More than 85 percent of respondents in a Chinese state media survey said that the achievements of former Communist dictator Mao Zedong outweigh his mistakes, as the country prepares to mark 120 years since his birth.

Mao's legacy remains mixed in China, where he is revered for the 1949 founding of the People's Republic. 

He is blamed for the deaths of tens of millions due to famine following his Great Leap Forward, a campaign to transform the society from a rural one to a socialist industrial one, and the decade of chaos known as the Cultural Revolution, a movement to revitalise the principle revolutionary values of the Communist Party in mid-1960s.

The survey was conducted on Monday and Tuesday by the Global Times newspaper, which is close to the ruling party. The results suggest that respondents held a favourable view of Mao.

Asked, "Do you agree that Mao Zedong's achievements outweigh his mistakes?", 78.3 percent of respondents in the survey said they agreed and 6.8 percent strongly agreed while only 11.7 percent disagreed. About three percent said they did not have an answer.

Nearly 90 percent 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.

'More support among older people'

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 newspaper suggested.

"Fairness being the second most popular of Mao's merits makes sense as it is 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 years of age by telephone and online in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xi'an, Changsha and Shenyang.

Since his death in 1976, the Chinese Communist Party's official line on the issue has been that he was "70 percent right and 30 percent wrong".

Source: Agencies