Chinese artist creates dialogue between East and West
The wisest of men
Published: Sep 26, 2021 06:33 PM
Wu Weishan Photo: Li Hao/GT
Above: <em>Confucius and Socrates: <em>An Encounter</em></em> Photo: Courtesy of Yang Zi

Wu Weishan Photo: Li Hao/GT 

Wu Weishan Photo: Li Hao/GT
Above: <em>Confucius and Socrates: <em>An Encounter</em></em> Photo: Courtesy of Yang Zi

Confucius and Socrates: An Encounter Photo: Courtesy of Yang Zi

Illuminated by Apollo's sun, a pair of bronze statues of the world's two wisest philosophers, Socrates and Confucius, stand together in Athens, the center of Greek culture, looking as if they are in deep discussion. 

"They are talking about the global pandemic, like how human beings can conquer the virus crisis," Wu Weishan, the creator of the sculptures and curator of the National Art Museum of China, told the Global Times, joking that if they had WeChat, the two wise men could have often discussed the future development of humanity.

As one of the important events at the opening ceremony of the Greece-China Year of Culture and Tourism in 2021, Wu's bronze sculpture Confucius and Socrates: An Encounter was unveiled at the Ancient Agora near the Acropolis in the center of Athens, Greece on September 17.

"I can see they are doing a dialogue," said Maria Lagogianni, director of National Archaeological Museum in Athens. 

Spark of inspiration

In order to create a vivid image of Socrates, Wu said he poured through numerous resources including some important works by Socrates. To his surprise he learned that Socrates was not tall or good-looking. 

"Perhaps these characteristics are in line with the real Socrates, but they do not fit the Socrates in my mind. Therefore, I added my own understanding and used the Chinese aesthetics' concept of 'beauty in ugliness' as a basis to learn from my predecessors," Wu said.

Wu said Socrates' wisdom and resolute personality reminded him of the stone pillars of the ancient Greek temple that stand between Heaven and Earth and highlight the country's profound philosophy. So he decided to portray Socrates by involving the image of the sacred pillar to express a powerful, energetic and talkative Socrates with the realist ancient Greek aesthetics. 

Wu has created sculptures of Confucius many times, but he told the Global Times he has never grown bored of it nor has his inspiration dried up. 

Compared with the realistic style used to portray Socrates, Wu used a more freehand style for Confucius. By adding an element of "wind," Confucius's robe looks like it is blowing in the breeze, almost as if Confucius captured a cloud and flew to Greece to be a guest. His palm-to-palm salute is a sign of his gentleness and courtesy and the etiquette of the ancient Eastern nation.

Historical documents record that the height of Confucius was "9-foot-and-6-inch-tall" by Chinese standards, which should have made him much taller than Socrates, but here he stands shoulder to shoulder with Socrates.

"I made them the same height to show the equality of the two civilizations from the East to West," Wu said.

The two great philosophers, early existentialists according to many scholars, tried to deal with the issue of human happiness and their thought marked the next generations of philosophers, carving a Eurasian perception of the issue.

Special creation

Though Wu has made several such hypothetical conversations between historical figures including Dialogue between Qi Baisi and Leonardo da Vinci in Italy and The Gate of the Soul - The Dialogue between Shevchenko and Du Fu in the Ukraine. However, An Encounter was a special creation for him as it came after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January 2020, Wu flew to Greece to discuss the artwork, and the Greek team of experts was very "confident about the plan for An Encounter" after they saw the success of Dialogue between Qi Baisi and Leonardo da Vinci.

"After I returned to China, the city of Wuhan was locked down," Wu recalled with a serious look on his face. He then began to dedicate himself to the creation as the pandemic worsened, spending a total of a year and a half finishing the creation. 

Though Wu was not be able to attend the ceremony in person due to the pandemic, he recorded a speech in a video, in which he pointed out that online modes can be an effective method for international cultural exchanges and communications in the future. 

Shared future of humanity

The Greek government selected the ancient bazaar in the core area of Athens as the site for the completion of the work. This location is the cradle of Greek civilization and is an important place for the exchange of ideas in the ancient Greek city-states, where Socrates' famous square debate took place. 

"I felt very touched that Greece, with a history of nearly 3,000 years, placed my work in the Acropolis, which has continued to be the heart of Athens for millennia," Wu said, speaking about the importance that Greece attaches to the sculpture and his expectations for China and Greece to deepen cultural exchanges.

"Morality and virtue are common elements [of the two countries' philosophies]. These are also the values embodied by the two emblematic philosophers, Socrates and Confucius… who meet here, in the Ancient Agora of Athens, for the first time," Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said at an event for the Greece-China Year of Culture and Tourism in 2021.

The year 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between China and Greece, and more cultural events will be held in the two countries at that time, according to media reports.