Zhushigang, China: Days after photographs of a giant, golden statue of Mao spread across the internet, drawing ridicule for its grandiosity amid the bare fields of rural Henan Province, the statue has been quickly torn down.
Demolition teams arrived on Thursday morning, villagers said, and by Friday morning only a pile of rubble remained.
The 36.6-metre-tall statue, erected at a cost of $US465,000 ($660,000), according to local news media, 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 healthcare. Several quoted Shelley's sonnet, Ozymandias, a meditation on the ruins of a monument to a long-forgotten autocrat ("Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert.").
Some pointed out the historical irony of erecting the statue in one of the provinces worst hit by the famine caused by Mao's Great Leap Forward.
It appears the message was heard.
As mysteriously as the statue arose, it disappeared.
Public Security officials and groups of unidentified men in olive green greatcoats brusquely turned away visitors and blocked road access to the site, outside the village of Zhushigang.
Villagers said the guards had been sent by officials in Tongxu County, which includes Zhushigang. They said they believed 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 answering 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 Lixing Group, a conglomerate that owns food-processing facilities, hospitals and schools, as well as makes machinery. Mr Sun paid for it, 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 Wang, a potato farmer. "His factory is full of Maos."
Three kilometres from the village, a guard outside the Lixing Group's headquarters shooed away reporters, refused interviews and ordered that no photographs be taken, warning "cars of people will arrive and make trouble" if a reporter lingered.
Facing the factory entrance, inside the premises, was a 3-metre, 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 still survive. President Xi Jinping has often praised Mao as a model for China today, saying his era was one when officials were selfless and honest.
But some of his policies were disastrous, including the forced agricultural collectivisation and industrialisation of the Great Leap Forward, which historians blame for a famine in which tens of millions died.
Still, a woman named Yang, 75, said several villagers cried when it was knocked down.
"Mao was our leader and ate bitterness for us," she said.
On Friday, the site was shrouded in heavy fog, dense enough to close the nearby highway. A pile of rubble 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.
The New York Times