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The Story Behind the First Statue of Liberty Built in China

Guangzhou Huanghuagang Statue of Liberty

Guangzhou Huanghuagang Statue of Liberty

From Sina Blog & VOC:

Huanghuagang’s Statue of Liberty

HUanghuagang Statue of Liberty postage stamp.

The Huanghuagang Martyr Memorial was built to commemorate the martyrs who died in the 1911 Guangzhou uprising led by Sun Yat-sen. The base of the tomb was layered with granite with 4 pavilions housing a stela, one dedicated to the 72 martyrs. Behind the tomb sits a memorial honoring them, on top of the memorial stands a Statue of Liberty figure. The second commemorative stamp as part of the “70th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution” issued in 1981 contained the picture of the Statue of Liberty at the Huanghuagang Memorial. It has been 90 years since the construction of the Huanghuagang memorial, and with the change of times, the Statue of Liberty on top the memorial also underwent several transformations, bearing witness to a turbulent history of hardship and change.

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Early photo of the statue

In 1918 when the Huanghuagang tomb for the 72 martyrs finished construction, individuals and the overseas Nationalist Party (KMT) branches donated money to build a memorial, and it was completed in 1921. The memorial was piled together with 72 blocks of limestone in the shape of a mountain, representing the 72 martyrs, with every limestone carved with the names of each KMT branch and individual’s name, on the top perched a State of Liberty figure. The horizontal inscription honoring the 72 Martyrs of the Republic was written by the famous revolutionary Zhang Binglin. The earliest Statue of Liberty figure was over 2 meters tall, holding a book in her left hand and a mallet in her right. The exterior was rough, resembling an oval stone, the sculpting not quite refined, with only a few rough lines of decorative designs on her.

Early photo of the staue with two birds at the base
Early photo of the staue with two birds at the base

Why did they erect a Statue of Liberty on top of the memorial? At the time the reason was that erecting a Statue of Liberty symbolized the revolutionary mentality of a nation built upon liberty and equality. The Xinhai Revolution led by revolutionaries under Sun Yat-sen was in essence a democratic revolution opposed to tyranny in the name of the republic. The Statue of Liberty in Paris symbolized liberty and democracy, sharing the same ideals pursued by revolutionaries of its time.

The Statue of Liberty replaced by KMT emblem in the 1930s
The Statue of Liberty replaced by KMT emblem in the 1930s

At the time, there was a Statue of Liberty standing on top of the memorial rather than a KMT emblem, I think this was due to society at the time. Because at the time of the 1911 Guangzhou Uprising the KMT was not yet founded. The KMT was founded on 1912 August 25 which was quickly disbanded by Yuan Shikai. By 1914 July 8, Sun Yat-sen gathered all the KMT revolutionary party members in Japan and declared the “Blue Sky and the White Sun” designed by Lu Haodong as the national and military flag of the Republic of China, but not as the party flag. In 1919, The Chinese Revolutionary parties changed its name to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) but didn’t establish a Party emblem. So that the designers did not install a KMT party emblem on top the memorial was understandable.

Nationalist China currency showing the KMT emblem on top the memorial
Nationalist China currency showing the KMT emblem on top the memorial

Yet, on top of the Huanghuagang memorial once stood a KMT emblem. That was during the 1936 Xi’an Incident where the the Statue of Liberty was a taboo symbol under the Chiang Kai-shek regime. In early 1937, the Statue of Liberty was forcefully removed by the KMT government and changed to a “Blue Sky and the White Sun” Emblem. It was not until 1949 October after Guangzhou was liberated that the KMT emblem was removed and the Statue of Liberty reinstalled, but the mallet in the statue’s hand was changed to a rifle, said to symbolize fthe famous quote by Mao that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

During the Cultural Revolution the statue was replaced by a torch
During the Cultural Revolution the statue was replaced by a torch
All features was removed during the Cultural Revolution
Eventually all features were removed during the Cultural Revolution

During  the chaotic decade of the Cultural Revolution, the Statue of Liberty also suffered as part of the four olds campaign. The Statue of Liberty on top of the memorial was destroyed and replaced by a 2 meter tall torch. Later, the torch also disappeared and nothing remained on top of the memorial and the entire Huanghuagang memorial was deserted. In 1981, the city of Guangzhou invested money for the reconstruction of the Statue of Liberty, it was designed and sculpted by Lin Yuhao. The statue currently on top of the Huanghuagang memorial is 3.4 meters tall and was sculpted from granite; it’s modeled after the Statue of Liberty in Paris and New York with slight modifications to have more Chinese feminine characteristics and presence. The Statue of Liberty holds a book of law in its left hand and a torch in its right, symbolizing democracy, liberty and equality.

Memorial in its present form
Memorial in its present form
The new statue is based on the one in New York with slight modifications
The new statue is based on the one in New York with slight modifications

From Sina Weibo:

@看历史: At Guangzhou’s Huanghuagang Park stands China’s only Statue of Liberty statue. In the beginning she wore a seven ray crown, her right hand held a torch and her left a mallet, at the base of the statue perched two freedom birds; In the 1930s it was replaced by a round “Blue Sky and the White Sun” KMT emblem; it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution; In 1981 the Statue of Liberty was rebuilt, the mallet became a book to symbolize law, while the two freedom birds at the base were not reinstalled.

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Comments on Sina Weibo:

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CharlieZo:

So it turned out freedom only existed before 1949…

漫行散记:

When I visited Huanghuagang, I saw the Statue of Liberty. My first reaction was how did this Statue of Liberty escape the Cultural Revolution. Turns out it was built after the Cultural Revolution.

何书彬:

Now it’s a Statue of Liberty with Chinese characteristics.

心静如水情如水:

I used to play there when I was young. At the time, the torch had smoke coming out of it.

怪物有份美丽:

That freedom bird has already flown away.

硬系觉得个名唔系几够长:

At least it didn’t become a hammer and sickle!

scarleaf:

I was wondering how it could still be there after the Cultural Revolution.

南方围观-成林:

No more freedom now.

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Written by Joe

Joe is a documentary producer and journalist based in Shanghai

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