Guest Column: Dishonor in the making—friend of tyrant to sculpt King memorial

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118175411612678.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of‘, ‘Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin was chosen to sculpt the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washingtgon, D.C. Other works include a sculpture of Chinese dictator Mao Tse-Tung.‘);

There is a grave dishonor in the making for the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Feb. 15, 2007, the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation announced the artist they’ve chosen to sculpt the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial would be Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin.

In the press release announcing this decision, Dr. Ed Jackson Jr., the Memorial Foundation’s executive architect, said, “Master Lei comes highly recommended by his peers. His artistic talent and the quality of his work speak for itself.”

But what does Master Lei’s quality work really speak about?

One of China’s pre-eminent sculptors, Lei Yixin is especially famous throughout that country for his statues of Chinese dictator Mao Tse-Tung. According to AFP reporter Dan Martin, Master Lei’s statues of Mao Tse-Tung “burst with a life not normally seen in political statues

But life, innocent life, was something for which Mao Tse-Tung had little, if any, respect. According to a recently-published biography, Mao: The Unknown Story, Mao was a despicable villain who cared for no one but himself and was responsible for the indiscriminate mass murder of tens of millions of innocent Chinese citizens.

To show its appreciation for his statues of this monster, the Communist Chinese government has awarded Master Lei with the title, “First-Grade Artist,” one of China’s highest art honors, and has regularly commissioned him to create commemorative statues of national heroes, geographic regions and political figures. This same Chinese government currently arrests, tortures and executes men and women like Dr. King who struggle for justice in that country. It has been doing so for its entire time in power in China.

Are the Memorial Foundation’s officers unaware of the crimes against humanity that sculptor Lei Yixin has glorified with his statues of Mao Tse-Tung, or just indifferent to them?

The Memorial Foundation’s decision not only rewards an artist who has done his part to transform the criminal Mao into some sort of hero. It also legitimizes the totalitarian government that approves of his work, that supported the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, and that currently uses its U.N. veto power to prevent intervention that would stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur.

In my opinion, hiring Lei Yixin to sculpt a memorial statue of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is no different than hiring Leni Riefenstahl, a brilliant film artist who most famously produced propaganda documentaries for the German Nazi Party, to direct a documentary film honoring the life of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

Is a talented artist who is a highly-honored apologist for a totalitarian government and who has used his skills to glorify a despicable tyrant really worthy of the honor of shaping the image of Dr. King that will inform the ages of his greatness?

Will a memorial to Dr. King that is carved by an artist who approves of tyranny and who is famous for his statues of a brutal tyrant be a lasting honor or a permanent insult to his memory?

I have written to several of the Memorial Foundation’s officers to object to their selection of this artist, without reply of any kind. I am writing this letter with the hope that presenting this issue to your readers will help to stop this insult to the memory of Dr. King and all that he stood for.

The enslaved and exploited people of China have the same right to be free as the rest of us. Let’s make sure that our nation’s memorial to the man who died fighting for that kind of freedom does not in any way endorse Chinese government tyranny, but rather sets an unblemished example of courage and integrity of which future generations of Americans will be proud.

The Memorial Foundation has made a grave error. I hope it will withdraw its selection of Lei Yixin and present the Memorial project to an artist who is worthy of it. An artist who collaborates with tyranny, despite his skills, should not be given this honor. This is not just.

John M. Stassi is a native Rockfordian temporarily working in the Washington, D.C., area.

from the June 13-19, 2007, issue

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