Commemorative contention: The Taipei National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine and the politics of death

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This article addresses the Taipei National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine (Guomin geming zhonglie ci) as a site of contention over national sovereignty and belonging. The shrine originated in Sun Yat-sen's aspiration to commemorate the anti-imperial martyrs of the 1911 Republic and in the Nationalist government's attempt to marshal political allegiance in the 1920s-1940s. Upon fleeing from the mainland to Taiwan after losing to the Communist forces in 1949, the Nationalist leadership renovated the Japanese-built National Protection Shrine in Taipei, transforming it into the National Revolutionary Martyrs' Shrine to house the displaced spirits of the national dead. Throughout the Cold War era, the spring and autumn sacrifices performed by heads of state and visits to the shrine by foreign dignities served to affirm the sovereignty of the Republic of China vis-à-vis the People's Republic of China. Even though the end of martial law in 1987 opened a new era marked by the Nationalist Party's loss of political hegemony, the shrine continued to adhere to the Nationalist Party's ideology and version of history. Far from embodying a place of remembrance and mourning for war victims, the palace-style compound is a site of contested sovereignty exaggerated by China's extraordinary growth and Taiwan's transforming identity. The enshrined dead have found a new role as both an assertion of the island's autonomy and a reflection of its dynamism. The departed, albeit silent, hold power in the malleability of their memories, and each permutation of how the past is remembered hosts its own tension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 19 2023


  • Commemoration
  • Republic of China
  • Taiwan
  • martyrs' shrine
  • war dead

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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