After spending millions of dollars building what it called the world’s biggest Guan Yu statue, a Chinese city is now coughing up millions more—to have it removed.
A city in central China sank a whopping $26 million in 2014 to build a 48-meter-tall, 1,200-metric-ton bronze statue of Guan Yu, a historical figure worshipped across East Asia and also known as the god of war. The weapon the statue held, the legendary Green Dragon Crescent Blade, alone weighs 136 metric tons.
For comparison, the Statue of Liberty is 46 meters high from the top of its base to the torch, and weighs about 200 metric tons.
But the Chinese central government recently labeled the gigantic statue as an illegitimate construction, and now an additional $24 million is required to relocate it .
The statue is part of a giant Guan Yu theme park built in the city of Jingzhou, Hubei province, where Guan was said to have fought in around 215 A.D., during China’s Three Kingdoms period.
The statue’s head has already been removed, leaving a headless warrior overlooking the city he once defended.
With officials under pressure to showcase their economic performance, many Chinese cities have in recent decades commissioned massive construction projects, often funded through debt, to boost their growth numbers, raise a city’s profile and bring in tourist revenues.
The theme park in Jingzhou, backed by state-run investment funds, is one of such extravagant projects that have sprung up across China. It was once hailed as a future growth driver, but it ended up incurring colossal losses.
When construction began in 2014, Jingzhou’s then-mayor, Li Jianming, said he hoped the $310-million park would become a “spiritual home” for Guan Yu culture, and a pilgrimage site for Guan’s worshippers from across the globe.
The statue, a central piece of the park, was unveiled in 2016 to much fanfare. It was designed by Chinese artist Han Meilin, widely known as the creator of the mascots of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But the park did not become popular as the officials had hoped. Its original entry fee of 120 Chinese yuan ($17) was lowered to 40 yuan ($6) in 2019, while local residents could enter for free. But its hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenues could barely cover operational costs, according to reports by news outlet Shangyou.
Last year, China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban‑Rural Development issued a directive warning against the construction of gargantuan, out-of-touch statues in the name of promoting tourism or traditional culture. The ministry later named the Guan Yu statue as a violation of the rule.
It’s unclear where the statue would be moved to. Local bureaucrats told Beijing News last week that the demolition would take two months, and parts of the statue would be stored somewhere temporarily until a new location is approved.
It was not the first short-lived Guan Yu statue under China’s construction spree. In 2010, the southern city of Zhaoqing in Guangdong province tore down a 38-meter Guan Yu statue worth 30 million Chinese yuan ($4.6 million) after it, too, was condemned as an illegal construction.
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