INTRODUCTIONSince history, China has always witnessed the acquisition of power in an aggressive manner through wars, protests and movements. The May Fourth Movement of the 20th century was no exception. However, there were two earlier revolutions that garnered people’s participation: first, Taiping Revolution (1851-1864), a peasant revolution under the leadership of Hung Hsiu-chuan, against feudal land system with Christian doctrines. And secondly, Revolution of 1911 (1905-1911) under the leadership of Dr.
Sun Yat-sen for overthrowing the Ching monarchy and setting up a democratic republic. But soon counter-revolutionist Yuan Shih-kai took over. Both the movements met with harsh failure. As a consequence of the Chinese Revolution of 1911, the May Fourth Movement of 1919 sprouted as a symbol of nationalism and rejuvenation of the old nation through analytic-scientific means and acknowledgement of modern civilization. The May Fourth Movement (Wu-ssu yun-tung) was a students-led movement against the Chinese government’s weak response to the Shantung resolution of the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919. It covers the period from 1917 through 1921.
It aimed to promote an anti-Japanese campaign and a modernization drive through intellectual and social reforms. The movement concerned both internal and foreign affairs, stressed the importance of science and democracy, and attacked the traditional ethics, literature, customs and socio-political institutions. Also, it won support from the new merchants and urban workers with strong determination “to save their country” from foreign imperialism and domestic disorder.
Gradually the movement became involved in politics. BACKGROUNDEconomic BackgroundEarlier, Chinese economy was agricultural and pre-industrial in nature. The concept of capital accumulation in the form of land investment dominated the traditional Chinese economy. Wealth was accumulated through trade, moneylending, legal and illegal bureaucratic compensations and by buying land from the profits of land products. The domestic market was self-sufficient and production-exchange was fixed by local guilds. But with the West entering the picture, the self-sufficient agrarian economy began to change. China built its first factory of a state-owned arsenal in 1863. World War I allowed China to lower its access of imports.
Native textile production and flour mills flourished from 1914-1920. The Chinese dollar (Yuan) also displaced the Mexican dollar. Modern style banks were established and new joint-stock corporations grew rapidly.
In a way, growth of urban economy began to manifest until the international political scenario started to hit back the Chinese economy. Conflict of interests between domestic and foreign economic forces grew. Chinese markets were controlled by Japan and other foreign powers. This transformation affected the political and social scenarios as well.Social BackgroundWith economic transformation accelerating rapidly in the country, it affected the societal structure too.
Off-balance amongst the traditional social forces which maintained the old oligarchy system; no new recruitment system substituted after the abolition of the civil service examination in 1905; unemployment increased because of civil wars, calamity and collapse of rural economy; and warlordism was taken up as the only option.Political BackgroundUnlike the brighter picture seen in the European nations after WWI, contrastingly the Chinese politics had a dark existential. Under the Presidency of warlord Yuan Shih-k’ai, the parliament was dissolved and constitution was annulled in 1914.
Two unsuccessful monarchial restoration in 1915 and 1917 : first, restoration of Manchu Emperor by Chang Hsun (the tuchun of Anhwei province); and second, Tuan Ch’i-jui was handled over the central government’s power. As a response, Sun Yat-sen established the Military Government in Canton, 1917. Thereafter, many indecisive civil wars broke out in the country.
Although internal peace conference took place in Shanghai between the two, the results went in vain.Historical BackgroundAfter the failure of the Revolution of 1911, Yuan Shih-kai became the new ruler backed by the imperialists. He complied with all the treaties concluded by the earlier Ching government. First, in 1913, a Six-Power Consortium granted Yuan Shih-kai a loan to suppress the revolutionary movement in China, on condition that the consortium has direct supervision over Chinese finance. Second, Japan compelled Yuan Shih-kai to sign the “Twenty-one Demands” in 1915, securing a monopoly position in China. With the downfall of Yuan Shih-kai’s monarchy, Japanese imperialists set up Tuan Chi-jui in the government. After the end of World War I, the Versailles Peace Conference was held in Paris on January 18, 1919. The Chinese delegates presented a memorandum to deal with a general adjustment from the unequal treaties demanding:renunciation of spheres of influence; withdrawal of foreign troops;withdrawal of foreign post offices and telegraphic agencies; abolition of extra–territorial jurisdiction; relinquishment of leased territories; tariff autonomy; andrestoration of foreign concessions and settlements.
The most important concluded the legal annulment of the “Twenty-one Demands” and the transfer of German rights in Shantung seized by Japanese.However, the US compromised and turned down China’s demands. Neither did they discuss about the abrogation of “Twenty-one Demands”, nor did they abolish any foreign privileges. Instead, all the German interests in Shantung were handed over to Japan.MAIN EVENTThe failure of the Chinese delegates in Paris led to great disturbances and upheaval amongst the Chinese people, particularly students in Peking and Shanghai. On May 4, 1919, the students of Peking University with 3000 thousand more students held a mass demonstration infront of T’ian-an Men(Gate of Heavenly Peace) demanding the punishment of the three pro-Japanese politicians regarded as traitors : Tsao Ju-lin, Minister of Communications(the then Vice-Foreign Minister who signed the “Twenty-one Demands”); Lu Tsung-yu, Director of Currency Bureau(the then Chinese Minister to Japan when “Twenty-one Demands” was signed); and Chang Tsung-hsiang(the then Chinese Minister to Japan who sold a series of railway rights to Japan). Banners with slogans came up like such : “Reject the Twenty-one Demands”, “Punish all traitors”, Restore Chinese rights in Shantung”, “Refuse to sign the Paris Peace Treaty”.
Many students were arrested and subsequently other colleges and universities’ students also joined. After June 3, the movement shifted to Shanghai, working class also participated in the movement and became an important factor for the movement’s victory. From June 5 onwards, Chinese workers held public demonstrations in Peking, Tientsin, Shanghai and Hankow. Large section of the Chinese bourgeoise also went on strike and appealed to boycott Japanese goods. Due to this uprising, the government had to bend and consequently release the arrested students, dismiss the three accused officials : Tsao Ju-lin, Chang Tsung-hsiang and Lu Tsung-yu; and the Chinese delegates in Paris were instructed not to sign the Treaty.AFTER-EFFECTSAfter the May Fourth Movement, China witnessed the beginning of modern western patriotism, nationalism and an independent-socialist system. The leaders believed in material and socio-political transformation in a utilitarian manner to bring about ideological and institutional changes. Mass movement, organization and propaganda became a common technique against power struggle.
Social ReformsOne of the significant consequences of the May Fourth Movement was the social reforms in the form of women’s emancipation from their traditional social bondage.”A woman’s duty is not to control or take charge.”According to Confucianism, Chinese women were imposed with “three obedience and four virtues.” An ideal woman was a dependent being ie., “a helpful wife and wise mother”(hsien-ch’I liang-mu).
Chinese women were usually isolated from social relations and never regarded as a citizen. Within the family, women had an inferior, obedient and inactive position. Concubinage was permitted by law; no inheritance of property by daughters; divorce rights only for males and abortion was discouraged. Footbinding was common and one-sided chastity forced on women. Overall, women were listed at the bottom in the Confucian hierarchy. After the May Fourth Movement, traditional family system declined and the status of women improved. Rise of feminism and new Western ideas were praised. Women were taught to be an independent citizen in the family and nurture their individual rights.
Free marriage based on love was practiced more and concept of birth control was introduced. Co-education was also established and professional opportunities for women increased. Gradually, women’s suffrage movement commenced and obtained public support. Feminism grew with public sympathy. Significantly, the Women’s Association of Hunan (Hu-nan nu-chieh lien-ho-hui) est. in February 1920 proposed five rights for women, known as the “Five Proposal Movement” (wu-chung yun-tung) :equal rights of property inheritance,right to vote and to be elected,equal rights of education,equal rights to work, andright of self-determination in marriage.Educational ReformsThe May Fourth Movement resulted in several educational reforms on the lines of modern western studies. Scientific methods were introduced; rapid development of popular education; modern economics, political science and sociology adopted; Chinese press and public opinion progressed; developments in the field of biology, physics, geology, etc.
, were some.The development of vocational education outshined amongst the rest. Vocational Education and its relations between schools and industrialists were promoted by Paul Monroe on September 5, 1921 during his visit to the Chinese Society for the Survey of Practical Education. Emphasis was laid to reform the Chinese education on American lines and attempted to rely education and private enterprise together.
Gradually after several discussions, a new educational system was adopted on November 1, 1922 which eventually laid the foundations for the later Chinese educational institutions. From October 1918 onwards, student self-government, educational principles, institutions, and new curricula were already considered by the National Alliance of Educational Associations (Ch’uan-kuo chiao-hui lien-ho-hui). Established in January 1919, The China Society for the Promotion of New Education (Chung-hua hsinchiao-yu kung-chin-she) was one of the major contributors to the Educational Reforms.
However, the educational reforms too met with several shortcomings. Most of the time, Chinese education was dependent on governmental support. The emerging Chinese private enterprises were not much enthusiastic and strong enough to provide adequate financial support for vocational schools. Also, the Chinese education was characterized by the struggle for independence of educational finances and educational funds. Meanwhile, the country’s revenue was mostly invested on military affairs. Schools were either closed or occupied by soldiers as barracks. Even the small portions of educational allotments were illegally diverted by the warlords. » Literary RevolutionThe May Fourth Movement consequently influenced and drive the “literary revolution” (wen-hsueh ko-ming).
In earlier times, only the ruling gentry class had the privilege to literary education. Majority of the masses could neither read nor write. Thus from 1918 onwards in a wake to break through the barriers and universalized education, intellectuals in China adopted the vernacular (pai hua) which gradually became the standard written language. Hu Shih, Li Ta-chao, Ch’en Tu-hsiu and Lu Hsun were some major contributors. New literature was adopted based on realism, romanticism, and humanitarianism. Popular literature made its way by ceasing the monopoly of the gentry class over the contents of literature.
Some of the most influential periodicals were New Youth and Weekly Review.Political-Economic ReformsThe May Fourth Movement brought about structural changes in Chinese economy. Increasing decline of landlord’s position and significance of the labor problems. Another consequence was the rise of the workers movements accompanied by the growing participation of merchants. Merchants incorporated themselves into trade unions (t’ung-yeh kung hui) and were different from its traditional guilds type (shang-wu kung hui), manipulated by the government. Many labor organizations also came up such as Industrial Association of China (Chung-hua kung-yeh), Alliance of Electrical Workers (Tien-ch’I kung-chieh lien-ho-hui) and Federation of Chinese Labor Unions (Chung-hua kung-yeh hsieh-hui). Soon, the Chinese Retuned Labourers’ Association became the support system of the new labor movement.
The May Fourth Movement led to a shift in Chinese political spheres. Increasing antagonism towards Japan, growing anti-warlordism and anti-imperialism developed. Ideas such as democracy, socialism and national freedom gained popularity. New principles and methods of party organization were adopted, close relations with the masses developed, more emphasis on social problems. After realizing “their strength in organization”, people also felt the need of a political party which would upheld the interests of the working class.
This led to the integration of Marxist-Leninist theory of the working class movement in China founding the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921. In the later years, the reorganizing of Kuomintang led to Northern Expedition or National Revolution of 1926-27.But with the increase of labor organizations from the period of 1919-1923, the opinions of the leaders parted ways. The first group believed that workers should be involved in political strikes but too weak to have independent organizations and had to rely on political parties. Indifferently, the second group was more radical in nature and likely accepted the Communist Party’s leadership. The third group on the other hand promoted a labor movement free of politics.CONCLUSIONConsidering how the movement developed, spread throughout the nation like a wildfire accompanied by its major developments, China has no doubt undergone one of the crucial transformations of the century.
The May Fourth Movement marked the awakening of Chinese minds from its traditional setup towards the western modern thought. The call for modernization of China, therefore, was the basic spirit of the movement. The most important achievement was the ideological transformation of the social space. The breakdown of old traditional customs and significant acceptance of modern societal ways such as individual liberty, free marriages, women’s rights, adoption of “vernacular” as a medium for writing, use of modern science and technology, popular and vocational education and many more made its way for the “new China”.This movement not only unfolded the different aspects of modern civilization to China but also gave a platform to mark its stand in the international arena.
Hence, like many historians regard the May Fourth Movement as a cornerstone from “old” to “new”, it indeed has set a good example for all other future reference too. REFERENCEChow Tse-Tsung : The May Fourth Movement. Intellectual Revolution in Modern China (Stanford University), 1967Ho Kan-Chih : A History of the Modern Chinese Revolution (1919-1956), Books & Periodicals Calcutta, 1977, chapter – 1Wolfgang Franke : A Century of Chinese Revolution (1851-1949), Basil Blackwell Oxford, 1970, chapter 4