In the first week of January 2016, a vast golden statue of Mao, rising up out of frozen brown fields, was unveiled in the middle of the Henan countryside in central China. More than 36 metres high, it cost £312,000 and was paid for by local people and businessmen. Tourists gathered to take selfies, but a few days later, the monument was demolished, apparently for violating planning regulations. Several locals wept as it came down, among them probably descendants of the multitudes – one analyst puts the figure at 7.8 million – who died in Henan during the famine in the 1960s caused by Mao’s policies.
The golden colossus of Henan evokes the strange, looming presence of Mao in contemporary China. The People’s Republic (PRC) today is still held together by the legacies of Maoism. Although the Chinese Communist party (CCP) has long abandoned the utopian turmoil of the Cultural Revolution in favour of an authoritarian capitalism that prizes prosperity and stability, Mao has left a heavy mark on politics and society.