HONG KONG -- Chinese Communist party Chairman Mao Tse-tung died today at the age of 82, ending a lifetime of revolution that made him the ruler of a quarter of all mankind. The nation of 800 million was plunged into mourning.
Mao was the most powerful man in modern Chinese history and his death appeared certain to ignite another titanic struggle for power in a nation that has known no other leader in its 27-year history.
President Ford called Mao a "most remarkable and a very great man" and said it was tragic that a man of "this ability and skill and vision and foresight has passed away."
Authorities set a week-long period of official mourning and said a mass memorial service would be held on Sept. 18 in the capital's huge Tien An Men (Gate of Heavenly Peace) Square where Mao had some of his greatest triumphs. At 3 p.m. on that date everyone in China is to stand in silence for three minutes.
Crowds poured into the square, scene of serious rioting just five months ago, and began paying tribute to the man who led one of the world's most successful revolutions and brought China the greatest unity it has ever known.
Many wept, Peking sources told UPI in a telephone call to Hong Kong.
A single green, flowered wreath was placed on the Martyrs Monument in the center of the square, which bears an inscription in Mao's calligraphy reading, "The People's Heroes are Immortal." People gathered around the monument, writing tributes to Mao on hand-held posters and shouting their determination to carry out the Chairman's policies.
Others gathered underneath a large portrait of Mao, which has been in the square for years along with those of the late Josef Stalin, Frederick Engels and Karl Marx. Mao's portrait was lighted and many people bowed quietly in front of it while others shouted praises for the dead leader, victim of an undisclosed illness at the age of 82.
Most of those in the square, where Mao proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949, were young people, the sources said.
There were some reports of trouble in the area. However, the sources said the only sign of disorder they saw was a brief scuffle between two youths. This did not appear to be politically motivated, they said.
The sources said the capital was calm, although larger numbers of people than usual were in the streets after dark.
A large funeral committee for Mao was announced Thursday evening.
It was headed by Hua Kuoferig, first vice chairman of the party and Premier; two other vice chairmen, Wang Hung-wen and Marshal Yeh Chien-ying, and Chang Chun- chiao, secretary general of the party's political bureau (Politburo).
The 16 other members of the Politburo, which once numbered 26, also were included in the committee. Among them was Mao's widow, Chiang Ching.
The Chinese, in spite of their choruses of "may Chairman Mao live 10,000 years," had been expecting his death for a long time. He had suffered several strokes and was reported to have Parkinson's disease. The streets of Peking were quiet but some reports from Peking said people were in tears.
In the mid-1960s Mao told foreigners he "was preparing to see God soon."
The death announcement did not mention a successor, but Hua Kuo-feng, who emerged from obscurity last April to become premier and first vice chairman of the party as a result of a new Cultural Revolution, is the ranking man. He faced a gigantic struggle to hold that position.
The full impact of Mao's death may take months, even years, to develop. He had led the world's greatest mass revolution in his roles as spiritual leader of the Chinese- and as an earthy ideologist, a pragmatic politician, a guerrilla strategist, a passionate activist and a sensitive poet.