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Noble Ghosts, Empty Graves, and Suppressed Traumas

The Heroic Tale of “Taiyuan's Five Hundred Martyrs” in the Chinese Civil War

Dominic Meng-Hsuan Yang

Keywords: Chiang Kai-Shek; Chinese Civil War; collective memory; martyrdom; Shanxi; Taiwan; Taiyuan; trauma

On 19 February 1951, a state-sponsored funeral took place in north Taipei in which a splendid cenotaph to commemorate the “five hundred martyrs of Taiyuan”— heroic individuals who died defending a distant city in northern China against the Chinese Communist encirclement—was revealed. In the four decades that followed, the Nationalist government on Taiwan built a commemorative cult and a pedagogic enterprise centering on these figures. Yet, the martyrs' epic was a complete fiction, one used by Chiang Kai-shek's regime to erase the history of atrocities and mass displacement in the Chinese civil war. Following Taiwan's democratization in the 1990s, the repressed traumas returned in popular narratives; this recovery tore the hidden wounds wide open. By examining the tale of the five hundred martyrs as both history and metaphor, this article illustrates the importance of political forces in both suppressing and shaping traumatic memories in Taiwan.

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