Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Yesterday I went to the Longhua area of Shanghai for the first time, which has a memorial park to fallen martyrs and a very nice Buddhist temple. Longhua doesn’t see too many tourists, as it’s slightly out of the way and is usually relegated to a secondary position in guidebooks. But both sites are worth going to: the temple is from the southern Song dynasty (parts of it are older) and is well preserved, and it is very active, with a healthy contingent of monks, in their orange robes, and a steady stream of Buddhist worshippers.

Inside the temple:

Going to the martyrs’ park next door was a moving experience. A fairly large park, it was nevertheless almost empty when I went there. A smaller area called Tiaohua within the park was used as an execution ground by Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in 1927, when the Nationalist party viciously turned against communists, trade unions, intellectuals, and students, killing them in the thousands. Afterwards, a prison was built there, where political prisoners were held and often executed. Though it is now dotted with overdone memorials—huge statues, murals in the social realist style, poems in calligraphy about how brave the martyrs were, etc.—the park gets many things right. One part has many lines of small stone memorials, each with a picture of the person killed, his or her name, and the word “martyr.”

The adjacent museum has about 200 small exhibits of people who were killed by Chiang Kai-shek’s government. Some of the names were familiar. One newspaperman, Shi Liangcai, was machine-gunned by Chiang’s assassins on the highway from Hangzhou to Shanghai in 1934 while returning from vacation with his family. He had printed critical and well-written articles about Chiang’s government. (I first read his story in Frederic Wakeman, Jr.’s Policing Shanghai, which also gives a thorough account of the 1927 Shanghai massacre.)

Shi Liangcai:

Another figure on display was Miao Boying. A member of the communist party, she was involved in women’s issues in Shanghai, and was executed in 1929.

Miao Boying with her son:

Many faces:

It’s sometimes difficult to know how to approach such memorial sites. They are obviously used to boost the legitimacy of the communist party, but they also hold deep meaning for many people. The propaganda can be tiresome, but the figures these kinds of memorials honor aren’t responsible for that. Labeling an entire memorial, museum, or other site that deals with history as “propaganda” sometimes results in dismissing it too easily, and missing the deep resonance it can have.

For some people, it may be easier to stay away. Here is a quote from Lu Xun, written before his death in 1936:

“As for going to see the well-known place of Tiaohua, or Longhua, which is also a killing ground, I had several young friends who were killed there, so I have never gone.”


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