Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Its demise came courtesy of improper permitting and overwhelming government embarrassment.
Earlier this month, news outlets and Internet users the world over gawked and jeered at new images of a 120-foot golden statue of Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, then under construction in an incongruously brown and frozen field.
But the glamorous statue is now gone before it was even finished. Local officials confirmed to Chinese media Friday that the Mao of gold is now just a pit in the Henan province’s Tongxu county.
The statue’s location in Tongxu was partially responsible for the strong global reaction. The area was hard hit by the devastating famine of the 1950s, which historians say was a direct result of Mao’s Great Leap Forward. The famine killed between 20 and 45 million people, and the irony of a monumental, shiny tribute to the leader in exactly its epicenter was not lost upon Chinese social media users or the international media. (It is worth noting, however, that at least some local villagers saw the colossus as a fitting tribute to the man often revered as a “great figure”.)
The cause of the statue’s death, according to the Chinese state-run paper People’s Daily, is improper permitting—but other outlets are pointing to a demise more sinister.
The New York Times’s Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports the statue was “torn down apparently on the orders of embarrassed local officials” who did not appreciate the global disapprobation offered by the World Wide Web. A bit of evidence supporting this theory: Construction on the statue continued for months before provincial officials swooped in to dismantle it—just days after the statue began receiving international attention.
Via the Guardian comes this nightmare photo of a hulking, hollow, headless Mao:
By Friday morning, Tatlow reports, “only a pile of rubble remained.”
Critics are left to wonder what else could have been made of the 3 million yuan ($465,000) provided by a local entrepreneur to construct the monument. “Why not use the 3 million to improve local education?” a commentator on the Chinese microblogging platform argued.
Back in Tongxu, however, the actions of the local government drove a number of villagers to tears. “Mao was our leader and ate bitterness for us,”one villager, a 75-year-old woman, told Tatlow.