Because of an editing error, a story in yesterday's editions incorrectly reported the amount the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund has collected. The group has raised $3.5 million of the $7 million it needs to build the memorial. In addition, it has a pledge of $1 million from the American Legion.
AT A RECENT American Institute of Architects gala in the glassy AIA building near the White House, jundreds paused amid swizzle sticks and hors d'oeuvres to hear flowery speeches by an odd mix of top architects and combat-hardened U.S. soldiers.
Squeezed into a corner of the stage, lost in the pomp, sat a slim young woman with Chinese features and black hair falling to her hips. In her hands she clutched a black beret. When called to speak she managed little more than a low, husky "Thank you."
Thunderclaps of applause.
Maya Ying Lin, 22, stunned the architecture world last spring by winning -- while still a Yale undergraduate -- a nationwide design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be built on the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial.
She is the scion of what was, in the early decades of the century, one of China's most remarkable literary, artistic and political families. That chaotic and brilliant world is gone, but the cultural mix of East and West that characterized it has helped shape this new young architect and her work.
An Asian artist for an Asian war.
NOVEMBER 22 Sunday
Beginning to vanquish the devils. A silly way to put what is within me, but for months it has been getting darker and colder inside. The memorial design details are near completion, the AIA reception was crazy, a mixture of elation and anorexia nervosa, had forgotten to eat for days, and then the eyes and whispers she's the one . . . the little girl, the child, praise and awe, i felt like a prize, yet so small, not me but the competition was on parade, i was just a victim of it, you would be grateful of the compliments only if you knew who was being sincere . . . -- Maya Lin's journal
Lin's design -- spare, black, merged with the earth -- has been criticized as unheroic. In another view, it is a hymn to death and sacrifice with the power to move to tears, and art critics say it may be one of the world's great war memorials.
It differs from most Washington monuments in its understatement, its blending with the landscape, its serene invitation: an Asian monument for an Asian war, the hint of a 4,000-year-old culture transmuted in the art of a Chinese-American girl from Athens, Ohio.
Friends and architects who knew her at Yale describe Lin as powerfully artistic, emotional, fiercely independent, driven: intuitive and personal in her approach to art.
Now she lives temporarily on Capitol Hill and works as a consultant to a local architectural firm hired to develop the details of her design and supervise construction of the memorial. Lin herself, not yet an architect, doesn't know how to draft.
On a recent day she stood with a young architect over his drafting table in the firm's office. She pointed with a pencil at a drawing there, rendering her verdicts like a housewife supervising a home contractor.
"I don't know if I want it to be totally flat," she said softly. "The top is beginning to look like a ramp: I just don't like that."
He made a change. She approved.
"It's incredible how possessive I am about the memorial," she said in an interview later. "It's like my art is my babies. For the first time I created something beyond myself. Usually creating is such a selfish act. I have a friend whose father died in Vietnam. The mother just came up to me and said, 'I'm Gil's mother and I think what you've done is wonderful.' " A lot of people write, thanking me. They think it is beautiful."
Lin was born and raised in Athens in a white clapboard house aclutter with art materials. Art and literature were part of daily life, and she worked in ceramics, silversmithing, sculpture.
Her brother Tan is a published poet. Her parents fled mainland China in the 1940s. Henry Huan Lin is a well-known ceramicist and dean of fine arts at Ohio University, Julia C. Lin a Smith graduate, poet and professor of oriental and English literature.
"She's got the most fantastic genes," said Yale China scholar Jonathan D. Spence. "It's the most creatively brilliant family . . . It goes right back to the roots of revolution, the cross-cultural connections between England and America and China." So be it said that I am blind As the winds in flight, Mad as the thundering tides, I shall not care. (What is there to care?) In Dream there is neither knowing nor not knowing . . . All is cancelled: all is reconciled.
-- Julia C. Lin, "For the Time of Dreaming Is the Time of Awakening"
Maya Lin's grandfather, Lin Chang-min, founded the clan.
In his new book, "The Gate of Heavenly Peace: the Chinese and Their Revolution, 1895-1980," Spence describes old man Lin as "a gregarious and emotional man of romantic temperament." Family and friends say Maya Lin got her creative, turbulent nature from this passionate man.
The tale of the clan includes one of the great and scandalous love stories of the Chinese revolution -- a term for China's painful modernization and coming-to-grips with the West that began in the early decades of the century, erupted in the civil war that ended with communist victory in 1949, and that continues today.
Old man Lin was a lawyer who labored for progressive causes and constitutional government. In 1921, he went to London as a member of the Chinese Association for the League of Nations, taking along his daughter Lin Hui-yin -- Maya Lin's aunt.
There they moved in circles that included H.G. Wells, E.M. Forster, Arthur Waley, Thomas Hardy, Bertrand Russell and Katherine Mansfield. They met a young man named Hsu Chih-mo, who was to become the greatest Chinese lyric poet of his generation -- an apostle of Swinburne and Rossetti who championed the soul's liberation and a total surrender to romantic love.
Literary history was in the making. Leo Ou-fan Lee tells the story in his 1973 book, "The Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers:"
"After Hsu met old man Lin, they immediately became close friends. Kindred temper may indeed be the central link that forged the lasting friendship between the two men. For example, Lin had spent long hours with Hsu talking about his early love affair with a Japanese girl in his student days in Japan, which Hsu later turned into a short story . . . It was through his associations with this man of sentiment that Hsu became aware of his own emotional nature" and embarked on his career as a poet.
That wasn't all.
"When Lin Hui-yin arrived in London with her father in 1921, she was barely seventeen, a budding beauty endowed with intelligence and literary talents. It could be conjectured that if the father had unveiled Hsu's emotional temper, the daughter was responsible for unleashing the torrent of Hsu's emotions."
The poet fell madly in love with her. They exchanged letters daily. He divorced his wife.
But it was not to be. Old man Lin quickly sent his daughter back to China and informally arranged her engagement to the son of an old friend, Liang Chi-chao -- a powerful literary journalist and scholar whose espousal of sweeping innovations along Western lines influenced an entire generation.
The poet Hsu was a disciple of old Liang's, and when he returned to China in pursuit of Lin Hui-yin, old Liang tried to discourage him. This led to the poet's famous proclamation in a letter to Liang that, "I shall search for my soul's companion in the sea of humanity."
But the beautiful Lin Hui-yin -- Maya Lin's aunt -- went ahead and married old Liang's son, Liang Ssu-cheng, who was to become China's greatest architectural historian. Together they left for America and received degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, where they both studied architecture.
Then in the fall of 1927 -- half a century before Maya Lin made her journey from Athens to New Haven -- her aunt Lin Hui-yin went to the Yale School of Drama for six months to study the architecture of stage design.
There the story is picked up by Wilma Fairbank, wife of Harvard China scholar John K. Fairbank. She recalled Maya Lin's aunt as "one of those people that you meet at times in artists' groups who could go in any direction: a gifted designer, artist and poet. At the same time she wrote prose, was a very able architect and a very enchanting person, very pretty and lively and always the center of any group."
The Fairbanks were close friends of Lin Hui-yin and her husband in Peking in the 1930s and in America. "I knew them very well," said Wilma Fairbank. "They were both very remarkable, very gifted people. They were in that transitional generation raised by parents who still insisted they should have a thorough grounding in Chinese culture. After returning to China they spent their lives traveling through the countryside looking for surviving buildings . . . Lin Hui-yin worked closely with her husband in architectural history."
There was one last dramatic meeting between the poet Hsu and Lin Hui-yin when the Nobel prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore toured China in 1924. The former lovers were thrown together as his interpreters.
According to the Lee book, "Tagore gave six public lectures: Hsu Chih-mo and Lin Hui-yin were his constant companions. The sight of a white-haired old sage flanked by this dashing young pair was turned into something of a legend."
Hsu died in 1931, Lin Hui-yin in 1954 and her husband in 1972 -- all in China.
Henry Lin said his daughter Maya resembles his older sister Lin Hui-yin: "Maya is very emotional, very sensitive. She was always interested in the arts but at the same time all the female Lins are very strong, very independent: all very talented and very determined. Maya and my sister are very similar in personality."
Wilma Fairbank said she thinks Maya Lin doesn't know much about her ancestors or China. "That, I suppose, is rather typical of the next generation," she said.
An early morning train slides its far-off whistle into these hills and takes you out of sleep. As you lie half-awake in a room littered with moonlight you discover the slippage of landscape, the bedroom walls faintly growing with trees. This is Athens, Ohio drifting in snow.
-- Tan Lin, "Athens, Ohio"
Maya Lin didn't know that her aunt had gone to Yale.
"Maya is so modern in so many ways," said her mother. "She considers herself more American than Chinese."
"I don't speak or write Chinese," said Maya Lin. "My parents never forced us to do anything. They always gave us the choice . . . I don't read the papers. I just ignore the world. It's like everything is up in my head with no real, concrete experiential reality. It's all what I feel."
But the culture got through. Maya Lin is an American girl from the Midwest, but she is Chinese in her bones. According to architect Pietro Belluschi, one of the judges in the competition, the family's culture "somehow has a way to penetrate and show in her work: there is a natural sophistication and sensitivity traditional in Chinese work."
Maya's father Henry Lin agrees. The monument's "simplicity is like Taoism: simple yet very direct. I'm not saying we have directly influenced it, but indirectly by the way we live, the way we brought them up. The quietness and the directness really is an Eastern influence."
Taoism -- or Chinese mysticism -- is a philosophy emphasizing life's contradictions and counseling a meek and natural life attuned to an undefined but all-powerful Tao, or "Way." It is a forerunner of Western existentialism. Taoism and Confucianism -- a rational code of moral duty based on benevolence -- are key philosophical underpinnings of Chinese culture.
Vietnam, about which Maya Lin knows even less than she knows about China, is basically a derivative culture of China even though it has many distinct traditions of its own.
Many of Julia Lin's poems -- like the one quoted above -- are considered Taoist. "Chinese architecture is, on the whole, far more influenced by Confucious, while Chinese gardens are far more influenced by Taoism," said Yale architecture professor King-lui Wu, who is writing a book on Chinese gardens and domestic architecture. "Maya Lin's mother wrote Taoist poetry, so I think the Taoist influence can be very real in her."
Maya Lin herself believes the Oriental influence "is there. You can see it . . . the sensitivity to the landscape . . . the simplicity and the basic philosophy of the design. It's a memorial that does not force or dictate how you should think. It asks and provokes you to think whatever you should think. In that sense it's very Eastern -- it says, 'This is what happened, these are the people.' It wants you to . . . come to your own personal resolution. It has a lot of hidden philosophy. It reflects me and my parents."
Maya is an Indian word, not Chinese. It was the name of Buddha's mother. "It means illusion, life is an illusion, everything is emptiness," said Julia Lin. "I chose that name for her because it's beautiful and I'm a little bit of a Buddhist. Also a friend at Smith had that name, a beautiful Indian girl." Ying means jade, Lin forest.
Athens is a college town: small, isolated. "I used to birdwatch when I was young," said Maya Lin. "There's not much else to do in Athens, Ohio. It's a perfect place to grow up. It's totally safe. You can leave your keys in your car, leave your door unlocked. There's plenty of room."
But she never fit in.
"Everyone was worried about getting As and Bs and Cs. I really thought it was silly, kind of stupid . . . High school was really miserable . . . I disliked talking to people . . . Socially I kind of ignored the whole scene . . . All the boys and girls were interested in one another, all taking themselves so seriously. The girls were very into makeup . . . It was just not at all my idea of life, of anything interesting."
A loner, she wandered the woods, worked at McDonald's, was co-valedictorian of her high school class.
Her individualism expressed itself in her clothes, still does. Today she goes around Washington in a pink-and-white dress, purple bush jacket and gray felt porkpie hat with a black band.
Lin never felt at home in Athens. "My parents don't consider Athens, Ohio their real home. The China they knew, their home, is gone. I grew up with their feelings. I don't feel like I have a home . . . As a result, I drift . . . Yale was the first place I felt comfortable."
In high school she devoured children's fantasy books and the existentialists, Sartre and Camus, but little or nothing on China.
At Yale she entered the undergraduate architecture major on something of a whim and, in her senior year, took a course in funerary architecture that led her to enter the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design competition.
Earlier in that class, she had designed a memorial to World War III -- a tomb that was "a study in frustration" because visitors would have difficulty getting inside and, once there, would be trapped by a cleverly arranged ditch.
Walking through this park, the memorial appears as a rift in the earth -- a long, polished black stone wall, emerging from and receding into the earth . . . Death is in the end a personal and private matter and the area contained within this memorial is a quiet place, meant for personal reflection and private reckoning . . . As much of the site as possible should be left untouched (including trees). The area should remain a park for all to enjoy.
-- Maya Lin's official statement about the Vietnam Memorial
For many years, Maya Lin has been fascinated -- at times almost obsessed -- by death.
It began when she read the existentialists and pondered the meaning of life and death.
"Everyone knows I'm morbid," she said.
Then, at Yale, she began frequenting the Grove Street Cemetery -- treed acres of big crypts smack in the middle of New Haven.
"The Grove Street Cemetery is beautiful," she said. "There's something peaceful about it . You feel removed. You feel you're in their world. You're in the world of the dead."
She went there to "photograph the light, the tombstones, read the inscriptions. I remember there was the tomb of a ferryboat captain: someone had carved a really beautful ferryboat on his tombstone. It was sweet and simple. I love things that are uncomplicated and simple."
While studying in Europe during her junior year, she visited graveyards across the continent.
"In Europe there's very little space, so your graveyards are used as parks. You can walk through them -- a city of the dead . . . European countries make their graveyards into living gardens."
Lin said she has never personally had an experience with death. She explained her fascination:
"We are supposedly the only creature that realizes its mortality . . . Man reacts to that by denying its existence. We don't tell children about it. We say someone 'went away, passed away.' We can't admit it to ourselves. That's always disturbed me. If you can't be honest about something that fundamental, if you tell little kids, 'He's just gone away,' it's just an unbelievable lie . . .
"The whole thing about cemeteries in architecture is how you experience, how you look at death. If you go in a cemetery and see Greek temples it means some really rich man has done that and is misusing the style, misusing the piece of art. It's sacrilegious to make a monument to themselves. It bothers me . . .
"These American troops in Vietnam died: You have to accept that fact before you can really truly recognize them and remember them. I just wanted to be honest with people. I didn't want to make something that would say, 'They've gone away for a while.' I wanted something that would just simply say, 'They can never come back. They should be remembered.' "
Chinese architecture seems to have developed along a line different from that of the West. Its main tendency is to seek harmony with nature . . . In a way, the setting is more important than the jewel. Architecture that is perfect in itself but does not fit into the landscape can only jar us by its disharmony and by its violent self-assertion, which we call bad taste. The best architecture is that which loses itself in the natural landscape and becomes one with it, belongs to it.
-- Lin Yutang no relation to Maya Lin , "My Country and My People"
The monument is two long, low, black granite walls buried in the earth on one side but open and approached down a grassy grade on the other. The walls emerge from the earth at their tips and meet in the center at an angle, one pointing toward the Lincoln Memorial and the other toward the Washington Monument. The names of the 57,692 American troops who died in the war are inscribed in the order they fell, and there is a brief inscription.
When you walk down the grade and stand near the intersection of the walls, their 10-foot height will rise above you.
While the monument will be horizontal, subdued and one with the earth, it will be monumental in scale and overwhelming in its own quiet way: the two walls taken together will be 492 feet long, nearly the length of two football fields, every square inch of granite face covered with that extraordinary litany of the dead.
"A nihilistic statement . . . a travesty," said James H. Webb Jr., an author and former combat Marine in Vietnam. "A black ditch" that commemorates the war "as some ugly, dirty experience of which we were all ashamed," said another decorated Vietnam veteran, Thomas Carhart. An "outrage," said National Review, adding that the V-shaped monument "immortalizes the antiwar signal, the V protest made with the fingers."
Such arguments -- valid or not -- were not considered by Maya Lin when she designed the monument, by the judges who chose it, nor by the architects and art historians who praise it.
They see something else.
In its polished black granite they see beauty. "It's a mirror, you can see yourself in it," said Lin. "I can't wait to see it. It makes two worlds, it doubles the size of the park. If it were white it would blind you because of the southern exposure. Black subdues that and creates a very comforting area."
Wang Shan-wei wrote in Taiwan's Central Daily News that the V-shape is not a peace sign but resembles the Chinese symbol for man -- roughly an upside-down V -- or the similar symbol for the Confucian ideal of benevolence or humanity. "In Vietnam the American soldiers sacrificed their lives for this concept of humanity," he wrote.
D.C. Fine Arts Commission Chairman J. Carter Brown praised the design's "extraordinary sense of dignity and nobility."
Architect and competition judge Belluschi noted that Lin was "just a little baby" when America went to war in Vietnam, but said he thinks eventually her sense "as an innocent or uninvolved person" of its meaning will prevail. "Her design rises above politics ," he said. "It was very naive . . . more what a child will do than what a sophisticated artist would present. It was above the banal. It has the sort of purity of an idea that shines."
"I hope they'll give it a chance and not close their minds, just let themselves walk through it and react," said Maya Lin. "It really hurts me when they decide before they even see it that they don't like it."
Professor Vincent Scully of Yale, a leading art historian, described the memorial in these haunting words:
"I like it very much. I think it's very moving. It's so sort of compassionate, gentle: I think it's sort of the way it touches the earth so gently. It's a remarkable thing. She's a remarkable girl . . . She was very moved by Sir Edwin Lutyens' great war memorial at Thiepval in France , surely the most moving war memorial in the world. It's a memorial for the dead of the Sommme offensive. It's very different from hers: a great classic arch, but in that double meaning of an arch, it's also a great scream. It's simply about death, that's all, not about victory. Hers isn't at all like that, but somehow she's able to find a visual equivalent for the sense of the sorrow, the fundamental sorrow which is the basic fact of war."
at a party at X--'s on saturday a man on the fine arts staff said my dressings were strategic . . . the building, the hat, the look was so . . . i knew what he meant at the time, is it an act? no, just me, and to think i thought i was being subtle? do they think i wear jeans? hah. i guess my pinafores and jumpers are too foreign to their age and class. yawn.
-- Journal of Maya Lin
Lin and her classmates in funerary architecture were assigned to come up with designs for the memorial.
So one day she and two classmates drove to Washington to look at the site -- a treed meadow in Constitution Gardens. It was a splendid, sunny, crisp November day more than a year ago. Lin had never been on the Mall before.
"It was while I was at the site that I designed it. I just sort of visualized it. It just popped into my head. Some people were playing Frisbee. It was a beautiful park. I didn't want to destroy a living park. You use the landscape, you don't fight with it. You absorb the landscape, fit the building into it and both are stronger. When I looked at the site I just knew I wanted something horizontal that took you in, that made you feel safe within that park, yet at the same time reminding you of the dead. So I just imagined opening up the earth . . ."
She put her hands together gently as if in prayer and then opened them slowly.
"It's like opening up your hands. It's not so threatening. You're using the earth, asking people to come in, protecting people from the sounds of the city and in a way that's no more threatening than two open hands."
She felt the monument "should be apolitical. It should be for the people involved. There's no reason the politics should be the memorial . . . To remember the veterans , that's all I wanted to do. The essence of the memorial, its purpose, was to honor and recognize these people. The most beautiful way to do it is often the most simple."
The three students spent several hours photographing, sketching, exploring the site. Lin got her idea in the first half hour.
Back at Yale she took a piece of flat modeling clay and made her famous angle. To her, the "whole point of the angle is that you can see the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial while you are within my memorial."
To her surprise, her generally critical professor of funerary architecture, Andrus Burr, liked the idea. "He thought it was incredible."
Burr prompted her to arrange the chronology of names that begins at the intersection of the walls, recedes into the earth and then emerges again -- "a circular pattern, the war is completed, coming full circle, broken by the earth," said Lin. "The living veteran who looks at it brings his memories of the war. The gift to the veteran is the living park."
The memorial is scheduled for completion by next Nov. 11, Veterans Day. Jan Scruggs, head of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund that is building it with $7 million in private contributions, said its dedication will be marked by "the biggest gathering of Vietnam veterans since the Tet offensive."
Fine arts went superbly, Y-- backed me up on drainage, they like my design still, it was reassuring, elating, i like my work to be liked, what would happen if it were criticized by intelligent people? people i respect? would i feel wrong or wronged, am i arrogant in personality and in my work . . . people should lift their eyes up to the magic right within their reach, the joy felt in making something that flows from reason to reality. burp.
-- Maya Lin's Journal
Maya Lin is a striking woman, slender, just over 5 feet tall. She has a wonderful blank expression that can suddenly break into a smile as warm and full as the sun.
When you meet her, you immediately sense an artistic personality: not surface brilliance so much as depth and intuition. She speaks of her art simply and with confidence. In an odd way, she seems to try at times to mask her power with whimsy and little-girl behavior.
Lin's ignorance of family and history seems almost calculated. She doesn't want to know. Analysis is the enemy of art. Rather, she seems to cultivate craziness in that Taoist sense of being in touch with what is true, with the awesome fact of human existence.
It is no surprise that she dislikes Washington, bland city of power-seekers. Here she feels "suffocated somehow. I can't describe it any other way. I feel I don't fit in and I never will." Her cities are New York, Boston, San Francisco.
Her power shines from within, and she is detrmined to protect and cultivate it.
"I've always been the little kid . . . Everyone has always told me to grow up. I don't know if I ever will, whatever that is. If I do, I don't think I could design. I've seen people grow up and lose it and spend lots of time trying to get back down to it."
She will go to architecture school next fall, possibly Yale or Harvard. She says she will never be happy.
"I seek peaceful surroundings because what's inside me is just crazy: just never, ever being happy . . . Something in me is not happy with what I make, or with my work. It drives you crazy, not being satisfied with yourself . . . I can never sit still. I want to be doing something, accomplishing something. If I'm not reading or doing something, I'm overcome by an incredible unrest, so I love places that make me feel more peaceful and relaxed . . . Graveyards is one place, not because of the dead but because it's a protected place where you can just come to and think. I'm not happy. I'm not. I'm searching for something . . ."