The Monument to the People’s Heroes has eight gigantic bas-reliefs on white marble.   Each relief has a different historical theme and they should be read in chronological order, beginning clockwise from the east.  The chosen moments looked to represent unity among the people of China during monumental moments of history while also validating the new government.  Each scene depicts good forces fighting against a repressive power, whether they be the Japanese, the Qing dynasty, or the Nationalist Party, to name a few.  

Before work was done on the monument itself, a sketch was produced which was then approved by the CCP’s Central Committee for endorsement.  Following this, it was then given to Mao for his approval.  Following this, the sculptors began working on the reliefs, “turning the drawings into intense facial expressions and forceful gestures, and giving the sculpted human bodies the appearance of vivid immediacy and compelling realism” (Hung 2011: 247).  

The Opium War, Monument to the People’s Heroes, Bas-Relief.

The first image depicted was the event that triggered the Opium War, and was one of six armed conflicts shown on the memorial and only one of three that occurred before 1919 (Hung 2011: 245).  The selected scene from the Opium War showed Commissioner Lin Zexhu’s destruction of opium in 1839, as this event changed the trajectory of modern China, igniting the war.  Done in a Soviet Realism style, the image focuses on revolution and the social conditions that led to change (Hung 2011: 250).  In addition to this, all the reliefs on the monument told a similar story of the Chinese people’s determination that allowed them to prevail when challenged by evil powers.  The seventeen men depicted in the scene from the Opium War image display great strength.  Some of them are bare-chested with their muscles showing, and there is an aura of the resilience of the Chinese fighting against one of the greatest powers in the world.  As the event was well known to the Chinese populace, there was an ability to easily understand who the enemy was even though they are not depicted.  Smoke clouds blew in the background, signaling the burning of opium and one man carries an ax while another has broken into a box of opium, which will later be dumped into the water.  The facial expressions of the men show that there is no question about what they must do.  Each one is shown in a firm yet calm manner, defending his nation as he is expected to do. 

Anderson, Forrest. 19th-century Opium Wars. Photograph. Hobble Creek. September 26, 2019.

Hung, Chang-tai. Mao’s New World: Political Culture in the Early People’s Republic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011.