News emerged today in the British national press of a 36-metre tall statue of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong being built in a village in China. Here’s The Guardian’s report of this story as an example.

The statue of the so-called “Great Helmsman” is being constructed at Zhushigang village in Tongxu County in Henan Province.

It is reported to be costing some RMB 3 mn. (approx. £312,000). The materials used in its construction are steel and concrete, with the exterior being coated in gold paint.

36-metre tall statue of Mao Zedong

History is looking on your works and despairing, Mao! Photo: CFP

Reading about the statue and thinking about its future, not to mention what has happened to statues of past powerful leaders (particularly dictators. Ed.) around the world, Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s 1818 sonnet, Ozymandias came to mind.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—”Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

In antiquity, Ozymandias was a Greek name for the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. Shelley began writing Ozymandias soon after the announcement of the British Museum’s acquisition of a large fragment of a statue of Ramesses II from the thirteenth century BC, leading some scholars to believe that this had inspired Shelley.

In more modern times, Mao’s record is chequered. His supporters credit him with driving imperialism out of China, modernising the country and building it into a world power, promoting the status of women, improving education and health care, as well as increasing life expectancy as China’s population grew from around 550 million to over 900 million during his leadership. Mao is also known as a theorist, military strategist, poet and visionary.

On the other hand, his critics consider him a dictator comparable to both Hitler and Stalin who severely damaged traditional Chinese culture, as well as being a perpetrator of systematic human rights abuses who was responsible for an estimated 40 to 70 million deaths through starvation, forced labour and executions.

Look upon my works and despair indeed!