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Umbilical Ties: The Framing of the Overseas Chinese as the Mother of the Revolution

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One of the most iconic expressions in the last one hundred years associated with Sun Yat-sen, Nanyang and the 1911 Revolution of China has been “The Overseas Chinese are the Mother of the Revolution.” This paper traces the hazy origin of the slogan in its particular, well-known form as well as through paraphrases by examining its linkages to Sun Yat-sen and a wide body of writings from different periods. It highlights the waxing and waning of its usage, pointing to a period of high currency in the early 1930s, fading out in the 1940s, emergence as a Cold War coinage in Taiwan from the 1950s to the 1980s, and its surfacing as a focus of scholarship in the mainland of China after 1978. The final sections of the essay explore the more recent transformation of the saying in Nanyang popular culture through museum displays, theatre performance, and film. Over time, the saying, in its various configurations, serves to use it as an umbilical cord connecting the Chinese diaspora with its ancestral land.


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