MAY 4TH MOVEMENT AND THE POLITICAL IDEAS AND REFORMERS ITS SPAWNED

MAY 4TH MOVEMENT

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May 4th Protest
On May 4, 1919, there were massive student demonstrations against the Beijing government and Japan. The political fervor, student activism, and iconoclastic and reformist intellectual currents set in motion by the patriotic student protest developed into a national awakening known as the May Fourth Movement. The intellectual milieu in which the May Fourth Movement developed was known as the New Culture Movement and occupied the period from 1917 to 1923. The student demonstrations of May 4, 1919 were the high point of the New Culture Movement, and the terms are often used synonymously. Students returned from abroad advocating social and political theories ranging from complete Westernization of China to the socialism that one day would be adopted by China's communist rulers. [Source: The Library of Congress]

In 1919, at the Versailles peace conference after World War I, they Allied powers announced that they had no plans of returning lost territory to China as some had expected and handed over German possessions in Shandong province to the Japanese. Anti-foreigner resentment rose after the decision was announced. On May 4, 1919, about 3,000 students, scholars and dissident intellectuals from 13 colleges gathered in Tiananmen Square to protest the loss of Chinese territory in Shandong to Japan.

The May 4th Movement started out as student protests against the decision at the Paris Peace Conference to award Japan control of German concessions in China's Shandong province. It soon encompassed a broader debate about how China should modernize. It spawned a host of writers famous throughout the Chinese world, including Lu Xun, who, like George Orwell, wrote biting social satire and sought to change what they viewed as a corrupt, backward and foreign-dominated China.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Beginning around 1917, Chinese intellectuals began to engage each other in serious discussion and debate on culture, history, philosophy, and related subjects — all with an eye to the bigger problem of China’s weakness and the possible solutions to that problem. This period of intellectual debate, labeled the May Fourth Movement, lasted to around 1921.” The outpouring of popular outrage of the Versailles Treaty terms “coalesced in a new nationalism with repeated cries for a "new culture" that would reinstate China to its former international position. The way out of China's problems, many believed, was to adopt Western notions of equality and democracy and to abandon the Confucian approach which stressed hierarchy in relationships and obedience. Science and democracy became the code words of the day. “ <|> [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

Good Websites and Sources on Early 20th Century China Sun Yat-sen Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia time.com ; My Grandfather Sun Yat-sen Asia Week ; May 4th Movement Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Obituary New York Times ; Madame Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ;

Good Websites and Sources on Empress Dowager Cixi: Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cixi’s Luxurious Life xinhuanet.com ; Book on Cixi royalty.nu; The Last Emperor Puyi Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia time.com ; Hartford Courant hartford-hwp.com/archives; Puyi Biography royalty.nu/Asia

Foreigners in China: 19th Century Tea Trade in China Harvard Business School ; Early Chinese Emmigrants to America: Central Pacific Railroad Museum cprr.org/Museum ; Chinese Americans Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Taiping Rebellion: Taiping Rebellion.com taipingrebellion.com ; Wikipedia Taiping Rebellion article Wikipedia ; Books About Taiping Rebellion questia.com; Boxer Rebellion National Archives archives.gov/publications ; Modern History Sourcebook fordham.edu/halsall ; San Francisco 1900 newspaper article Library of Congress ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Cox Rebellion PhotosCaldwell Kvaran ; Eyewitness Account fordham.edu/halsall ; Sino-Japanese War.com sinojapanesewar.com ; Wikipedia article on the Sino-Japanese War Wikipedia ;

Good Websites and Sources on the Opium War : Emperor of China’s War on Drugs Opioids.com ; Good Images from the Period on MIT’s Visualizing Cultures MIT’s Visualizing Cultures , MIT’s Visualizing Cultures , MIT’s Visualizing Cultures and MIT’s Visualizing Cultures ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Websites on the Qing Dynasty Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Qing Art cosmopolis.ch ; Qing Dynasty Explained drben.net/ChinaReport ; Recording of Grandeur of Qing learn.columbia.edu Court Life During the Time of Empress Dowager Cixi etext.virginia.edu

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Books: 1) The Boxer Rebellion by Diana Preston; 2). Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen R. Platt (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). Platt is an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. 3) God's Chinese Son by Yale's Jonathan Spence is also about the Taping Rebellion. Other Books from the period. The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China by Julia Lovell (Picador, 2011); 2) China: Alive in the Bitter Sea by Fox Butterfield; 3) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 4) China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History by Charles O. Hucker; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) The Chan's Great Continent: China to Western Minds by Jonathan Spence (Norton, 1998). 7) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press); 8) The Last Emperors: A Social History of the Qing Imperial Institutions by Evelyn S. Rawski (University of California Press, 1999); 9) Sea of Poppies by Amitva Ghosh (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008) is a novel set during the Opium Wars mostly in India but also in China that was shortlisted listed for the Man Booker Prize. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Significance of the May 4th Movement


Student demonstrations on June 4th and 5th, 1919

The "May 4th Movement" followed the failure of the 1911 Revolution to establish a republican government, and continued through the 1920s. Its importance equals if not surpasses the more commonly known political revolutions of the century. The movement articulated the contempt for traditional Chinese culture felt by many Chinese intellectuals. These intellectuals blamed traditional culture for the dramatic and rapid fall of China into a subordinate international position, and maintained that China's cultural values prevented China from matching the industrial and military development of Japan and the West. <|>

In a review of the book Touches of History: An Entry into 'May Fourth' China by Chen Pingyuan (Brill 2011), Tze-ki Hon wrote: Despite being accepted as a pivotal event in modern China, the May Fourth movement remains ambiguous and highly contested. As Li Zehou points out, the ambiguity of May Fourth stems from its double nature---a symbol of nationalist resistance against Western (and Japanese) imperialism, on the one hand, and a cultural agenda to bring China into the modern age on the other. The tension of this double nature is clearly shown in the two different chronologies of the May Fourth: a one-day event of student protests against the Versailles Settlements that erupted in Beijing on May Fourth 1919, and a decade of literary and cultural reforms sparked by New Youth magazine (1915-1925). Although the political and cultural aspects of the May Fourth were closely connected, their relationship---particularly their relative importance---has been the subject of continual debate. In the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, scholars of modern Chinese history and culture ferociously debated the legacy of the "May Fourth" struggle between the demand for national salvation and the need for cultural rejuvenation. Many participants in that "New May Fourth" debate, as it has come to be known, affirmed the Enlightenment values of liberty and freedom, while recognizing the importance of national salvation (especially the political unification led by the Chinese Communist Party). However, they questioned whether China has paid a heavy price by allowing "national salvation to prevail over cultural enlightenment". [Source: Tze-ki Hon, State University of New York at Geneseo, MCLC List]


Student demonstrations on June 4th and 5th, 1919

In Touches of History, Chen Pingyuan offers refreshing thoughts on how to come to grips with the ambiguity of the May Fourth. Chen begins Touches of History recounts the manifold events of May Fourth 1919, showing the spontaneity and haphazardness of student leaders as the protests unfolded. Next, he contrasts these unscripted student protests with the edifying and uplifting newspaper reports in the following days that launched a "history of reminiscences."

The argument that May Fourth was the "Chinese Enlightenment," is best represented with the well-known case of New Youth, a journal whose editors, authors, and content have become synonymous with the canonical image of May Fourth as a literary and cultural movement. Conventional accounts tell us that the success of New Youth came from the editors' earnest advocacy for an independent spirit among young people, a new writing style based on the vernacular, and a critical reappraisal of the Confucian patrilineal family structure. These three concepts---new youth, new writing, and new culture---were arguably the very foundation of the "Chinese Enlightenment." Chen, however, reveals that the reasons for the popularity of New Youth were more complex than what one finds in many of the established literary-historical narratives. In addition to its cultural agenda, New Youth attracted a large readership because of its cultural capital (i.e., its connections with Peking University) and its historical roots (i.e., the vernacular movement in the late Qing).

Book: Touches of History: An Entry into 'May Fourth' China by Chen Pingyuan (Brill 2011)' The Gate of Heavenly Peace by Jonathan Spence is about intellectual unrest at the end of the 19th century and the May Forth Movement.

Legacy of the May 4th Movement


May 4th Movement memorial

The protests launched the May 4th Movement---a nationalist movement opposed to the authoritarian government. They adopted "Science and Democracy" as their slogan and staged patriotic and sometimes bloody protests through out the 1920s. The May Forth Movement was the first major Chinese opposition movement of the 20th century. Students carried signs marked with "Mr. Science" and "Mr. Democracy," slogans that would reappear at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Jasmine Yin, the granddaughter of one of Mao Zedong’s favorite generals, wrote in Business Insider: “Chinese Communist Party co-founder Chen Duxiu called on China’s youth to “save the nation” in the May Fourth Movement. In his piece “Call to Youth,” published in New Youth, the pioneering magazine he founded, he urged Chinese young people to: “Be independent, not servile. Be progressive, not conservative. Be aggressive, not retiring. Be cosmopolitan, not isolationist.” These are worthy values for a 21st Century New, New Culture Movement. Please Chairman Xi, be true to the original mission of the Communist Party and the New Culture Movement that gave rise to it. Lu Xun, a May Fourth Movement activist and China’s most-renowned 20th-century writer, summed up our challenge best. He wrote these words 100 years ago, but they remain more relevant than ever: “Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many people pass one way, a road is made.” [Source: Jasmine Yin, Business Spectator, March 9, 2016]

"Our Attitude Toward Modern Western Civilization" by Hu Shi

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Hu Shi (1891-1962) was one of the leading May Fourth intellectuals. A student of agriculture at Cornell University, and then of philosophy under John Dewey at Columbia University, Hu led the way in the movement to write Chinese in the vernacular, as opposed to the elegant, but (to the average Chinese) incomprehensible classical style. Hu also played a leading role in the cultural debates of the time. The document below is one of Hu’s contributions to the debate on Western civilization. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]


Hu Shi

In “Our Attitude toward Modern Western Civilization” Hu Shi wrote: “At present the most unfounded and more harmful distortion is to ridicule Western civilization as materialistic and worship Eastern civilization as spiritual. … The modern civilization of the West, built on the foundation of the search for human happiness, not only has definitely increased material enjoyment to no small degree, but can also satisfy the spiritual needs of mankind. In philosophy it has applied highly refined methods to the search for truth and to investigation into the vast secrets of nature. In religion and ethics, it has overthrown the religion of superstitions and established a rational belief, has destroyed divine power and established a humanistic religion, has discarded the unknowable Heaven or paradise and directed its efforts to building a paradise among men and Heaven on earth. It has cast aside the arbitrarily asserted transcendence of the individual soul, has utilized to the highest degree the power of man’s new imagination and new intellect to promote a new religion and new ethics that are fully socialized, and has endeavored to work for the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. [Source: “Our Attitude Toward Modern Western Civilization" by Hu Shi, 1891-1962, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 386-387; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“The most outstanding characteristic of Eastern civilization is to know contentment whereas that of Western civilization is not to know contentment. Contented Easterners are satisfied with their simple life and therefore do not seek to increase their material enjoyment. They are satisfied with ignorance and “not understanding and not knowing”1 and therefore have devoted no attention to the discovery of truth and the invention of techniques and machinery. They are satisfied with their present lot and environment and therefore do not want to conquer nature but merely [to] be at home with nature and at peace with their lot. They do not want to change systems, but rather to mind their own business. They do not want a revolution, but rather to remain obedient subjects. <|>

“The civilization under which people are restricted and controlled by a material environment from which they cannot escape, and under which they cannot utilize human thought and intellectual power to change environment and improve conditions, is the civilization of a lazy and nonprogressive people. It is truly a materialistic civilization. Such civilization can only obstruct but cannot satisfy the spiritual demands of mankind.” <|>

"Chinese Civilization vis-a-vis Eastern and Western Philosophies" by Liang Shuming


According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Liang Shuming (1893-1988) was a scholar, philosopher, professor, and author living in Beijing. He was an active participant in the debates on culture during the May Fourth period. In the following passage, he discusses Western, Indian, and Chinese cultures. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

In “Chinese Civilization vis-a-vis Eastern and Western Philosophies” wrote: “Liang Shuming There are three ways in human life: (1) to go forward; (2) to modify and to achieve harmony, synthesis, and the mean in the self; and (3) to go backward. … The fundamental spirit of Chinese culture is the harmony and moderation of ideas and desires, whereas that of Indian civilization is to go backward in ideas and desires [and that of the West is to go forward]. [Source: “Chinese Civilization vis-a-vis Eastern and Western Philosophies” by Liang Shuming from “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Generally speaking, Westerners have been too strong and too vigorous in their minds and intellect. Because of this they have suffered spiritually. This is an undeniable fact since the nineteenth century. Let us compare Western culture with Chinese culture. First, there is the conquest of nature on the material side of Western culture — this China has none of. Second, there is the scientific method on the intellectual side of Western culture — this also China has none of. And third, there is democracy on the social side of Western culture — this, too, China has none of. This shows negatively that the way of Chinese culture is not that of the West but is the second way [mentioned above — namely, achieving the mean]. … As to Indian culture … religion alone has flourished, subordinating to it philosophy, literature, science, and art. The three aspects of life [material, intellectual, and social] have become an abnormal spiritual development, and spiritual life itself has been an almost purely religious development. This is really most extraordinary. Indian culture has traveled its own way, different from that of the West. Needless to say, it is not the same as that of Chinese culture. <|>

“In this respect Chinese culture is different from that of India, because of the weakness of religion, as we have already said. For this reason, there is not much to be said about Chinese religions. The most important thing in Chinese culture is its metaphysics, which is applicable everywhere. … Chinese metaphysics is different from that of the West and India. It is different in its problems. … The problems discussed in the ancient West and ancient India have in fact not existed in China. While the problems of the West and India are not really identical, still they are the same insofar as the search for the reality of the universe is concerned. Where they are the same is exactly where they are decidedly different from China. Have you heard of Chinese philosophers debating monism, dualism, or pluralism, or idealism and materialism? The Chinese do not discuss such static problems of tranquil reality. The metaphysics handed down from the greatest antiquity in China, which constituted the fundamental concept of all learning — great and small, high and low — is that completely devoted to the discussion of change that is entirely nontranquil in reality. <|>


Liang Suming with Ye Duyi

“The first point of the Confucian philosophy of life arising out of this type of Chinese metaphysics is that life is right and good. Basically, this metaphysics speaks in terms of “the life of the universe.” Hence it is said that “change means reproduction and reproduction.” [Changes, Xizi 1, ch. 5; Legge, Yi King, p. 356] Confucius said many things to glorify life, like “The great characteristic of Heaven and earth is to give life,” [Ibid. 2, ch. 1; Legge, Yi King, p. 381] and “Does Heaven speak? All the four seasons pursue their course and all things are continually being produced.” … [Analects 17:19] Human life is the reality of a great current. It naturally tends toward the most suitable and the most satisfactory. It responds to things as they come. <|>

“This is change. It spontaneously arrives at centrality, harmony, and synthesis. Hence its response is always right. This is the reason why the Confucian school said, “What Heaven has conferred is what we call human nature. To fulfill the law of human nature is what we call the Way.” [Mean ch. 1] As long as one fulfills his nature, it will be all right. This is why it is said that it can be understood and put into practice even by men and women of the simplest intelligence. <|>

“This knowledge and ability are what Mencius called the knowledge possessed by man without deliberation and the ability possessed by him without having been acquired by learning. [Mencius] What attitude should we Chinese hold now? What should we select from the three cultures? We may say: 1) We must reject the Indian attitude absolutely and completely. 2) We must accept Western culture as a whole [including conquest of nature, science, and democracy] but make some fundamental changes. That is to say, we must change the Western attitude somewhat [from intellection to intuition]. 3) We must renew our Chinese attitude and bring it to the fore, but do so critically.” <|>

"The True Meaning of Life" by Chen Duxia


Chen Duxia

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Chen Duxiu (1879-1942) was one of the leading intellectuals of the May Fourth movement. Dean of Peking University in 1916, and, in 1921, co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party, Chen also edited and published the popular New Youth magazine. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

In the “The True Meaning of Life” Chen Duxiu wrote: “What is the ultimate purpose in life? What should it be, after all? … From ancient times not a few people have offered explanations. … In my opinion, what the Buddha said is vague. Although the individual’s birth and death are illusory, can we say that humanity as a whole is not really existent? … The teachings of Christianity, especially, are fabrications out of nothing and cannot be proved. If God can create the human race, who created Him? Since God’s existence or nonexistence cannot be proved, the Christian philosophy of life cannot be completely believed in. The rectification of the heart, cultivation of the person, family harmony ordering of the state, and world peace that Confucius and Mencius talked about are but some activities and enterprises in life and cannot cover the total meaning of life. If we are totally to sacrifice ourselves to benefit others, then we exist for others and not for ourselves. [Source: “The True Meaning of Life” by Chen Duxiu, “Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century”, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 366-368; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“This is definitely not the fundamental reason for man’s existence. The idea [of altruism] of Mozi is also not free from one-sidedness. The doctrines of Yang Zhu [fourth century B.C.?] and Nietzsche fully reveal the true nature of life, and yet if we follow them to their extremes, how can this complex, organized, and civilized society continue? Because we Chinese have accepted the teachings [of contentment and laissez.faire] of Laozi and Zhuangzi, we have to that extent been backward. Scientists say that there is no soul after a man’s death. … It is difficult to refute these words. But although we as individuals will inevitably die, it is not easy for the whole race or humanity to die off. The civilization created by the race or humanity will remain. It is recorded in history and will be transmitted to later generations. Is this not the consciousness or memory of our continuation after death? <|>

From the above, the meaning of life as seen by the modern man can be readily understood. Let me state it briefly as follows: 1) With reference to human existence, the individual’s birth and death are transitory, but society really exists. 2) The civilization and happiness of society are created by individuals and should be enjoyed by individuals. 3) Society is an organization of individuals — there can be no society without individuals. … The will and the happiness of the individual should be respected. 4) Society is the collective life of individuals. If society is dissolved, there will be no memory or consciousness of the continuation of the individual after he dies. Therefore social organization and order should be respected. <|>

“5) To carry out one’s will and to satisfy his desires (everything from food and sex to moral reputation is “desire”) are the basic reasons for the individual’s existence. These goals never change. (Here we can say that Heaven does not change and the Way does not change either.) 6) All religions, laws, moral and political systems are but necessary means to preserve social order. They are not the individual’s original purpose of enjoyment in life and can be changed in accordance with the circumstances of the time. <|>

“7) People’s happiness in life is the result of their own effort and is neither the gift of God nor a spontaneous natural product. If it were the gift of God, how is it that He was so generous with people today and so stingy with people in the past? If it is a spontaneous, natural product, why is it that the happiness of the various peoples in the world is not uniform? 8) The individual in society is comparable to the cell in the body. Its birth and death are transitory. New ones replace the old. This is as it should be and need not be feared at all. 9) To enjoy happiness, do not fear suffering. Personal suffering at the moment sometimes contributes to personal happiness in the future. For example, the blood shed in righteous wars often wipes out the bad spots of a nation or mankind. Severe epidemics often hasten the development of science. <|>

“In a word, what is the ultimate purpose in life? What should it be, after all? I dare say: During his lifetime, an individual should devote his efforts to create happiness and to enjoy it and also to keep it in store in society so that individuals of the future may also enjoy it, one generation doing the same for the next and so on unto infinity. <|>

"Our Final Awakening" (1916) by Chen Duxia


Chen Duxia

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In the excerpt below (from his 1916 essay "Our Final Awakening") Chen laments the weakness of China's national strength and civilization, but cautions those who think that democracy and constitutional government can be easily established in China. First, he argues, there must be a change in the thought and character of the people such that their attitudes will support constitutional government. Without a new culture, there will be no new political system. (This same argument can be heard in the China of the 1990s.) [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

In “Our Final Awakening”, Chen Duxiu wrote: “We, having been living in one corner of the world for several decades, must ask ourselves what is the level of our national strength and our civilization. This is the final awakening of which I speak. To put it another way, if we open our eyes and take a hard look at the situation within our country and abroad, what place does our country and our people occupy, and what actions should we take? [Source: “Our Final Awakening” by Chen Duxiu, from “Changing China: Readings in the History of China from the Opium War to the Present,” by J. Mason Gentzler (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977), 168; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“Our task today can be said to be the intense combat between the old and the modern currents of thought. Those with shallow views all expect this to be our final awakening, without understanding how difficult it is to put [constitutional government] into practice. … There is no difference between the shameful disgrace of submissiveness of men of ancient times hoping that sage rulers and wise ministers will practice benevolent government and present day men hoping that dignitaries and influential elders will build a constitutional republic.

Why should I reject the desires of dignitaries and influential elders, who are after all a part of the people, to build a constitutional republic? Only because a constitutional republic cannot be conferred by the government, cannot be maintained by one party or one group, and certainly cannot be carried on the backs of a few dignitaries and influential elders. A constitutional republic which does not derive from the conscious realization and voluntary action of the majority of the people is a bogus republic and bogus constitutionalism. It is political window.dressing, in no way like the republican constitutionalism of the countries of Europe and America, because there has been no change in the thought or the character of the majority of the people, and the majority of the people have no personal feeling of direct material interest. <|>

Lu Xun


Lu Xun in 1930

The essayist and short story writer Lu Xun (1881-1936) is considered by many to be China's greatest 20th century writer and the founder of modern Chinese literature. . Lu was trained as doctor and gave up his medical career he said to devote himself to curing social ills with his writing. He loved Jules Verne, and translated his stories into Chinese beginning in 1903 as part of an effort to help China develop an appreciation of Western sciences. Lu eventually gave up writing and took up politics. He allied himself with the Communists around the time of his death in 1936.

Lu Xun is regarded as the pioneer of modern leftist Chinese literature. He was born in Zhejiang province, which is considered a a breeding ground of many Chinese artists and intellectuals. Today there is a literary awards named after him: the Lu Xun Award for short stories.

Lu was "noted for his acerbic tongue and critical nature." He wrote in a simple, straight-forward style that contrasting sharply with the complex, classical language that was fashionable at the time he wrote. He resolved to diagnose Chinese society and culture through literature. Like George Orwell, wrote biting social satire and sought to change what they viewed as a corrupt, backward and foreign-dominated China. Among Lu Xun's more memorable characters is Ah Q, an allegorical, starving man on the street meant to represent the conflicts raging in China at the time.

Lu Xun's Works

Lu's novella, The Story of Ah Q (1921), was a brilliant and vicious satire on Chinese traditions. Set in 1911. at the of the beginning of the ill-fated Chinese republic, it was about a peasant who survives a number if disasters, viewing each one as a triumph. His dreams of revolution ends with his own execution.

In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen was written Lu Xun in 1926. For decades, it had been in high school textbooks, and there was quite a bit of controversy when education authorities decided to remove it in 2007. There was speculation that the article was junked in part because it might remind people of a similar incident that occurred in 1989]

In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen is about 22-year-old Liu Hezhen, a student activist campaigning for a boycott of Japanese goods . On March 18, 1926, she was a a member of a group of students in Beiping (Beijing) that staged a demonstration to protest the Japanese navy opening fire on Chinese troops in Tianjin. When protesters gathered outside the residence of Duan Qirui, a warlord who was chief executive of the Republic of China at the time, to submit their petition, a shooting was ordered and forty-seven people died.

Ideology of the Early Chinese Nationalists and Forging China Into a Nation


Lu Xin in 1934

Pankaj Mishra wrote in The New Yorker, “A central theme is the essays in the academic collection A Critical Introduction to Mao edited by Timothy Cheek, is Mao’s ‘sinification” of a European tradition of revolution. Mao belonged to a Chinese generation of activists and thinkers who developed a fierce political awareness at the end of a long century of internal decay, humiliations by Western powers and by Japan, and failed imperial reforms.” [Source: Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, December 20, 2010 <=>]

“Whatever their ideological inclinations,” Mishra wrote, “they all believed in a version of Social Darwinism---the survival of the fittest applied to international relations. They worried about the social and political passivity of ordinary Chinese, and were electrified by the possibility that a strong, centralized nation-state would protect them from the depredations of foreign imperialists and domestic warlords.” As Sun Yat-sen, China’s first modern revolutionary, explained in a speech shortly before his death, in 1925, “If we are to resist foreign oppression in the future, we must overcome individual freedom and join together as a firm unit, just as one adds water and cement to loose gravel to produce something as solid as a rock.” <=>

“Others took on the arduous task of welding a defunct empire into a nation-state, most prominently Chiang Kai-shek, whose urban-based Nationalist Party first brought a semblance of political unity to postimperial China. But it was Mao who, helped by a savage Japanese invasion and Chiang Kai-shek’s ineptitude, came up with an ideologically like-minded and disciplined organization capable of enlisting the loyalty and passions of the majority of the Chinese population in the countryside.” <=>

"More enduringly, Mao provided a battered and proud people with a compelling national narrative of decline and redemption. As he stressed shortly before the founding of the People’s Republic, “The Chinese have always been a great, courageous and industrious nation; it is only in modern times that they have fallen behind. And that was due entirely to oppression and exploitation by foreign imperialism and domestic reactionary governments.” This would change: “Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation. . . . We will have not only a powerful army but also a powerful air force and a powerful navy.” <=>

On a speech about change in China, William Kirby, the historian who heads Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, said: “If China is to define in some measure the twenty-first century,” he said, “it is because of its recovery and rise in the twentieth century.” In other words, China was awakening a century ago---and it is still awakening today. As in the last century, that process is bound to be more protracted and erratic than we predict. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker website, March 19, 2011]

Intellectual Foundations of Chinese Modernity

In The Intellectual Foundations of Chinese Modernity Edmund S. K. Fung synthesizes an enormous range of intellectual materials generated during China’s Republican period, dating primarily from the May Fourth period (1915-1923) to 1949. In a review of the book Leigh K. Jenco, Assistant Professor of Political Science, National University of Singapore, wrote on China Beat: “Fung argues that intellectuals of this era confronted the same crisis of modernity with which intellectuals, in both East and West, continue to wrestle today. These Republican conversations, he claims, provide the foundational vocabulary through which contemporary Chinese elites debate the direction of their society.” [Source: Leigh K. Jenco, China Beat, May 3 2011 ><]

“The broad scope of Fung’s analysis belies his somewhat simplistic organization of thinkers and debates into an inadequate (and sometimes unhelpful) liberal-conservative-socialist trichotomy. He draws repeated attention to how thinkers and themes continually reappeared in diverse conversations, transcending the very labels he uses to describe them. As Fung effectively argues in Chapter 1, the Westernized radicalism of Chen Duxiu and other May Fourth thinkers betrays an unexpectedly conservative resistance to cultural pluralism and historical change, possibilities embraced by the so-called “conservative” thinkers examined in Chapters 2 and 3. In Chapter 3 Fung points out that conservative impulses in China were not opposed to modernity but in fact saw tradition as an important part of modern development. ><

“One of the strongest elements of the book is Fung’s discussion in Chapters 4 and 5 of the statist elements of liberalism and related ideologies in China. Rather than interpret Chinese liberals’ emphasis on the need for strong state power as an aberration or misinterpretation of “true” liberalism, Fung uses the work of political theorists such as Stephen Holmes to show that extreme individualism did not necessarily always win out over socialist economic policies and strong nationalist states within such liberal thought.” ><

“By the end of the book...the author himself declares the “ultimate” triumph of Marxism and Mao Zedong thought over “all other schools of thought”---implying a historical discontinuity that troubles his depiction of a continuous, “ongoing conversation” between contemporary and Republican-era intellectuals struggling with the stakes of modernity....Given the domination of Marxism in China for most of the twentieth century it remains unclear how Republican thought would necessarily be foundational for these or other conversations.” ><

Although the Chinese Communist Party’s own record of elitism is well-known, Marxist theory in principle nevertheless introduced into Chinese intellectual debate awareness of inequality, class conflict, and materialist social science that interrogated the agents and direction of modernity in contemporary China. Some consideration of these intellectual challenges to elite thinking in the 1930s and 1940s would have contextualized intellectual insistence on moral leadership, possibly helping to identify more clearly continuities between the Republican-era conversations about modernity and those of their later, communist counterparts. Despite this oversight, in its rich detail and extensive command of source materials Fung’s book remains an excellent contribution to scholarship on Republican-era Chinese discourse. It ranks alongside Chester C. Tan’s Chinese Political Thought in the Twentieth Century as a definitive guide to the ideas and debates of that sorely neglected but important era. ><

Book: The Intellectual Foundations of Chinese Modernity by Edmund S. K. Fung (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons,

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2016

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