Mayor’s Makeup Gift to Chinatown: A Permanent Home for Sun Yat-sen Statue

The bronze statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen will now be permanently located in Columbus Park and was named “Sun Yat-sen Square” in that section of the park. (Photo via Sing Tao Daily)

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been a target of criticism from the Chinese community over many key issues, came to the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) on Feb. 5 for a Lunar New Year celebration in a clearly conciliatory mood. He commended the Chinese for their contribution to this diverse city, asked Eric Ng, president of the CCBA, whether he would like to be addressed as “mayor” [Editor’s note: The president of the CCBA is widely known as the mayor of Chinatown.], and shook hands with everyone in the front row. In addition, he brought with him a new year’s gift. The mayor announced that a statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, which had been temporarily placed in Chinatown’s Columbus Park for years, can now claim the spot as its permanent home.

The last time the mayor came to Chinatown for the Lunar New Year was in 2015. In the four years since then, he has been pretty much estranged from the Chinese community. On issues from designating the Lunar New Year as a holiday on the public school calendar [Some in the community thought the mayor took too long to do so.], to eliminating the specialized high school entrance exam and expanding the Chinatown detention center, the mayor has clearly held different views from the Chinese community. Giving the Sun Yat-sen statue a permanent home indeed owes a big thank you to Council member Margaret Chin and the CCBA, who have been working on this for eight years. The Mayor’s Office only jumped on the bandwagon at the last minute. But Chin offered to share the spotlight with the mayor as an opportunity for him to ease the tension with the community.

In his speech, de Blasio said he knew that many years ago, Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China, also delivered a speech at the CCBA, and he knew how much the Chinese community loves Sun. And that’s why he chose to deliver the good news at this venue. Amid the warm applause from the audience, the mayor asked Ng lightheartedly: “I’m told you’re the mayor of Chinatown, right? So, if I call him Mr. Mayor, you won’t be surprised.” At intervals during the event, from taking group photos to issuing a proclamation to getting off the stage, the mayor showed a gesture of reconciliation by telling Ng: “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll take your order.”

Chin said after the event that she had never expected to encounter so much difficulty and bureaucracy in the process of finding the statue a permanent home, nor that it would take more than eight years.

The bronze statue was made in Taiwan and shipped to New York in 2011 to commemorate the centennial of the Xinhai Revolution. [Editor’s note: The revolution, led by Sun, overthrew the Qing dynasty and cleared the road for the founding of the Republic of China.] In the hasty preparation for the ceremony, the arrangement for a permanent installation was overlooked. After the ceremony, the Parks Department ordered the statue to be removed. The CCBA proposed several locations in Chinatown for the installation only to get them all rejected by the city. For a long while, the placement of the statue had been a thorn in the side of the community where the leaders once worried it would be homeless.

Chin said the community came up with various locations such as the triangular island on Canal Street, Sara D. Roosevelt Park and Columbus Park. But the city kept saying no with all sorts of excuses. For example, the size of the statue was too big and it would block traffic, and it was not made in New York so it couldn’t be placed in a New York park.

“I took finding a permanent home for the statue as my mission,” said Chin. “I told myself that I must solve the issue in my tenure.” Chin met numerous times with officials from the city’s Parks Department and the Art Commission on the matter. Finally, the mayor’s office chimed in, and the Parks Department agreed to allow the statue to be placed in Columbus Park permanently. “The CCBA and I finally were able to breathe a sigh of relief,” Chin said.

Chin said the statue, which will be refurbished, will be unveiled on Nov. 12, the birthday of Sun, and the location where the statue is placed in the park will be named “Sun Yat-sen Plaza.” By then, it will become a landmark of the history and culture in Chinatown.

After his speech, de Blasio walked down from the stage and shook hands audience members in the front row. He received some gifts of pig figurines [Editor’s note: The symbol for this Lunar New Year.] from the audience and left via a backdoor. “The New Year is the time for celebration. We need to put aside the unhappy things for now.”

In his speech, de Blasio said diversity is what makes America great, and Chinese immigrants are an important part of the diversity. He said it with ease. But if you have been following the news, you can tell that he was trying hard to mend his relationship with the Chinese community.

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