Sunday, January 10, 2016

2156. An Outcry Help Topple a Mao Statue 120 Feet Tall

By Didi Kristen Tallow, The New York Times, Janaury 9, 2016
The 120-foot statue of Mao on Monday, as it was nearing completion in Tongxu County, China. Demolition began on Thursday, villagers said. Photo: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

ZHUSHIGANG, China — Just two days after images of a giant gold-colored statue of Mao in the bare fields of Henan Province spread across the Internet, the statue was gone — torn down apparently on the orders of embarrassed local officials.

Villagers said demolition teams arrived on Thursday morning, and by Friday morning, only a pile of rubble remained.

The 120-foot-tall statue, which local media reports said cost $465,000, had been under construction for months and was nearing completion when it began to attract attention.

Some commenters on social media denounced the extravagance of the colossus in a poor, rural part of China, where the money might have been better spent on education or health care. Several quoted from “Ozymandias,” Shelley’s meditation on the ruins of a monument to a long-forgotten autocrat (“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. …”).

Others pointed out the historical irony of erecting the statue in one of the provinces worst hit by the famine caused by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.

It appears that the message was heard.

Public Security officials and groups of unidentified men in olive-green greatcoats brusquely turned away visitors and blocked road access to the site of the statue, outside the village of Zhushigang.

Villagers said the guards had been sent by officials of Tongxu County, which includes Zhushigang. They said they believed that the statue was torn down on orders from provincial officials.

A person answering the telephone at the Tongxu County government offices said he did not know anything about the demolition. He referred a caller to the county propaganda department, where the telephone went unanswered. Another person, who answered the telephone at the local Sunying Township, also said he had not heard of the demolition.

According to villagers and reports on online chat sites, the statue was the idea of a local businessman, Sun Qingxin, the head of the Lixing Group, a conglomerate that manufactures machinery and owns food-processing facilities, hospitals and schools. Mr. Sun paid for the statue, they said.

Mr. Sun is also the deputy chairman of the County People’s Congress Standing Committee, a powerful local position.

“He is crazy about Mao,” said a villager who identified himself as Mr. Wang, a potato farmer. “His factory is full of Maos.”

Two miles from the village, a guard outside the Lixing Group’s headquarters shooed away reporters, refused interview requests and ordered that no photographs be taken, warning that “cars of people will arrive and make trouble” if a reporter lingered.

Facing the factory entrance, inside the premises, was a 10-foot golden statue of Mao, standing in a traditional Chinese pavilion of cream stone.

Statues of Mao, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, were once ubiquitous in China, and many survive. President Xi Jinping has often praised Mao as a model for China today, saying Mao’s era was one when officials were selfless and honest.

But some of his policies were disastrous, including the forced agricultural collectivization and industrialization of the Great Leap Forward, which historians blame for a famine in which tens of millions of people died.

Still, a woman named Ms. Yang, 75, said several villagers cried when the statue was knocked down.

“Mao was our leader and ate bitterness for us,” she said.

On Friday, the site was shrouded in heavy fog, which was dense enough to close the nearby highway. A pile of debris and an orange crane were all that remained. Around the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the brown and frosty fields stretched far away.

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