The smashing of a Chinese lion statue outside a Chinatown neighborhood school is being investigated by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations as a possible bias crime, Executive Director Rue Landau said Monday.

The lion was shoved off its base, its head breaking against the sidewalk.

The vandalism was discovered Sunday by Wei Chen, a longtime advocate for Asian youth and a member of the commission.

An exterior school wall had recently been tagged with graffiti.

The Folk Arts Cultural Treasures School (FACTS), located near 11th and Callowhill Streets, grew out of a movement by the advocacy group Asian Americans United, which wanted a school to help the under-served Chinatown community. FACTS encourages students to work for a fair and just society, schooling Asian American students and also immigrant and refugee students of many races.

"We don’t have evidence that this is bias-motivated,” said the school’s executive director, Ellen Somekawa, “and we aren’t making that accusation. … We don’t know why somebody did this.”

The vandalism has left people at the school hurt and sad, she said. The lions were a gift from the Chinatown community to the school, which opened in 2005 and moved to its current location in 2006.

This is the broken stone lion, discovered outside the FACTS charter school on Sunday. The pair of lions was a gift to the school from the Chinatown community.
Wei Chin
This is the broken stone lion, discovered outside the FACTS charter school on Sunday. The pair of lions was a gift to the school from the Chinatown community.

The sentiment around the gift of the lions “increased the pain of this incident,” Somekawa said.

Guardian lions are a traditional Chinese architectural element, seen everywhere from the Forbidden City in Beijing to humble doorsteps in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. They’re believed to be protectors, and always come in pairs.

The male lion steadies a ball under one paw, while the female holds a cub. It’s thought that the male protects the building, the female the family inside — in larger sense, that one lion protects the world, the other the people.

At FACTS, the damaged lion was raised on a forklift and moved into the schoolyard. The other remains at its post beside the school gate.