China ditches Mao to put Olympics on new banknote

China's greatest Communist icon, Chairman Mao Zedong, will be dropped from new 10 yuan (75p) banknotes to mark the Olympics, which start a month from today.

The Great Helmsman will be replaced on the six million new notes by the National Stadium, or Bird's Nest, which is more in keeping with the image of progress and prosperity that China is trying to show as the Games approach.

Above the stadium is the "Chinese Seal, Dancing Beijing" emblem for the 2008 Olympics, set against the backdrop of the Temple of Heaven, one of China's best-known landmarks. The reverse side of the Olympic note features the ancient Greek marble statue of a discus-thrower, Discobolus, portraits of athletes and the numerals "2008".

Despite the ravages of the Cultural Revolution and the disastrous social agricultural reform known as the Great Leap Forward, Mao is still an icon in China, considered by the Communist Party to be "70 per cent good, 30 per cent bad". His portrait still gazes out over Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.

During Mao's rule from the 1949 revolution that swept the Communists to power until his death in 1976, banknotes featured more traditional socialist realist fare – determined workers, muscled farmers, and clear evidence of China's successful modernisation such as factories or rustic classical scenes.

He first appeared on the banknote in 1990, alongside three other iconic leaders, and his face still adorns all modern banknotes in China. There are periodic calls to have his face removed from notes, including occasional motions tabled at China's annual parliament, the National People's Congress. Some delegates would like Mao to make room for other leaders such as the economic reformer Deng Xiaoping and Sun Yat-sen, considered the "father" of modern China.

In 2000, Mao gave way to a dragon for millennium 100 yuan (£7.50) banknotes, but again only temporarily. Seven notes bearing his image on one side and backdrops such as Tibet's Potala palace and the Three Gorges area on the other, were issued in 1999 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.

The new notes are slightly larger than the ordinary 10-yuan notes, which are a more sombre grey and black. In a country where fake banknotes regularly surface and where every 100-yuan bill is checked for authenticity, watermarks and other technologies will be used to prevent counterfeiting of the notes.

A watermark appears on the picture of the National Stadium in the shape of the Arabic numeral 10 and the Games of XXIX Olympiad in the Chinese characters, the central bank said.

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