Monday, November 22, 2010

Blood boiling at the Big Lots and why I am boycotting the University of Pennsylvania

Speaking of Asia (last post):

Does your blood ever bo-il when you are at the Big Lots discount store?  Yeah, mine neither.  Not usually.

It sure did when I saw this however:

It's not what you think.  This isn't about the Big Lots.  Or some $4 crappy reproduction piece of interior decorating. 

It is about what this image represents.

This is a Chinese Stone Steed. And we have a history, the Stone Steeds and I.  Their names are Autumn Dew and Strong Wing-Foot.  (Quanmaogua and Saluzi)

How do I know something so strange and random?  Because I have seen them in person.  Well, actually four of the six of the collection.  Four whose names I don't know in English (and can't pronounce in Chinese for that matter).

Let me explain.

Before Beijing (formally known as Peking) was the capital of China, it's ancient capital was a place called Xian.  It is wonderful there and a blog for another time.

In Xian, you will find some amazing stuff.  One place is a museum of some of the most valuable Chinese treasures in their whole world. 

These are some of them:  The Stone Steeds.
Six Steeds of Zhao Mausoleum (Chinese: 昭陵六骏--for those of you who are brushing up on your Chinese) are six Tang (618-907) Chinese stone reliefs of horses which were located in the Zhao Mausoleum, Shaanxi, China.

Zhao Mausoleum is the mausoleum of Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 626-649). The steeds were six precious war horses of Taizong.
Their names are: Quanmaogua (拳毛騧), Shifachi (什伐赤), Baitiwu (白蹄乌), Telebiao (特勒骠), Qingzhui (青骓) and Saluzi (飒露紫).The sculptures are regarded as ancient Chinese art treasures. They were broken by smugglers in 1914 and two of them were shipped out. The stonework is exhibited in the Stele Forest museum of Xi'an and museum of the University of Pennsylvania, USA  separately.  Wikipedia
When I was in China in 2001, we visited the Stele Forest Museum.  I didn't know about the Steeds or their story.  They are in a wonderful display, all six images.  But there was something I read about the last two horses that looked strange.  They looked plastic...not like stone of the others.

So I asked my trusty Chinese tour guide, Josie, what their story was.

She got a little sad look in her eye and said "They are plastic.  The Americans have the last two.  The University of Pennsylvania (to be exact)." 


As the story goes, in 1914 some bad guys (the Americans say it was the Canadians, the Chinese say it was the Americans--I like that--blame the Canadians since they are too nice to stick up for themselves) broke the  two store reliefs (fancy art term for big engraving) into pieces and smuggled them out of China. 

And those good folks at the University of Pennsylvania were kind enough to purchase them.  To keep them from being destroyed.  From being on the Black Market.  Good on ya--U of P.  But what the good museum folks won't tell ya is that they kept them.   For themselves. 

Don't believe me?  See it here...linked from this morning.
A stone steed in PA--home of the Amish--
so you can see it is imperative that we Americans hold on to them
because of their historical value to the
Pennsylvania area...

See how they forgot how to mention that the Chinese didn't give them to us on some nicety sister-city cultural exchange? 
You know, I wish the U of P read my blog. I have something to say to them.

Not that they haven't heard from me before.  They have.  Saying the same thing. 

But since I am printing my blog in a book, and someday my descendants will read those bloggy books, I figure I should record this.  Actually, shopping at the Big Lots last week for fluffy socks reminded me of this stoney story that vexes me, 10 years later.

Josie, the 65 pound tour guide, stood in a parking lot of Xian, moved to tears about the fact that the Stone Steeds (did you notice they are about 1,400 years old now) were not in China.  People come from around the country to see the remaining original four, and the two plastic ones.  Those horses are comparable to our Liberty Bell or even our Constitution in their fame.  Can you imagine what the Americans would be saying if this was our junk in China?

Imagine if thieves (those damn Canadians--who can trust them?) broke into our museum, 1,100 years from now and took the Liberty Bell and the Constitution?  How would we feel?  What would we do?  (I am guessing it would involve some secret ops program involving some Stealth Bombers, men in black face paint...)

I am guessing, judging by the reaction on my face of the entire 16 Americans standing there (in case you don't know, you can tell how I feel about most things by my face most of the time), Josie turned to me and said "Will you ask your government to give them back?" 

It made me cry.  "But of course" I say.  And that was before I knew I was Chinese...:)

You know how else it made me feel?  Embarrassed.  Embarrassed that some of our country men are so greedy. Damn greedy.

So, the short rest of the story is when I got home, I got to work.

I researched.  Everything she said was true.

And I found that the new trend is for countries to give back priceless treasures to other countries they belong to.  I had documented proof.   A little thing called "good will." 

So I decided it was the perfect teaching opportunity.

Back in those days, I was the advisor to an elementary school student council.  It was made up of two reps from each class, from each grade.  I had about 36 kids, ages 5-12.

It was a few months after 9-11.  I was teaching them that not everyone will agree with things you do, or like, or are.  And there were two ways to handle it.

You could blow them up  Like terrorists do.

Or you can write a letter. 

I taught those kids about the power of the pen (although this exercise didn't bring a single piece of change regarding the Stone Steeds).  I explained how to write a letter of protest.  A petition.

I gave the kids the information.  I told them Autumn's and Stong's horsey story.  And we wrote a letter.

It was a good one.  Full of facts, conviction and passion.  The kids had a choice whether to sign it or not.

Every single one of them did. 

The kids got it.  When you have something that isn't yours, you give it back.  Especially when it means the world to that country, and 300 million folks (minus probably the 10 people reading this) in this country have never even heard of the Chinese priceless treasures.

We sent it with our documented facts.  We sent it certified mail.  We waited for the U of P reply.

And we waited.  We waited for a letter of explanation that never came.

And the kids remembered.  They still do....10 years later.

"Kiddos," I would say, "their no answer is their answer.  They don't have an answer for why they are not doing what is morally right." 

To add insult to injury:  the steeds are starting to fall apart, here in the good old USA.  Imagine, we don't have the materials to repair them.  Duh.  Read this:
Experts from China and U.S. cure for stone horses 
May 26, 2010 The names for two war horses "Feng-lu-zi" and "Quan-mao-gua" and their master is well-known throughout the country.

He was Tang Dynasty's Emperor Taizong... a man who contributed greatly toward building prosperity in ancient China. Unfortunately, the two historic stone sculptures of these horses are sick in the US. Now, a delegation of the best Chinese experts are offering their help to restore the relics in Pennsylvania.

Curing the ancient stone horses isn't any easier than saving a real one. Finding the best treatment started a year ago when experts from the US and China began cooperating. After about ten lab experiments, the restoration has finally entered its most crucial moment. Now, to keep the horses as original as possible, a special stone powder has been brought over from China.

Zhou Ping, Relic Restoration Expert, said, "We've brought the stone powder from Fuping in northwestern Shaanxi province that the stones horses were made of. The stone powder is combined with these tiny glass balls and a special glue to make up the broken parts."

To the University of Pennsylvania:
I have been boycotting you for ten years.  I love Chinese art and I will never go and see your collection.  Especially the Autumn and Strong.  Not while they are housed here in America.  And how rude to not at least acknowledge and respond to elementary school children who asked the valid question.  Where is their answer?

To Josie, the 65 pound Chinese tour guide:
I still remember.  I have done what you have asked me to do.  I am waiting for your steeds to be returned to their rightful home as well.  Me, 36 elementary school aged children from 10 years ago, and my family (so I will stop brewing about it).

And to the Chinese:I apologize.  You know you can never trust those Canadians.  I mean really...they eat gravy with french fries?  No ketchup?  How un-American can you get?  :)