Presiding over the central square in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, is a 30-meter white-marble statue of late Chairman Mao Zedong, built during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Chengdu is one of the few cities where such statues of Mao, which were once visible throughout the country, remain. A China Daily reporter offers a rich description of the central square and surrounding area that implicitly renders remarkable the preservation of this historical icon in the face of dramatic cultural change.

Instead of political slogans, the white-marble statue of Mao is now surrounded by huge billboards of advertisements that had been cited as something “capitalist” against Mao’s planned economy, in which production and sale of goods were controlled by government plans. Now the venue where Mao’s statue stands, at the heart of Chengdu, has become the hot spot for both domestic and foreign investors to show off their corporate images and brand-name products. Around Mao’s statue, posters or boards with advertisements of home-made products are competing with those of foreign or foreign-funded companies such as Kodak of the United States … Right behind Mao’s statue, a banner streamer [announcing] … a large-scale shopping fair for traditional Spring Festival goods is in sight. [Contrasting food rationing during Mao’s era, people now] can buy whatever they like … for the imminent New Year and the ensuing Spring Festival, or the Chinese lunar new year, at this fair…. The decades old Chengdu Department Store is a listed one [on the stock market] whose building, just opposite to Mao’s huge statue across the city’s main street, was festooned with varied ad banners atop its roof and buildings. A lottery business ad … was especially eye-catching … In the past two years, the business made nearly 100 local residents … millionaires through lottery buying, which was however, unimaginable and banned during Mao’s era…. Around the square are also vivid shops of McDonalds and KFC, whose globally known logos were the best identity for publicity … On the left of Mao’s statue three major Chinese insurance companies, China Life, China Pacific and Ping An, were touting their services in huge enchanting advertisements. [This was something foreign in Mao’s planned economy where people] could enjoy housing, medical, and pension benefits from the government … On the Remin (People’s) Road … South of Mao’s statue, advertisements of a dozen real estate developers were competing … [as] Chengdu witnessed a booming housing market like other cities around China … To make way for the construction of a central business district, the Chengdu municipal government, once adjacent to Mao’s statue, moved to the brisk and fast-expanding business center three years ago.

( China Daily 2003) In this imagery of a prospering Chinese city, aspects of the past are retained (such as Mao’s statue) and nourished (for example the Spring Festival) in China’s new market economy, and coexist in harmony with commercial brands, both domestic and foreign, that together alter consumption experiences and practices from China’s past. Past and present are not always blended so seamlessly.