Cosmopolitan Imaginaries

6 -  Fountain donated by the Chinese community to Lima's Park of the Exposition in commemoration of the nation's centenary in 1921

Fountain donated by the Chinese community to Lima's Park of the Exposition in commemoration of the nation's centenary in 1921.

The fountain donated by the Chinese community to the Park of the Exposition in Lima, which appeared in the album, depicted “nature lavishing her protection upon the races (21a).” Nature, embodied in the figure of a seated woman holding a torch in one hand and a book on her lap with the other, both symbols of knowledge and enlightenment, confidently sat atop the fountain. Several other figures depicting the races of the earth surrounded her, creating a scene of racial hierarchy and uplift that invoked the production of nature, through the practice of agriculture, as a civilizing process. The fountain presented a vision of civilizational uplift and racial progress embraced by President Leguia during the Oncenio (1919-1930). This vision associated Peruvian national and racial progress with the harnessing and distribution of nature’s bounty, which Leguia hoped to fulfill by promoting the development of export-oriented agriculture and natural resource extraction. But the fountain also conveyed messages about the structures of power that underpinned this civilizing vision, communicating messages of racial, spatial and class hierarchies, namely of the domination of the educated, civilized, urban and creole elites over the backwards, rural and laboring peasant mestizos, indios colonos and perhaps even the former black slaves and Chinese coolies who had once labored on Peruvian plantations. Through the act of commissioning and inaugurating the fountain, in response to the Peruvian government’s appeal that foreign communities donate statuary to the new park, Chinese merchant elites situated themselves towards the top of these racial and civilizational hierarchies, positioning themselves as beneficiaries and intermediaries of this civilizing process, particularly in their roles as agriculturalists and merchants who helped produce and distribute Peru’s natural commodities.

The Chinese community also made their own contributions to the fountain’s imaginaries, which they communicated through another set of statues near its base. As they described in the album, "At the bottom there are two figures, one on each side, one representing the rivers of Peru and the other those of China.... blending there to form a single stream. This allegorical symbol, which reveals the fraternity of two peoples, also signals that the rice and silk of the Yangzi Valley have arrived at the banks of the Amazon River, and the coffee and sugar of Chanchamayo Valley have arrived at the ports of the Huanghe River (21a).”  The fountain's cosmopolitan message conveyed a sense of civilizational and racial uplift through the commercial interaction of the races of the world via the global circulation of commodities. The fountain suggested that as agents of trade and commerce, Chinese merchants brought China and Peru into contact with one another, advancing the progress of both nations and races. Although partially functioning as an extension of Leguia’s cosmopolitan state-making ideals, the fountain also suggested a Chinese migrant imaginary that had corollaries on the other side of the Pacific, where “Gold Mountain dreams” inspired people to head for the Americas (Hsu 2000). The fountain indicated that Chinese merchants belonged to other worlds, particularly the world of commerce where Chinese trade networks converged with the world of capitalist mass commodity circulations.

Cosmopolitan Imaginaries