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Monumentality in Nationalist Nanjing:
Purple Mountain’s Changing Views

Charles D. Musgrove


Figure 5.1

Photograph of Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum from the bottom of the magnificent staircase that visitors must summit in order to enter. This perspective highlights many of the most distinctively modern attributes of monumentality that this complex symbol conveyed, including it grand and visibility from a great distance, its domination of the surrounding landscape, and its imposing feeling of permanence.

Source: Wikipedia Commons (accessed December 20, 2013)

Figure 5.2

This picture of Lincoln’s Memorial at night captures both the architectural elements of the building and the statue of the man at the center. Like other most other modern tombs and memorial, the Lincoln Memorial is located in the urban center of the national capitol, and is one of many monuments in the national mall. By contrast Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum is considerably removed from the urban environment of Nanjing.

Figure 5.2b

Sun Yat-sen never saw the edifice of Lenin’s tomb, which was not completed in stone until 1929, but Sun’s decision to have a mausoleum built was inspired by the monumental political display of Lenin’s body. Lenin’s tomb is not large in size, certainly not in comparison to the buildings predating and surrounding it in Moscow’s Red Square, but the monument achieves a stark weightiness nonetheless.

Figure 5.3

This map of the southern slope of Purple Mountain shows the layout of the mausoleum grounds for Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Ming emperor. Notice how the spirit road curves from the city through several gates and structures to the tomb itself.

Source: Barry Till, In Search of Old Nanking (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1984), 136 (redrawn from commonly found tourist maps of the area).

Figure 5.3b

Stone animals on the grounds of the Zhu Yuanzhang mausoleum, also known as the Ming Xiaoling. A “spirit path” wound through the grounds of the mausoleum, helping build a sense of monumentality by moving through the space.

Source: Personal collection of Charles Musgrove

Figure 5.3c

The stone gate tower at the tomb of Ming dynasty founder, Zhu Yuanzhang. This large structure separates the ceremonial spaces from the actual tomb mound that lies behind it. Most ceremonies dedicated to the imperial ancestor were conducted at a more modest sacrificial hall (see Figure 5.4 below). Originally completed in 1398, the structure on top of the stone base was significantly renovated in the early-2000s, providing fresh red paint to the stone building and adding a new roof.

Source: Personal collection of Charles Musgrove

Figure 5.4

The Wooden Sacrificial Hall at the tomb of the founder of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, in Nanjing. The original sacrificial hall completed in 1398 was much larger than the one pictured (notice how the set of staircases seems overly large for the small structure.) The original building was destroyed when the Qing dynasty put down the Taiping Rebellion in 1864. The Qing subsequently built this more modest structure afterwards.

Source: Personal collection of Charles Musgrove

Figure 5.5

The sacrificial hall of the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing which was completed in 1929. This structure was praised at the time for combining eastern and western elements into a bold new architectural form. Compare this stone and concrete structure to the sacrificial and spirit halls of the Ming tomb in Nanjing.

Source: Personal collection of Charles Musgrove

Figure 5.6

Sun Yat-sen’s sarcophagus. The statue on top depicts how he looked when lying in state before his internment in 1929. Notice that he is wearing his trademark “revolutionary suit,” in contrast to the scholarly robes on the statue in the Sacrificial Hall. Multiple visual messages were being conveyed in the mausoleum.

Source: Personal collection of Charles Musgrove

Figure 5.7

The statue of Sun Yat-sen that appears in the sacrificial hall. The designer of the mausoleum mentioned that the statue was designed to be similar to that of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, which was dedicated in 1922. Note, however, that Sun is depicted wearing the robes of a Confucian scholar with a scroll in his lap.

Source: Personal collection of Charles Musgrove

Figure 5.8

The GMD’s emblem of the white sun on a blue field shines over the sacrificial hall, providing an example of how the party hoped to tap into Sun’s popularity to legitimize its own power in China.

Source: Personal collection of Charles Musgrove

Figure 5.9

A large crowd gathered to witness the interment of Sun Yat-sen on June 1, 1929. Many monuments in Nationalist China and later were constructed to encompass large-scale gatherings of the “masses,” in contrast to the relatively closed spaces of imperial-era ceremonial sites.

Source: Liang Desuo, Feng’an dadian xiezhen [Portrait of the internment ceremony] (Shanghai: Liangyou tushu yinshua gongsi, 1929).

Figure 5.9b

This image captures a dramatic moment from the funeral ceremony at the Sun Yat-Sen mausoleum. While the monument’s daunting 392 stairs typically lend an awe-inspiring monumentality to the Mausoleum, in this particular context they also imbue the ceremony with a powerful expression of patriotic loyalty and filial dedication regarding the tremendous effort involved to carry the national father to his final resting place.

Source: WikiCommons

Chapter Sample

An important element in the construction of a new visual modernity in early-twentieth-century China was the transformation of concrete representations of the state, embodied in architectural forms that were designed to define a seemingly new set of roles between that state and its subjects. During the decade from 1927 to 1937, when the Nationalist Party (Guomindang, or GMD) nominally ruled China, monumental architecture in the form of public buildings, statues, and tombs formed part of a concerted effort to construct a new symbolic template for unifying the Chinese people around the GMD state. This template was inherently visual, as monumental architecture was meant to be seen in order to convey larger messages. Some messages were explicit in the inscriptions of the monuments; others were implicit in the more subtle meanings to be gleaned from the constructions themselves—the orientation, the materials, and the forms of the buildings that spoke to older symbolic systems while tapping into new ones. While the state certainly wished to express particular meanings through monuments, those who were supposed to absorb the messages often applied their own interpretations to the structures in both subtle and spectacular ways—either through the mundane contemplations of personal experiences or through dramatic deviant behavior purposely designed to challenge the prescribed readings of the imagery.

This chapter focuses on the changing nature of monumentality reflected in the transformations effected on Purple Mountain, just outside the city walls of Nanjing. Purple Mountain was the location of the GMD’s most important monument, the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum (Figure 5.1). Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was a professional revolutionary who in his early career sought to overthrow the Qing dynasty, which was accomplished during the 1911 Revolution. In early-1912, Sun briefly served as provisional president of the newly established Republic of China only to resign in favor of General Yuan Shikai in February 1912. When the republic collapsed into warlordism shortly afterwards, Sun spent the rest of his life advocating the establishment of a “revolutionary” nationalist government led by the party he had founded, the GMD. Sun had famously proclaimed the necessity for transforming the Chinese people from what he described as “loose sand” into a unified body of citizens under the leadership of the GMD, and in some respects the monument in his honor was built with similar intentions. But Sun’s was not the only monumental tomb on Purple Mountain; one mountain slope already served as the final resting place of the founder of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398).

i A modified version of this chapter was published as “Monumentality in Nanjing’s Sun-Yatsen Memorial Park,” Southeast Review of Asian Studies, 29 (2007): 1-19. 

Further Reading

Harrison, Henrietta Harrison. The Making of the Republican Citizen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Hung, Chang-Tai. Mao’s New World: Political Culture in the Early People’s Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011.

Lai Delin. “Searching for a Modern Chinese Monument: The Design of the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing.” The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 64:1 (March 2005): 22-55.

Musgrove, Charles. Contesting the Capital: Architecture, Ritual, and Response in Nanjing, 1927-1937. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2013.

Nedostup, Rebecca. “Two Tombs: Thoughts on Zhu Yuanzhang, the Kuomintang, and the Meanings of National Heroes.” In Sarah Schneewind, ed., Long Live the Emperor! Minneapolis: Society for Ming Studies, 2008.

Vale, Lawrence J. Architecture, Power and National Identity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Wagner, Rudolf G. “Ritual, Architecture, Politics, and Publicity during the Republic: Enshrining Sun Yat-sen,” in Cody, Steinhardt, Atkin, eds., Chinese Architecture and the Beaux Arts. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011.

Wang Liping. “Creating a National Symbol: the Sun Yatsen Memorial in Nanjing.” Republican China 21, no. 2 (April 1996): 26-63.

Wu Hung. Monumentality in Early Chinese Art and Architecture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995.

Wu Hung. Remaking Beijing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Zito, Angela Zito. Of Body and Brush. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Study Questions

1. Compare the outer appearance of the (partially reconstructed) Ming tomb complex (Figures 5.3, 5.3b, 5.3c and 5.4,) and the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum (most prominently Figures 5.1, 5.5, and 5.9b). What similarities and differences do you see? What do you think accounts for these similarities and differences?

2. Sun Yat-sen had instructed that his remains be preserved in a public tomb in the manner of Vladimir Lenin, whose mausoleum stands in Red Square in the center of Moscow. The architect who designed the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum admitted that his work was influenced by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Images of both these famous monuments are appended above (Figures 5.2 and 5.2b) and many more images of them can be found on the internet. What elements of the Lenin and Lincoln monuments do you think you see expressed in Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum? What are some similarities and differences between these monuments? What do these similarities and differences say about the “audiences” for each monument?

3. What makes a particular monument appealing to people? How is the “success” of a monument measured? How do you think Sun Yat-sen might have felt about how he was portrayed in the Mausoleum? Would he have been pleased overall? Why or why not?

4. We have looked in this chapter at a very “successful” monument, in the sense that Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum has remained rather continuously popular and visited since it was built. Why do you think the mausoleum has been able to attract visitors over these many changing decades? What kinds of monuments seem ignored or neglected? What do you think accounts for the continued attention of some monuments and the neglect of others?