By Hu Ying
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 19, no. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 138-191
This essay studies the history of commemoration of Qiu Jin that spans the last years of the Qing to 1981, specifically the public monuments dedicated to her memory, the tombs, shrines, stelae, memorial halls, plaques, pavilions, and statues. As material objects of commemoration, these artifacts tell us a great deal more about the creation and maintenance of collective memory than the “real life” of one individual.
Evident from the fact that she was buried nine times, Qiu Jin attracted a great deal of interest long after her death. The lack of ‘final resting place” betrays the unresolved meanings associated with her name, as individuals and groups with widely divergent interests laid claim to her legacy and attributed competing interpretations to her legend, some that are familial, religious, others local or nationalist. As public memory is inevitably an argument about the interpretation of reality, the case of Qiu Jin’s commemoration reflects the contentiousness of the writing of history in twentieth century China. As she becomes more abstracted as a symbol of generalized patriotism, certain personal details are divested while others magnified. And once recognized as pre-history by both the Republican Revolution and the Communist Revolution, she becomes part of “revolutionary heritage” and useful for “rallying local support” or “patriotic education.”