‘獅子山下, Below the Lion Rock’: Historian Renie Chow Choy’s Response to the Monument to Sir Harry Smith Parkes (1828–1885), by Sir Thomas Brock RA, post 1885
‘獅子山下, Below the Lion Rock‘ – Transcript
By Renie Chow Choy, Raymond Chow, Josephine Chow, Nicholas Choy, Tehila Choy, Torrens Choy, Thomas Choy (2022)
As a young man, Harry Parkes had been present at the signing of the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing following China’s defeat in the First Opium War, by which Britain secured five treaty ports and the possession of Hong Kong Island. But the Treaty had not produced the thing most sought – the legalisation of the opium trade – and years later as Acting Consul in Guangzhou, Parkes became an instrumental figure in persuading Parliament to renew war with China.
When in 1856, a sailing vessel called the Arrow, owned and manned by the Chinese but used by the British, was boarded by Chinese officials in Guangzhou suspecting the crew of smuggling opium into China, Parkes responded with indignation and used the incident as a pretext for a heavy-handed military response. The result was the Arrow War, or the Second Opium War, following which opium trade in China was legalised and the British acquired further territory in the area surrounding Hong Kong. For his ‘singleness of purpose’ in serving the British Crown, Sir Harry Smith Parkes is celebrated in this memorial.
Produced by three generations in my household, this work is conceived as an ‘intervention’ in the sense of inserting – both literally and figuratively – the story of our origins in Guangzhou and Hong Kong into a monumental narrative that implicates yet overlooks us. The artwork is placed into the empty triangular pediment of the monument and comprises three elements sculpted from clay by my children from stories told by their grandparents.
On the sides are garlands of poppy heads, the raw ingredient of the opiate over which Britain went to war with China, and Guangzhou was attacked and occupied. In the centre, the 舢舨 (sampan) boat symbolises Hong Kong’s harbour which transformed a small fishing village into a crucial base for British colonial activity, a fact that explains my family’s ties to the UK. The pediment’s backdrop is the iconic mountain resembling a seated lion overlooking Hong Kong. Owing to its use in a theme song of a popular television series, 獅子山下, ‘Below the Lion Rock’, the mountain has become a symbol of the diligence, perseverance, and resolve of ordinary Hong Kong people.
The Creative Process:
As a way of intervening in the host of conflicted emotions which sensitive histories generate, the process of responding to the Parkes monument was more important to me than the resulting product itself. For example, my children had only known about the poppy in the context of Remembrance Day, oblivious to its function in violent disputes between the country of their ancestors vs. the country of their citizenship. By dispelling ignorance, the journey of historical discovery gave us a feeling of dignity, especially so when shared as an intergenerational experience.
Artmaking itself also constituted a crucial intervention. My children’s playful, if flawed, experimentation with clay offers an important correlative to the vision of authority, mastery, and prestige presented by this marble sculpture by Sir Thomas Brock, the artist best known for his imperial memorial to Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace.
Lastly, on its own, the monument’s presence in this cathedral magnifies the tensions caused by my varied vectors of identification: my Chinese ancestry, my background as a British colonial subject, my immigrant upbringing, my British nationality, my Christian faith.
The opportunity to respond to this monument therefore had a healing and hope-giving effect, because it is an important acknowledgement of the role which my history and my faith play in the story of Britain, and in this place of worship. So the words of this famous song of Hong Kong can actually enrich the meaning of the monument to Sir Harry Parkes, and of its continued presence in St Paul’s Cathedral.
同舟人 誓相隨 無畏更無懼
In life there is joy, but tears are also hard to avoid;
You and I meet below the Lion Rock, and all things considered,
surely we laugh more than we sigh…
Letting go of our discord, together we chase a common dream;
In the same boat we go on together, without fear, without dread.
Lyrics from ‘Below the Lion Rock’ 獅子山下 (1979) by James Wong 黃霑
(Composition and arrangement by Joseph Koo 顧嘉輝, performed by Roman Tam 羅文)
Text & Artwork © Renie Chow Choy 2022
Film © Nicholas Choy 2022
About Renie Chow Choy
Dr Renie Chow Choy is a historian of Christianity specialising in medieval monasticism, and has since 2016 been Tutor and Lecturer in Church History at St Mellitus College. She comes from Hong Kong and Canada, studied in the U.S., and obtained her doctorate from Oxford. Dr Choy has written on various aspects of early medieval Christianity, and is the author of Intercessory Prayer and the Monastic Ideal in the Time of the Carolingian Reforms, published in 2016 by Oxford University Press. More recently she has applied historical scholarship to the field of heritage studies, seeking to examine the connections that Christians from diasporic backgrounds have to England’s historic churches. Her latest book, Ancestral Feeling: Postcolonial Thoughts on Western Christian Heritage, was published in 2021 by SCM Press. She is currently leading a participatory heritage project called ‘London’s Iconic Churches: Inclusive Interpretations of Christian Heritage’ at Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Southwark Cathedral; information about it can be found on the project’s website.
Find Dr Renie Chow Choy on Twitter.
About the Monument
Sir Harry Smith Parkes (1828–1885) was a diplomat who served in the Far East, in China, Japan and Korea. As Dr Renie Chow Choy explores in her Voice, above, he was a central figure in the First and Second Opium wars of the mid-nineteenth century.
Parkes was Consul-General in Japan for nearly twenty years. Whilst there, he undertook a survey of Japanese paper and the resultant collection is held in the V& A Museum.
Parkes died of malaria in Peking (Beijing) in 1885. His monument for St Paul’s Cathedral, by Sir Thomas Brock RA (1847–1922), comprises a white marble portrait bust set into a coloured marble niche and architectural surround, including the pediment which provided the frame for Renie Chow Choy and her family’s artistic intervention. The inscription reads:
Sir Harry Smith Parkes G.C.M.G. K.C.B.
H[er] B[ritannic] M[ajesty]’s En[voy] Ex[traordinary and Min[ister] Plenipotentiary
in Japan and China
He died at Peking on the 22nd of March 1885, aged 57
while in the active discharge of his duties,
thus closing a distinguished career in the Far East of 43 years.
this monument is erected by friends and brother officers,
in memory of his life long service and unfailing courage,
devotion to duty, and singleness of purpose.