Monday, April 16, 2007

Republican Period Rehab in China

Over on H-Asia several scholars are debating the meaning of the rehabilitation of Republican-era figures and events in China. Richard C. Kagan of Hamline observes:

I am not sure of the historiogaphical beginning of this re-examination of the Republican period. I can say, however, that scholars in China have begun to re-interpret the past in a way that makes the Communist period seamless with the past. Old enemies such as Ghenghis Khan, and Korean leaders have been re-shaped to become heroes of China. Even Chiang kai-shek's death resulted in an invitation for him to be buried in China--along with other family members. A nice mausoleum would be erected. The reason for this re-structuring the past is to seek a united front in Taiwan with the Nationalists. And to attract the families of the old KMT in China to the Party. I would not be so cynical if I had not observed how the Chinese play with the memory of the Nanjing massacre to their own political goals. When the Chinese condemn Chen Yi for the massacres in Taiwan, when they blame the KMT for the White Terror, when they call for the re-trials on the prisoners in Green Island, and when they recognize the major KMT leader, Lee Teng-hui , for bringing democracy to Taiwan, I will be impressed. Until then, releasing old memories of former generals and KMT leaders is not going to rock any boat but might get folks to look more kindly at the CCP. Besides KMT, the CCP has also restored or at least have not gone after the histories of the old gangster families, expecially pock marked Tu yueh-sheng (sp?) of Shanghai.

Historiography is a complex issue for the historian. We cannot take anything for granted.


Richard Kagan
Hamline University

Thomas Bartlett also chimed in with this suggestive anecdote:


In the late 1990s, I visited the public site in Beijing known as the Millennium Shrine in English, and as the China Century Shrine (Zhongguo Shiji Tan) in Chinese. It features a detailed exposition of events in Chinese history, from early times to the very recent past. I was interested to note that it included a very few mentions of the Republic of China, such as the year (1911) when it was established, and the year (1949) when it ended (sic). While watching this, I heard a young boy naively shout in a loud, surprised voice, "Mom, what's this "Republic of China"? His
mother reacted immediately with a hissing rebuke to be quiet, and pushed him along
to another part of the exhibit. I think that little exchange speaks volumes about the extent to which sanitization of the ROC's reputation, much less due recognition of its historical role, had not yet proceeded in China around the time when Gen. Wang Tung-yuan's auto-biography was published.

Highlighting the memoirs of an old ROC soldier who showed the admirable virtue of loyalty to his superior reminds me of the tribute paid by the late Qing court to Ming loyalist figures of the Kangxi period. The regime having become stabilized, it was obviously in court's interest to foster the virtue of loyalty to a received order, as the Ming loyalists demonstrated in their generation. It was also a politic thing to do, to reduce the long-lingering resentment of some descendants of such people. Treating Gen. Wang Tung-yuan's memoirs as history may mean that the old ROC-PRC passion has abated, but gaining the censor's approval, as is still necessary for publication in China, means that such a book is viewed within some
current guideline, such as fostering common, small "n" nationalist sentiment
across the Straits.

When visiting Beijing late last year, I observed a revived awareness of the ROC when I heard an elderly person, not quite Prof. Wu's age, but almost, say that, when she was in school under the ROC, the map of China included "Outer" (as they all call it) Mongolia, but now China's map seems deficient.

This is a person who has access to some degree of insiders' gossip, but has no authority or inclination to speculate in new directions. So, hearing her say that, I immediately wondered how many other people are privately casting an eye northward. As long ago as the mid-1980s, I once heard a commissar from a certain university very pointedly remark that the ROC map used in Taiwan then still includes "Outer" Mongolia. The inference is waiting to bedrawn.

Thomas Bartlett


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