The Twelve Bronze Animal Zodiac Heads of the Haiyan Hall

In the Old Summer Palace, Beijing, China, lies a ruined fountain near the Haiyan Hall site (“Haiyan” means peace for the country in Chinese). This fountain was built in the year 1759, and was destroyed during the Second Opium War in 1860. The stone base of the fountain was burnt and ruined during the foreign invasion of the eight allied forces. The animal heads used to be attached to their bodies, but the bodies were ruined in the fire as well. The twelve bronze head of the animal zodiac statues (which were the decorations of the fountain) were carried away and left the country.

Figure 1–Painting of the Haiyan Hall with the statues in front (Yang Liu, 2005)

The fountain used to be a water-driven clock, designed by the Italian painter Castiglione and made by Qing Dynasty’s royal craftsmen. The twelve animal zodiacs of China include the Rat, the Cow, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and the Boar. The twelve zodiac statues were placed in front of the Haiyan Hall, in two rows facing the small pond. The statues combined Western design with Chinese carving skill, and every wrinkle and hair of the animals were carved out with amazing details. They represented a combined cultural value between the East and Western world, and the water-driven clock was also one of the milestones of the Qing Dynasty craftwork.

Because in China the twelve terrestrial branches are represented by animals, and were also the main time system that people used, these twelve animal statues were placed in their terrestrial order as a clock. Like the twelve marks on the clock we now use but only arranged horizontally, these statues essentially constitute a modern mechanical clock. For every hour, the corresponding animal statue will spit out water into the pond to tell time. The design was practical and delicate.

Figure 2–the bronze statues of the twelve animal zodiac (Unknown, 2019)

The twelve animal head statues are lost and sold as looted artifacts around the world, and now only seven of them are returned to the Old Summer Palace. They mostly ended up in auctions, and the most expensive one was traded with 69,100,000 Hong Kong dollars (8,827,450 US dollar). Recently, on November 13, the private collector and businessman Stanley Ho returned the head of the Horse zodiac to the Old Summer Palace. Before the Horse head, the Rat, the Cow, the Tiger, the Horse, the Monkey, the Rabbit, and the Boar were also found and returned by multiple means.


Additional Readings:

Terril Yue Jones

2013  Two Bronze Animal Heads, Stolen 153 Years Ago, Returned To China. Electronic Document,



2015  Bronze animal heads from Summer Palace displayed in Shanghai. Video,




2009  Chinese zodiac statues’ origins. Electronic Document,, accessed December 7, 2019.



2013  The Search for the 12 Missing Chinese Zodiac Antiquities of China. Electronic


China, accessed December 7, 2019.


China Daily

2019   Chinese Zodiac Statue Heads Home. Electronic Document,, accessed December 7, 2019.





Easter Island Moai: How Were They Transported

The Easter Island is located at the southeastern Pacific Ocean, 3512 kilometers away from the nearest continental point in Chile. It is inhabited by the Rapa Nui people, whose ancestors in around 1250-1500 AD built the famous Easter Island Moai–large stone statues averagely weighed 14 tons and measured 4 meters high. These large statues stood on their platforms called “ahu”, near the periphery of the island. They were not made there, since no quarry large enough near the periphery of the island can provide such huge stone for carving, thus an inevitable questions rose: how were these giant stone statues moved from the quarry to the platforms at a time that didn’t have mobile facilities?

Many possible theories was raised. Some people suggest that they were pulled lying down on their back entirely by human forces, or they were placed on timber columns to roll to the destinations. The most wide-spread theory was put forward by archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo, who did a series of experiment to reproduce the process of moving the Moai. The two archaeologists found out that some statues were also left on the ancient roads of the island, facing downwards, showing an unfinished transporting process, and the fact that these statues can’t stand on their own without the special platform “ahu”. These statues have D-shaped flat bottom bases, but the bases forbid the Moai to stand vertically to the ground. They measured a 14°angle at the bottom of the Moai, which made the statues leaning forward. Why made this angle that was harder for the statues to stand? Hunt and Lipo then hypothesized that the angle was made for the transportation of the Moai.

The space between the statue Moai and the paltform was stuffed with stones so that it could stand vertically

In the oral history of the Rapa Nui people, the Moai were not “moved” but “walked”. Hunt and Lipo took this into concern. They also indicated that the deep groove of the eyes of the statues can be tied around with ropes, which probably was how the Rapa Nui ancestors pull the statues to turn and twist on the ground to “walk”. They replicate a statues weighed 5 tons, and found volunteers to move it. It was placed upright, as the history suggested, “standing” on the ground. Three groups of ropes were tied on the groove of the eye socket of the replica, and volunteers cooperated to pull and made the Moai twist. Using the 14°angles, the Moai leans forward while the people on two front sides (front-left and front-right) pull, and was pulled back by the third group to make another “step”. It didn’t take many people as originally imagined to move the Moai forward.

A drawing of how Hunt and Lipo tied the replica to move it with three groups of ropes

Wilkinson, Christian. “Easter Island.” A Guide to Easter Island, Chile, June 13, 2018. ​

Brand, Stewart. “Terry Hunt, Carl Lipo: Easter Island Reconsider.” The Long Now ​Foundation, January 17, 2013. ​​aster-island/.

Walking with Giants: How the Easter Island Moai Walked | Nat Geo Live. YouTube. National Geographic, 2012.

Further Reading:
Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo: The Statues That Walked | Nat Geo Live

Hunt, Terry L., and Carl P. Lipo. The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island. Berkeley, CA: Counter Point Press, 2012.