Author: Chen Yunqian
Institution: Uniwersytet Nankiński
Year of publication: 2011
Source: Show
Pages: 49-69
DOI Address:
PDF: ap/14/ap1403.pdf

The Symbol of Sun Yat-sen and the Political Memory of the Lower Classes in Modern China

Dr. Sun Yat-sen is a statesman of great influence in modern China. With the inauguration of the National government in Nanking, a movement of worshiping Sun Yat-sen spread throughout the country and penetrated into the daily living space, through commemoration, mass education and symbols, and thus “Sun Yat-sen” was constructed as a political symbol of the state, which had a significant impact on all of its citizens, including the lower classes. The lower classes formed political memory of Sun Yat-sen. Political memory is essentially the representation of social ideas and an important foundation for building and sustaining a sociopolitical system. Therefore, in order to gain legitimacy, the modern nation-state is particularly enthusiastic in shaping a national political memory to encourage its people to form a national and ethnic identity, and to implement an effective rule by means of soft power. The spread of Sun Yat-sen’s symbol allowed the grassroots, who were entirely excluded from politics during the imperial era, to understand the political discourse and form a common political memory. The grassroots’ political memory of Sun Yat-sen’s symbol has its own characteristics and reflects utility and practicality, which makes it different from the elite’s political memory. The public pays more attention to Sun’s doctrine of the People’s Livelihood and Nationalism. Furthermore, the grassroots’ political memory of Sun Yat-sen’s symbol is intertwined with traditional memory, because it is impossible to completely abandon traditional beliefs during the transition of Chinese society from a traditional to a modern one, especially among the middle and lower classes, whose traditional beliefs are deep-rooted. Due to the KMT’s growing importance on domestic scene, Sun Yat-sen was shaped into a mythological figure known by the grassroots, and became an important part of their political memory. The grassroots’ political memory of Sun Yat-sen is an important embodiment of Chinese modernity. As in the past, there was no political figure who could have made such a deep penetration into the civil society and everyday life under the operation of state power. Therefore, the social memory of Sun Yat-sen’s symbol effectively integrates national thought, and its nationalist connotations, into a common base for the convergence of social memory, and promoted national identity and the construction of the Republic of China.

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