Tag Archives: Statues

Waiting for Rabbits in Wujin

Wisdom proverbs and idioms are huge part of Chinese culture. Parents often quote them to children as a way of motivation, and sometimes people say these expressions under their breath to reassure themselves before taking action. Inevitably, when a person is trying to learn to understand and appreciate Chinese culture, coming to know these expressions is also important. These idioms don’t just show up in conversation or in books, but they are often the subject matter of public art — especially sculpture in public parks.

A person can easily find this in Wujin. The Yancheng area is not only home to an amusement park, a zoo, and a bunch of buildings made to look like the China of old, but there is also a very big parking lot there.  Near that part of Yancheng, there are a few statues depicting some famous Chinese expressions. So, here is one of them.

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守株待兔

shǒuzhūdàitù

This means to “wait by a stump for rabbits.” Basically, a lazy farmer one day watches a blind bunny run into a tree stump and break its neck. The farmer considers himself lucky, and he takes the dead animal home turns it to a very filling dinner. Instead of going back to work the next day and plowing his field, he decides to wait for another rabbit to come by and run into the stump. For some reason, he think that just sitting and waiting will bring him free and easy dietary protein. In the meantime, his field is not plowed, and it eventually does not grow any crops. This idiom can be taken as a chide against think people can get by without doing any hard work.

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This particular idiom is thousands of years old and goes back to the Warring States period of Chinese history. Han Fei 韓非 wrote an essay entitled “The Five Vermin.”

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In this polemic, he spoke out against the things that he thought led to bad governance.  Han Fei’s writing belongs to a “legalist” tradition. His work has been said to influence Qin Shihuang as the first emperor of a unified China as well as several more rulers throughout Chinese history.

Liyang’s Game of Thrones Styled Story

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Ancient Chinese history is filled with brutal court intrigues among generals, politicians, heads of state, fox spirits, and more. This is particularly true when you consider that, over the course of time, China has been splintered into several countries. That means, basically, that the Game of Thrones tales of double, triple, and quadruple crossing people, allies, and enemies can become easy to find. More regal courts means more opportunities for people betraying each other. Just look at the history of Chinese poets; the whole “I am in exile, drunk, and miss my home” is a common literary trope. Why? A lot of poets were also government officials that ran afoul of somebody and had to leave. It’s the story of Li Bai, and it’s the story of Su Dongpo, for example. 

The more somebody travels through China, the more they can see this if they start paying attention to local lore and legend. I realized this once in Liyang. While this place is not a district of Changzhou as a municipality, it is considered part of Changzhou as a prefecture. In short, it’s its own city, but it’s technically still part of CZ.

Over in Phoenix Park 凤凰公园 near Liyang’s urban center,a statue commemorates something called “The Gauze Washing Virgin.” The stone sculpture stands in the middle of a pond, and four large stone panels — with etched illustrations — serves as a backdrop. The story, according to a bilingual sign, can be paraphrased this way.

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A young woman is washing textiles in the river. Eventually, a man wanders into her life. He’s weak, he’s starving, and she saves him. She feeds him and shows him some hospitality. While doing so, she recognizes him as Wu Zixu 伍子胥.

This was a figure from the Chu Kingdom’s court during the Spring and Autumn Period. Chu was a larger country to the west of Liyang and Changzhou. On the run, Wu Zixu fled Chu and ended up in the Wu Kingdom. (To be noted: the Wu family name 伍 and the Wu kingdom 吳 are different WU characters in Pinyin. Also, by the way, unintended rhyming is hard to avoid when you are using Chinese names.) The state of Wu was comprised of areas that are currently associated with Suzhou, Wuxi, and Changzhou.

Anyhow, this young woman saves this guy’s life. Yet, she realizes that she now possesses a deadly secret. She knows who he is. More importantly, she likely realizes somebody is after him. According to the sign at Liyang’s Phoenix park, she picks up a big rock, throws herself into the river, and drowns to protect his identity.  If she dies, his secret dies with her.

 

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Wu Zixu, now in exile, goes to become an official in the Wu Kingdom’s court. He eventually prophesied the end of the Wu Kingdom due to treachery, but he still lost his life in the same type of Game of Thrones type of intrigue that caused him to flee the Chu kingdom in the first place. According to Wikipedia, he was asked to commit suicide, and before he did so, he told the then-king to gouge out his own eyes.

All of this story is just a small detail in a small park — in a town more known for eco tourism around Tianmu Lake and the Nanshan Bamboo Forest. However, it’s lore like this that actually gives town like Liyang true character.

 

 

Guanyin at Baolin Temple in Wujin

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According to local legend, Guanyin was key in the formation of Gehu Lake — which is also known as “West Taihu Lake.” The body of fresh water is located near the flower expo grounds in Wujin. This act of Guanyin’s was a way to show mercy to locals besieged by floods. And that is what she does. In Buddhism, she is a goddess of mercy. Some pray to her in times trouble and turmoil. This is just one of morsels of information that can be learned at Baolin Temple.

This is a Buddhist religious attraction near the Wujin’s Martyr’s Memorial. Baolin is perhaps one of the biggest cultural treasures in a district that is currently seeing a lot of construction. This is true for the temple itself. In the few thousand years it has existed, Baolin has been destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times. So, it’s largely renovated now and not in its original state. One of the more recent additions in the past two years is a pagoda a friend of mine compared to a pineapple.

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This pagoda is dedicated to Guanyin. She is all over the exterior with golden statues and exterior paintings depicting her showing mercy to people.

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Baolin has a lot of the stuff you could expect to see at Buddhist temples. But the real attraction here is the four-floor-high Guanyin statue inside the pagoda itself. It is simply a wonder to behold.

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The pagoda has an elevator. I usually like to take it to the fourth floor, walk circles around the statue, and then take the stairs down one floor at a time.

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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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.

Xinbei’s Never-Ending Kiss

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

It was first published in Life Magazine in 1945, and it has gone on to become an iconic image of victory at the end of World War Two. In a picture, a sailor holds a nurse in his hands, dips her, and gives her a deep, long kiss. It must have been a good one, too. The woman looks like she’s practically melting in his arms. This took place in Times Square in New York City, right after announcements that Japan had officially surrendered, the and bloodiest war in human history was now something for the history books.

For a long time, the identities of the two smoochers remained unknown. The sailor was a guy named George Mendonsa. He was on a first date with his future wife-to-be. Only, his girlfriend isn’t the one he kissed in the picture. She actually watched. Her date, George, after hearing the news, rush up the first nurse he saw and planted the now iconic kiss. Was his date angry? Oddly enough, no. George was swept with the memory of nurses and acted impulsively. The woman in the picture actually didn’t want to be kissed in the first place. However, the real story doesn’t live up to people’s imaginations.

This photo has lived on as part of “Americana.” Just like Marilyn Monroe’s fluttering skirt, it has turned up in Changzhou. Xinbei’s new Risesun Manhattan Plaza has a statue of the sailor and the nurse. Marilyn is clearly visible from the street, but the kissing couple takes a bit of walking to find. It’s located on the side of shopping center where storefronts still remain empty. There is also still a construction barricade on the other side. IMG_20160511_132108