Mao Zedong rose to prominence as the first Chairman of the People's Republic of China at its inception in 1939. He remained incredibly influential until his death in 1976, and was worshipped and feared in equal measure during his lifetime.
Having stepped down as Chairman after the collapse of the Great Leap Forward in 1958, which resulted in widespread famine and economic distress, Mao set about beginning a process of social change, which became known as the The Cultural Revolution. At the core of this revolution was a desire to crush what he saw as bourgeois elements in Chinese culture and create a more equitable society.
This revolution had an enormous impact on China and its people and inevitably led to a complete clampdown on intellectual freedom. People who did not agree with the government were intimidated, many areas of the arts were stifled and any good intentions the Cultural Revolution may have had were lost to many who felt they were living in a climate of, often violent, oppression. Nevertheless, almost at the same time, the cult of Mao was rising and pictures and paraphernalia were springing up all over the place. It's a cult that has continued right into the 21st century, as illustrated in this article.
One of the most influential books of recent years about China is Wild Swans, by Jung Chang. The story is told through the eyes of three generations of women, and it includes a fascinating insight into life in Mao's China.
An article looking at the creation of the People's Republic, including video footage, can be accessed via this link.