BEIJING, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- A large portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong hangs high in the living room of Ai Pa. The 56-year-old, an ethnic Dai villager in Xishuangbanna in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, likes citing quotations from the founder of new China.
In tales the elderly told during his childhood, Chairman Mao was depicted as an invincible "monkey king," whom heaven bestowed with powers to bring equality and justice to the world.
"It's Chairman Mao who brought the concept 'all men are created equal' to the Dai villages," said Ai, now a village Communist Party chief who still reveres Mao.
For villagers who visit Beijing for the first time, Mao's mausoleum in Tian'anmen Square is a must-see place, Ai said.
The ethnic villagers are not alone in their reverence. Official data show that over 200 million people have paid tribute at Mao's mausoleum since it opened one year after Mao's death in 1976.
Thursday marks the 120th anniversary of Mao's birth. Chinese top leaders including President Xi Jinping visited Mao's mausoleum, making three bows toward Mao's seated statue and paying their respects to the remains of Mao.
At a symposium held by the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee in Beijing on Thursday, Xi said the CPC will hold high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought "forever" in pursuing the Chinese nation's rejuvenation.
The state-run People's Daily and Xinhua both carried articles commemorating the 120th anniversary of Mao's birth on Thursday. Many places nationwide, including Mao's birthplace and several old revolutionary bases, held activities to remember the late leader.
In Shaoshan, Hunan province, the birthplace of Mao, local farmers have taken advantage of the admiration for Mao to make a living.
The locals sell Mao-themed souvenirs, including badges and bronze sculptures, and run family hotels and restaurants that host millions of visitors each year.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), private businesses were targets of crackdowns and restrictions. Even in the early 1980s, it wasn't easy to start a private business, said Mao Yu, the Communist Party chief in the village of Shaoshan.
At that time, people still widely believed that running a private business was equal to defaming Chairman Mao, and an old villager even cried two days before the statue of Mao in response to the reappearance of small private businesses, Mao Yu said.
Decades of reform and opening up have fundamentally transformed the thinking of Mao's fellow villagers, and they are now operating Mao-themed restaurants and hotels to cash in on the admiration for the former leader.
Reform and opening up have brought about economic miracles nationwide. China's per capita gross domestic product was less than 200 U.S. dollars in 1978, one-third of the level in Sub-Saharan Africa at the time.
Now China has become the world's second-largest economy and joined the ranks of middle-income countries, with per capita GDP exceeding 6,000 U.S. dollars.
The market economy and emancipation of minds have resulted in a massive human migration. Over 200 million rural residents have moved to work in the eastern coastal manufacturing centers and other cities to seek fortune. A further, wide-ranging opening up has also brought growth opportunities to the western inland areas.
When Mao was born in 1893, China was faced with internal and external troubles. A reform movement failed to save the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) from being toppled. Sun Yat-sen, known as the Father of Modern China, also failed to avert internal conflicts.
After decades of struggles and endeavors, Mao and his comrades founded the People's Republic of China, which ended the oppression and aggression by foreign forces and achieved the independence and the liberation of the Chinese nation. A once-split China became a unified country of all parts except Taiwan.
In the following years, independent and relatively comprehensive industry and national economic systems, and the invention of satellites and nuclear and hydrogen bombs, helped boost national pride and confidence. Mao was regarded as China's biggest patriot and national hero in modern times.
Although Mao made severe mistakes in his late years, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong Thought, which emphasizes seeking truth from facts, the "mass line" and independence, is still the long-term guiding principle for CPC governance.
Without the pros and cons of historical experience gained from practical exploration before reform and opening up, processes would not have proceeded so smoothly, Xi said.
Today the concept of economic construction has become the central work of the government, and the reform and opening up policy have taken root deep in people's hearts. Meanwhile, generations of CPC leaders have worked out a road to national rejuvenation -- a socialist road with Chinese characteristics.
Chairman Mao once summarized the national rejuvenation in two targets: state independence and national liberation, and a rich people and powerful nation.
China met the first target after more than 100 years of struggle, and the ruling CPC has pledged to achieve the second goal on the 100th anniversary of new China in 2049.
Xi proposed the "Chinese dream," a concept targeting "the great renewal of the Chinese nation," shortly after he took helm of the CPC in November last year. The Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee last month rolled out a reform blueprint for a richer and stronger China.
But the revival will not come easily.
At a museum in the suburbs of Chengdu in southwest China, historical materials show the extreme personality cult seen in the era of class struggle. They serve as reminders today of the importance of the pursuit of democracy and the rule of law and the maintenance of social stability.
"To realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, we must unswervingly advance reform and opening up," Xi told the symposium, stressing that the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee launched wide-ranging reforms.
With reforms and efforts -- from the anti-graft and "mass line" campaigns, to campaigns for food safety and cleaner air -- the CPC is trying to tackle the obstacles on the road to rejuvenation.