The MAy 4th Movement
"Without the controversial, elusive, infuriating ‘May Fourth Movement’, and the closely related but wider ‘New Culture Movement’, twentieth-century Chinese history would be completely different...... A standard definition of the movement might well describe it in this way: it was a period from the mid-1910s to the late 1920s or early 1930s when a group of Chinese thinkers felt that something was holding their country back from combating evils such as imperialism and warlordism, even though the old imperial Qing dynasty had been overthrown and a republic established.The answer these thinkers came up with was that traditional Chinese culture, based on the philosophy of Confucius, was largely to blame. This ancient form of hierarchical thinking, they felt, was responsible for the callous treatment of the poor, the persistence of patriarchal oppression of women, and the inability to create a modern nation state." -Rana Mitter from 'A Bitter Revolution'
After China declared war on Germany during WW1 and contributed a sizeable labour force to the allied war effort, there was an assumption that the parts of Shandong province owned by Germany would be returned to China under the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. The Chinese public were horrified to find out that this was not to be the case and in fact the former German colonial possessions in China were to be given to Japan. This news led a massive surge in support for Chinese nationalism.
Key Questions to consider
Primary Sources of before and and after the May 4th Movement
Mao Tse-Tung's view of the May 4th Movement -Written in 1939
Clear definition of the May 4th Movement Historical Memories of May Fourth: Patriotism, but of what kind? -Extremely challenging article from the China Heritage Quarterly
May 4th Movement 1919 in posters -from Chinese posters.net
"Where the cutting edge of reform in 1898 had been directed at the inherited political order, the intellectual campaign for a totally ‘new culture’, which was symbolized by the May Fourth demonstrations of 1919, was seen as an attack upon the traditional moral and social orders as well. The leadership of the later movement came from China's newly modernized universities and schools. In addition to anti-imperialism, its goal was the establishment of a scientific and democratic ‘new culture’ purged of all relics of China's feudal past. In a generation China's intellectuals had apparently moved from the questioning of core traditional values to their total repudiation."
Q1. What does Charlotte Furth see as 'new' about the May 4th movement in comparison to earlier reform attempts?
Q2. What does Charlotte Furth see as the goals of the May 4th movement?
Historiography: Why does Charlotte Firth see the following as significant?
"In this same generation the intellectual elite as a class had undergone a number of important structural changes. It had created novel modes of communication and association, in the form of newspapers and periodical press on the one hand, and various types of study societies and political parties on the other."
Q1. Why does Charlotte Furth see the above as historically significant?
Q2. What are the implications of these developments?
Historiography: What does rana mitter see as the wider historical context of the may 4th movements
"Patriotic demonstrations by students in Beijing on ‘May Fourth’ became symbolic of a wider feeling of national outrage that China was being weakened internally by its unstable, militarist governments, and externally by the continuing presence of foreign imperialism."
Historiography: Why does Rana Mitter see the May 4th Movement as significant? Is his argument convincing?
"The events of May Fourth showed certain significant characteristics. First, the prime movers behind the demonstration were young students, most of them men, in their twenties. Second, the events were stimulated by developments far outside Chinese territory shaped by practices learned from the outside world, and were in part carried out so as to catch the attentions of that wider world, the day’s events were violent. The violence was perhaps not premeditated, but the nature of the language and the politics which surrounded the demonstrations had made it easy to translate words into action. The combination of these factors – youth, internationalism, and violence – would shape not just the day of the demonstrations, but much of the path taken by twentieth-century China. The location of the demonstration was also significant. Within weeks, news of the May Fourth events led to demonstrations, protests, and boycotts all across China’s cities, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Harbin among them. It was no coincidence that students and workers were gathered before the same gate 70 years later on 4 May 1989, their occupation of the square then cut short on the night of 4 June, a month later."
Notes: To answer this question properly, make sure you define what criteria you are using to assess significance
- Furth, Charlotte. "Intellectual change: from the Reform movement to the May Fourth movement, 1895–1920", The Cambridge History of China. 1st ed. Vol. 12. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. 322-405. Cambridge Histories Online. Web. 04 January 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521235419.008
- Mitter, Rana. "A Bitter Revolution"
Exam style Questions
- Assess the historical significance of the May Fourth Movement (1919) to 20th Century China?
- The response in China to the loss of Shandong to Japan in 1919 was a defining moment in the history of modern China. To what extent do you agree with this statement?
- Which was of greater importance to Chinese history: The May 4th Movement or the Revolution of 1911?
- “May 4th 1919 is a more significant date in Chinese history than October 10th 1911.” How far do you agree with this statement?
- “The student demonstration of May 4th 1919 in Beijing (Peking) marked the beginning of political awareness in China.” Discuss
- To what extent was the May 4th Movement a result of internal Chinese problems adjusting to modernity?