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New investigations into the theory that Wang Guowei sacrificed himself for freedom – On Chen Yinque's and Wu Mi's view of modern Chinese revolutionary politics

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In his life Chen Yinque wrote two public letters discussing "the spirit of independence and ideas about freedom". The first time was in 1929 in his Stele Inscription for Wang Guowei (Chen Yinque 1981a), the second time was in 1952 in a Reply to the Academy of Sciences (Lu Jiandong 1995). Both occasions were marked by activities of modern Chinese revolutionary parties to expand their political power by revolutionary means and to establish new regimes. Chen's motivation clearly was to base himself on these modern values of independence and freedom to criticize and mock the ideological control exerted by those in power. In both letters did Chen Yinque refer to Wang Guowei's act of committing suicide by drowning himself, an event which Chen explains to his readers as "self-sacrifice in the name of culture" and "self-sacrifice in the name of freedom". These explanations do not contradict each other; they rather have to be understood as complementary. Chen relies on the first explanation to elucidate Wang's subjective motivation, and he relies on the latter to expound the objective circumstances leading to Wang's death. In his farewell letter Wang himself explained his death as caused by the "events of the time". Chen's explanation of Wang's suicide as "self-sacrifice in the name of freedom" links these "events of the time" to the revolutionary politics under the leadership of the party during the 1920s. In 1924 Feng Yuxiang drove the last emperor Pu Yi out of the Forbidden City, and in 1927 Cai Dehui and Wang Baosheng were sentenced to death "by the masses". All these cases are examples of political iconoclasm in the name of revolution. Under the hegemonic discourse of revolution, non-revolutionary forces were perceived as being counter-revolutionary. In Chen Yinque's view, by choosing death Wang refused to follow the trends of the time and of the masses and to abandon his commitment to traditional culture. Just before Wang's suicide, both, Wu Mi and Chen Yinque clearly felt the pressure of revolutionary politics on their cultural identity, and Chen's views on Wang's suicide highlight how modern values such as freedom and independence have been compromised by Chinese revolutionary regimes.


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