Anti-racism protests around the world, triggered by the killing of George Floyd , an African-American, by a white police officer in the United States last month, have led to a number of public statues being toppled or defaced by protesters who denounced the racist pasts of the historical figures they depicted. In the US, statues of Confederate leaders were destroyed or vandalised. In the British city of Bristol, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was thrown into the harbour. Even Winston Churchill was in danger of being taken down, quite literally, from his pedestal. Before they met with their ignominious fates, these images hewn from stone and metal had once been the physical representation of certain qualities considered estimable by some members of the community among whom they stood. Changing circumstances and mores have felled these erstwhile heroes. One of the ways the Chinese commemorated and celebrated their heroes was to build shrines in their honour, known as ci . They were very similar to religious buildings in their layout, with a main altar in front of a statue or some other representation of the person venerated, on which offerings of flowers, incense and victuals were placed. Among the famous historical figures that have dedicated shrines in China are the philosopher Confucius (551–479BC), the military commanders Guan Yu (died AD220) and Yue Fei (1103–1142), and Zhuge Liang (181–234), counsellor-in-chief of one the three kingdoms in the eponymous period. Emperors also sponsored the construction of martyrs’ shrines ( zonglie ci ) as a tangible form of propaganda to educate their subjects. Venerating men who died for emperor and country, martyrs’ shrines existed to extol such virtues as loyalty, courage and moral rectitude – qualities that were helpful in bolstering the regime’s stability and longevity. Such martyrs’ shrines are still built in the Korean peninsula and Vietnam. In Taiwan, the law stipulates that offerings must be made twice a year at martyrs’ shrines in various localities. There were also rare cases of “living shrines” ( sheng ci ), where shrines were built for people who were still alive. When the county magistrate of Teng county Zhao Bangqing (1558–1622) left for a higher position in the capital, the people of Teng built a living shrine in honour of his good work and incorruptibility in office. His contemporary, the eunuch Wei Zhongxian (1568 – 1627), also had living shrines built for him all over the country by sycophants or local officials fearful of the absolute power he exercised in government. Given the quasi-religious nature of ci and their associated rituals, many images housed in these shrines, and even the historical figures themselves, became invested with divine powers over time. People began to worship them as they would gods, to pray for happiness and well-being. An example is Guan Yu , a brave and loyal general but nevertheless a flawed human being, whose crimson faced effigy is the deity of choice for many in Hong Kong, from police officers and triad members, to restaurant owners and housewives. Many shrines and their objects of veneration did not endure, however. Some fell into neglect, the deeds long forgotten, while others were demolished after the people they commemorated lost favour. Today, monuments in the West are falling because the people they represent have been so besmirched by the stain of racism that whatever other qualities they might have had can no longer justify their continued adulation.