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BEIJING (Web Desk) – A gargantuan gold-painted statue of Communist China’s founding father Mao Zedong has suddenly been demolished, apparently for lacking government approval.

Images of the statue of a seated Mao towering 37 metres (121 feet) over empty fields in the central province of Henan made worldwide headlines this week.

Read: Chinese village erects giant golden statue of Chairman Mao

But the three million yuan ($460,000) structure has been destroyed, the People’s Net news portal cited local officials as saying, adding the reason was “unclear”.

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The website is linked to the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

It cited reports from unspecified media as saying the likeness of the man who ruled China with an iron grip for nearly three decades until his death in 1976 “was not registered or approved” by the local government.

Pictures circulating online showed a gaping hole in the rear of Mao’s massive golden torso, and his head shrouded in black. Local officials could not immediately be reached.

The 37m-high (120ft) gold-painted statue of Chairman Mao was being built in China’s Henan province.

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The giant homage to the late communist leader was paid for by local businessmen, who spent nearly 3 million yuan ($460,000; £313,000).

Some villagers also contributed money to the project, according to The People’s Daily.

The enormous figure reportedly took nine months to build, and was near its completion.

The giant sits in farmland in Tongxu county, Henan, which was the centre of a famine in the 1950s resulting from Mao’s policies.

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Millions of people died in the famine triggered by the campaign, known as the Great Leap Forward.

Despite being responsible for so many deaths, Mao Zedong is revered by many in China, not least by President Xi Jinping, who praises him as a “great figure”.

President Xi has also attempted to centralise power in China’s presidency, and has used Mao’s legacy to build support, while admitting the former leader made “mistakes”.