The Journal of Asian Studies

Research Article

The Charisma of Power and the Military Sublime in Tiananmen Square

Haiyan Lee


While a growing scholarship has shed light on the spatial transformations of Tiananmen Square and its environs, not enough attention has been paid to the sacralization of power through symbols, rituals, and mythologies that lend enduring legitimacy to the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist revolution it led. This article examines how the official iconography of Tiananmen Square constructs the charisma of power through what I call the “military sublime.” Using the 1985 film The Big Parade as a primary example, I argue that the martyrology and pageantry of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) exemplify the dominant mode of symbolic investment of space which not only constitutes the nation as a militarized body politic but also frames the tradition of dissent associated with the Square, most notably the 1989 protest movement.

(Online publication June 24 2011)

Haiyan Lee ( is Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University.