The Chinese Statue
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How did Sir Heathcote meet Yung Lee? Describe the relationship they shared.Marks:20
Sir Alexander Heathcote – a diplomat in the Queen’s government was appointed as the minister representing Great Britain in China. He was very happy when this appointment came because this meant that he would get an opportunity to interact with the native Chinese people and also to see the Chinese monuments and examples of traditional arts in person.
He came across a small village called Ha Li Chuan situated fifty miles from Peking during one of his sightseeing trips. He was accompanied by a Mandarin who helped him to communicate. There, he met an old craftsman, Yung Lee. He stopped to admire the delicate ivory and jade statues kept in the small shop.Yung Lee took them to his workshop situated at the interior of his shop. The room had many rows of beautiful statues. Heathcote was absolutely thrilled. He was very interested in traditional Chinese art and meeting Yung Lee made him very happy.
Through the mandarin, both Yung Lee and Heathcote discovered each other’s ardent admiration for and knowledge of traditional Chinese art. When Sir Heathcote was admiring the statues in Yung Lee’s workshop, the latter told him about a family heirloom – a small statue of the Emperor Kung from Ming dynasty. When Sir Heathcote saw the statue, he was awestruck. He accidentally uttered an undiplomatic desire – to possess the statue. Though Yung Lee was sad to part with the family heirloom, he readily agreed to do so because there was a Chinese tradition which stated that if an honoured guest requested something, the giver would grow in the eyes of his fellow men by parting with it.
Sir Heathcote was very grateful and did everything in his power to make sure that the statue got the importance it deserved. When the Mandarin told him about the Chinese tradition that one ought to repay the kindness of a stranger within one calendar year, he got a house built for Yung Lee in the valley where his ancestors had died. The relationship that Sir Heathcote shared with Yung Lee was one of mutual respect, admiration and gratitude.
What circumstances lead the statue of Emperor Kung to the auction room in England?Marks:20
Sir Alexander Heathcotewas a diplomat and minister who represented the British Government in China. He had a special appreciation for Chinese art and culture, especially sculptures.
During his tenure in China, he came across a small village called Ha Li Chuan situated fifty miles from Peking during one of his sightseeing trips. He was accompanied by a Mandarin who helped him communicate. There he met an old craftsman, Yung Lee and stopped to admire the delicate ivory and jade statues that he had made.Yung Lee took them to his workshop situated at the interior of his shop. The room had many rows of beautiful statues and Heathcote’s love for Ming dynasty art was revealed. The craftsman then told them that he was in possession of an ivory statue of Emperor Kung. It was an heirloom that had been handed down for generations.
When he saw it, Heathcote was beyond impressed. He committed an undiplomatic act by accidentally blurting out his desire to keep the statue. The Mandarin travelling with him immediately conveyed it to Yung Lee and Heathcote regretted having uttered such an imposing thought. He tried to undo the act by saying that he was only joking. The craftsman handed the statue back to Heathcote saying that he had to take it, since was a matter of the honour of his family.
When Sir Heathcote completed his tenure in Peking, he returned to Yorkshire. The statue decorated the mantelpiece in the drawing room of his father’s house. Sir Heathcote left precise instructions in his will for it to be passed on to the first born child in the family. He also made it clear that unless the family’s honour was at stake, the statuewas to remain within the family.
Sir Heathcote’s great-great-grandson, Alex Heathcote gambled a lot and fell into debt. When the lenders hinted at bodily harm, he was left with no alternative but to give up the statue, as it was now a matter of the family’s honour.He took the little emperor to Sotheby’s instructing them to put it up for auction. After a few days, the head of the Oriental department informed him that the statue was worth only 800 guineas at the most. Alex told him to sell it and was about to leave when the man stopped Alex to ask what he was to do with the base. A confused Alex asked him which base he was referring to. The man explained to him that the statue was merely a copy, but the base was an exquisite example of Chinese art. Therefore, the statue reached from Ha Li Chuan to the auction hall at Sotheby’s in England.
What are the Chinese traditions and customs that we are introduced to through the story? Illustrate with examples from the story.Marks:20
The Chinese statue is a fascinating story and it gives the readers tremendous insights into Chinese customs and tradition with a lot of authenticity. The characters who introduce us to the Chinese society and their traditions are Yung Lee and the Mandarin. Of course, Sir Alexander Heathcote also is a character who has tremendous insight and interest into the Chinese culture.The first Chinese custom that we are introduced to is that “if an honoured guest requests something, the giver will grow in the eyes of his fellow men by parting with it.”
We witness this being practiced by Yung Lee when he agrees to part with the statue of Emperor Kung, which had been in his family for generations, when Sir Heathcote commits a diplomatic blunder and lets it slip that he wished that the statue were his.
We are introduced to the second Chinese custom, “when a stranger has been generous, you must return the kindness within one calendar year” when Heathcote is on his way to his official residence in Peking.
Sir Heathcote, having immense respect and appreciation for the Chinese tradition and customs, starts to do some research to assess the true value of the statue. When he figures out that it is worth almost three years’ salary to a servant of the crown, he orders a large part of his savings to be transferred to him in Peking. He requests the Mandarin to get information on the background of Yung Lee. When he finds out that Yung Lee desired to retire to the valley where his ancestors were buried, he gets a house made for Yung Lee at that very place. Yung Lee is amazed and grateful at the kindness of Sir Heathcote. Therefore, in ‘The Chinese Statue’ we find the observation of the old traditions and customs.
Give a character sketch of Sir Alexander Heathcote. Why has he been called “an exact man”?Marks:20
Sir Alexander Heathcotewas a man of precision. From the moment he is introduced in the story, the author has described him with precise details. Therefore, the author has called him “an exact man”.
He was six foot, three and a quarter inches tall. He got up at seven o’ clock every morning and had one boiled egg cooked precisely for four minutes, two pieces of toast with one spoonful of Cooper’s marmalade and one cup of China tea.
He was very punctual and left his home exactly at eight-twenty every day and came home exactly at six in the evening. He was very polite, courteous and diplomatic. His personality was aptly suited to a man of his stature. He never forgot his manners and regretted voicing his thoughts the moment he blurted out that he wished the statue of the Emperor were his.
He was a person who had an immense respect for traditions, manners and practices of other cultures. When the Mandarin told him about the Chinese custom that required one to repay the kindness of a stranger within one calendar year, he was thankful; as he felt that he could repay Yung Lee for his kindness.
When he received the statue of Emperor Kung, he decided to make it the family heirloom as a mark of respect for Yung Lee and his ancestors. He wrote a very detailed will with precise instructions for the disposal of his estate as well as what was to happen to the statue. He bequeathed the statue to his first son and requested him to do the same so that the statue always passed on to the first born child. He also made a provision to ensure that the statue always remained in the family.
Even in death, Sir Heathcote was an exact man. He died precisely at the stroke of midnight in his seventieth year.