The Chinese Statue : narrative methodology – story within a story


The Chinese Statue

Question : Discuss the significance of using the technique of story within a story as a narrative methodology in the story ‘The Chinese Statue’.

Answer : ‘The Chinese Statue’ follows the technique of “story within a story. The story is set at two different locations and at two different time periods.

● In story within a story , also known as ‘nested Fiction’, there is an outer or a frame story   which does not have much matter and also a core story which consists of bulk of matter.

● The core story is narrated by one of the characters in the frame story.

● The outer story is narrated in the first person singular while the core story is narrated by the same narrator in third person.

●  There is often some parallels between the two stories, and the fiction in the core story is used to reveal the truth in the outer.

    In ‘The Chinese Statue’ , the frame story involves the incidents that happens at Sotheby’s Auction House, where an auction of specimen number, Lot 103 of a delicate piece of ivory is being made.


     The narrator is present at the auction as a bidder.  The catalogue that the narrator studied, read that the statue had been perchased in Ha Li Chuan and was “the property of a gentleman”.  That makes the narrator anxious about the details of the statue and it’s owner and leads him to do some research, which forms the content of the core story.

   The narrator of the frame story, also narrates the core story but in third person . The Chinese Statue belonged to the family of a craftsman for over five hundred years. When Sir Alexander Heathcote, the British Ambassador to China, met Yung Lee, the old craftsman, he was quite impressed by Sir Alexander’s vast knowledge and interest in Ming dynasty’s art.

       Yung Lee, showed Sir Alexander the same ‘Chinese Statue‘ .  On seeing the statue “Sir Alexander’s mouth opened wide and he could not hide his excitement.”

                   He had never seen such a magnificent piece of art of Ming dynasty. He was quite sure that “the maker was the great Pen Q who had been patronised by the Emperor”.

           The only blemish of the statue was that the ivory base on which such pieces usually rest was missing. But in the eyes of Sir Alexander nothing could detract from its overall beauty “. 

           He was so fascinated by the beauty of the statue that he could not stop himself from uttering,
” How I wish the piece was mine”.

According to the Old Chinese tradition “if an honoured guest requests something the giver will grow in the eyes of his fellow men by parting with it.”

        So Yung Lee decided to gift him the statue of Emperor Kung, which had been in his family for over seven generations. Although he felt bad but at the same time he felt honoured and happy at the thought that the Chinese Statue would go to London with Sir Alexander and would be admired by many people.

      So he fixed a base of the statue from his own collection so that the piece could be put on display for others to see and admire.

      Sir Alexander was also quite disturbed at the thought of taking the craftsman’s heirloom without paying him anything in return. So he reciprocated the craftsman’s generosity by getting a house built  for him on the hill, where the craftsman had wished to live the rest of his life.
          After completing his term in China, Sir Alexander got  retired to Yorkshire and brought the statue with him from China to London.

         Sir Alexander was so possessed about the Statue that he wanted it to remain in his family always. So, in his will, he bequeathed the Emperor to his eldest son and made a provision that it might always pass to the eldest son or daughter and it was never to be disposed of unless the family honour was at stake.

         The statue, regarded as the heirloom of Heathcotes, remained with the descendants of Sir Alexander for over a hundred years. His latest descendant, Alex Heathcote, when faced with financial crisis, decided to sell it and took it to Sotheby’s Auction House.

          This was all about the past of the  Chinese Statue. Now in the frame story, 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. Later on, it was discovered that the statue was fake, probably about two hundred and fifty years old, a copy of the original. It was worth only seven hundred and fifty guineas. But surprisingly,  the base which the craftsman casually fixed on the statue, turned out to be a genuine piece of art, worth twenty two thousand guineas.

        Finally, the narrator bought the beautiful statue for seven hundred and twenty guineas, though he was aware that it was a fake piece. It appears that like Sir Alexander nothing could detract him from its overall beauty.


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