No, this is not a participle in that sentence. That’s because it’s doing the job of a substantive — and not the job of a modifier.
It’s a gerund–participle phrase that serves as the object of the verb remember:
- I remember [the early start].
- [The early start] is what I remember.
- I remember [starting early].
- [Starting early] is what I remember.
Since those phrases in brackets are all noun phrases — variously subjects and objects — the gerund-participle verb there in was historically referred to as a gerund not a participle in the old-school, legacy analysis.
That’s because the English gerund is a term they invented for the head of a verb phrase which is itself in a substantive position. That is, it’s a verb phrase that does the job of a a noun phrase, not that of an adjective or adverb phrase. Since it is doing the job of a noun phrase, it cannot be a participle.
To the extent that that matters at all. I wouldn’t get too concerned about it.
You’re going to get a lot further looking at the syntactic constituents of a sentence than you will get just by looking at the parts of speech of individual words. Indeed you cannot determine the part of speech of a standalone word in isolation, since it’s its syntactic context that allows it to be assigned a part of speech in the first place.
Here’s your original sentence:
The president of the World Bank says he has a passion for China, which he remembers starting as early as his childhood.
Here’s how I would parse its constituents, with line numbers provided to make it easier to reference in the material following the diagram:
1 (S (NP (NP The president)
2 (PP of
3 (NP the World Bank)))
4 (VP says
5 (SBAR (S (NP he)
6 (VP has
7 (NP a passion)
8 (PP for
9 (NP (NP China)))
11 (SBAR (WHNP which)
12 (S (NP he)
13 (VP remembers
14 (VP starting
15 (ADVP as early)
17 (NP his childhood))))
The SBAR (subordinate clause) constituent at 11 attaches to the NP (noun phrase) at 7, “a passion for China”. It does not attach to the NP at 9, “China”.
The SBAR is a tensed clause with its own subject (the NP at 12 “he”), tensed verb (the VP at 13 “remembers”) and complement to that verb (the VP at 14 “starting”). It’s the ”the starting of his” passion that he’s remembering, not the passion. Starting is the head.
Here’s a simpler sentence:
He remember his passion starting early.
Its constituents are:
1 (S (NP He)
2 (VP remembers
3 (NP (NP his passion)
4 (VP starting
5 (ADVP early))))
There now it’s his passion that he is remembering.
In contrast, for this sentence:
He remembers starting his passion early.
You instead get this:
1 (S (NP He)
2 (VP remembers
3 (VP starting
4 (NP his passion)
5 (ADVP early)))
In which like the original sentence, he is remembering starting. The object complement of the verb remember is the VP “starting his passion early”
Now, if you’re dearly committed to parts of speech, here you have some standard part-of-speech tags applied to individual words:
4 (NP (DT The) (NN president))
5 (PP (IN of)
6 (NP (DT the) (NNP World) (NNP Bank))))
7 (VP (VBZ says)
10 (NP (PRP he))
11 (VP (VBZ has)
13 (NP (DT a) (NN passion))
14 (PP (IN for)
16 (NP (NNP China)))
17 (, ,)
19 (WHNP (WDT which))
21 (NP (PRP he))
22 (VP (VBZ remembers)
24 (VP (VBG starting)
25 (ADVP (RB as) (RB early))
26 (PP (IN as)
27 (NP (PRP$ his) (NN childhood)))))))))))))))
28 (. .))
Yes, that’s harder to read because of all the labels for parts of speech, which can get in the way of paying attention to the crucial constituents if you aren’t used to it. Remember: it’s constituents that matter for grammatical syntax.
The part-of-speech tag used here for starting is VBG, which means it is an “-inG VerB”. These happen when the VPs they head get used as NPs or ADJPs (noun phrases or adjective phrases). They can also be used as sentence adverbials, especially in the initial position.
All you need to know here is that a VBG heads a VP; what that VP then attaches to doesn’t change that it’s a VBG. The VP that the VBG participates in takes regular verbal accouterments of adverbs, adverbial phrases, and verbal arguments (here read complements or objects).