With a small bamboo gavel in his hand, Wu Weishan was trying to capture the correct spirit of the man standing in front of him -- C. N. Yang, the 1957 Nobel Laureate in Physics.
It was an afternoon in November, 2001, in the Sculpture Arts Research Center of Nanjing University. After two and a half hours, a vivid sculpture of Yang's head appeared.
"Yes, it is me!" said Yang, with a happy and affirmative smile.
The neat hair, high forehead and sharp eyes on the square face perfectly captured the spirit of the scientist -- rational, exploring and dedicated.
"Wu has really made an apt record for me," Yang said, asking everyone present to have a group picture taken in front of "him."
"At that moment, I thought I was the happiest person in the world," Wu said, for his work was highly approved.
The head sculpture of C. N. Yang is one of nine made by Wu, to mark the centennial celebration of Nanjing University. All of the sculptures portray people who have occupied pivotal positions in the history of the famous university.
Besides C. N. Yang, there are Gu Yuxiu, Wu Jianxiong, Li Siguang, Xu Beihong, Tao Xingzhi, Zhu Kezhen, Kuang Yaming and Dai Wensai.
To make head sculptures for famous intellectuals that are both historical and modern has been the top priority of Wu, director of the Sculpture Arts Research Center of Nanjing University.
"I just want to write biographies for them," said Wu, "not by pen but by my knife." He added that intellectuals in China have made great contributions to the country's historical and cultural progress.
"Different eras have evolved their own characteristics," Wu said. "And people living at the same time have also developed their own individual characteristics. The inner world of a person can be seen from his or her face."
Faces are given at birth, he said, but they can change with different living environments, dietary habits and cultural influences.
How does Wu express the inner changes he sees on a person's face? One of his most important guidelines is to make friends with his "model" before creating the sculpture.
Wu still remembers the day Yang declined his request to create a sculpture for him.
"The professor suggested that we get more familiar with each other first," he recalled.
After their first meeting in 1997 in Nanjing, Wu and Yang began to admire each other and develop a friendship. "Yang has always been my idol since I dreamt of learning science when I was young," Wu said.
Yang took an instant liking to Wu's works when he first viewed them.
"When seeing Wu's sculpture of Fei Xiaotong, it reminded me of the time I attended Fei's lectures," Yang said.
Fei is an internationally-renowned professor of sociology. "It resembles the subject even more than the great man himself, evoking his openness, honesty, sense of humor and optimistic spirit," Yang said.
Since then, the two have shared their interests and beliefs about life in their letters. In the letters Yang wrote to Wu, the salutation changed from "Wu Weishan," to "Weishan" to "Brother Weishan."
They have also visited each other as often as possible.
After three years' acquaintance through meetings and letters, Wu was able to create a head sculpture of Yang.
Wu was born in 1962 in the city of Dongtai in Jiangsu Province to a literary family. Wu admired his grandfather whose primary hobbies were writing poems and playing the flute.
His family owned many antiques. Although these precious collections were eventually sold to support the family, they left a deep impression on the young boy.
"I like things which have a long history. So I try to tell history in my works, which is one of the most important values of the old Chinese intellectuals," Wu said.
Wu's parents, who were both teachers, raised seven children and had a difficult life. However, they spared no efforts to encourage their children in academic studies.
After graduating from high school in 1978, Wu wanted to study science at the university. But, after twice failing the college entrance examination, he began to study art in Wuxi in East China's Jiangsu Province.
Wu learned not only purity and simplicity from the folk artists but also Western art from the old teachers.
"I absorbed many important things at that time, which has laid a foundation for my artistic creations," he said.
Wu later studied at the Department of Fine Arts at Nanjing Normal University from 1984 to 1987, where he became a teacher after his graduation.
In 1998, Wu established the Sculpture Arts Research Center with the help of Nanjing University. He now works as the director and professor of the centre and also as an adjunct professor in the Department of Arts Studies at Southeast University.
During that period, Wu's works gradually aroused public interest. In addition to winning many honors, he has been invited to various countries and regions such as the Netherlands, Germany, France and Belgium to participate in academic tours.
Wu has completed about 300 artistic works in addition to his head sculptures.
"The innovative power that comes from his heart is expressed in every piece of his work," said C. N. Yang.
(China Daily May 16, 2002)