CHANGSHA, China -- Inside a cavernous studio in this steamy inland city, Lei Yixin is molding clay into the shape of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Lei scrutinizes every inch of the models -- the direction of King's gaze, the crinkle of his clothes, the way his arms are folded -- knowing that the final product will make its home among the other great American monuments in Washington.
For China's artists, the selection of Lei as the lead sculptor for the project, to be unveiled in 2009 on the Mall, is a triumphant moment. It is a recognition of how rapidly their status has progressed in the generation that has grown up since the repressive years of the Cultural Revolution.
Atlanta resident Lea Winfrey Young says the "outsourcing" by U.S. companies and organizations to China has gone too far this time. She and her husband, Gilbert Young, a painter, are leading a group of critics who argue that an African American -- or any American -- should have been picked for such an important project.
"Dr. King's statue is to be shipped here in a crate that supposedly says 'Made in China.' That's just obscene," Winfrey Young says.