Category Archives: Statues and Monuments

Bricks and Marble

I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.

–Augustus Caesar

Historians can argue wither Augustus Caesar was accurate or not with this claim. However, casual history buffs do know he rose to power after a period of war, instability, and political intrigue. Some people know this because they were forced to read Shakespeare in high school and college. Julius Caesar, Augustus’ uncle, had high political ambitions and got stabbed to death for it in the Roman senate. If you put the context of the above quote to one side for the moment, Augustus’ words makes me think Chinese urban planning, sometimes.This isn’t a case of random associations, either. I actually ran into a statue of Augustus in Xinbei.

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At first, this seemed a bit random. This is inside a small housing complex very close to Hohai University and on Jinling Road.

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Other than maybe the architecture, there is nothing remotely European about the place. Augustus is the only statue here. It seems like a non-sequitur if you zero in on the sculpture itself. If one steps back, however, there is a wider context. Changzhou and China in general seem to build things with non-Chinese themes all the time. Many expensive Chinese residential complexes sport European tropes in an attempt to look wealthy and suggest sophistication. Examples of this can be found all over the city — and also not that far from where I found Augustus.

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Sometimes I wonder about Changzhou and the above Augustus Caesar quote. Changzhou, like many other cities across China, is a city of bricks. You see this in poorer neighborhoods here and places that has met the wrecking ball and are now temporary fields of rubble. Literally, piles of bricks waiting to be taken away so the land can be redeveloped into something more “modern” and “contemporary.”  That is part of the “Chinese dream” I guess. Knock it all you want as over zealous urban planning, but deep down, this city wants to be one of marble.

The Children and the Faceless

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Lanyuan Park is located next to the Changzhou Women and Children Activity Center. If you were to walk away from downtown, go over a bridge, you would pass this building. The street name changes from Nandajie to others several times, but it is the same road. This is a building maintained by the municipal government, and it works as an educational resource center. There, families have access to discounted educational programs that cover everything from English lessons to art and more. So, it is fitting to find statues of children in the adjoining park.

One is a group of kids craved from white stone. It depicts two boys and two girls holding on to each other in what looks like a conga line. Their expressions are mostly of mischief. One boy, at the end, is falling down, but he has his hands on the belt line of a girl’s trousers, suggesting he is about to accidentally pull her pants down. The other statue is worked into fountain. A boy and a girls are laying down and watching the water splash into the pool below. IMG_20160731_204742

Again, because there is a family oriented governmental building nearby, this makes sense. There is an odd juxtaposition, though, in Lanyuan. It is strange, surreal, and oddly beautiful. A series of concrete planters showcases bamboo thatches. There is a bronze-looking metal sculpture of two people sitting on a bench. They have no faces and the are huddled together, wrapped in a single blanket. Are they refugees? Old people? It’s hard to tell when the front of their heads are smooth and featureless.

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If I was had to guess, I would have to go with the elderly. That’s just a snap judgement based on my experiences in Changzhou’s public parks. Often, you will see the elderly sleeping and exercising in most public parks. Lanyuan is no different. Even during hot and humid days, you can see somebody’s grandfather swinging and flailing is arms while walking in circles.  I once saw a guy doing the “raise the roof” gesture with his upturned palms in the air. It’s not just the weird excercise. My favorite was an old guy who used to wear a white tanktop and a red sweatband around his head. In one hand, he held a portable radio. At the top of his lungs, he belted out Chinese opera. No matter where you went in Lanyuan, you could hear him. IMG_20160731_212751

Cruising Cuihong Road

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I could literally feel heat waves radiating off the streets. Once the breeze shifted, it felt like I was slowly punching through pockets of hot air. Ahead of me, a truck sprayed the hot road down with water, and that just made the air above the concrete humid and slightly hard to breath. You could easily say today was a hot day in a string of hot days, but then again, it’s also July. Changzhou and this part of China sometimes gets uncomfortably hot. I can only take some comfort that parts of the Middle Kingdom are much worse this time of year. However, it has put a bit of damper on my ebike travels as of late. I don’t handle the heat very well; it sucks the energy out of me and just makes me want to sleep all day.

I was not even halfway towards the former Qishuyan district before I just turned around and started heading home. On the way, I did take one detour. I still felt like wandering, and a side street promised a lot of shade. This ended up being Cuihong Road. This small street connects Cuizhu Park with Feilong Road in Tianning. Cuizhu is basically a small green space between Zijing and Hongmei.

One could easily argue that there isn’t much to see on this road. It cuts between two older residential neighborhoods. Many of the shops here look like many of the other shops throughout Changzhou. I even encountered a statue of a woman tucked into a small parking lot. A rope had been attached to her hand, and basically, she was being used in a vast network of clotheslines for drying laundry.

Looking around, I was reminded something I have always told people. I think the local Chinese can handle blazing heat a lot better than many westerners. Here, on this small, seemingly lazy road, shirtless old men sat around smoking cigarettes. A couple of workers with pick axes were tearing up the street, and woman busily organized and categorized fruit in her shop. Another woman and her small son walked by, hand in hand. The mom made sure her sun stayed under her shady parasol.

Me? I was sweating profusely and wearing a wet shirt that already had some white salt stains. So, I just took it as further proof that I really dislike hot summers. I promptly went home to my air conditioning and computer — where instead of writing, I looked up UFO conspiracy theories on YouTube.

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A Statue of Street Cleaners

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There is one municipal employee in Changzhou that is perhaps the easiest to find — street cleaners. If you think about it, it is probably one of the most thankless jobs in the city. Even in humidity and high heat, these people are out picking up cigarette butts and other errant bits of trash on roads and sidewalks.

There is a statue dedicated to these workers. It’s located at a cheng guan — municipal code enforcers — headquarters in Wujin. There is another statue of the cheng guan nearby. Like that one, the street cleaners are depicted in a strange sort of buttery yellow. The chinese on the statue reads as 奉献, which loosely translates as devotion.

Who are the Cheng Guan?

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A Statue outside of a Cheng Guan 城管 office in Wujin.

An old lady flees while holding a basket of peaches. A look of profound concern and consternation twists her mouth into a scowl. As she runs, some of her peaches fall, hit the sidewalk, and roll behind her. She doesn’t care. She can’t sell those peaches now; eluding those chasing her is far more important. Who are they?

They are called cheng guan 城管. Foriegners in Changzhou — and China in general — often mistake these guys for the police. They are not. Policemen wear black uniforms, and the cheng guan wear green. These guys are municipal code enforcers, and typically that involves inspecting business to make sure they have all the right permits. For example, if they think your exterior awning is too big, they will come in and try to levy a fee. Honestly, some Chinese people think they are corrupt and are fishing for bribes half the time.

That’s half the story with these governmental officials. They are notorious for going after unlicensed street vendors. The scene is usually the same: six officers on two eBikes would roll up. (Yes, three cheng guan per bike). And dozens of vendors frantically gather their wares and flee. In Changzhou, sometimes they are there to just scare the illegal street merchants. Other times, they actually enforce the city’s codes. Once, outside my former vocational college, I saw about eight of these officers surrounding one person. One officer held a video camera, and the merchant tearfully confessed to selling illegal noodles. Another officer impounded his food cart and pedaled it away.

I thought about this, because, well, I happened into a statue dedicated to the cheng guan and all they do (or illicitly don’t or illicitly do). It’s in Wujin on Yanzheng Road. It’s just across the street from a relatively new Starbucks. This is just two east-to-west roads north of Changzhou University’s north gate.  The most odd thing here, is the color. It’s completely yellow — but not the golden hue you’d find in Buddhist temples. This monument has an odd buttery color. That was also when that coat of paint has seen better days. Now, you can see the pale stone beneath in some spots. The real irony here is the Chinese; it says, “harmony.”  That is a feeling not shared by many who deal with the cheng guan. 

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Mannekin Pis Has a Chinese Brother

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A naughty statue in Tianning —  near where Tesco used to be on Zhongwu Da Dao 中吴大道

 

“I once walked into a housing estate and saw fountain statues of little boys peeing.”

A friend of mine once said this to me over dinner. She said she was new to Changzhou at the time, and like me, liked to aimlessly wander as a way to learn about a new city.

“Where is this?”

“Sorry, I forgot.”

“You know,” I said, “I am now going to obsessively look for that housing estate, now.”

She flashed an evil grin. “That’s why I told you about it.”

And, I went looking. I walked onto many housing estates over the course of a week, and I almost never found the weirdness my lady friend described. Eventually, I discovered something close, but it was not the urinating fountains my friend spoke of. It was a small statue of a naked little boy. This was on a housing estate on Zhongwu Avenue 中吴大道 near the bridge to Wujin / Hutang.  As soon as I saw it, I started laughing, hard. It was not the first time I had seen this little boy.

Actually, it was a replica of an infamous fountain in Brussels, Belgium. It looks forged in bronze, and it depicts a little boy urinating into a small pool of water. The statue’s name is Mannekin Pis, and it’s a famous landmark, and souvenir shops make a fortune selling related merchandise to bewildered tourists with WTF on their minds. It’s even to the point where the statue has a dedicated blog.

The fact that there is a replica in Changzhou doesn’t surprise me. There are lots of new construction that actively tries to imitate European architecture and atmosphere. This housing estate, and the mostly empty shopping center next to it, has a decidedly Euro theme. As a reference point, there used to be a Tesco on Zhongwu. It’s that area. At Global Harbour in Xinbei, for example, there is a whole atrium with European style faux paintings. This is at the uppermost level, on the interior of a dome ceiling. As for the housing estate my friend stumbled onto, I largely suspect what she saw there were also Manekin Pis replicas.

Mannekin Pis in Brussels. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Mannekin Pis in Brussels. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Math Globe on Camphor Way

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The College Town in Wujin is essentially three streets that run parallel east to west. There is Gehu Road that passes by the north gate of Changzhou University and two vocational colleges. Then, there is Mingxin Road to the south. This passes the south gates of Changzhou College of Information Technology, the Mechatronics College, and the Light Industrial College. The B1, B16, and 2 buses all use this road. Camphor Way, however, is the road between the two. It’s usually partially gated and closed to through / shortcut traffic. In a way, it serves as park without being named as such. At night, you see college students walking or jogging  here. Couples often cuddle together on secluded benches.

One of the more “Changzhou iconic” sculptures is here. It’s a circular globe made of metal disks. The sides of these discs have mathematical equations and important educational quotes engraved onto them. I have seen photographs of this thing turn up in books and other bits of promotional literature for the city. As for its location, it’s on the eastern end of Camphor Way. It’s between Changzhou University’s south gate and Changzhou College of Information Technology’s north gate.

Wujin Revolutionary Martyrs’ Memorial

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Monuments to fallen communist heroes are extremely common in China. Nearly every town has at least one. Of course, in the past, I have had trouble finding some. Baidu Maps say they are there, and when you actually go to find them, you’re in an empty field. As I have always said before, I call these map ghosts.

Wujin has a fairly large one, but it looks more like a mausoleum where human remains are stored — not so much a place for tourists or an attraction in that way. I have been here when the gates were open during the day, and after walking around, I realized what it actually was and didn’t linger. It consists of a huge plaza, a monument with Chinese writing, and a large, shuttered building behind it.

It’s near Baolin Temple in Wujin — the temple with the huge indoor statue of Guanyin. Also nearby is grave site for the general population. The entrance to the Yancheng’s preserved historical site is also nearby. Honestly, Yancheng and Baolin are more worth the visit. As I always say, its best to let the dead rest in peace.

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The Light Thief

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Chinese culture is filled with wisdom proverbs that refer to specific behaviors deemed socially and personally desirable. One of them (凿壁偷光) stresses the importance of studying hard under tough conditions. The Chinese characters roughly translates into “to cut a hole in the wall to steal light.” Of course, there is a longer story behind that.

Kuang Heng came from the Western Han dynasty. He was born into a poor family, but he had dreams and aspirations beyond poverty. He loved books, wanted to learn, and he wanted to study hard. His family, however, could not afford candles. This meant he couldn’t read at night. So, Kuang Heng cut a hole in his wall. Light from his neighbor’s home streamed in. And with this solitary beam, he was able to study. Many, many nights and texts later, he was able to do very well on the exams aspiring civil servants must take in Imperial China. Eventually, he grew in rank and significance. This story, this proverb, is often used now by Chinese parents when encouraging students to work harder in school and at their students.

As for the statue, it’s one of three with idioms in Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. It literally depicts a boy reading next to a hole in the wall. Another nearby stresses the importance of filial piety. This is practically Jintan’s small central park, and one of the entrances is on Dongmendajie 东门大街. The park itself is walking distance between the bus station and area’s fashionable shopping district.

Laozi in Luoxi

IMG_20160520_181014Laozi 老子 — also known as Lao-Tze or Lao-Tzu — is one of the most central and venerated writers in Daoism. He penned the Dao De Jing, which is a foundation text in Chinese and Asian thought. If you walk into a Daoist / Taoist temple, you are bound to find a statue of this guy somewhere. He is usually smiling. You also sometimes just find statues of him in seemingly random places.

Like some figures also found in Buddhism, he can be taken in two roles. Some look up on as a philosophical figure and appreciate his thinking; others view him as a religious figure in Taoism that can be worshiped and prayed to. Laozi is often considered a contemporary of Confucius, and the two belief systems contrast. Confucius tends to be a realist, and Laozi tends to be more ideal. Confucius writes about how to fit into the social world around you, and Laozi does not. He was more interested in the greater world within. Even though he seems to be speaking of internalizing things, his statues usually have him smiling. You also sometimes just find statues of him in seemingly random places.

I found him once in a semi-abandoned Tibetan Spring Garden 藏春园 in Louxi. This is a township out towards Changzhou’s airport in Xinbei Somebody who used to live in the area once told me a restaurant used to be a main attraction, but it packed up and moved. As for the statue itself, Laozi is sitting with a young student and expounding his considerable wisdom. It was hard to get a good picture since the statue was slightly overgrown.

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