Kirk Denton specializes in the fiction and literary criticism of the Republican period (1911-1949). He regularly teaches undergraduate courses in modern Chinese literature in translation, Asian American film, and Chinese film, as well as graduate courses and seminars on modern Chinese fiction, the writer Lu Xun, popular culture, Taiwan literature, and Chinese film. He is especially interested in the inception and formation of a discourse of modernity in the May Fourth period and how that discourse was to some degree informed and shaped by traditional concerns. Professor Denton's edited collection, Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on Literature. 1893-1945, was published by Stanford University Press in 1996. Two years later, his The Problematic of Self in Modern Chinese Literature: Hu Feng and Lu Ling was also published by Stanford. He is associate editor of the Chinese section of The Columbia Companion to Modern East Literature (Columbia, 2003) and a coeditor of China: Adapting the Past, Confronting the Future (Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 2002). He is co-editor, with Michel Hockx, of Literary Societies in Republican China (Lexington, 2008). He also edited China: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts, 2008). He has published several articles on museum culture, including in The China Quarterly and Japan Focus, and he is presently writing a book on the politics of historical representation in museums and memorial sites in Greater China entitled Exhibiting the Past: Historical Memory and the Politics and Ideology of Museums in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Denton is editor of the journal Modern Chinese Literature and Culture and manager of the online MCLC Resource Center, which hosts the MCLC LIST, a listserv devoted to scholarly discussion on the culture of modern and contemporary China.
Martyrdom and Memory: Monuments, Memorials, and Museums for Dead Heroes
My concern in this talk is not the psychological impulse behind self-sacrifice and dying for a cause; rather, I focus on the ideological and political construction of martyrs and martyrdom. Martyrs are products of religious, moral, ideological, political, and cultural value systems and are made to contribute to those systems. I first consider examples of martyrs in premodern times (e.g., Yue Fei) and of revolutionary martyrs in Republican era history—and then examine some nationally significant exhibitionary spaces devoted to martyrs in contemporary China and in Taiwan.
In the Mao era, revolutionary martyrdom was developed into what one scholar has called a “cult.” As seen, for example, in the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen square, martyrs are central to the construction of the narrative of revolutionary history and official state memory of the revolutionary past. In the post-Mao era, the state has continued to foster the cult through the construction of monumental new memory sites devoted to those who sacrificed themselves for the revolution. I analyze some of the ways such sites try to make the message of sacrifice relevant to young visitors, whose consciousness has been shaped by the new ideology of market capitalism, and to a new historical trajectory of modernization that seems far removed from the socialist revolution. I focus on three such sites: Longhua Martyrs Park (Shanghai), Yuhuatai Martyrs Park (Nanjing), and Red Crag (Chongqing), all of which are important lieux de m?moire in Communist lore and which were constructed or substantially redeveloped in the post-Mao era. These sites link the sacrifices of the revolutionary past to successes of China’s modernization and its rise to global prominence.
In the second part, I turn to two Taiwan sites—the Martyrs Shrine (Taipei) and the February 28 Memorial Museum (Taipei)—reflecting radically different appropriation of martyrs for opposing political causes. Commemorating martyrs of the 1911 Revolution, the Northern Expedition, and the struggle against the Communists, the former reflects a Nationalist historical vision. By contrast, in glorying the martyrs of the 2-28 Incident, the latter denounces the Nationalist era for its white terror and political repression. On the mainland and in Taiwan, martyrs are deployed in similar ways for varying political purposes.