Terms Of The May Fourth Movement
Published: Last Edited:
Both the 1911 Revolution and the May Fourth Movement are seen as key events in modern Chinese history. This essay will argues that while this is true the May Fourth Movement was more important in terms of political, cultural and social transformation. The 1911 Revolution was most significant in terms of political change as it did result in the overthrow of the Manchu, Qing Dynasty. Despite this no stable or effective government was created. The May Fourth Movement on the other hand saw the concession of the government through the masses joining together with a new political awareness and eventually led to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. The 1911 Revolution also involved ideas and debate about cultural change particularly in relation to the family structure; however no lasting or revolutionary transformation occurred. The May Fourth Movement in contrast resulted in change in the fields of literature, education, drama, historiography and tradition. Similarly to the cultural terms of the 1911 Revolution the social terms involved ideas and action for women's rights and equality but no radical or long-term change resulted. The May Fourth Movement conversely resulted in elevated social standing for both women and youth through mass community attention and intellectual support. The May Fourth movement therefore was politically, culturally and socially more important than the 1911 Revolution, as it resulted in permanent and innovative transformation.
In political terms the May Fourth Movement was superior to the 1911 Revolution. Despite this, the 1911 Revolution did result in some significant political changes. The most significant political consequence of the 1911 Revolution was the removal from power of the Manchu/Qing Dynasty, and the cessation of China's two-thousand year old monarchical system. (Hsüeh, p.5.) Despite attempts to restore the traditional monarchical order, the revolution did successfully ensure that efforts to revert politically 'ignominiously failed.' (Hsüeh, p.6.) Michael Gasster argues that whilst the 1911 Revolution was a movement representing primarily the Chinese bourgeois it was not an overall 'failure' as it resulted in the overthrow of the Manchu/Qing Dynasty which 'paved the way' for future democratic revolutions. (Gasster, p.31.) Also of political significance were some changes made to the legal system. At the end of the Qing Dynasty the Active Criminal Law of the Qing Dynasty went into effect. This code eradicated old-world methods of corporal punishment and torture for civil offences and replaced them with economic penalties. (Changli, p.31.) Despite some political success of the 1911 Revolution, it ultimately failed to realize a secure and successful government, as political parties and associations were limited and the political process was influenced foremost by private loyalty and regional sentiment. (Hsüeh, p.6.) The masses were also not prepared for the establishment of a functioning democracy and tradition was still widely supported by the populus and some of the elite. (Hsüeh, p.7.) Most significant to the failure of the 1911 Revolution was the betrayal of Yuan Shikai. Yuan became Provisional Republic of China President on the fifteenth of February 1912 and implemented changes such as moving the capital to Beijing and installing his own 'henchmen in powerful executive positions' in an attempt to become Emperor. (Mackerras, p.32-33.) Whilst the 1911 Revolution did remove the Manchu/Qing Dynasty from power, remove the monarchical system and implement some legal changes the Revolution was riddled with political turmoil and was unable to introduce stable and effective government to China.
As stated above the May Fourth Movement was superior to the 1911 Revolution in terms of political consequences. Specifically the May Fourth Movement was a protest against the effects the Versailles Peace Treaty and Japan's 'Twenty-One Demands' would have on China. (Chen, p.63.) The May Fourth Incident and resulting political actions concluded with China's refusal to sign the Versailles Peace Treaty. (Chen, p.71.) The May Fourth Movement was also successfully ensured that government officials Chang, Lu and Tsao were dismissed. (Hao, p.87.) Chang, Lu and Tsao were the government officials that the protestors involved with the May Fourth Movement held responsible for negotiating with Japan in regards to the 'Twenty-One Demands' and for adopting a pro-Japanese Foreign Policy. (Hao, p.87.) Along with succeeding in pressuring the government into refusing to sign the Peace Treaty and dismissing officials, the May Fourth Movement also achieved other significant results. Of high importance to the May Fourth Movement was the involvement of the masses. The May Fourth intellectuals and students understood the enormity of mass support and were able to enthusiastically rally and direct the population for 'concerted political action.' (Chen, p.73.) The mobilization of the population was also not limited to specific social groups or classes. Zhidong Hao states that when merchants, industrialists, urban workers and others heard of the mass arrests and abuse of student protestors they added their support to the movement and pressured for strike. (Hao, p.83.) Another significant result of the May Fourth Movement was the ability to affect political thought throughout China. Prior to the May Fourth Movement the political climate of the country was characterized by political instability and fighting warlords, a result of the 1911 Revolution's inability to implement secure government (Hao, p.81.) With the rise and drive of the May Fourth Movement the nation's political conscious was awakened and began to focus on endeavour to maintain the independence and equality of China internationally through a democratic government. (Chen, p.77.) In order to do this the May Fourth Movement and its supporters took up a fiercely anti-warlord position to achieve governmental stability. (Chen, p.77.) Also of great significance to the May Fourth Movement was the interest it created in Marxism and Communism. (Wang, p.3.) Clarence Hamilton argues that World War One 'startled the nation into a realization' that the repression, submission and conformity demanded from an autocratic government was 'being condemned before the democratic consciousness of the world.' (Hamilton, p.226.) This realization marked a radical turn away from conservative and tradition politics towards the more radical Communism. This change facilitated the founding of the Chinese Communist Party and the resulting Communist Revolution, which Hao argues was 'one of the most important legacies of the May Fourth Movement.' (Hao, p.97.) In all the May Fourth Movement was politically more important than the 1911 Revolution as it resulted in the government surrendering to mass pressure. It was also the first popular and mass movement in China's history that spawned political awareness and resisted warlordism. Finally the May Fourth Movement led the fundamentally significant establishment of the Chinese Communist Party.
As the 1911 Revolution was politically inferior to the May Fourth Movement it was also significantly inferior in terms of cultural consequences. During the time of the 1911 Revolution aspects of traditional Chinese culture, in particular the culture of family was questioned. Nevertheless, such questions and debates did not result in any significant cultural changes. Traditionally the culture of China depicted that women had two responsibilities within the family environment; the first being to make and maintain clothing, the second being to prepare food. (Changli, p.24.) Women were therefore subordinate to men, who were responsible for attaining financial revenue and making decisions regarding the family, its property and possessions. (Changli, p.24-25.) In this sense, women were therefore unable to own personal property or make decisions regarding the family's material wealth. (Changli, p.24-25.) Whilst women's status within the family and rights to own property was contested within the 'public discourse', women's rights did not see any improvement during the 1911 Revolution. (Changli, p.31.) Rong Tiesheng also discusses the traditional culture of the family and the effect it had on women. Tiesheng argues in terms of political liberation and freedom and states that women were in a state of dependence within the household. (Tiesheng, p.173.) In order to overcome this Tiesheng argues that women needed to become independent through 'joining together.' (Tiesheng, p.173.) Even so, as with women's economic status within the family, women's independence was a cultural idea that was not realised. The 1911 Revolution was a period where the culture of the family and in particular women's status within the family was questioned. Despite such questions and discussions no significant cultural changes were achieved as a result of the 1911 Revolution.
In contrast to the 1911 Revolution, the May Fourth Movement resulted in a vast range of cultural changes and achievements. Colin Mackerras argues that the May Fourth Movement pushed for literature to be written in a vernacular that could be more readily understood and appreciated by the masses. (Mackerras, p.85.) Hamilton argues that this drive for colloquial writing resulted in periodicals from Universities and minor institutions adopting a more 'vulgate tongue'. (Hamilton, p.229.) The movement also encouraged the use of 'realism' in literature, and resulting works focused on discussions of 'social causes' such as the rights of women and the oppressed and maintaining nationwide integrity. (Mackerras, p.102 and 43.) The revolution of literature also extended to the field of education. Arthur Hummel argues that as a result of the literature movement education was transformed. An example of this transformation was the decision of the Ministry of Education to allow simplified vernacular to be used in textbooks for primary, middle and high school students. (Hummel, p.56.) Education was also to be extended into the wider public. Hummel argues that the new literature was able to facilitate the education of the wider public including the illiterate. (Hummel, p.58.) The education system also transformed in other ways, firstly the examination system which involved stereotyped Confucian demands was completely abolished. The abolishment of the examination system resulted in new opportunities for those who previously could not access the system; it also rendered previous privileges given to those brought up with Confucian ideas redundant. (Mackerras 10 and 92.) The second change involved a new governmental willingness to send students abroad, which resulted in opportunities for students to learn from western educational institutions. (Hao, p.84.) The cultural consequences of the May Fourth Movement also extended to the field of spoken drama. In this sense the May Fourth Movement provided new, inspired ideas to the spoken drama. (Mackerras, p.102.) This new approach to drama gave rise to an immense number of drama societies, all of which experimented and adopted new approaches to theatre, thus expanding the diversity of the artistic field. (Mackerras, p.106.) The cultural results of the May Fourth Movement also extended to the study and writing of history. Mackerras states that methods of historiography from the West, which involved writing in a more thematic and critical way, were adopted by Chinese scholars. (Mackerras, p.42.) This was a tremendous change as traditionally Chinese histories were chronologically ordered with little attention given to analysing events. (Mackerras, p.42.) New histories were also being written as intellectuals questioned the impartiality of Confucian works as it reflected the perspective of 'only one stratum of society.' (Hummel, p.61.) Hummel also states the May Fourth Movement led to intellectuals and scholars becoming preoccupied with re-organizing and re-evaluating their culture from a modern point of view. (Hummel, p.58.) In addition supporters of the May Fourth Movement also took part in a re-evaluation of Chinese tradition. Mackerras argues that advocators of new culture believed that China's traditional culture as an obstacle to advancement in the 'modern world.' (Mackerras, p.41.) Intellectuals also believed that traditional culture placed China in an internationally inferior position and prevented advancement that could allow China to match Japan and the West. (Asia for Educators.) All in all, in cultural terms the May Fourth Movement was far more important that the 1911 Revolution. Cultural agitation resulted in transformation in literature, education, drama and historiography. Cultural debate also resulted in aversion to tradition and enthusiasm for modernity.
The 1911 Revolution in social terms was reasonably important; however like the cultural terms of the Revolution, ideas and action did not result in social drastic change. The social agitation that occurred during the 1911 Revolution was mostly in terms of women's rights. The women's movement during this time was concerned with achieving male-female equality, attaining female freedom and installing 'female virtues' into Chinese society. (Tiesheng, p.174.) Women's groups worked actively during this time and achieved some equality; however this equality was not sustained. An example is the women's military group The Shanghai Northern Expedition Women's Corps. This group was responsible for foreign liaison and were given rifles, ammunition and military supplies. (Tiesheng, p.180.) Despite the resources given to the group and its role as foreign liaison, the group was disbanded as military leaders did not support the women's desires to go to the warfront. (Tiesheng, p.180.) Women's groups also tried to raise the social status of women by pursuing and promoting education, real jobs and full citizenship for women. (Tiesheng, p.180.) One woman who worked determinedly in attempt to achieve equality was the 'famous female martyr' Qui Jin. (Mackerras, p.87.) Mackerras states that Qui protested against foot binding and arranged marriages and also organised a school for girls. (Mackerras, p.87.) Qui was later executed; however her ideas gained attention and inspiration for the later May Fourth Movement. (Mackerras, p.87.)Women also aimed to improve their social standing, through petitioning for suffrage. In 1912 women lobbied the National Assembly to include female suffrage in the constitution; there efforts nonetheless did not result in a 'clear rule concerning women's suffrage.' (Tiesheng, p.184.) As the momentum of the 1911 Revolution subsided so did the women's interest groups with many returning to being 'virtuous wives and good mothers.' (Tiesheng, p.189.) Whilst the 1911 Revolution brought attention to male-female equality and female freedom through participation in military activities and political action, no significant lasting results were achieved. Nevertheless the legacy of Qui Jin and her contemporaries was evoked during the social activities of women in later years.
As with the political and cultural terms of both the 1911 Revolution and the May Fourth Movement, in social terms the May Fourth Movement was again more significant. Whilst ideas of 'gender equality, women's liberation' and equal rights were discussed and petitioned for during the 1911 Revolution, they became Mainstream during the May Fourth Movement. (Changli, p.21.) Mackerras states that the movement produced public appreciation for women's rights and also created sympathy for feminism among the general public. (Mackerras, p.42 and 87.) Ideas of liberation, women's rights and gender equality were pursued through encouraging women to participate in the daily struggle for equal opportunities and privileges. (Changli, p.36.) Tiesheng also states that the consideration Chinese women's plight resulted in various educational institutions publishing and distributing 'periodicals' promoting women's liberation. (Tiesheng, p.194.) Social revolution also extended beyond women to the youth of China. Through the May Fourth Incident China's youth encouraged the masses to become involved and this resulted in a transformation of their social status. The youth were recognized and appreciated for their ability to 'mobilize' value and 'direct' the masses to achieve results. (Chen, p.73.) The May Fourth Movement also encouraged the masses of China to become 'more receptive to the ideas' of the youth. (Chen, p.76.) The May Fourth Movement was more important in social terms than the 1911 Revolution as it did boost the social status of both Chinese women and youth. Women's status was enhanced through ideas about women and feminism becoming popular among public discourse. Women's participation and the support of intellectual institutions also aided in improving women's' social standing. The social position of China's youth improved through the youth mobilizing, understanding and appreciating the masses. This was also assisted by a newfound public receptiveness of youth ideas and activities. Overall as with the political and cultural terms of the 1911 Revolution and the May Fourth Movement, socially the May Fourth Movement was superior.
In sum, the May Fourth Movement was more important than the 1911 Revolution. The May Fourth Movement was more important politically as it resulted in the government conceding to public pressure. The May Fourth Movement was also the first popular and mass movement in China's history which targeted warlordism and encouraged political awareness. Also of fundamental importance is that the May Fourth Movement provided the foundation for the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party. The May Fourth Movement was also more culturally significant than the 1911 Revolution. The 1911 Revolution involved ideas about creating cultural change but the May Fourth Movement resulted in revolution in literature, education, drama and historiography. Cultural agitation also resulted in aversion to tradition and a new found interest in modern and western culture. Finally the May Fourth Movement was also more important than the 1911 Revolution in regards to social terms. The 1911 Revolution involved debate and protest for women's rights and equality but no drastic or lasting change resulted. The May Fourth Movement on the other hand resulted in higher social standing for both women and youth through mass public interest and intellectual support. To conclude that May Fourth movement was politically, culturally and socially superior to the 1911 Revolution in terms of lasting revolutionary change.
Cite This Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below: