Tying Memory to the Ground

In the 1980s Pierre Nora, one of France's most prominent historians, developed the concept of lieux de mémoire (places of memory). Studies of such places where, in Nora's words, “memory crystallizes and is being diffused,” were conducted and published in France and in other European countries in the ensuing decades. Marc Andre Matten's collection of essays, Places of Memory in Modern China: History, Politics, and Identity, is the first methodological attempt to use Nora's theoretical guidelines in the context of greater China (mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan). The book explores sites that are connected with three of China's founding leaders, and with some of its constitutive moments as a nation. Using a variety of research methods, the articles in this book concentrate on the years of the People's Republic, taking the reader from the early revolutionary phase of its short and turbulent history, through the disaster and the chaos of the 1960s and the early 1970s, to the current postsocialist era. The articles in the book examine the local: an archeological site, a memorial hall, a mausoleum, a museum, a park, and a public garden, in order to understand how each one of these locales reflects broader vicissitudes of memory and changes of identity in China.