Two men affected his political interests profoundly while in Peking - library chief Li Ta-chao and a professor of literature, Chen Tu-hsui.

Both were radical Marxists who later founded the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP.

Mao declared himself a Marxist-Leninist in 1921, and officially joined the CCP, but two years later he became a junior partner to the Kuomintang (nationalist) party of Sun Yet Sen.

However, when Chiang Kai-sheck purged the Party’s left, Mao fled to the Ching-Kang Mountains and began a guerrilla war with varying fortunes over the next decade.

Despite declaring a Chinese Soviet Republic in 1934, Mao was increasingly unable to hold out against superior Kuomintang forces.

By October 1935, only 8000 of his Red Army survived the Long March - trekking 12,500 km to the safety of the Shanxi provinces.

Change in fortunes

But his fortunes changed dramatically in December 1936, when a “United Front” with Chiang Kai-Sheck against the Japanese gave him a reprieve and the ability to rebuild.

Communists were powerful enough to turn their guns on their former allies and Chiang Kai-sheck at the end of the Second World War, with the nationalist government forced to flee to the island of Taiwan in 1949.

In 1958, Mao embarked on what is very likely the most disastrous experiment in social and agricultural engineering in human history. “The Great Leap Forward” between 1958 and 1960 was followed by the death of 30 million people.

Following the famine, Liu Shaoqi, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, took power away from Mao – who was forced into a semi-official retirement.

Cultural Revolution

However, Mao returned more powerful than ever to inflict the excesses of the Cultural Revolution on an increasingly terrified nation.

Through his de facto control of the military much of his power was restored and he began to settle old scores while promoting a chaos in the 'Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1969.

Armed with Mao’s Red Book, the Red Guards purged the party of any and all opposition - many intellectuals were beaten, humiliated and sentenced to hard labour by their pupils.

After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiopeng admitted that Mao had made mistakes but promoted his legend for the sake of the legitimacy of the party.