There’s something equally terrifying and awe-inspiring about enormous things; craning your neck back to see a behemoth towering over you makes you feel tiny. Suffice to say, size matters, and that’s something China really understands.
You know what else China understands? War. After all, its history is one of turmoil and revolution, of battling kingdoms and legendary heroes. And these two things – the country’s scope and its military legacy – are exemplified in a breathtaking new construction in Jingzhou.
Standing 190 feet tall and weighing more than 1,455 tons, this bronze giant is one of the most audacious contemporary constructions in the world. It was devised by Han Meilin, who also created the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ mascots, and it has to be seen to be believed.
So what actually is it? Well, the colossal structure pays homage to an important figure in the history of China. His name was Guan Yu, and he lived during the Three Kingdoms period. He was so important, in fact, that the general was later turned into a deity. In the west, meanwhile, he became known as the Taoist God of War.
Guan Yu’s combination of historical importance, mythological relevance and military prowess has given rise to this structure that dominates Jingzhou’s skyline. Indeed, the expertly crafted sculpture celebrates many of the qualities that have defined China over the ages.
The colossal creation was constructed over an extended period of time, but it was finally unveiled in July 2016. Still, it’s already garnered the attention that its almost unbelievable size demands. What was, though, the reason behind its commissioning?
In fact, the statue is the spectacular centerpiece of a museum dedicated to Guan Yu’s legacy. In the soon-to-be-iconic structure, the general is seen wielding his legendary weapon, the “green dragon crescent blade” – which itself weighs almost 150 tons.
As for other context, the platform the statue stands on resembles an ancient Chinese warship, while the park it sits in is designed to reflect the concept of righteousness. And although there are no records that describe what Guan Yu looked like, he’s usually depicted as a well-built man with a fine beard.
Interestingly, it’s not actually known when Guan Yu was born, but it’s understood that he died in 220 A.D. Still, the life of this hugely important figure in Chinese popular religion is fictionalized in one of the most famous Chinese novels ever written, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
There are also many incredible stories relating to Guan Yu’s life, including one where he asked a physician to perform surgery on his injured arm. Throughout the whole procedure, it’s said, he ate and joked with those under his command as if nothing untoward was going on.
Nevertheless, Guan Yu’s popularity in modern-day China is partly due to Romance of the Three Kingdoms. And yet as this is a fictionalized portrayal of the man, many people believe that he has been somewhat romanticized. What he was like in real life, then, remains something of a mystery.
This hasn’t stopped Guan Yu from being worshipped today, though. Indeed, many Chinese people have shrines dedicated to the god-like general in their houses. The country’s police officers, meanwhile, are especially respectful of him.
After all, by the mid-19th century Guan Yu’s complete title was “The Holy and August Emperor Guan, the Loyal, Righteous, of Supernatural Prowess and Spiritual Protection, Whose Benevolence and Courage is Majestically Manifest.” This goes to show the esteem in which he was, and still is, held.
Interestingly, this isn’t the only giant statue depicting Guan Yu in China. There’s another, in fact, in the general’s hometown of Changping – in Shanxi province – that pips the Jingzhou one in terms of height.
Yet while the Changping statue may be taller at 200 feet, the new one in Jinzhou – which stands in a park named after the general – is far heavier. And, intriguingly, it isn’t the only statue in China that hit the headlines in 2016.
Yes, in the early months of 2016 an apparently unfinished 120-foot-tall golden replica of Chairman Mao was spotted in Tongxu County, Henan province. Set on a scaffold frame in a nondescript field, it was, interestingly, pulled down just days after western news outlets reported its existence.
Even without this, however, China is still home to 34 statues that are over 100 feet tall; that’s more than any other country in the world. Its tallest – and, indeed, the tallest on the planet – is the 420-foot-high Spring Temple Buddha in Lushan, Henan province.
But while Jinzhou’s Guan Yu state is undeniably impressive, some have taken to China’s Weibo social network to decry its grandeur. “I doubt Guan Yu would approve of the fact that the government splashed out so much cash on constructing this sculpture,” one user wrote. Another called it “a complete waste of time and money.”
Whatever the economic and cultural reasons for the building of the statue, though, few can help but be amazed by it. After all, for something so enormous to appear so dynamic is certainly an incredible feat of construction.
In fact, as monuments go, this one has a style and feel all of its own. Where other giant statues are often standing or sitting, this one depicts Guan Yu in full flow, his axe poised and ready to strike. It captures not just the historical man, but the mythological one, too.