Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister and conservative firebrand, has inexplicably become a popular figure in China, of all places.

Now a baroness, the elderly Mrs. Thatcher espoused a virulently anti-Marxist stance during her tenure in power, in tandem with her American counterpart, Ronald Reagan. Indeed, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union were partially attributed to the tireless efforts of the "Iron Lady" and Reagan.

However, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the Chinese Communist Party is using Thatcher as a model and inspiration for future political leaders in Beijing.

The paper said that at the very elite China Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai, a course in “crisis management” praises Thatcher’s managerial style in handling all sorts of conflicts and difficulties.

Professor Li Min, a lecturer at the academy, told the Telegraph: “Mrs. Thatcher is a Lady I quite admire, [she is indeed] the Iron Lady.”

While one may question the championing of a hard-core Western capitalist like Thatcher, professor Jiang Haishan, the head of the school’s international program, explained: “We have an open attitude towards all civilizations that are useful to us, and [we] learn from them.”

Similarly, Feng Jun, the academy’s executive vice-president, said these Communist Party training schools are not what foreigners think they are.

“It is not brainwashing [we do] here, it is brainstorming -- finding the answers and solutions to the problem,” he said.

“[Students are taught] to love Socialism and to strengthen their faith in the paths of Socialism with Chinese characteristics. [But] we intend for cadres studying here to free and broaden their minds. Many things can be discussed here.”

Indeed, prominent Western figures, including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, ex-Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Robert Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank, have spoken at the academy.

Professor Frank Pieke, the chair of Modern China Studies at Leiden University in Holland, told the Telegraph that the Academy in Shanghai reflects a more modern outlook by the Chinese Communists.

“It is a very special beast. It is very much part of the new glossy face of the Communist Party under [President] Hu Jintao and [Premier]Wen Jiabao,” he said.

“For the Party internally it serves as a way of linking its cadres to the outside world and showing to them by example what the Party expects from China [and] from them 20 years from now. This is what they want China to look like. This is how they want China to be ruled.”

As for Thatcher, who is now 87 years old, it is unclear how she would feel about a communist training academy holding her up as a role model and icon.

Reportedly, during a visit by a Congolese Marxist at 10 Downing Street many years ago, Thatcher told the dignitary: “I hate Communists.”

An ardent foe of British trade unions (whose leaders she sometimes accused of harboring communist sympathies), Thatcher once declared: “Communist regimes were not some unfortunate aberration, some historical deviation from a socialist ideal. They were the ultimate expression, unconstrained by democratic and electoral pressures, of what socialism is all about. ... In short, the state [is] everything and the individual nothing."

She also quipped: "Socialism's results have ranged between the merely shabby and the truly catastrophic -- poverty, strife, oppression and, on the killing fields of communism, the deaths this century of perhaps 100 million people. Against that doctrine was set a contrary, conservative belief in a law-governed liberty. It was this view which triumphed with the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. Since then, the Left has sought rehabilitation by distancing itself from its past."