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DTS403H1S Final Report
Politics of Recognition, Modernity and Transnational Memorialization:
An Object Biography of the Sun Yat Sen Statue in East Chinatown, Toronto
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
The electronic version of this work which features many pictures and videos can be found at http://www.motherofrevolution.wordpress.com.
*Please Comment on this posting if you would like to be emailed the endnotes in the form of a .doc file*
*Works Cited at the bottom of the essay*
Standing in bronze at 2.6 metres tall atop a 2.2 metre high marble pedestal since 1984, the transnational statue of China’s revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen is located in Riverdale Park near East Chinatown along Broadview Avenue in Toronto, Canada. Despite spending much of her childhood in the statue’s vicinity and having experienced countless 504 and 505 streetcar rides from Broadview station to East Chinatown, the statue of Sun has been virtually invisible to the author of this work. Therefore, this essay is an effort to not only investigates the broad visibility and invisibility of the statue, but also to as Bruno Latour put it “maintain” the object as a “(1) visible, (2) distributed, and (3) accounted mediator” . In other words, the work is engaged in making the statue (1) seen and understood by informing others via interviews regarding its existence and historical significance, exploring the (2) distribution of dozens of other Sun Yat Sen statues throughout the world through time and space, and an (3) accounting of the importance of this veritable diasporic object given its historical production and continual commemoration by the Chinese diaspora in the host society of Canada. The following work is an “object biography” that seeks to “examine the historical agency” as well as commemorative power of the Sun Yat Sen statue in East Chinatown in Toronto, Canada, as well as the existence Sun Yat Sen statues around the world. The paper uses the model of object biography to explore the statue as a mediator of “transnational experience” that is also a great site of “embodied knowledge.” . In an analysis of Charles Taylor’s politics of recognition, domestic and diasporic Chinese history is explored, such as the Xinhai revolution of 1911 and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway by Chinese migrant labour in West Canada. Analytically relevant memorials and statues such as the Korean Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. and the Red Army statue in Talinn, Estonia are critically understood as they relate to the Sun statue in Toronto in terms of ideas on ideology and location. Then a scrutiny of the narrative of modernity as it relates to the statue is undertaken. Last is a review of the other statues that exist transnationally in regions where the Chinese diaspora reside. The Sun Yat-Sen statue represents a political recognition of the Chinese community in Toronto and Canada that demonstrates a particularly pro-modern and pro-Western narrative that is also manifested at a transnational level through similar statues and memorials around the world in areas with substantially consolidated Chinese populations.
Toronto’s Sun Yat Sen Statue and the Politics of Recognition
The Chinese diaspora of Toronto and Canada are represented in the material manifestation of the Sun Yat Sen statue in a commemorative politics of recognition. Charles Taylor is a prominent theorist on the politics of recognition. In one of his most prolific works, entitled “Politics of Recognition” he theorises the opposite of recognition: misrecognition. Taylor defines misrecognition as something that “shames our fundamental right to be human”. An example of misrecognition for the Chinese population in Toronto is the lack of Canadian political acknowledgement of the struggles of their fellow country people living in China during the oppressive rule of the Qing dynasty and during the famous 1911 Xinhai revolution. The Statue of Sun Yat Sen in Riverdale Park commemorates not only these struggles but also connects those living in Toronto with those living in the home country. This results in a strong sense of pride and collective identity. For example, one of the people interviewed for this work (a mid-aged Chinese woman who lived in the East Chinatown area for over twenty years) evoked a semblance to the politics of recognition in comparing the significance of the Sun statue for the Chinese to the importance of the Statue of Liberty for the Americans. The interviewed person said:
I saw it as something to remember and have people think that this is a part of Chinese history, to give you a memory for you to think about your history and this person. He was open for China, open mind, freedom for Chinese people. Sign of freedom for me I think, like the American statue. This is the Chinese people’s statue. Like for Americans statue in New York is that statue, but he is a statue for Chinese people.
For the interviewee, the Sun Yat Sen statue is a material manifestation that the Chinese diaspora are recognised politically in their host nation of Canada. In having a statue for the Chinese diaspora, the city of Toronto and other levels of government are acknowledging that the Chinese diaspora are a part of the Canadian national narrative. The politics of recognition is implicated in how people tend to understand both themselves and their ancestors and kin, particularly their places in history. As the curator at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada’s Ontario Branch located in Toronto said on Wednesday, April 4, 2012, “no one comes to this country with a clean slate.” Despite this powerful statement, many immigrants come to this country without any recognition of their collective struggle, especially without any political recognition by way of historical commemoration in the form of a statue that represents themselves and their respective countries. In a city with immigrants from countless unique nation-states it would be more or less impossible to have a national statue for every diasporic group. (See Appendix for the diasporic statues that do exist in the city of Toronto) However, there are currently three non-Canadian political leader statues in Toronto, Canada. The first two statues are the statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill which has been located at the Toronto’s City Hall since 1977 and the bust of the liberator of Latin American Simón Bolívar in Trinity Bellwoods Park placed in 1983. The third is in fact the object and subject of this work: the statue of Doctor Sun Yat Sen in Riverdale Park, established in 1984. Sun’s statue is the only full statue of a non-European or racialised political leader. (See Appendix: bust statue of Filipino political figure Jose Rizal was installed in Earl Bales Park in Toronto in 1995) This fact is significant for the precedent that has been set for the establishment of other statues in Toronto and in Canada. Will the day come when the city and the country commemorate the contribution of black, South Asian, and other radicalised communities and their community leaders through the instalment of statues? The positive contributions and historical significance of such peoples provides an unwavering yes to this question.
Politics of recognition is important for the younger Chinese diaspora who have less knowledge of their or their parents’ home country. The same interviewee who likened Sun’s statue to that of the Statue of Liberty also commented that “the next generation” did not know enough about Chinese history and Sun. My interviews with two Canadian -born undergraduate university students of Chinese descent confirmed this. Unlike the middle and older-aged adults I interviewed, they did not know of the statue. Furthermore, they were not even aware of who Sun Yat Sen was. This might be because the new generation of Chinese overseas do not feel implicated in Chinese politics because it is not relevant to their place of birth. What’s more, they are not taught this particular history in their Canadian school systems. Left with little education regarding their so-called roots, how do they then conceptualise and recognise themselves in history? Thankfully, there is a physical monument that represents the role of their particular diaspora in the context of the history of in Canada. This object is the Chinese Canadian Pacific Railway memorial statue created in1989 to honour the immense contribution of Chinese labourers in the construction of the national railway. It is located at Spadina and Queen’s Quay near the Rogers Centre. Over 17 000 Chinese labourers built the railway between 1881 to 1885, and approximately 800 to 3500 died in the process. The Canadian nation-state viewed Chinese workers as perfect “docile” workers and a “necessary evil” for the construction of essential national infrastructure. This history might be more relevant to younger generations in the Chinese diaspora, especially given that they might not connect as much to the politics of Sun Yat Sen as older members of the diaspora. Clearly, statues play an enormous role in forging what Axel Honneth and Charles Taylor called the “struggle for recognition”. According to these theorists, the struggle for recognition could either divide social structures or on the other hand promote “solidarity and consensus”. It is important to note the variety of cultural understandings that exists within a wider diasporic group. Much like other diasporas, the Chinese diaspora is not a homogenous entity. Conversely, it is a diaspora that differs in many circumstances such as gender and class, and particularly generation or age. Therefore, politics of recognition looks different to members of a diasporic group that occupy different generational positions.
As evinced in the Korean War Veterans Memorial, statues that commemorate war, not unlike the Sun Yat Sen’s statue which commemorates the violent Xinhai revolution, are engaged in particular nation-state ideology and propaganda projects. Careful negotiation characterises the design plans of such memorials and statues. In the case of the Sun Yat Sen statue, the artist was chosen through a National Open Sculpture competition won by Joe Rosenthal in 1983. Even in the context of creating a narrative of multiculturalism, the Canadian nation-state is indeed benefitting in its self-portrayal as a unifying democratic government looking to find the best design. The US context is however, a lot more ideological and arguably more elaborate, but at the same time analogical. In the context of the United States plans for the Korean War Memorial, the government ceased to accept any kind of design plan that suggested “grief”. The militant state had predetermined criteria for the memorial : it was to be “reflective” and “uplifting” as well as imply “respect and pride”. Furthermore, the designers needed to convey that the unlike Vietnam, the Korean War was a success. Apparently, the Korean War Veterans Memorial is supposed to represent everything that is right about America, whereas the Vietnam Veterans Memorial represents everything that is wrong about the country. Therefore the ideological project and interest in the creation of certain statues must be viewed from a critical perspective in order to understand the object holistically. Even the ideological project of the Chinese government and present-day stakeholders who propagate Sun Yat Sen politics in China and Taiwan must be considered on top of the strategic interests of the Canadian state in the case of this particular diasporic statue.
The Political Power of Statues: Relocation and Location
The Russian-Estonian conflict of 2007 is a great example of the significant geo-politics and diplomacy related to nationalist statues like that of leader Sun Yat Sen in Toronto. In 1947 a bronze statue of a soldier was erected by USSR communist leader Joseph Stalin in the Estonian capital city of Tallinn with the purpose of commemorating the lives of Red Army soldiers killed in the so-called liberation of Estonia by the Soviets. In time, the statue became a symbol of modernity : Soviet modernity for some and Estonian-branded modernity for others. Over the time span of six decades, the statue took on both positive and negative collective meaning. In 2007 when plans were made by the Estonian government to relocate the statue from the city’s downtown to a less significant location, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Mikhail Kamynin considered the relocation plan to be both “blasphemous and inhuman.” Nevertheless, the Estonian government ceased to cancel plans for relocation, despite the severing of diplomatic ties between the two countries on the part of the Russians, successfully imposed economic sanctions, and even a militant statement from President Vladmir Putin himself. The results of controversial relocation were “violent street clashes” as well as the world’s first full-blown cyber war. Russia’s cyberwarfare rendered the Estonian government “paperless” and shut-down all e-commerce in the country amid many killings and injuries in the streets. Would the reocation of the Sun Yat Sen statue in the city of Toronto cause physical or electronic conflict? The answer is certainly no. However, it is important to note that there are highly controversial diplomatic politics that are attached to transnational statues such the Red Army statue in Estonia and the Sun Yat Sen statue in Toronto. Should there be any significant political moment to commemorate, protest or celebrate the Chinese nation-state or the Chinese diaspora, apart from the consulate, the surrounding area of this statue would be the place for this activity. This therefore gives rise to the importance of the geography of the Sun statue.
Controversies over location and relocation are historically embodied in the Sun Yat Sen statue. Hiski Haukkala, scholar of the 2007 Russian-Estonian conflict considers the impact of the statue on the conflict given the “strong power and hold that memory, history and identities have on people and even on state-to-state interaction.” As depicted in the circumstances surrounding the heated negotiations for the Sun statue as to be described below, the location of statues is controversial for diasporic politics as well as domestic politics. The Sun Yat Sen statue in Toronto’s location is puzzling. Why is it not located in the more frequented area of the main Chinatown in the city’s centre at the intersection of Spadina and Dundas streets? This question was asked to the seven members of the Chinese diaspora in Toronto that were interviewed for this object biography. All of the interviewees were similarly baffled by the object’s location, one considering it to be a “tricky question”. The open expanse of Riverdale Park was often posited as a hypothesis by interviewees. Then what about the open terrain of Grange Park at Beverley and Stephanie streets, just south of Downtown Chinatown? This would have been a perfect place for the statue. Another possibility proposed by those interviewed was perhaps the greater support from the East Chinatown community for establishment of the statue in the neighbourhood. Upon further research, particularly on outdoor diasporic statues in Toronto, the location of the statue is duly explained. When plans began for the instalment of Sun’s statue, the subject proved to be divisive and controversial, polarising the Chinese community in the city. This contentious debate on the location of the statue, which occurred in the early 1980s, was not unlike the earlier political divisions that abounded in the city in 1905. At that time, some overseas Chinese engaged in the creation of what the Toronto Star called the “Chinese Empire Reform Association.” The association’s mandate was the reform of China’s 2 000 year old dynastic rule. On the other hand, other members of the Chinese diaspora had different views on the fate of their home country and instead took out loans to support the many attempts at revolutionary change at the hand of revered leader Sun Yat Sen. Even though the achievement of revolution had shown itself in the decades earlier, by the 1980s, controversy still existed in regards to the leader represented in the statue. And so, unlike the opinions of some of the interviewees, Riverdale Park was not chosen as a location given its immense green sprawl or particular community support. Rather, it was instead deemed a “neutral site” for the statue. This historical geography is notable, especially in relation to what the location of the statue might mean in terms of greater reach and consequently greater notoriety of the statue given that East Chinatown is much smaller and isolated than the Chinatown in the downtown core of the city.
What does the Sun Yat Sen statue mean to Chinese Torontonians?
The Sun Yat Sen Statue in East Chinatown, Toronto connects and implicates overseas Chinese in the historical and political reality of their home country.
The term huaqiao means “Overseas Chinese” and is a distinctive designation for the Chinese diaspora. On the other hand the term zuqiao is used to indicate a Chinese person living in China. The “inseparable blood ties” between the huaqiao and the zuqiao and their sacred links to the ancestral home are pervasive to the narrative used to connect (financially, culturally, emotionally) the diaspora to its home society. This narrative was used by Sun Yat Sen at the beginning of the twentieth century when soliciting financial contributions from overseas Chinese for the almost dozen attempts at revolution in China. It is a common critique that Sun Yat Sen’s government took advantage of the nostalgic nationalist sentiment of overseas Chinese in an effort to even “exploit” the Chinese diaspora for the purpose of the domestic revolution in China. In fact, over one hundred years ago, Sun Yat Sen travelled to Canada to give a speech soliciting the support of Chinese people living in Toronto. Sun spoke at a place called Victoria Hall , the site of the first Chinatown and where today Toronto’s City Hall is now located. Questions of so-called economic exploitation aside, these funds, including donations from the Chinese diaspora in Toronto helped make the revolution possible. In many ways, overseas Chinese were able to directly engage in the well-being of their fellow country people whilst away from their home in the foreign land of Canada. This transnational connection manifests itself today. Daily, a group of Chinese seniors practise Tai Chi in the mornings around the statue. The statue can be interpreted as a “cultural sanctuary” for these Chinese seniors. Their daily exercises become implicated in the active life of the object because not only is the statue a historically significant object, but it is also being used at present by the community for which it was created.
Sun Yat Sen’s Statue and Narratives of Modernity
Sun Yat Sen’s legacy and in turn the statue representing Sun located in Toronto is deeply entrenched in a narrative of modernity. Many would agree that the Sun statue’s geographic location in Toronto and more broadly the Western world renders Sun figuratively ‘at home’ in more ways than one. It is a very common view that Sun envisioned the development of republican China through a “Western democratic model” , having studied and travelled in the West while developing his three incredibly famous ideals for China: democracy, republicanism, and nationalism. It can also be seen as fitting that it was the Chinese Canadian Commission that established the statue, a group of affluent Chinese business people who were able to make it in the modern West as a model for other diasporic and domestic Chinese to follow. Furthermore, Sen was not simply viewed as the father of republicanism in China but more specifically as the father of Modern China. In an ABC News service news announcement regarding the establishment of a Sun Yat Sen statue at the Sun Yat Sen Park in Maui, the newscaster describes Sun as a “modern father of China” and states that the statue was a way to celebrate the “modern revolution”. There is no doubt that the language of modernity that framed Sun Yat Sen’s politics and ideology has further manifested in the “modern” framing of the statues that commemorate his legacies. Even when I interviewed members of the Chinese community in Toronto, I noticed that they incorporated narratives of modernity in their answers to my questions. In addition to a comparison of the Sun statue in Toronto with the Statue of Liberty in New York City, another interesting comparison was made that evokes the modern narrative. One male interviewee who had lived in East Chinatown for two decades likened Sun Yat Sen to China as George Washington to the United States. This is perhaps not too surprising given that Sun in fact studied the American constitution and government while visiting the United States. Another interviewed person stressed that Sun brought “all the good things from the West” to China to “change the Chinese people from an old fashion way in order to get in touch with the Western people, how the economy grows in the West, how things go in the West.” The woman made it obvious that this modernity was brought by way of Sun: “He is the person to make people change. Change to whatever good way in the West to bring it into China to change the Chinese thinking.” The people that I interviewed have a firm grasp on the fact that they have a special relationship to Sun as overseas Chinese. They believe that the revolutionary ideas and actions espoused by Sun, which were characteristically Western and most of all modern, are originated in the space where they feel privileged to currently live and embody: the modern West. Moreover, a popular saying to describe Chinese people who live abroad is “the mother of revolution” , given the support in funding the revolution donated on the part of overseas Chinese. It is possible that the depiction of mother and creator used to describe the Chinese diaspora is conferred by ways of conceptualising the Chinese diaspora as more modern and more rich and henceforth the rightful catalysts for a revolution that stunningly ended China’s long-standing dynastic rule.
The Sun Yat Sen statue is a transnational phenomenon that sustains and connects the diverse Chinese diaspora overseas. Within Canada there is a Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia that was established in 1986, two years after the statue in Toronto was installed. Before the existence of the Sun Yat Sen Garden, which also includes a bust statue of Sun Yat Sen, the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Garden Society was created in 1981. The mandate of the organization is “to maintain and enhance the bridge of understanding between Chinese and Western cultures, promote Chinese culture generally and be an integral part of the local community. “ Like the Tai Chi that is practised every day at the statue, the Sun Yat Sen Garden Society is a way that the object plays an active role in the Chinese diaspora community. Other statues also exist in other countries with a high Chinese population. There are Sun Yat Sen statues in two Californian cities: San Francisco and Los Angeles. Other statues and memorials of the leader are in Taiwan, Macau and of course China. On a more unconventional note, there are even statues located in Honolulu, Hawaii, and even a statue in the airport of the American state. This is because Sun lived and studied in Hawaii before beginning his revolutionary attempts in China. One interviewee was very proud that there were Sun Yat Sen statues all around the world. She said: “Wherever Chinese people go, whatever land there is, Chinese people they would do a statue there. They will. If they could build it they will do it.” This leads not just into the ability for Chinese people to commemorate a political figure, but also into overt boasting and dramatized presumption regarding the determination and economic prosperity of the Chinese diaspora. This particular perspective, shared by a middle-aged Chinese woman living in Toronto can be viewed as biologically and culturally essentialist. This is because that there is clearly no evidence of a hardworking or entrepreneurial gene in the make-up of Chinese peoples and moreover, Chinese culture differs from country to city and even to political community within these jurisdictions, as specifically evinced in 1905 within the polarised Chinese diaspora in Toronto. Much like scholar Yannis Hamilakis, the author of this object biography is putting forth a critique of the essentialism on the part of some people in her own ethnic group, given what she has observed in the course of her research interviews. As Hamilakis posits, this essentialism is a “frame which is based on fixed static identities, on notions of continuities, on Greekness” or in the case of this research project “Chineseness”. This is not to say that other ethnic groups do not hold similar essentialist views. They certainly do. It may be argued that many people in diaspora can be engaged in forms of exaggerated essentialist rhetoric given their particularly diasporic identity characterised by geographic and cultural distance away from home. This distance might breed a romanticised or “essentiacialised” conception of ethnic, nationalist and diasporic culture. A critique of essentialism is furthermore warranted given the commonly held notion that much of Sun’s ideas were influenced by Western political thought. This then puts into question the ultimate origin of what the Chinese diaspora recognises as genuinely Chinese. However, this critique does not negate the impressive reality of collective imagination and the massive sense of solidarity with millions of strangers simply by virtue of being a part of the same ethnic group: a truly a remarkable phenomenon.
Implementing the framework of an object biography, this work explores the Sun Yat Sen statue in Toronto and its historical social relations using the analysis of politics of recognition of peoples’ history in the host and home country. Imparting lessons learned from critical understandings of prominent statues and memorials in America and Estonia, the essay endeavours to understand controversies of relocation and ideology. The preoccupation with modernity that characterizes the statue and the man the statue depicts is then explored by ways of scholarly research and illustrative interviews. Finally compelling examples of other Sun Yat Sen statues around the world are provided. It is in the implementation of this method that Toronto’s own statue of the doctor, leader and national father Sun Yat Sen is understood from the perspective of the politics of recognition, a distinctive politics that it mediates between the 1. Canadian societies, 2. Chinese societies, and the Chinese diaspora(s) in Toronto. The Sun Yat Sen statue is definitely an object that acts as mediator between the Chinese diaspora and their diverse perspectives and connections to China. The statue has been biographically interrogated and has started further mediated discussion through the research interviews between different generations of Chinese diaspora.The year 2011 represented the Centenary year of the Xinhai revolution led by Doctor Sun Yat Sen. At the one hundredth anniversary in October of 2011, one of Sun’s granddaughters stated her plan to present one hundred bronze statues of her grandfather around the world in an effort to “preserve his legacy”. Sun’s granddaughter recognises the statues as a technology of political recognition, and recognises the great meaning that such statues and memorials have meant for the Chinese both in China and overseas.
The author of this object biography was particularly moved by a quote by a former resident of East Chinatown who had lived there for roughly five years. The woman said:
In Broadview a lot of Chinese live there, people think that Sun can represent a good man of China. The statue makes the new generation think about him and what he did. At least when you have children you will tell your kids that this is the best man in China. It’s for the next generation to understand.
The census of Canada continues to demonstrate the large number of people of Chinese ancestry living in the country of Canada and the city of Toronto , however, given the fact that it is not in the Province of Ontario’s curriculum to thoroughly teach the Xinhai revolution of 1911, will coming generation of the Chinese diaspora living in Toronto know its significance? Will they feel any affinity to Sun Yat Sen like the people who lived before them? Is it imperative for them, as so-called overseas Chinese, to have a connection with the statue and the legacy? If so, what can be done in order to ensure that this particular history is taught to the younger and future generation of Chinese diaspora in Toronto, Canada? Are community initiatives like Jane’s Walk a good step in diasporic commemoration? Jane’s Walk is an annual community walk on the first weekend of May that encourages people to get to know their neighbours and neighbourhoods. Since beginning in 2007, there are approximately 511 walks held in 75 cities in 15 countries around the world. Some interviewees suggest more publicity and educational programs about the statue and Chinese history should be promoted at the well-known Riverdale Public library which is situated right in the middle of East Chinatown on the North West side of Broadview and Gerrard streets. The first 28 years of the Sun Yat Sen statue in East Chinatown have achieved relative notoriety. What might the next 28 years have in store? As one woman I interviewed put it: “it’s for the next generation to understand.”
Diasporic Developments: Statues in the City of Toronto
The Sun Yat Sent statue in Riverdale Park is among many other diasporic statues in the city. Clearly, the Chinese diaspora in Toronto are not the only diasporic group implicated in the politics of recognition in their host countries.
The following groups have also successfully established statues to commemorate their own respective histories:
• In 1902, Canadians of Scottish descent erected the statue of poet Robert Burns at the famous Allan Gardens in downtown Toronto.
• Over seventy years later, 1975, Ukrainian Canadians installed the statue of Ukraine poet Lesya Ukrainka in High Park in West Toronto.
• Then in 1982, the bust of another praised poet Luís de Camões was established by the Portuguese community at the intersection of College and Crawford streets.
• Almost a decade later in 1990, Greeks living in Canada mounted the bust of Alexander the Great in at the small park on Danforth and Logan streets.
• The Filipino community in Toronto installed the bust of political figure Jose Rizal in Earl Bales Park in northern Toronto in 1995.
• Then by 1998, a statue of an immigrant father, mother and son at Joseph Piccinni Centre at St. Clair and Landsdowne streets was installed by the Italian community.
• Most recently, the Irish Canadian community has erected a monument at the foot of Bathurst Street by the waterfront to represent the diasporic group’s mid-nineteenth century migration.
It is significant that many diasporic groups in Toronto have a commemorative statue in a city that was not originally their own, this allows such diasporic peoples to affirm themselves as recognised within their host societies whilst preserving their unique identities from the home country.
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Politics of Recognition, Modernity and Transnational Memorialization:
An Object Biography of the Sun Yat Sen Statue in East Chinatown, Toronto
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