Mystery of Beijing Confucius statue
The mysterious removal of a statue of Confucius opposite Beijing's Tiananmen Square has sparked an online flurry of speculation by Chinese looking for an explanation.
One report said the monument was simply moved inside a nearby museum.
The statue of the 2,500-year-old sage was unveiled just three months ago in the Communist government's most visible endorsement yet of an icon it had once reviled.
But it is now missing from the pavement on the north side of the recently reopened National Museum of China, with no notice as to where or why it had gone.
Online forums are abuzz with speculation as to its fate. The news portal sina.com quoted a museum staff member saying it had been moved inside to a new sculpture garden.
The staff member, who was not identified by name, said the statue had been displayed outdoors while the garden was being completed.
Museum officials would not comment and said no tickets were available to go inside and check.
The 31ft bronze sculpture of a robed Confucius had sat just north-east of Tiananmen Square roughly facing a massive portrait of Mao Zedong, founder of China's Communist regime, hanging from famed Tiananmen Gate at the entrance to the Forbidden City.
Confucius was at the centre of Chinese civilisation for nearly two millennia but was widely denigrated by Mao, who railed constantly against traditional culture and what he called "feudal thinking".
Thirty-five years after Mao's death, the statue's appearance was seen as proof of Confucius' rehabilitation as an underlying ideology for a society that has largely discarded communist ideology, even as it retains the one-party Leninist political system.