A giant gold-painted statue of Communist China's founding father Mao Zedong has reportedly been demolished because it lacked government approval, just days after images of it were widely shared on social media.

Images of the statue of a seated Mao towering about 37 metres over empty fields in the central province of Henan made worldwide headlines this week.

But the $460,000 structure has been destroyed, the People's Net news portal cited local officials as saying on Friday, adding that the reason was "unclear".

The website is linked to the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

It cited reports from unspecified media as saying the likeness of the man who ruled China with an iron grip for nearly three decades until his death in 1976 "was not registered or approved" by the local government.

Pictures circulating online - which could not be immediately verified by the AFP news agency - showed a gaping hole in the rear of Mao's massive golden torso, and his head shrouded in black.

Construction was reportedly funded by several local entrepreneurs and finished in December after nine months of labour, the HMR.cn portal said this week.

Despite being blamed for millions of deaths, Mao is still widely revered in China and credited with uniting the country.

Meanwhile, the Communist leadership tightly controls public discussion of history and seeks to use his legacy to shore up its support.

China's current President Xi Jinping has praised Mao as a "great figure" and revived some of his rhetoric and centralisation of power, while following the party's 1980s conclusion that he also made "mistakes".

Some internet users criticised the statue, pointing out its location in Henan, the centre of a famine in the late 1950s resulting from Mao's economic policies estimated to have killed as many as 40 million people.

"Have you forgotten about the Great Famine, building that?" asked one poster on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Others questioned the statue's resemblance to the "Great Helmsman", who also launched the decade-long Cultural Revolution that saw violence and destruction nationwide.

Source: AFP