BEIJING (AP) — China’s leaders bowed three times before a statue of Mao Zedong on the 120th anniversary of his birth in carefully controlled celebrations that also sought to uphold the market reforms that came after his death.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Communist Party chief Xi Jinping and other top leaders paid tribute to the founder of the communist state Thursday.

Xinhua says the leaders visited the Mao mausoleum in the heart of the capital, Beijing, where Mao’s embalmed body lies in state.

Mao Zedong's portrait displayed on Tiananmen Gate in Beijing, China.(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

The party’s flagship People’s Daily said in an editorial that the “best commemoration” of Mao would be to keep advancing economic reforms.

The celebrations avoid Mao’s central role in China’s worst post-war tragedies: the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, in which millions died.