Chinatown’s Fujianese Get a Statue
By David W. Chen CHEN (NOV. 20, 1997)
The bronze statue of Confucius has dominated the landscape in Manhattan’s Chinatown since 1984, casting a learned and paternal look toward Mott Street, the World Trade Center and the world beyond.
Yesterday, Confucius got some company: a statue of a Qing Dynasty official from Fujian Province, whose appearance in Chinatown may have less to do with his role in 19th-century history than with politics in the late 20th century. The new statue is of Lin Zexu, who helped to ignite the Opium War by banning the drug, to the chagrin of British officials.
Those who brought the Lin statue to Chatham Square say they did so to deliver a strong anti-drug message. But the statue carries a strong political message as well: it underscores the ascending power in Chinatown of immigrants from mainland China, particularly the Fujianese. They are quickly gaining political strength, at the expense of the pro-Taiwan Cantonese who settled earlier in Chinatown.
”Confucius is for all Chinese,” said Zheng Dezhang, 36, who immigrated to New York City from Fujian Province in 1989. ”But Lin Zexu is from Fujian, and that is very meaningful for those of us from Fujian, because there are more of us now in New York.”
James Lee, English secretary for the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Association, whose organization played a major role in building the Confucius statue more than 10 years ago, suspects politics may have been a factor: Lin, after all, fought against the British. And Hong Kong is a British colony that was recently returned to a triumphant China.
”There are many heroes in Chinese history,” Mr. Lee said. ”Why did they have to pick Lin Zexu?”
The reason, maintains Steven Wong, chairman of the Lin Zexu Foundation of U.S.A., is inscribed in English and Chinese at the statue’s hexagonal red-bean-colored base: ”Say No to Drugs.”
”There’s a stereotype that only Fujianese sell drugs, and we need to set an example,” said Mr. Wong, whose business card indicates that he is a director of or consultant to 11 other Chinese-American organizations.
The statue cost $200,000 and was financed by individuals and civic associations, particularly those with Fujianese ties, Mr. Wong said. And the placement of the statue was carefully planned: Lin faces northeast and East Broadway, which some people call ”Fuzhou Street” because of the prevalence of Fujianese. His back is to One Police Plaza and the Manhattan Detention Complex.
The Confucius statue, by comparison, is on the Bowery and Division Street and faces south — where Lin Zexu is part of a backdrop that includes the World Trade Center. It was financed primarily by money from Taiwan’s Nationalist Government.
The list goes on: the green marble base of Confucius was mined in Taiwan; the red granite one of Lin Zexu in Xiamen, a major Fujianese city. And Lin Zexu, at 18 feet 5 inches, is taller than Confucius’s 16 feet, said T. C. Ho, the architect of both statues. But he says one should not read too much into Confucius’s smaller stature.
Yesterday’s event was not the official unveiling of the Lin Zexu statue; that will come at some later date, for which organizers hope to recruit Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and other officials.
But that did not stop a steady stream of Chinese from gawking at the latest addition to the neighborhood.
”Confucius is good, of course, but Li Zexu is special because I am from Fujian,” said Cheng Hoi, 54, who immigrated from Fuzhou, Lin Zexu’s hometown, 20 years ago. Then, cocking his head toward the heavens, he invoked a famous poem by Li Bai, the Tang Dynasty poet, about how the moonlight makes one think of one’s hometown.
”For me,” Mr. Cheng smiled, ”the statue of Lin Zexu is my moonlight.”