Beida Statuary

I was very pleased to be a guest at Peking University (‘Beijing daxue,’ or ‘Beida’) on this recent Beijing trip. When walking from the hotel to Prof. Zhang’s office, however, I was quite startled to see the artwork in front of the University’s Guanghua School of Management.

Standing Mongol

“Standing Mongol” is a rather substantive, no-nonsense-type fellow – but perhaps you’ll notice on the picture that there is one shiny area, from the frequent touch of visitors. A few tens of meters away, facing him, is a statue of Lao Tze – but instead of the normal, somber portrait of this revered Taoist teacher, this one shows a rather coarse figure with his tongue sticking out.

Lao Tze

They were quite controversial when they were unveiled last year, & I asked my Beida colleagues about the meaning of all this – but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus. One faculty member suggested that this was simply a case of “brains over brawn,” with the erudite Lao Tze literally sticking his tongue out at the powerful but plodding worker…. perhaps a fitting (if gloating) approach for a university, and a school of management at that. But I’m not really convinced – especially since they had separate sculptors.

Cervantes at Beida

More conventional – although still a bit incongruous – is the statue of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. I took a stroll around campus on a warm & sunny Sunday afternoon, and found the statue I had seen many years before. Don Quixote is one of my all time favorite novels – it so wonderfully captures the absurdity of life’s strivings & our (often comical) interpretations of reality – and I had been quite surprised to come across a statue of its author at Beida. Apparently it was donated by the Spanish government in 1986. No shiny parts on Mr. Cervantes – although it does seem that some students have made off with his sword.

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