The May Fourth Movement History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
China is a country which has a traditional history of more than five thousand years. Its culture was splendid, its economy was very prosperous and its people were very proud of their national identities with strong confidence and patriotism. However, situation changed dramatically in the recent two hundred years. Qing Dynasty was the last feudal dynasty in Chinese history, from later time of the Qing Dynasty China started losing advantages in science and technology. An Asian giant became lagged behind because of the closed-door trading policy. Since the first Opium War in 1839, China became a target of foreign invasion. To save the country, many movements led by patriots and nationalists broke out. Because of Western invasion, Chinese identity transformed from a prosperous feudal empire to a lagged behind and poor country. Chinese people realised they had lagged off foreigners. Nationalists started to find a way to expel foreign invaders, save China and establish a new democratic China. Such movements include Taiping Rebellion, Xinhai Revolution, the May Fourth movement, and so on.
This essay examines two nationalist movements in terms of how they shaped Chinese identity. The first movement discussed in this paper is the May Fourth Movement occurred on May 4, 1919. It influenced Chinese identity in politics, education and cultural aspects and showed Chinese people were struggling finding a way to save the country. In this movement, students and nationalists acted as a leader, they leaded to save China and expel foreign invaders especially Japanese. The May Fourth Movement also introduced the communism to Chinese identity, from that time Chinese Communist party started growing up in China.
After the foundation of People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chinese people identity is no longer being the victim of foreign oppression and invasion. Chinese people think China is a powerful country. Their identity is shifting from a non-confident to confidence about their nation. That’s why Chinese people are very angry when Japan announced to purchase the Diaoyu Islands recently. Chinese people’s protests and demonstrations against Japan’s purchasing shows Chinese people are becoming more confidence about their country, they don’t think China will be beaten by Japan again. China is gaining a new identity as a strong, independent nation that is totally. Government and people are working together to make China become stronger in the world stage.
May Fourth Movement
The May Fourth Movement started in Beijing on May 4, 1919 was an epochal event in modern Chinese history. (Joseph, 1970) It was anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and anti-warlord leaded by nationalists, young students, and factory workers. The humiliating Treaty of Japan’s Twenty One in Versailles enraged Chinese people. The treaty attempted to transfer German occupied district in Shandong province to Japan instead of returning them back to China. China was regarded as a weak country with large land and resources by Western countries. May Fourth Movement broke out under this background and let the world hear the voice of Chinese people. The movement was successful, and under great pressure, Chinese government refused to sign on Treaty of Versailles. It was the success of Chinese people. The May Fourth Movement influenced Chinese identity from political, educational and cultural aspects.
The May Fourth Movement changed China politically. Previous revolutions and movements were mostly started and led by several important people and only a minority part of the population involved. Most of people, in previous revolutions, they resisted government and invaders with little movements. For example, Reform Movement in 1890s was led by Kang Youwei who was a scholar and political idealist. His idea to make China strong needs emperor to reform the country. Ordinary people were not considered or attempted in Reform Movement. Taiping Rebellion of 1850s led by Hong Xiuquan affected millions of men and women but its main force against Qing Dynasty was trained armies. Ordinary people still stayed on the farm and enjoyed the relatively peaceful society. Those movements did not change terrible situation in China at that time. Such movements and attempts never stopped until the May Fourth Movement. May Fourth movement firstly showed the power of people. In this movement, young students acted as pioneers and Chinese working class became its main force later protesting the Chinese weak response to the Treaty of Versailles. Students and working class people added a huge pressure to government. Under such huge pressure from them, government refused to sign on the Treaty of Versailles.
The May Fourth Movement is also described as the cradle of Chinese communist party. The current ruler of PRC, since then, communism was labeled on Chinese identity. New Youth, the most powerful journal in the May Fourth Movement, (Uberoi, 1987). Chen Duxiu, the runner of New Youth, and Li Dazhao, the general editor, looked very closely at Russian Marx communism. Inspired by Communist Manifesto and the success of Russian revolution, they moved from studying to practice Marxism which they believed that could save China by following Russian example. Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao held the funding meeting of Communist Party in 1921 in Shanghai. The May Fourth Movement gave the birth to Chinese communist party since then CCP developed across China in the latter twenty century and finally ruled the country. Since the May Fourth Movement, communism became a more and more important element of Chinese identity.
The May Fourth Movement also changed the traditional education. Hu shi and other scholars introduced two new terms ‘science’ and ‘Democracy’ to China, often called Mr ‘Sai’ and Mr ‘De’ at that time. They educated people to learn modern science rather than old Chinese culture such as Confucianism (Hu, 1963) ‘Science’ and ‘Democracy’ were two important concepts in New Youth. These two concepts were against traditionally educated concepts like Confucianism. Chen Duxiu, one of the leaders of the May Fourth Movement and main authors of New Youth magazine, wrote in his article ‘Rejoinder to Accusations against Our Journal’ that, “If you wish to support Mr. Democracy, you must first oppose Confucianism, the rules of propriety, the old system of ethics and the old style of politics. And if you want to support both Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science together you have to oppose the idea of the ‘national quintessence’ and the old literature.’ They stressed the importance of science and technology that would allow people to liberate their thinking and free themselves from the past”. (Kwok, 1965)
Traditional Chinese cultures and values were attacked in the May Fourth Movement. Some Chinese people opposed traditional Chinese culture. These people blamed traditional culture made China lagged behind and stop developing. They thought Chinese people have to accept new concepts and abolish old ideas. That is the only way to save our nation and develop China. (Chen, 1916) The May Fourth Movement called for ‘new culture’ and ‘new literature’ as they opposed Confusion values. During this period, a group of people actively worked on promoting new culture in which they promoted idea of national independence and individual liberties. They dedicated to recreate Chinese society and culture in modern China. (Toler, 2012) Such famous people were Hu shi, Chen Duxiu, Lu xun, and so on.
The May Fourth Movement changed Chinese people’s identity in education, from that time old difficult classical Chinese language was abolished. People started to use simplified Chinese language, which would help to reduce illiteracy. Traditional Chinese culture like Confucianism were too difficult to understand for ordinary Chinese citizens, with new simplified Chinese language, it became easier to understand Chinese characters, now they can read and understand new idea from Western countries.
Some criticisms about the May Fourth Movement pointed out the damage of valuable Chinese traditions. One representative figure against the May Fourth Movement was Chiang Kai-shek who was the president of Guomin Party and was also a nationalist and Confusionist. He thought anti- Confucianism is very important for young people in their moral education, such as “Xiao” he thought it is an important concept for Chinese people to bear in mind. This was the first wave that Chinese traditional culture and values especially Confucianism were attacked in modern China and after the foundation of People’s Republic of China, Cultural Revolution restarted the attack to traditional Chinese culture which caused devastation to Chinese culture and led to tremendous damages to traditional culture. Mao Zedong gave high appraise to the May Fourth Movement and Cultural Revolution was under his idea following the criticism of old culture raised by the May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement influenced not only the national identity of that time but also the society fifty years later.
Movements About Dioayu Islands dispute
Since the late 19th century, when China was invaded by Western countries, the ambition of Chinese nationalists was to “Enrich the country and strength the army”. Chinese identity based on this idea makes China to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Deng Xiaoping, the father of Chinese reform and open movement said that “a nation will be bullied if it lags behind the other nations”, his idea expressed the importance of defending the country’s territory and sovereignty. As China becomes stronger, many Chinese think that China is able to defend its country, but those events about sovereignty are sensitive and easily arouse strong sentiment of Chinese people. The recent Diaoyu Islands disputes between China and Japan aroused sentiment of Chinese people in defending their country. The Diaoyu Island dispute between China and Japan has a long history. Although China claims sovereignty over Diaoyu Island, China does not effective control over the islands and Japan has administered since 1972. On July 7, 2012, Japan announced its intension to nationalize Diaoyu Islands and on September 11, it purchased the island from a owner.
Chinese government usually played the most important role in shaping the national identity. Japanese government’s purchasing behavior enraged Chinese people. They believe that the rejuvenation of China cannot be achieved without retaining its territorial integrity due to past experience of divided and humiliated by foreign invaders. Protests against Japan and its purchase behavior broke out widely in many cities of China. For example, in Beijing, several hundred people gathered in front of the Japanese Embassy declared the sovereignty of Diaoyu Islands. Other cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou all had such protests. Some Japanese companies were attacked in the protests. A Panasonic factory was set on fire in Qingdao. Such events happened across the country. The People’s Daily, an authoritative Communist Party newspaper, said that “the protests were a symbol of the Chinese people’s patriotism”. (Johnson, 2012) With Internet and other social media getting more and more popular among regular people, it is easier for Chinese people to know what happened around the world. Social media provided Chinese people massive ways to get information about outside news. With increasing attention and involvement, Chinese people are playing more and more important role in response to international issues, and they are becoming a rising power. Chinese people are becoming a more and more active contributor to its national identity. This time, they showed the world that not only Chinese government but also its people will not allow any foreign countries to invade China’s sovereignty again.
“With the collapse of Soviet Union, communist ideology lost its appeal. Nationalism has become a weapon for Chinese government to claim the royalty of Chinese people and to rally their support to achieve rejuvenation of Chinese nation”. (He, 2009) This time, with Diaoyu Islands, government emphasised the importance of patriotism. Major news papers, magazines and websites posted stories about nationalists fighting against Japanese. Major media also strengthened the identity that China is an inviolable country. Regarding people’ demonstrations, foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Japanese government’s behavior is illegal it hurts the feelings of the Chinese people and enraged the Chinese public. China’s top legislature strongly condemned Japan’s purchase. China’s premier Wen Jiabao said that “China will never yield even half of a step on the issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity”.(Weng, 2012) For Diaoyu Islands dispute, both Chinese government and Chinese people expressed opposition and strong protest against the Japanese. (Sina.com, 2012)
Some Taiwaness, Hong Kong Chinese and mainland Chinese fought together, they drove small boats and landed on Diaoyu Island to declare the sovereignty. “Although they lived in places of different social formation or governance, for invasion from other nation, China shows its identity as a united nation”. (Dzurek, 1996)
Peter Gries pointed out that, “Chinese national identity evolves in dynamic relationship with other nations and the past.” (Greis, 2004) China’s nationalism is derived from both the pride of Chinese civilization and the past humiliating invasion by the West. Now, China tries to rejuvenate the nation and make China rise again as a world important power. China now will not allow any invasion to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. As the Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China has the ability to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. With ancient civilization, almost a century of humiliation, and recent rejuvenation, Chinese identity has gone through tremendous transformation. From The May Fourth Movement in 1919 which leaded by students and working class group to today’s Diaoyu Islands protests against Japan, Chinese people is playing a more and more important role in the national identity. China changed from a weak country which did not has the ability to defend its territorial integrity to a strong country which has the ability to defend its nation today, contrubtions of all nationalists of recent one hundred years cannot be ignored. Chinese identity is shaped by them, nationalism is a strong ‘Weapon’ to protect foreign invaders and it is also an important political ‘tool’ which helps Chinese Communist Party to govern the world biggest Communist Country.
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