Washington glimpses Martin Luther King memorial — made in China

People stand on the step of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall during a march for jobs on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day January 17, 2011 in Washington, DC.

As memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was set to be opened to the public on the National Mall in Washington on Monday, news media recalled a controversy ignited by claims that the statue — by a renowned Chinese sculptor — renders Dr. King's appearance as slightly Asian.

The 30-foot-tall granite statue of the slain civil rights leader — the first person who is not a president or fallen soldier to be honored with a major memorial on the mall — is the centerpiece of a $120 million, four-acre memorial to Dr. King. 

The King Memorial is surrounded by monuments and memorials dedicated to presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

The statue, showing Dr. King emerging from a mountain of granite with his arms crossed, is called The Stone of Hope and was sculpted by Lei Yixin, a 57-year-old master from Changsha in Hunan province, the Telegraph reports. Further:

Critics have openly asked why a black, or at least an American, artist was not chosen and even remarked that Dr. King appears slightly Asian in Mr Lei's rendering.

Mr. Lei, who has in the past carved two statues of Mao Tse-tung, one of which stands in the former garden of Mao Anqing, the Chinese leader's son, carried out almost all of the work in Changsha.

The statue and long granite wall are inscribed with key quotations from Dr. King and will be officially dedicated Sunday — the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and Reverend King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech — with President Barack Obama is scheduled to give an address, VOA reports.

The King Memorial is the latest in a series of additions to the National Mall in the past two decades. The Korean War Memorial was built in 1995. A monument honoring president Franklin Roosevelt was dedicated in 1997 followed by the World War Two Memorial in 2004. 

Lei was commissioned for the work after architects in charge of the project said that they had visited his studio in Changsha to find he had already carved several versions of the work, the Telegraph reports.

It also quotes Ed Dwight, a Denver sculptor, as saying that Dr. King would be "turning over in his grave" if he knew his likeness had been conceived by someone living under a Communist regime.

In July, USA Today reported that critics of the project "ranged from a sculptor who was on an earlier planning team to academics to union members who balked over a decision by the memorial foundation to pay for a handful of Chinese workers to travel to Washington to help assemble the statue."

Ten Chinese stone masons were reportedly employed among team of 100 workmen to reassemble the 150 granite blocks — shipped from Xiamen to the port of Baltimore — that make up the memorial.

However, Dr. King's son, Martin Luther King III, defended the outsourcing. He told USA Today:

"I have seen probably 50 sculptures of my dad, and I would say 47 of them are not good reflections. This particular artist: he has done a good job."