In August 2012, a huge statue of a Buddhist goddess went up in Urumqi, Xinjiang. Without consulting anyone, the local government had erected it right on a busy intersection. 11 days later, however, the statue had disappeared. Again without consulting anyone, the local government had abruptly torn it down after sustained criticism on social media. What was wrong with the goddess? She was ugly, but she helped inspire some people at the website Sohu to launch an online poll to determine China’s ten ugliest statues from a shortlist of 59.
A full five million votes were cast, the competition was stiff, and as it turned out the ugly goddess in Urumqi was not one of the ten finalists. But no-one can deny her inspirational role. So here’s her brief, forlorn story, and the ten finalists of the ugliest, most obscene and confusing statues from around China – in all their glory.
The ugly goddess
On 6 August last year, the 18-meter statue of the Flying Aspara goddess (whose image comes from the Dunhuang frescoes in Gansu province) for the first time towered over the intersection of Santunbei and Bahaer Roads in Urumqi, Xinjiang. The Buddhist goddess’ lower body was overlaid with grass, and the upper body, hung with ribbons, inclined towards the west. Constructed of around 12 tonnes of steel along with polystyrene and fiberglass, the structure weighed a total of 40 tonnes. According to a local government official responsible for erecting the statue, the intention with the design was to illustrate the moral virtue of openness and the yearning for a fulfilled life. And not only this, as the official pointed out, from a professional point of view it was up to standard, all its ratios were in order.
Yet there was one problem with the Flying Aspara goddess: it was heinously ugly. As soon as the statue was in place, comments started to appear on Weibo denigrating it as ugly, a blemish on Urumqi, and utterly lacking in creativity. Amid this tide of negativity, one voice appeared on Weibo not only to defend the statue but to assume its identity, as it were. An account called “The Goddess on Santunbei” (@三屯碑的女神), with a profile picture of the goddess and a byline that includes the phrase “The goddess is a living Lei Feng”, has since 6 August been updated almost 300 times and has more than 400 followers. On 16 August, a post with the following closing sentence appeared on this account:
It rained a little today, but the goddess is still there on Santunbei, looking down on all the cars coming and going and the tide of people rushing about, even though she’s not very warm and happy.
The very next day, however, posts started to appear on Weibo declaring that the goddess was in fact not there anymore. On 14 August the aforementioned official had still defended the statue, yet three days later it was quietly dismantled and flowers planted over where it once stood. Now people were saying that the hasty demolition had cost the taxpayer even more money, and the public was never consulted on the shambolic flip-flop.
But the goddess’ brief sojourn on Santunbei turned out to be not completely in vain, because the heated debate that accompanied her entire existence contributed to the launching (four days after the goddess was first erected) of an online poll called “China’s Ugliest Statues of 2012“on the culture page of the website Sohu.com. Visitors to the online poll site could vote for the ugliest statue in China from 59 choices across the country (we note that, sadly, the huge bronze bull that the county in Hubei province spent so much to put up was not included on the list), and one of these was the goddess in Urumqi, even though she now no longer existed. “The Goddess on Santunbei” Weibo account, however, was not at all bothered when the now non-existent statue was included on the poll. When someone on Weibo drew her attention to it, she replied “Ah, that’s old news, the goddess is immune!”
The ugliest statues in China
As it turned out, the goddess did not make the final list of the ten ugliest statues in China, which was announced on 19 December. There’s some variety among the ten finalists (see here for a slideshow), although all the human sexual organs are on display, and there are even animals getting in on the act.
1. “Life” in Wuhan, Hubei province (310,886 votes)
The prize for the ugliest statue in China goes, ironically, to one that’s simply called “Life” (生命) standing in a park in Wuhan in Hubei province. With its metal tubes jutting in all directions, maybe representing the irregular nature of life, “Life” was erected in October last year. The structure had a few steel “eggs” added for effect, but these have already mostly been stolen. “Life” got around 310,000 votes, about 10,000 more than any other candidate.
2. “Remembering mountain city” in Chongqing (300,565 votes)
In second place was something completely different. “Remembering mountain city” was installed outside the humanities department at Chongqing University in 2005, and was specially designed by professor Guo Xuanchang (郭选昌).
Explaining his design, professor Guo later stated that “Remembering mountain city” was “a perfect blend of realism and romanticism”, and was meant to imitate the traditional style of Chongqing houses suspended on stilts.
3. “Out of body experience” in Kunming, Yunnan province (273,084 votes)
Designed by the artist Luo Xu (罗旭), “Out of body experience was erected in a public area in the city in May 2012. Even though it came in third place, a lot of people seemed to find it more scary than ugly. This Weibo user, for example, wrote that he heard it was the ugliest statue in China, but he confessed that he thought
it wasn’t really so ugly, its just a little terrifying, especially because they look so big on the street. Why the hell did they go and call the thing “Out of body experience”? Isn’t levitating skywards a spiritual experience for the immortal soul? But these red clothes that are left behind are just unsettling.
4. “Naked girl” in Daguan Park (大观园) in Kunming, Yunnan province (256,589 votes)
Here’s our first taste of nakedness with the “Naked girl”, lying prostrate on her back with legs flailing, and balanced for some reason on a man’s head. This strange apparition was erected in the park in 2005 when the Kunming International Statue Festival (昆明首届国际雕塑节) was held in the city, and has ever since puzzled various observers as to what the intended meaning of this “immoral” statue might be.
5. “Welcome to Wangjing” landmark in Beijing (255,931 votes)
Is this a statue? It certainly seems like a cheap imitation of China’s Shanghai Expo pavilion. 18 meters tall and occupying a space of 100 square meters, this construction that blends layers of bricks with pseudo-classical fences and four red pillars has a huge tacky sign saying “Welcome to Wangjing” on the top.
The idea behind the structure was apparently to serve as a point of orientation for people moving about Wangjing.
6. Zhang Ziyi naked in a spring outside Chongqing (250,774 votes)
In 2004 the Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi (章子怡) filmed an outdoor bathing scene as part of the movie House of Flying Daggers at a spring in Yongchuan (永川) Scenic Area outside Chongqing. In September 2011 the Chinese Internet was set alight when it emerged that a naked clay statue of the famous actress was now to be gawked at at the same spring. The management of Yongchuan had apparently intended for the statue to become an iconic tourist attraction. Yet they did not intend to place a pornographic statue of China’s most famous actress for all to see her naked chest in the middle of a spring, because in summer the statue is covered by leaves and water from the shoulders down. But then winter came and the water level receded, and there they are: Zhang Ziyi’s boobs in clear view.
7. “Old man” in Guilin, Guangxi province (244,174 votes)
So moving on to the male sexual organ, this particular piece in Guilin (桂林) in Guangxi (广西) province is a real piece of work. Showing two fully naked women carrying a man with his legs pulled up and his member in full view at about head height, the statue has an plaque with the explanation that the woman on the left signifies a wife and the one on the right a daughter-in-law. The intended moral message here is supposed to be harmonious relations between family members, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect. For its sheer and unadulterated farce, this one would probably get my vote as the worst of the lot.
8. Frolicking pigs in Zhengzhou, Henan province (239,971 votes)
Another statue trying to inculcate a virtuous message in a horribly wrong way, the seemingly copulating pigs next to the TV tower in Zhengzhou in Henan province appeared on sites like Shanghaiist and ChinaSmack last year. The officials involved explained that the statue shows a pig giving his mother (with her one breast hanging out) a back massage, but Beijing Cream revealed that the statue was actually ripped off a series of statuettes showing pigs having sex in all kinds of positions.
9. This thing in front of the library in Xi’an (210,857 votes)
A statue of a globe (with only China on it) above laurel wreaths and a book (representing the constitution) that stands in front of the library at the Northwest University of Political Science and Law in Xi’an in Shaanxi province got more than 210,000 votes.
10. “Ten dragons on a turtle” in Jiangxi (210,041 votes)
Rounding off the list is the “Ten dragons on a turtle” (十龙聚龟) in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province. Standing in a fountain on a busy intersection in the city, this 53-tonne, 17.8 meter statue shows three dragons (representing three rivers that converge in the city) standing on a turtle, the ancient symbol of Ganzhou. The seven smaller dragons on the back of the turtle represent seven tributaries of the rivers.
Links and sources
Tencent News: 乌鲁木齐飞天女神雕塑被拆 网友称其丑陋吓人
China Daily: Urumqi statue’s sudden arrival, departure create controversy
Sina Weibo: @三屯碑的女神 (“The Goddess on Santunbei”)
Yangtze Evening News web (扬子晚报网): 湖北贫困县回应耗资百万铸铜牛:来自捐款和自筹(图)
Sohu Culture page: 2012年首届全国十大丑陋雕塑揭晓
iFensi: 章子怡裸体雕塑惊现景区 遭调侃:本人没这丰满