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Demythologizing Politicized Myths: A New Interpretation of the Seven Gentlemen Incident

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image of Frontiers of History in China

This article investigates a political event in modern China that has received relatively little attention in the West. The Seven Gentlemen Incident occurred in the midst of the national crisis of Japanese aggression, when an independent patriotic movement led by seven Shanghai intellectuals organized the National Salvation Association and urged Chiang Kai-shek to fight the Japanese invaders. The Chiang regime, however, arrested the seven and accused them of plotting to overthrow the government. They were released only after Japan launched a full-scale attack on China in July 1937. Scholars have offered varying images of the incident. While the Seven Gentlemen were denounced as criminals by the Nationalists in Chinese Taiwan, they were respected as national heroes in Chinese mainland. Myths with conflicting viewpoints have been created. What were the life and career backgrounds of these people? Were they petty-bourgeoisie, as some mainlanders assume? Were the seven figures, as mainland Chinese claim, motivated under communist leadership to organize their association? What were their relations with the Nationalist regime and the Communist Party? This article endeavors to answer these questions based on new primary documents in particular archival material and offers new perspectives on this fascinating episode of modern China.


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