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Li Xiangqun: a Spiritual Sculptor

Sitting in the International Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, there are two sculptures made by a brilliant young Chinese sculptor.

He's professor Li Xiangqun from the Fine Arts Academy of China's prestigious Tsinghua University.

Chosen by former president of the International Olympic Committee Mr. Antonio Samaranch, the two Olympic-subject statues "Yonghengde Yunzhuan (literally means "To Sports Forever") and "The Relay Racer" vividly combine strength with esthetics. Thanks to these, Li Xiangqun has become one of the best-known sculptors on sports themes in China.

Visitors to the new building of China's Modern Literature Museum will have had the opportunity to "shake hands" with Mr. Ba Jin, one of China's most celebrated contemporary writers, because some of the door handles in the building are the moulds made in the shape of Ba's hands. And the pair of hands behind the "hand moulds" are also Li Xiangqun's. He made them in 1998 with the assistance of 94-year-old Ba Jin. Li also made a life-sized statue of Ba Jin.

When working on another renowned writer, Guo Moruo, Li found out about
Guo from Guo's daughter. As the sculpture was about to be put in the grand China Century Monument Hall as one of the forty Culture Celebrities of China, Li made up his mind to recall Guo's image in 1940s – an old-styled gown with streamline-shape, on which Li intentionally molds the lines of Guo's clothes abstractively so as to make the figure looks tall and big, while Guo's bony left hand naturally falls on his body on which Guo holds a book authentically reveals Guo's thinness. Besides, Li also boldly molds Guo's glasses without a frame. Looking at the sculpture, viewers can sense the lofty and unyielding character of Guo's personality. When asked his feelings about the work, Li says, "Before starting, I read many of Mr. Guo's works to help better understand him, to feel his happiness and sorrow so as to enliven my work. An outstanding statue should reflect the spirit of the antitype."

In daily life, Li likes to watch animals, especially poultry - he says he can see their emotions. "Sometimes I see chickens smiling."

His other addiction is to assemble models of planes and tanks with his son, they often spend a whole day studying the structures of the models.

Besides, he's also an enthusiastic camera fan, who has collected almost all the classical high-tech cameras ranging from Japanese brands to German ones since 1970s.

Li is a neat and tidy person, he seldom changes clothes while working and you never find his clothes and shoes dirty with clay. The secret, according to him, is to maintain a quiet mood inside and be very clean. In his class, he requires his students to be extremely clean.

At last year's People's Congress committee of Beijing, Li became its first and only sculptor member. At the meeting of this year, he put forward a proposal to protect the "798 Art Factory in Beijing". The acclaimed workshop was built in 1950s under a German design, which has long absorbed throngs of artists of all kinds thanks to its cheap rent. In recent years some people have pushed to knock it down for commercial real estate development. Li Xiangqun is angry at the idea, "The building is uncommonly sturdy in structure and rich in natural light, such an ideal workshop is rare in China. If we let it develop naturally, it's more likely to become an art "CBD" like "SOHO" in the United States. Its art value is immeasurable."

(CRI May 13, 2004)

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