ISC short story The Chinese Statue : theme of appearance versus reality


The Chinese Statue

Question: How does the short story ‘The Chinese Statue’ explore the theme of appearance versus reality?

Answer :’The Chinese Statue ‘ written by Jeffrey Archer, revolves around a Chinese statue of  Emperor Kung, brought to London by Sir Alexander Heathcote, who was posted in China as a British Ambassador.

       The story starts at Sotheby’s, a famous auction house, with the process of auctioning an old , Chinese Statue of Emperor Kung. The porcelain statue appears to be a masterpiece of Ming dynasty art and ends with the revelation of the reality of the Statue.

      Sir Alexander healthcote had a vast knowledge and deep interest in the art of the Ming dynasty. So when he was appointed as an ambassador to China , he took it as an opportunity to explore more details about Ming dynasty’s art and culture.

      During one of his visits in the countryside, he came across an artist’s workshop. He was highly delighted to see his artwork there. When he talked to the craftsman,  the craftsman discovered his vast knowledge and his love for Chinese art and culture. Being so impressed with him, the craftsman showed him a little statue of Emperor Kung, which had been in his family for over seven generations. The author narrates – 

The little statue, no more than six inches in height, was of Emperor Kung and as fine an example of Ming, as the minister had seen.” 

On seeing such a beautiful statue “sir Alexander’s mouth opened wide and he could not hide his excitement.” 

              He “felt confident that the maker was the great Pen Q who had been patronised by the Emperor”.

          Sir Alexander also estimated it’s time period that it must be of fifteenth century. The only blemish which he found in the statue was that it’s base was missing, “but in the eyes of Sir Alexander nothing could detract from its overall beauty.” 

           Sir Alexander was so fascinated with the statue that he could not stop himself from uttering, How I wish the piece was mine. ” 
Following the old Chinese tradition according to which
” If an honoured Guest requests something the giver will grow in the eyes of his fellow men by parting with it,” the craftsman fixed a base of the statue from his own collection and gifted it to Sir Alexander, though with a heavy heart for it was his heirloom.

       In order to pay back the generosity of the craftsman, Sir Alexander conducted a research to find the true value of the statue.  He came across an old drawing from which he calculated the exact value of the statue which was almost the three years emolument for ma British Civil servant. Then with the help of his Mandarin he found out that the craftsman, Young Lee, belonged to an old and trusted family of artists. The old man, Yung Lee wanted to settle down in hills above his village, where his ancestors always died. Sir Alexander repaid the craftsman by gifting him a beautiful house, constructed for him on the hills.

      Sir Alexander on completing his term in China, brought the statue with him to London and kept in his drawing room for all to see and admire it.
     In fact Sir Alexander was so fond of this piece of art that he wanted it to remain with his family. So he made a will in which 
” He bequeathed the Emperor Kung to his first son requesting him to do the same in order that the statue might always pass to the first son or a daughter if the direct male line faltered. He also made a provision that the statue was never to be dispose of, unless the family’s honour was at stake. ” 

     The statue regarded as the heirloom of the heathcotes, remained with the descendants of Sir Alexander for over a hundred years. His latest descendant, Alex Heathcote, when faced with the financial crisis, decided to sell it and took it to Sotheby’s Auction House. The head of the Oriental department of Sotheby’s by having just a cursory glance was confident that the statue was the work of Pen Q. However, later on , it was discovered that the statue was fake mere a copy of original. It was worth only seven hundred and fifty guineas. However the base which the craftsman casually fixed on the statue turned out to be a genuine piece of art, worth twenty two thousand guineas.

          So the Chinese Statue, which appeared to be a genuine piece of art throughout the story, in reality  turned out to be an imitation of the original. On the other hand, the base which was fixed casually by the craftsman, and the minister did not care for, turned out to be a genuine piece of art and valued about twenty two thousand guineas. 

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