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May Fourth Movement in Tiananmen Square
The May Fourth Movement (Traditional Chinese: 五四運動; Simplified Chinese: 五四运动; Pinyin: wǔ sì yùn dòng) was an anti-imperialist, cultural, and political movement in early modern China. Beginning on May 4, 1919, it marked the upsurge of Chinese nationalism, and a re-evaluation of Chinese cultural institutions, such as Confucianism. The movement grew out of dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles settlement, termed the Shandong Problem. Coming out of the New Culture Movement, the end result was a drastic change in society that fueled the birth of the Communist Party of China.
Following the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown. This marked the end of thousands of years of powerful imperial rule, and theoretically ushered a new era in which political power rested with the people. However, the reality was that China was a fragmented nation dominated by warlords, who were more concerned with their own political powers and private armies than national interests. The Chinese Beiyang government was occupied with suppressing internal affairs, and did little to counter the influence exerted by imperialist foreign powers. The Beiyang government made various concessions to foreigners in order to gain monetary and military support against their rivals. This, together with the continuing tangled warfare among warlords, led to great suffering among the population.
Furthermore, the development of the New Culture Movement promoted the questioning and re-appraisal of millennia-old Chinese values. Defeats by foreign powers and the presence of spheres of influence only further inflamed the sense of nationalism among the people.
Cause and outbreak
China had entered World War I on the side of the Allied Triple Entente in 1917 with the condition that all German spheres of influence, such as Shandong, would be returned to China. That year, 140,000 Chinese laborers (as a part of the British army, the Chinese Labor Corp) were sent to France. Instead of rewarding China for its contribution to the Allies’ victory, the Versailles Treaty of April, 1919, awarded Shandong Province to Japan.
The representatives of the Chinese government put forth the following requests:
The Western Allies dominated the meeting and paid little heed to the Chinese representatives' demands. Britain and France were primarily interested in punishing Germany. Although the United States promoted Woodrow Wilson's utopian Fourteen Points and the ideals of self-determination at the conference, Wilson abandoned most of these ideals in the face of stubborn resistance by David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau. American advocacy of self-determination at the League of Nations was attractive to Chinese intellectuals, but the failure of the United States to follow through was seen as a betrayal. Chinese diplomatic failure at the Paris Peace Conference became the incident that touched off the outbreak of the May Fourth Movement, and became known as the "Shandong Problem".
On the morning of May 4th, 1919 student representatives from thirteen different local universities met in Peking and drafted five resolutions.
On the afternoon of May 4th over 3000 students of Peking University and other schools gathered together in front of Tiananmen and held a demonstration. The general opinion is that the Chinese government was "spineless". They voiced their anger at the Allied betrayal of China and the government's inability to secure Chinese interests in the conference.
They shouted out such slogans as "Struggle for the sovereignty externally, get rid of the national traitors at home", "Do away with the 'Twenty-One Demands'", "Don't sign the Versailles Treaty". They demanded punishment to figures as Cao Rulin, Zhang Zongxiang, and Lu Zongyu, who held important posts as diplomats. The enraged students even burnt down Cao Rulin's house. The Beiyang government suppressed the demonstration and arrested many students, with one student dying in the event.
The next day, students in Beijing as a whole went on strike, and students in other parts of the country responded one after another. From early June, in order to support the students' struggle, workers and businessmen in Shanghai also went on strike. The center of the movement moved from Beijing to Shanghai. In addition to students and intellectuals, the lower class was also very angry at the current state of affairs, such as mistreatment of workers and perpetual poverty of small peasants. Under intense public outcry, the Beiyang government had to release the arrested students and dismiss Cao Rulin, Zhang Zongxiang and Lu Zongyu from their posts. Also, the Chinese representatives in Paris refused to sign on the peace treaty: the May Fourth Movement won the initial victory. However, this move was more symbolic than anything else. Japan still retained control of the Shandong Peninsula and the islands in the Pacific it had obtained during World War I.
The New Culture Movement
The May 4th Movement basically showed that a strong Confucian tradition failed to make China a strong nation. The May 4th movement protest proved that China's position in the world had diminished. Intellectuals were in search of weaknesses and looked for ways to fix China, which was fragmented and humiliated by foreign nations. Chen Duxiu was one of the key figures in starting the New Culture Movement in 1915 publishing a journal called New Youth. He did begin with the initial intention of promoting individual freedom, science, democracy and emancipation of women.
Another direction was the introduction of Vernacular Chinese (白话) by Hu Shih. In theory, the new Chinese format allowed people with little education to read texts, articles and books. Classical Chinese, which had been the written language prior to the movement, was only known by highly educated people and mostly officials. The literary output of this time was huge: great writers of the coming years published their first works in that time, such as Mao Dun, Lao She, Lu Xun and Bing Xin. Lu Xun, was the first novelist to write articles in the vernacular language in a book titled The True Story of Ah Q.
Birth of Chinese Communism
After the demonstrations in 1919 and their suppression the discussion became more and more political. People like Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao shifted more to the Left and were among the leading founders of the 1921 Communist Party of China. According to the CPC:
The May Fourth Movement served as an intellectual turning point in China. It was the seminal event that radicalized Chinese intellectual thought. Previously Western style liberal democracy had a degree of traction amongst Chinese intellectuals. However the Versailles Treaty was viewed as a betrayal. Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, cloaked as they were by moralism, were seen as Western-centrist and hypocritical.
Many in the Chinese intellectual community noted that the United States did nothing to convince the imperialist powers (most notably, Britain, France, and Japan) to adhere to the Fourteen Points, and furthermore the United States declined to join the League of Nations; and as a result turned away from Western liberal democracy. Marxism began to take hold in Chinese intellectual thought, particular among those already on the Left. It was during this time that communism was studied seriously by some Chinese intellectuals such as Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao.
Some historians have speculated that Chinese history might have taken a different course had the United States taken a stronger position on Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and self-determination. The United States was not a major imperialist power (the Spanish-American War being the primary exception) and, having suffered little damage from World War I, was in a position to take a strong anti-imperialist stance. However, it was unlikely, given the prevailing isolationist mood in the United States at the time.
Boycott of Japanese products in this period slightly boosted the industries of China. Some Historians consider the May Fourth Movement the deciding feature of recent Chinese History. This is best expressed by Rana Mitter in his critically acclaimed Bitter Revolution.
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