Revolutionary Politician Meets Revolutionary Artist

by Joel Pomerantz

December 27th, 2010

San Francisco is lucky to have a significant share of the remarkable art and architecture produced by the New Deal’s financial support programs. Beniamino Bufano, a sculptor who lived in San Francisco, produced a number of these pieces that are now displayed in San Francisco, where he lived for many years. But some of his most unusual sculpture was privately commissioned, such as the steel and stone statue of Sun Yat Sen in St. Mary’s Square Park at the corner of California Street & Grant Avenue.

Bufano usually used an easily-recognized style of glazed terra-cotta, a technique he learned from porcelain glazers while traveling in China. Also while in China, Bufano met and befriended the Chinese revolutionary leader, Dr. Sun Yat Sen. His claim to have stayed at the Sun home has never been substantiated, but it is clear he knew the man.

And Sun also once visited San Francisco, but it was not a vacation. Sun was in political exile, and had come here, to the largest Chinese city outside Asia, to rally support for his overthrow of the Manchu Empire. Sun was successful in founding the Chinese Republic in 1911, and was inaugurated as first president on January 1, 1912. He served only six weeks, but the republic lasted more than a year. Dr. Sun himself lived until 1924.

In 1938, Chinatown business leaders commissioned a stainless steel and red granite statue of Sun, to commemorate Sun’s visit to our city. Bufano accepted the commission.

Statue of Sun Yat Sen by Beniamino Bufano.  Photo by Tom Spaulding.

Photo by Tom Spaulding

Dr. Sun Yat Sen was recently described by the People’s Daily (official paper of China) as, “the forerunner of the democratic revolution in China.…a great revolutionary and a great statesman who fought against imperialist aggression and for the independence and freedom of China.” Dr. Sun was among the first graduates of the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese.

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