Asian American History in NYC: A Quick Walking Tour!
Anyone walking through Chinatown and Lower Manhattan can feel the Asian-American presence and influence on New York City’s culture. Bet let’s get specific! What are the figures, monuments, and locations that represent these communities’ histories?
Stop #1: Bayard Street, between Baxter and Mulberry
What you’re looking for: A bronze statue on a granite pedestal
What is this? This Monument, sculpted by Lu Chun-Hsiung, depicts the Founder of the Republic of China. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is shown in a Tang jacket and Manchurian dress, representing Chinese dress/culture’s widespread influence. His pioneering philosophy, which eventually made him a President, envisioned a peaceful, cultural and intellectual merging of East and West. He traveled the world promoting democracy and fighting for China to be free from imperial rule.
A fun fact: the engraved calligraphy on one side of the pedestal that reads Confucius’ famous motto “All Under Heaven Are Equal” is in Dr. Sun’s own handwriting, with his personal stamp right next to it.
Stop #2: Bowery and Division Street, traffic island at the intersection
What you’re looking for: A 16-foot sculpture on a green marble pedestal
What is this? This statue of of Confucius, donated in 1976 by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of NYC (in celebration of the USA bicentennial), sits outside The Confucius Plaza apartments. This housing co-op, with almost 800 apartments, was the first public-funded housing project created for Chinese Americans (1975). The monument of Confucius, sculpted by Liu Shih, honors the Chinese philosopher and draws crowds of tourists and locals alike. On one side of the pedestal, you’ll notice an American Flag, accompanied by an inscription of Confucius’ proverb, “The Chapter of Great Harmony.”
A fun fact: On the West side of the pedestal, the vertical Chinese inscription reads: ” The World Is A Commonwealth.”
Stop #3: East Broadway at Bowery, or Kimlau Square
What you’re looking for: A tall statue on a hexagonal red pedestal within a circle of cobblestones
What is this? You’re standing in Kimlau Square, named after Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a Chinese-American military pilot who lost his life in World War II. This statue we’re looking at has a fixed and specific gaze; the figure is looking northeast, to the area with the highest population of Fujianese New Yorkers. This figure is Lin Zexu, a Qing Dynasty official from Fujian. Zexu essentially started the First Opium War in China (1839-1842), by banning Opium and creating aggressive drug policies. The base of the statue reads, in both Chinese and English, “Say No To Drugs.” The 18-foot statue was sculpted by Li Wei-Si and was financed by Fujianese individuals and organizations. Its placement is political and very intentional: Lin Zexu has his back to the Manhattan Detention Complex (and Police Headquarters).
A fun fact: across from the statue, among the flowers, you’ll notice a plaque that lists the people and organizations that help erect the monument. This plaque was added by community leaders, without involvement from the Parks Department. Apparently, some of the residents can tell whether you’re local, based on whether you call the park “Chatham Square” or “Kimlau Square.”