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Yang Asha smiled serenely down at the craggy emerald landscape, her hand outstretched in welcome. She appeared unmoved by the condemnation her presence has ignited in China; she is, after all, made of gleaming stainless steel and bigger than the Statue of Liberty.

To officials in her corner of China, the statue of Yang Asha, a goddess of beauty, serves as a tribute to the rich culture of the local people and, they hope, a big draw for sightseers and their money. To many others in China, she is another white elephant in a country full of expensive monuments, gaudy tourist traps and wasteful vanity projects that draw money away from real problems.

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