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July 2003

A Thousand Maos and Nothing More

Wang never tires of his eternal subject

Dixie Ching

Who: Wang Wenhai
Occupation: Sculptor, Yan'an Revolutionary Museum guide
Age: 53

A philosophy graduate from Yan'an University, Wang was born in Henan and grew up in Shaanxi. In the early 1970s, as a guide at the Yan'an Revolutionary Museum, he had his first taste of sculpting when he helped some artists fashion likenesses of Mao Zedong for the museum. He and his wife started making Mao figures in 1987, after travelling to Wangjiaping in Yan'an, one of Mao's stopovers after the Long March. Currently, over 1000 of his Mao sculptures - ranging in size from ten centimetres to three metres tall - are on display at their home, located in the museum.

Q: Why do you only sculpt Mao?
Wang: I only sculpt people that I respect. He's my idol; he's the eternal subject; everything else is entertainment. Sculpting him has only gotten more interesting with time. I've made him god-like, also serious and angry. Personally, I like him when he's older.

Q: Do you use photos of him when you sculpt?
Wang: I create from my imagination. In 1999, I went to his hometown [Shaoshan, Hunan] and stayed there a month, celebrating his birthday there on December 26. I learned about his life and how he became the man he was. I also learned some surprising things; for example, Mao was very mischievous as a child and he would often play hooky! In any case, that visit made it easier for me to picture Mao in my mind.

Q: Why do you only use clay?
Wang: Clay suits me. It's fun to play with and it gives one more freedom than stone. I simply go to the mountains outside my home and scoop some out for my sculptures.

Q: How low would you go?
Wang: I don't need to think about that because there will always be a market for Mao's image. My theory is that once someone really understands Mao, they will be so fascinated by his charisma that they will want to buy sculptures of him, regardless of the price. So, while it won't make me rich, it is definitely a way to make a living.

Q: Is Beijing a work of art?
Wang: I like Beijing; it's China's cultural centre and it's so convenient. Some of the residential blocks are quite impressive; they look like mountains rising out of the mist. On the other hand, the food is expensive, the air is bad and it's too crowded.

One of Wang's thousands of Mao sculptures can be seen in Beijing at the 25000 Cultural Transmission Center. Send mail to

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