His countrymen are used to seeing him in statuesque pose, in a long overcoat and with his right arm outstretched and aloft.
But in his latest reincarnation, Mao Zedong has been given a new twist, by the city of Changsha. Standing in the middle of Juzi Island, the newly constructed ‘young Mao’ statue has shocked locals by depicting the Great Helmsman with “stylish long hair”.
Pictured right, the sculpture makes Mao look less the hero of the proletariat and more of a blow-dried Beethoven.
The statue’s creators are quick to defend their work.
“The design isn’t all that strange,” says Xie Liwen, a professor at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and a part of the creative team. He told the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald: “The Mao statues people typically see are mostly of him standing and waving. We were particularly concerned with differentiating it from past images. Our first concern is uniqueness and artistry.”
Perhaps more surprising than the hairstyle is that new statues of Mao are still being erected at all.
After all, modern China has ditched Maoist economic thought in favour of free markets.
And why erect a fresh statue to someone who was responsible for anywhere between 40 million and 70 million Chinese deaths? After Mao’s death in 1976 the Communist Party took the official line that Mao was 30% bad, and (only) 70% good.
Nonetheless most of the propaganda statues of Mao still stand, with at least 200 of them spread across Chinese cities, towns and villages.
The first was erected in 1967 – at an entrance to Tsinghua University – and similar tributes to the party leader flourished in the remaining nine years of the Cultural Revolution.
After spotting a Mao statue in Kashgar in 1997, Cheng Wenjun had the idea of photographing all of them; a mission that saw him criss-cross the country for the next 12 years.
Cheng has taken 5,000 pictures, and considers the 10 metre statue in Shenyang’s Zhongshan Square to be the finest example of the genre.
He thinks the most unusual is in Mao’s hometown of Shaoshan – the only one he has come across in which Mao is wearing a changpao, the traditional gown for men.
Cheng’s goal is to publish a book of his photos. But frustratingly for the 42 year-old, no Beijing publisher has shown willing.
Why? They don’t think they’ll get permission from officialdom to print it, reports the South China Morning Post.
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