BEIJING (AFP) - More than 85 per cent of respondents in a Chinese state media survey said that Mao Zedong's achievements outweigh his mistakes, as the country prepares to mark 120 years since the "Great Helmsman's" birth.
Mao's legacy remains mixed in China, where he is revered for the 1949 founding of the People's Republic but authorities have called for restraint in commemorating the anniversary.
Mao is blamed for the deaths of tens of millions due to famine following his "Great Leap Forward" and the decade of chaos known as the Cultural Revolution.
Since his death in 1976, the Chinese Communist Party's official line has been he was "70 per cent right and 30 per cent wrong".
But participants in the survey conducted Monday and Tuesday by the Global Times newspaper, which is close to the ruling party, seemed to hold an even more favourable view of Mao.
Asked "Do you agree that Mao Zedong's achievements outweigh his mistakes?" 78.3 per cent of respondents in the Global Times survey said they agreed, 6.8 per cent strongly agreed and only 11.7 per cent disagreed.
About three per cent said they did not know.
Nearly 90 per cent of those surveyed said that Mao's "greatest merit" was "founding an independent nation through revolution".
China's ruling Communist Party heavily censors accounts of Mao's 27-year-long rule, and there has never been a full historical reckoning of his actions in the country.
Younger and better-educated Chinese were more likely to be critical of Mao, the Global Times said, while older respondents and those with a high school or vocational school education were more likely to revere him.
One potential reason for the Mao nostalgia among older and less-well-educated respondents could be China's widening wealth gap, the paper suggested.
"Fairness being the second most popular of Mao's merits makes sense as it's part of the reason that people miss the Mao era, because the wealth gap was not as big as now," Zhao Zhikui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
The newspaper surveyed 1,045 respondents over 18 by telephone and online in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xi'an, Changsha and Shenyang.