The Haiyantang Zodiac Heads – Conclusion

Through investigating the question of whether the destruction of Yuanmingyuan in 1860 is still relevant within contemporary discussion in social media, I found that yes, it is.

I focused upon the 12 Zodiac Fountainheads that once adorned the water clock fountain in Haiyantang, and it is obvious to me that it is an issue that, to today, is close to the hearts of the Chinese people. It regularly comes up in discussion about other topics, such as DVD piracy, or talks about traditional culture, as it is something so highly treasured and yearned for.


Whether the rest of the fountainheads will one day return to China is yet to be seen, but from what I have seen and researched, I feel that a deep rooted sense of discontentment will remain within the hearts of many, both Chinese and not, until they do.


Youtube Video: The Destruction of China’s Yuanmingyuan


In the comment section of the Documentary above, I found even more recent examples of the continued relevance of the destruction of the Old Summer Palace and the 12 Zodiac Fountainheads.

(My apologies for the low brightness of the screenshots for this – I had some technical difficulties getting these)


Comment 9


The original comment by elescoum inspires a long thread of comments, mmost including arguments about ‘whose fault it was’, ‘who should take responsibility’ and the validity of someone’s opinion based upon either where they live or where their parents came from.


Another large area of contention is Tibet, the topic of which comes up throughtout the comments to follow.


(WARNING: Some of the following content may be considered offensive, including the use of swearing and the insulting of specific ethnicities)

Comment 10

(TRANSLATION NOTE: I have tried to translate the Chinese at the end, but have not been able to come up with anything concrete. The most I have is ‘Back home’ and possibly something about his mother.)

As we can see above, ‘Tim Lau‘ appears to be extremely passionate about the topic, and is very defensive against what he perceives to be insults against the Chinese.


Comment 11

(TRANSLATION NOTE: The French at the end appears to mean something along the lines of this: I can also write in a language that you do not understand, you liar! If you think that you are superior, you are wrong, you are just a human being! It is the only thing we have in common.)

The discussion continues to go back and forth, both attempting to assert that what they believe to be true as more correct than the others.


The rest of the comments first degrades into insults before continuing to discuss which country is more to blame – England and France for invading China in the past? Or China for not splitting along territorial boundaries.

Side-Note: The comment sections also includes various posts by ‘PRETTY SO’, asserting that much of Korean history is “Korean propoganda fake history and traditional culture for human .¬† Korean history distortion¬† IT’S SUPER SHAME ON KOREAN!!!”, which, while not directly related to the Zodiac heads, is an interesting read by what appears to be a ‘fenqing’.


I leave you with a final comment by Vivian L.



Comment 12

Blog Post: ‘Sack this!’

Let’s look at the highly commented upon post ‘Sack this!’.


(NOTE: To my understanding, the term ‘fenqing’ is mostly used as a type of internet slang, meaning something to the point of ‘angry young man’, and tends to be used to describe a Chinese youth that appears very nationalistic.)

Post 2

The post then goes on to comment upon how at the time of the looting, China was ruled by the Manchu, and that the fountain itself had indeed been built one of these “foreign invaders”, that the European powers did “terribly brutal, oppressive and manipulative things” during their time of colonial expansionism, and that he believes that the fountain heads should be returned to China based upon moral grounds.


From this post alone, it can be seen how the looting of Yuanmingyuan is a highly contentious issue amongst the Chinese public, which gets brought up at times as an inspiration for a sense of nationalistic righteousness.


But what I find more fascinating, in this case, is the comment section. With 66 comments, of various lengths and various commentators involved, it makes for an interesting read. Seeing how there are so many comments (and that so many of them are quite long), I will not be going into detail about all the relevant comments, however have instead picked out a few that I found to be particularly intriguing.

Comment 3

These comments are very general – ‘How would you feel if it was you?’; ‘You can’t deny the facts!’ , but they appear to inspire the heated discussion that follows, the main instigators of which being ‘From Toronto‘ and the aforementioned ‘warped0ne‘, as well as the post author, ‘Ryan‘. It is also interesting to note that it was one of ‘From Toronto‘s comments that originally inspired the blog post.


Comment 4

Here we see the author strongly asserting that he does not agree that China does not have an inherent right to possess the statues, given two points:

1. The Statues were of Manchurian origin, not Chinese, and that

2. Too much time and history has passed for the claims to stand.

Comment 5

Here, ‘Curator’ puts forth another perspective, and uses Russia as a contemporary comparison. They suggest that China is, essentially, making up a fuss about something when other countries have already moved on from similar situations, and that the continued highlighting of the incident may indeed end up hurting China in the long run. Other commentators also take up a comparative viewpoint, drawing attention to similarities between this and other situations.


Comment 6

I found this particular response to ‘From Toronto’ to be particularly relevant as it expresses yet another perspective. That the stealing of the zodiac heads is not something to be taken lightly, and as such should not be used as a basis for comparison for things that are not related to it, and that in a debate about the Intellectual Property Rights of DVD’s, it should not be brought up at all.


Another interesting point is that the next time ‘From Toronto comments, they do not directly reply to ‘Zhou’, but instead say this:


Comment 7

I would like to draw your attention to the final sentence, where after passionately engaging in discussion over the comparison between the looting of the 12 Zodiac heads and DVD piracy, ‘From Toronto’ then suggests that no further commentary should be made as it will “distract China’s [effort] to feed the poor.”


I leave you with the final comment on the blog. What are your thoughts and opinions?


Comment 8

Blog Post: ‘The Search for the 12 Missing Chinese Zodiac Antiquities of China’

Firstly, let’s look at the comments posted on a blog post titled ‘The Search for the 12 Missing Chinese Zodiac Antiquities of China’.

The post gives an overview of what the 12 Zodiac statues are, what happened to them during the destruction of Yuanmingyuan/The Summer Palace, and what the current status of the statues are.

While most comments centre around a shared interest in Chinese artifacts and where to find more information in relation to these, some do address the topic at hand, for example:

Comment 1


Comment 2

The comment by Wealthmadehealthy suggests that people find the fact that the statues have not been returned to be an issue of contention, and something they disapprove of. This is furthered by BkCreative’s – the author of the post – mentioning of ‘the West’, suggesting an anti-Western sentiment in regards to this topic.

Converesely, Ding Yi’s comment shifts the perspective back onto the Chinese government by comparing the loss of the 12 statues to all that was lost during the cultural revolution. This suggests a more pro-Western approach, and a sort of ‘yes, they stole that which was yours, but what you did to yourself was worse so why is this even an issue anymore?’ train of thought, if I’m reading this correctly.


Even just from these two comments, it can be seen how there are two main perspectives towards the issue – either that the Chinese are the rightful owners of the statues and as such they should be returned to them, or that they should remain in the possession of those who currently have them.


What do you think?