China's first statue?

I found this in 圖書日報, I think from 1910. It is a statue of Lin Zexu that may be China’s first public statue. It is of course not the first statue to exist in China, but it may be the first time China had a proper Western-style Public Statue made of bronze. There was never much of a Chinese tradition of statuary and certainly none of public commemorative statues.

Lin Zexu圖書日報

I assume that lots of Chinese visitors to Europe and the U.S. noted the statues of important public figures scattered all over foreign cities. The caption to this one is maddeningly unhelpful, but still interesting. The statue itself had been commissioned in Germany.1 I wonder if it had been intended for some sort of public display.  It ended up being put in the 徐 family temple, which is not quite a public place, but reasonably close. The picture makes it look like it was facing out into the street, so it was in public view Before you get lots of public statues you need lots of public places, and public places were just starting to be created in China at this point.

The interesting question is why Lin Zexu? A statue is a big deal, as it says you are well-deserved of the nation, and taking them down if you loose your status is a big thing. What makes you statue-worthy in the last years of the Qing? Well, he was an important statesman who was safely dead. He was well-known overseas, which is stressed in the caption, since in 1910 foreign impressions were important. Although the caption does not mention it, he was both someone who led the Qing resistance against imperialism and someone who was exiled by the Qing, so if you were pro or anti dynasty you could find something to like in him. Joyce Madancy pointed out that Lin got a statue in New York’s Chinatown in part because he was from Fujian but became famous in Guangzhou, so he could appeal to different provincial groups. So he pushes a lot of buttons. The upper caption explains that China is now in the middle of successfully wiping out opium use. which probably helped. Before the successful Late Qing anti-opium campaigns, or after the campaign collapsed under the Republic Lin would not seem so statue-worthy, as he was connected with China’s failure to deal with opium. After 1949 he was a feudal official, so no statues on the mainland at least. Today opium use is part of China’s past, not present, and he is, I assume, a good statue candidate again.

 

 


  1. Germany is interesting. Lin was famous for fighting with the British. I wonder if the Germans thought that emphasizing this was good politics. 

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