ISC Echoes The Chinese Statue: love for art and gratitude towards the artist


 The Chinese Statue 

Question: with reference to the short story ‘ The Chinese Statue’  discuss Sir Alexander Heathcote love for art and his gratitude towards the artist. 

Answer : Sir Alexander Heathcote has been described in the story as having ” more than an amateur interest in the art of the Ming dynasty.” This is depicted throughout the story.

      First, when he got an appointment as British Ambassador to China, he was delighted as e had taken it as an ” opportunity to observe in their natural habitat some of the great statues, paintings, and drawings”. 

       Second, during his term of three years, he took no leave and used that time to travel to the Chinese countryside and discover more about their art.

     Third, when Sir Alexander chanced upon an old craftsman’s workshop ” For over an hour the minister sighed and chuckled as he studied  many of the pieces with admiration and finally retuned to the old man to praise his skill.” 
   When the craftsman, brought him to the back of his workshop “The minister could have happily settled down in the orgy of ivory for at least a week.” 

       Fourth, when Sir Alexander talked with the craftsman, his vast knowledge and love of the Ming dynasty’s art was acknowledged by the craftsman.

    Fifth, Sir Alexander was mesmerised to see the beautiful statue of Emperor Kung, which Yung Lee showed him. On seeing the statue  “Sir Alexander’s mouth opened wide and he could not hide his excitement”. He felt confident that the statue have been made around fifteenth century.
          In fact, Sir Alexander was so enamoured by the beauty of the statue, that despite his knowledge and love for Ming dynasty’s art, he could not make out that it was an imitation of the original. He also could not hide his desire to have it.

   Finally, Sir Alexander was so  possessed about that piece of art that he  wanted it to remain in his family always. Therefore ” He bequeathed the Emperor Kung to his first son requesting that he do the same, in order that the statue might always pass to the first son or daughter if the direct male line faltered. He also made a provision that the statue was never to be disposed of unless the family’s honour was at stake. “

     Sir Alexander admired Yung Lee for his own art and his kind act of gifting him, the statue which is his family heirloom.

       Though Sir Alexander regretted voicing his desire , he could not refuse to take the statue as a gift when the craftsman insisted him saying –
“You would dishonour my humble home if you did not take the Emperor.” 

       When he left the craftsman’s workshop, the Mandarin interpreter found  Sir Alexander in a terrible state. It seemed that he was quite disturbed at the thought of taking the craftsman’s heirloom without paying him anything in return.

     Then, the Mandarin, told him about the old Chinese custom that “When a stranger has been generous you must return the kindness within the calendar year”. Sir Alexander felt relieved.

    Sir Alexander made an extensive research in the library to find out the real worth of the statue which came out to ” almost three years’ emolument for a servant of the Crown.” He then requested his bankers to send a large part of his savings to him.
      He also employed the Mandarin to discover the true identity and details of the craftsman. Then he found out that the craftsman whom they met, was called Yung Lee. He belonged to the old family of the famous craftsman Yung Shau. Yung Lee wished to settle down in the hills, passing over his art to his son.

      After almost a year later, Sir Alexander met with Yung Lee again and requested him to accompany him on a short journey. After two hours journey they reached  a hollow in the hill,there stood a ” newly completed small, white house of most  perfect proportions. Two stone lion dogs, tongues hanging over their lips, guarded the front entrance. “
Sir Alexander said –
“A small, inadequate gift and my feeble attempt to repay you in kind.”

      The craftsman fell to his knees and begged forgiveness as he knew it was forbidden for an artisan to accept gifts from a foreigner. The Mandarin convinced the craftsman that the Empress herself had sanctioned Sir Alexander’s request. “A smile of joy came over the face of the craftsman and he slowly walked up to the doorway of the beautiful little house. “

     This way honour satisfied, and Sir Alexander rode to his Embassy that night contended that he had paid his debt.

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