Tag Archives: 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.

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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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.

Mao in a Wasteland

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The yellow crane is gone, who knows whither?
Only this tower remains a haunt for visitors.

–Mao Zedong, from Yellow Crane Tower

Some people, especially foreigners in The Middle Kingdom, do not know that Mao Zedong once wrote poetry. Whether that poetry was quality or not is not for me to say. I don’t have much to judge it against when it comes to Chinese verse. I know little bit of Li Bai, Du Fu, and Su Shi (Su Dongpo), and that’s about it. It should also be noted that I know these writers in translation, not in their native language. The two above lines strike me for another reason.

They remind me of a local irony in Changzhou. In the northern end of Zhonglou District and the border with Xinbei, you can find a large statue of Mao Zedong. It is basically close to the shipping / offloading area behind the Metro supermarket. He is in a visionary stance with one arm held aloft to the sky — as if to hail people or the sweep of history and the future to come. You see this a lot with the statues of monumental leaders.

IMG_20160505_151920How he is standing is not the irony. Nor is how unnaturally long his arm looks. It’s what surrounds him; it looks like a wasteland. On one side, footpaths twist around mounds of earth, grass, and garbage. The farther you walk into this field, the more you secretly planted crops of vegetables.  If you retrace your steps back and cross Mao’s plaza, you find a different sort of wasteland. Some sort of building or buildings used to stand here. My guess would be factories or some sort of industrial site. Smashed bricks and building materials smother the ground. When I was there, a few guys with a truck picked through the refuse — as if looking for whole bricks to reuse elsewhere. Some of the still-standing buildings are also abandoned.

This gets me back to Mao’s Yellow Crane Tower poem. Of course, he wasn’t writing about Changzhou those many decades ago. Yes, I am taking these lines out of context. But these two lines remind me of the eerie sort of ambiance here. “The yellow crane is gone.” Here, yes, I heard no sounds of birds. You could here the crackle, however, of a few smoldering piles of trash.  As for the second line, the “tower” and the “haunt” is Mao himself.  And the only reason to go to this desolate place is to see him — to be a “visitor.”IMG_20160505_151944

Trina and Xinbei’s Blue Men

IMG_20160415_111913In Changzhou, “Trina” is a name often associated with Xinbei. One of the major schools expats send their children bares this moniker. It’s also at the center of a huge scandal, as the school was allegedly built on toxic and polluted land — as reported by China Daily. The name Trina, however, is not exclusive to the school. You see it in a few places once you are north of Global Harbour Mall on Tongjiang Road. It’s because it’s the name of a major industry in Changzhou and around the world.  Trina Solar is a player in the global international green energy sector. It develops and manufactures solar power components, and it’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s that big of an industrial deal.

The name is also associated with Trina Photovoltaic Industrial Park 天合光伏产业园 on Tongjiang Road. It’s a little south of Xinlong Ecological Forest.  Like that nature preserve, there a plenty of concrete paths to ride bikes. Although, parts of Xinlong are more lovely to look at. Since this is a wide open space, you can see people flying kites here on windy days. The park itself dates back to April, 2008, and it is in a place the municipal government zoned as a “high tech industrial area.”

The strangest thing, however, is the monument here.  It made me think of the Blue Man Group in America. For those who do not know, this is a performance art / musical troupe. They often play outlandish, weird, and alien looking instruments. Oh, and each member is completely painted blue.  It the park’s center, there are a group of unisex blue figures standing in a circle. They are holding up a globe of planet earth. When looking at this, I got to thinking that the association was purely coincidental. However, the outlandishness of both are too hard not to notice.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.