A Monument to Jesus in the City of Mao

Sensing an ideological challenge to their hero — who founded the People’s Republic in 1949 and denounced Christianity as a tool of foreign imperialism — thousands of Mao’s “red” fans reached for their smartphones and computers this year and charged into verbal battle against this defilement of sacred ground.

They railed against the church’s size and symbolism, saying that building it in a public space was a misappropriation of resources in the officially atheist state.

“Going for Christianity in a big way damages our nation’s ideological security,” wrote Zhao Danyang of the website Red Morality Think Tank, in a typical post when the furor erupted in February.

Photo

The sculpture of Mao, who spent his youth in Changsha, rises 105 feet on Tangerine Island in the Xiang River.

Credit
Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Wary of a political crisis, Changsha officials rushed to tamp down the controversy.

Guards were posted at the Xingsha Ecological Park, where the church, a Bible studies center, administrative offices and residential quarters are near a Cupid Garden for local sweethearts. News reports vanished from the internet. Public debate fizzled. Multiple telephone calls to the provincial headquarters of the state-run Protestant association went unanswered. A bell jar of censorship descended.

But on the streets of Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, residents seem to know or care little about the clash of Christianity and Communism in their midst. Asked about it, several people shrugged and declined to comment, or said they had not heard of it.

If such grass-roots insouciance in Mao’s former home seems surprising, to one resident it makes perfect sense.

“In Hunan, contradictions are not…

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