A village in central China has demolished a statue of the country's founder, Mao Zedong, after images of the structure covered in gold paint and looming 37 meters (120 feet) high over farmland attracted heated social media discussion.

The project, reportedly financed by entrepreneurs, cost $460,000 and was near completion last week when it was nixed by local officials who apparently were embarrassed by the public scrutiny.

The People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, said the statue may have lacked approval from cultural management authorities, though it also cited an official as saying that did not appear to be the reason.

Since his death in 1976, Mao has been both revered as a founding father and blamed for political turmoil and disastrous economic policies that claimed millions of lives.