Chinese “Revolution” in the Syntax of World Revolution

Among the keywords used and circulated in twentieth-century China, geming was perhaps the most influential one. With geming at its core revolutionary ideology was formed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century through complicated processes of translation and interpretation between the Chinese geming, the English revolution and the Japanese kakumei. Rooted in ancient Confucian texts, the meaning of geming was originally related to the military overthrow of previous regimes by the emperors Tang and Wu, while in later periods it was increasingly employed to legitimize newly established dynasties. Yet as dynastic overthrows often went hand in hand with violent upheavals and were thus at odds with Confucian ethics, geming, too, took on a pejorative connotation, becoming both totem and taboo. In the Late Qing period, under the influence of an international rhetoric of world revolution, geming reemerged in the context of anti-Manchu sentiments. Focusing on Wang Tao, Sun Yat-sen and Liang Qi-chao, this article analyzes their respective uses of geming in translingual and transnational contexts. It is shown that through numerous acts of translation the signification of the term was rhetorically and ideologically broadened: On the one hand, geming legitimized anti-Manchu revolution in the name of a progressive narrative of history, while on the other hand it called for a change of the whole of society, carrying with it promises of a bright future. As a consequence, the ideology of revolution gained a foothold in modern China. Keywords: geming, revolution, kakumei, Wang Tao, Sun Yat-sen, Liang Qi-chao
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