About the Author
Jeffery Archer was born on April 15, 1940 and was brought up in Somerset. He was educated at Wellington school and then at Brasenose College, Oxford where he gained an athletic blue. At the age of 29, he became Member of Parliament for Louth. He invested heavily in a Canadian company which went into liquidation. Left the debts of £ 427,727 and on the brink of bankruptcy, he resigned from the House of Commons. At the age of 30, he began to write his first novel Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less in order to repay his creditors in full. It was a huge success, and was made into a successful serial for the BBC Radio 4 and was later televised in 1990 by the BBC.
Later, after a revival of his fortunes from the royalties of his best selling novels, he became Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, before resigning after another scandal which would lead to the end of his career in elected office. He was made a life peer in 1992.
All his novels and short story collections including And Thereby Hangs a Tale, Kane and Abel, Paths of Glory and False Impression have been international bestselling books. His books have sold around 330 million copies worldwide.
Archer is happily married, has two sons, and lives in London and Cambridge.
About the Story
The story focuses on a small beautiful statue of Emperor Kung belonging to the Chinese Ming dynasty. It was gifted to Sir Alexander Heathcote, the British Ambassador to China, by a Chinese craftsman. Sir Alexander gave the old man a big white house as a return gift as per an old Chinese custom. The statue was made of ivory. Its base was fitted by the old man himself as it did not have any base. The base was nicely crafted. The statue remains in his family for generations. Each of his heirs – servants and army officers alike – keep the statue very safely as a family heirloom in great glory until the latest descendent of Sir Alexander Heathcote, forced upon very tough times due to reckless gambling, decides to sell the statue. He discovers to his shock that the statue is a fake. Just as, in frustration, he contemplates suicide, he also finds out that the base of the statue is authentic and he makes twenty-two thousand guineas on its sale.
The statue of Emperor Kung : The narrator, an art lover himself, tells us that a beautiful Chinese statue of Emperor Kung belonging to the Ming dynasty was a centre of attraction of an auction in London. It was said to be pure to auction by an unknown ‘gentleman’. The narrator, curious to know how the Chinese statue found its way into the auction room, does some research. He discovers that it belonged to Sir Alexander Heathcote who bought it in 1871 in the village of Ha Li Chuan.
Alexander Heathcote : Alexander Heathcote was a very disciplined and punctilious man. In recognition of his capability and sincerity , he was made the British Ambassador in China at the time of Empress Dowager Tzu-Hsi. Alexander Heathcote had an appreciation of Ming dynasty art although he wasn’t fortunate enough to have any of it in his private collection. As Alexander’s appointment was only for three years, he took no leave, but preferred to travel on horseback into the outlying districts to learn about the country and its people. He was always accompanied by a Mandarin, who acted as interpreted and guide.
Visit to Ha Li Chuan : On one such journey Alexander happened to visit a small village called Ha Li Chuan at a distance of about fifty miles from Peking. Here, he entered a wooden workshop to admire the delicate pieces of ivory that crammed the shelves. He was welcome by an old craftsman. The Mandarin explained to the craftsman who Sir Alexander was and his desire to have a look at the specimen of craftsmanship. Alexander studied and praised many of the pieces for their workmanship. Overjoyed by Alexander’s compliments the old craftsman took them in. He chatted with Alexander through the interpreter and soon Alexander’s love for the Ming dynasty art was revealed. The old man told them that he had a piece of ‘Ming’ himself – a statue that has been in his family for over seven generations. The old craftsman then, showed to Alexander, the little statue, hardly six inches in height, of Emperor Kung as a fine example of Ming. Its maker, Alexander thought, must have been Pen Q and the date must have been around the fifteenth century. But sadly enough, its base was missing. Still the overall beauty of the statue was intact. Alexander was so much fascinated by the beauty and workmanship of the statue that he expressed a desire to possess it. He said, “How I wish the piece was mine.”
The Gift of a Statue : As soon as the Mandarin translated his words, Alexander realised his mistake. He knew very well the old Chine tradition that if an honoured guest requests something, the giver will grow in the eyes of his fellowmen by parting with it. Although the old man was saddened by Alexander’s request, he agreed to part with it. Realising that the statue was incomplete without a base, the old decided to fix a base to it. He opened a wooden packing chest that contained many bases. From this he picked up a base, decorated with small dark figures, and fixed it to the statue. Then he gave the Chinese statue to Alexander as a gift. Alexander happily left the workshop with this treasure.
The old Chinese custom : As Alexander, with his party, was travelling back to Peking the Mandarin reminded him of another Chinese custom. It was that when a stranger has been generous , you must return the kindness within the calendar year. Alexander smiled thankfully. With the help of the Mandarin he was able to assess the true value of the statue. Its worth was equal to three years’ emoluments of a servant of the crown. Alexander withdrew a large part of his saving from the bank.
Yung Lee, the old craftsman : Alexander instructed the Mandarin to find out who the old craftsman was. After a week, the told Alexander that the old man was Yung Lee. He came from the family of Yung Shau who had been craftsmen for some five hundred years. Yung Lee himself was getting old and wished to retire to the hills above the village where his ancestors had died. His son was ready to takeover his workshop.
The old man’s workshop : Almost a year to the day, Alexander went to the old man’s house .The old craftsman recognised him and welcomed him with a bow. Alexander requested him to accompany him on a short journey. The old man agreed without question. They went to the far side of the village. They stopped near a hollow in the hill from where one could have a magnificent view of the valley. In the hollow stood a newly completed small white house. Two stone Lion dogs guarded the front entrance. Pointing to the house Alexander told the old man that it was ‘an inadequate gift’ from him to repay his kindness. The old man was reluctant to accept it but the Mandarin assured him that the Empress had sanctioned Alexander’s request. So he should accept it.
The Statue, a Proud Family Heirloom : Having completed his duty in Peking, Alexander returned to his native, Yorkshire. He spent the final years of his life with his wife and Ming Emperor. Before his death he wrote his will. He bequeathed the Emperor Kung to his first son requesting him to do the same so that the statue might always pass to the first son in his family. He also instructed that it should never be sold unless the family honour was at stake. Alexander died on his seventh year. His son Major James Heathcote kept the statue safely with him throughout his life. From his first born Reverend Alexander Heathcote inherited it, who in due course became Bishop Heathcote. When he died he left the statute to his son Captain James Heathcote. Unfortunately young Captain James Heathcote was killed on the beaches of Dunkirk and died intestate. The statue thus passed on to his son Alex Heathcote.
The Statue on Auction : Alex Heathcote grew up to be a selfish, spoiled, little brat. He could never hold down a job for more than a few weeks. He was a spendthrift and he always spent more than his mother could cope with. When casinos opened in Britain, he felt that he had found a way of earning money without doing any work. He lost so much money in this business that he soon came under heavy debts. He owed eight thousand pounds. In order to cover his losses he made up his mind to sell the little Ming Emperor. He took the family heirloom, went to Bond Street and delivered it to Sotheby’s. He gave instructions that it should be put up for auction. The head of the Oriental department shoed it to an expert for assessing its true value. But the expert told him that the statue was a fake, worth more than seven or eight hundred pounds. It was a copy of the original. When Alex came to know about this he was shocked. For a moment the only way open to him to escape his creditors, seemed to be to commit suicide. But the head of Oriental department then told Alex that its base was undoubtedly a work of genius. Whereas the statue was sold for seven hundred and twenty guineas, its base was sold for twenty-two thousand guineas.
A satire on the lovers of art : Many people take pride in being the connoisseurs of art, but many a times they are cheated and befooled. In the story, Alexander Heathcote got a gift of a Chinese statue – a small beautiful statue of Emperor Kung – which was considered to be centuries old. The statue was preserved very carefully and passed from generation to generation as a heirloom representing the Ming dynasty art. It was considered to be centuries old. However when the delicate piece of ivory was assessed by experts it was found to be only two hundred or two hundred and fifty years old. But the base attached to the statue, decorated with small dark figures, which the old craftsman had casually picked from his wooden chest turned out to be a genuine work of art worth twenty-two thousand guineas.
Family Tradition : Another theme of the story is the proud family tradition. If a family tradition is strong and if the family members observe it faithfully, the family is held in respect by one and all. The moment one family member breaks it the family loses its glory and honour. When Alex Heathcote put on sale a proud family heirloom it was the fall of the great family of the Heathcotes. Though he tried to keep it a secret, it was out finally. The narrator found out every detail about the heirloom, a small beautiful statue of a Chinese Emperor.
The story conveys the message that to judge a piece of art is very difficult. Many people are cheated and befooled. Sir Alexander Heathcote , British Ambassador to China, seemed to be proud of his knowledge of art. He praised a small statue of a Chinese Emperor belonging to the Ming dynasty, and got it as a gift from a Chinese craftsman. He gave to the old man a big house as a return gift, as per an old Chinese custom. The statue passed on from one generation to the other as a proud family heirloom. Finally, when its worth was assessed before putting it on auction, it turned out to be fake. The only saving grace was its base which was priced higher than the statue itself.
Another message is in respect of Alex Heathcote who put the family heirloom on auction. Alex did it as he was under heavy debts for his casino business. He was a spoilt brat who spent more than he could afford. We need to be hard-working and honest. We should limit our expenses, our needs and aspirations. If we do not, we are sure to meet the fate of Alex.
The story centres round the Chinese statue of Emperor Kung which the old craftsman Yung Lee gifts of Alexander Heathcote. It is a masterpiece of Ming dynasty art. The narrator fells interested to know how the statue found its way into the auction room. He discovers that it belonged to Alexander Heathcote, a lover of Ming dynasty art. When he was made British Ambassador in China by the Prime Minister Gladstone, he came across this tiny statue of Emperor Kung. It was in possession of a poor, old craftsman in a small village called Ha Li Chuan. It had been in his family for over seven generation. Alexander is so much fascinated by its beauty that he expresses a desire to possess it. Although saddened by this request, the old craftsman agrees to part with it. He takes up casually a base from his wooden packing chest, fixes it to the statue and gives it to Alexander. When they are returning, the Mandarin reminds Alexander of an old Chinese custom. It is that when a stranger generously gives you a present, you must return his kindness within the same calendar year.
With the help of the Mandarin, Alexander Heathcote is able to discover that the old craftsman was Yung Lee. He was growing old and wished to retire to the hills above the village where his ancestors had always died. His son was ready to take over the workshop. Alexander managed to get a beautiful house built in the hills. Almost a year to the day, he met the old craftsman. Very affectionately, he took the old craftsman to the site and gifted the newly completed small white house to him. The old man was simply wonderstruck at this gesture.
The ‘Statue’ remained as the family heirloom for four generations, until the fourth descended of Alexander Heathcote, Alex Heathcote decided to sell it off. He took the statue to Bond Street and delivered it to Sotheby’s to put it up for auction. When the statue was assessed by the expert it was found to be fake. Alex was shocked . But to his surprise he found that the base of the statue was authentic and could be sold for twenty-two thousand guineas. Alex readily agreed to sell it.
Thus the title of the story is appropriate, as the Chinese statue remains in focus throughout.
Alexander Heathcote was a hard-working disciplined, meticulous and honest fellow. He belonged to aristocracy and was held in high esteem . He was quite tall -six-foot-three and a quarter inches tall. He rose in life by dint of his own intelligence and diligence. He chose to serve his Queen in the diplomatic service. He progressed gradually and became an ambassador to China. He was extremely delighted at his appointment because he felt that it would give him an opportunity to observe in their natural habitat some of the great statues, paintings and drawings which he had always admired only in books.
Alexander was a lover of art. He knew a lot about Ming dynasty art but he wasn’t fortunate enough to possess any of the Ming artistic work in his private collection. No wonder when he saw the ivory statue of Emperor Kung he was so much fascinated by it that he expressed a desire to possess it. The moment the Mandarin translated his words, he regretted having voiced his thoughts. But the old craftsman, knowing well the Chinese custom, parted with the valuable statue.
Alexander is a true gentleman. He is very sincere in replying the generous deed of the old craftsman. No sooner is he reminded of the Chinese custom that ‘when a stranger has been generous, you must return his kindness within the calendar year,’ that he sets about thinking how to repay the old craftsman. He writes to his bankers to send a part of his savings to reach him in Peking. He also requests the Mandarin to discover the full bio-data of the old craftsman. Within the same calendar year , he gets a beautiful small white house built in the hollow of the hills which the old man loved so much and gifts it to him. The old man Yung Lee is so much overpowered by this repayment that he is simply dumbfolded.
Alexander is a far-sighted man. Before his death he bequeaths the Chinese statue to his first born with a request that it should always pass to the first son. He also makes a provision that the statue was not to be sold unless the family honour was at stake. As visualized by him the statue did remain as a family heirloom for more than one hundred years.
Yung Lee is a humble and modest old craftsman who runs his workshop in a village. He is quite poor. His poverty is revealed by his dress – a long, blue coolie robe. He feels honoured when Alexander Heathcote, the British Ambassador to China, visits his workshop. It is he who gifts the Chinese statue to Alexander Heathcote. He is a skilled workman. He lives in a village called Ha Li Chuan about fifty miles from Peking. He owns a wooden workshop which contains remarkable pieces of ivory and jade. All the pieces lying on the shelves in his workshop are superbly executed.
Yung Lee is a lover of artistic masterpiece. He comes from the family of Yung Shau who had for some five hundred years been craftsmen. He is very happy to receive Alexander Heathcote because the latter evinces love and knowledge of Ming dynasty art. He shows to Alexander a statue that has been in his family for over seven generations. When Alexander expresses a desire to possess the statue of Emperor Kung he feels sad for a moment. But he parts with the statue to please the honoured guest.
Yung Lee has respect for the old Chinese custom that if an honoured guest requests something the giver will grow in the eyes of his fellowmen by giving it to him. In honour of this tradition he not only gives the statue to Alexander but also fixes a base to it so that he is able to put the piece on view.
Yung Lee is by nature very modest and humble. He wishes to retire to the hills above the village where his ancestors had always died. When Alexander tells him that he has returned to pay the debt, he modestly says, “There is no need, your Excellency. My family is honoured that the little statue lives in a great Embassy and may one day be admired by the people of your own land.” Alexander has no reply to his humble words.
A Gripping Family Story : ‘The Chinese Statue’ is an interesting story. It is set at two different places and at two different times. The story opens in the auctioneer’s room in the year 1971 where the auctioneer’s assistant holds up the Chinese statue, a little piece of ivory for the audience to admire because this is the next item for auction. The statue was given to Alex Heathcote as a gift by an old Chinese craftsman. It passed from generation to generation as a proud family heirloom. When Alex Heathcote got it, he failed to keep it. Under heavy debts he decided to put it on auction. When the worth of the statue was assessed, it was discovered that it was a fake and as such worth little. However, the saving grace was its beautiful base which was fitted to the statue by the old craftsman, which returned out to be more precious than the statue itself.
Narrative : The story is told by the narrator in the first person since he is a minor character in the story himself. He is the art lover who is interested to know the history of the statue. It is from him that we learn about Sir Alexander Heathcote and his connection with the statue. The statue is bought by the narrator for seven hundred and twenty guineas. His narrative skills are admirable as he gives a racy and exact account of the history of the statue in a simple, straightforward manner.