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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Strategy and Statecraft in Imperial China
Death and the Imagination of the Qing Monarchy: The Suicides of Chinese Royalists 1870s-1920s
Thursday, March 25, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Binghamton University, United States
This paper examines a radical form of political expression: suicide. In late Qing and early Republican China, several high profile suicides attracted strong public interests. Although suicide for moral-political causes has long been an integral part of the imperial Chinese culture, it acquired new meanings and elicited diverse response from a rapidly changing audience. This paper will use three cases: Wu Kedu’s suicide in 1879, Liang Juchuan’s in 1918 and Wang Guowei’s in 1927, to demonstrate how royalists, hereby those who committed suicide for the Qing monarchy, participated in the transformation of the symbolic meaning of the Qing monarchy. All of them chose to raise public attention by committing suicide when they felt the valued tradition was seriously threatened. Together with the public response, the three suicide cases complicate our understanding of the Qing monarchy. Specifically, the suicides during this period enriched people’s imagination of the Qing monarchy. For instance, whether the suicides were out of the revolutionaries’ hatred towards the Manchus or the royalists’ devotion to Confucianism and Confucian culture, they gave the Qing monarchy symbolic meanings that were newly invented. And since most suicides were orchestrated as public events, those new symbolic meanings were spread to the public.