," said Jiang Qi, 33, a construction company employee, as others cried "Long live Chairman Mao".
At least 100 self-described "Red Internet friends", a group of activists to the left of the current Communist Party leadership, were present, some waving home-made red flags and shouting for "the downfall of American imperialism".
Several said that police detained pro-Mao activists from different provinces to prevent them attending the anniversary, underscoring the challenge faced by China's leaders.