China: Villagers erect giant gold Mao statue

Euan McKirdy and Shen Lu, CNNUpdated 6th January 2016
(CNN) — The legacy of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People's Republic of China, looms large over the country's politics and society.
And now for some villagers in rural Henan province, he's an even more tangible presence -- in the form of a giant gold statue.
Businessmen and some rural communities have chipped in nearly 3 million yuan ($459,000) to build the conspicuous tribute, according to Chinese state media.
It is reportedly constructed of steel and concrete, and painted gold. It was completed in December.
Seated amongst scrubby farmland, the 36.6 meter (120 ft)-tall statue has garnered its fair share of compliments -- and criticism -- on Chinese social media.
Users of China's popular microblogging service Weibo appeared divided over the statue, with user shenqilei saying, "This is so embarrassing!," while beijiyisuoqianban took a more patriotic tack, saying: "Long live Chairman Mao!"
User MCULM added: "They can do whatever they want with their own money. It is worth commending if they built a statue of their ancestors. But if the money was from the public pocket, a thorough investigation is needed."

Insensitive location?

The location of the statue itself is not without controversy.
According to author Yang Jisheng, Henan province was one of the areas hardest hit by the famines of the 1950s and 60s, which were brought about by Mao's disastrous "Great Leap Forward" economic and social reforms. Millions died as a result of the policies.
Weibo users also picked up on the sensitive location, with Dapancj asking, "have they all forgotten the great famine to build this?"
French master photographer Bruno Barbey of Magnum Photos was one of a handful of foreign journalists allowed into China during the Cultural Revolution -- and one of the only ones to shoot in color.
Regardless of the results of his reforms, Mao, who ruled China until his death in 1976, is widely revered and Maoism has even experienced somewhat of a renaissance in some quarters in recent years.
His home village of Shaoshan has seen an uptick in visiting pilgrims and in 2013, current leader Xi Jinping heaped praise on his predecessor during celebrations marking the 120th anniversary of Mao's birth.
Statues of Mao dot the country, and his portrait looks down on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
During anniversary celebrations in 2013 a 200 million yuan ($30.6 million), solid gold likeness was installed in pride of place in a memorial hall in Shaoshan.
Of course, it's not the first giant statue of the Great Helmsman.
The previous largest -- at 7.1m (23 ft) -- was erected in Gonggar County, Tibet Autonomous Region in 2006.
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