BEIJING — A statue of Chinese thinker Confucius has been moved from a prime spot near Tiananmen Square to a less visible location, triggering online speculation Thursday on whether politics was behind the move.

The statue was unveiled in January at an entrance to China's National Museum, which lies across from Tiananmen Square and its hallowed Communist monuments, not far from a huge portrait of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong.

The appearance in Beijing of the 7.9-metre (26-foot) tall statue was seen as a sign the ancient philosopher was back in favour after his teachings were suppressed for decades during Mao's campaigns to denounce backward ways.

But fevered speculation filled some Chinese microblogs and chatrooms Thursday when it was discovered it had suddenly been moved to an inner courtyard of the museum complex and largely out of sight.

Many were puzzled but some speculated there was a political motivation.

"The statue of Confucius opposite Mao's portrait -- now that is a serious political problem," one netizen said on the popular microblog.

They "can't count on Confucius, (they) still have to count on old Mao because you can't control people through thought, only through guns," another added.

Confucius is famous for teachings that centre on harmony and the need to respect superiors. These became a virtual state religion in China before being denounced by Mao as feudal and banned under the former leader's communist rule. They have since enjoyed a slow, officially sanctioned rehabilitation under the current Communist Party leadership, amid the wholesale abandonment of Maoist thought.

Some netizens expressed anger at the removal of the statue, which a security guard confirmed had taken place Wednesday evening. Calls to the national museum's press office went unanswered.

"The Analects (teachings) of Confucius are in fact more like demands of morality from the rulers, so to move away his statue represents the bankruptcy of government morality. It just wastes ordinary people's money," one netizen said.

A government-backed biopic of Confucius has already been released nationwide and further afield Confucius institutes have been established around the world with the aim of promoting the Chinese language and culture.