Jose Maria Sison
June 14, 1961
Dr. Chow Tse-tung
The May Fourth Movement: intellectual Revolution in Modern China, Cambridge, Harvard University Press 1960, 486 pp.
Dr. Chow Tse-tung’s The May Fourth Movement, the latest of the Harvard East Asian Studies, is a brilliantly balanced analysis of a very controversial subject. This objective is attained with meticulous documentation and without the least pussyfooting.
The success of this scholarly study has been achieved only because the author has been intensively aware that the massive literature so far poured on the subject offers more polemic than factual accounts. Determined to clear up the air, he is exceedingly careful in letting such factual accounts bear their own interpretative value. Nevertheless he never hesitates to put it in grain to develop his own pearl only after a fully authenticated accounting.
Although Dr. chow succeeds in examining the subjects from different angles of concern, there evidently are two main lines that strongly characterized the May Fourth Movement in the final analysis. Or, speaking more plainly, there are two major consents of the movement. They are: liberation and nationalism.
In the May 4, 1919 incident- when the students of Peking struck– what was their ostensible purpose is the expression of Shantung Resolution agreed nationalism. Freshly angered by to (?) secretly by the Big Powers like the United States, Great Britain and France at the Paris Peace Conference these students- previously incensed by the Twenty-one Demands and the Sino-Japanese Military Mutual Assistance Convention – concentrated their attention on the Japanese against a background of general dislike for the other holders of spheres of influence. Pro-Japanese officials like Ts’sao Ju-Lin, Chang Tsung-hsiang and Lu Tsung-wu bore the brunt of nationalist anger. They were accused of selling their country down the river.
Swept by patriotic passion and also irked by suppressive measures taken by the pro-foreign government against the striking students in Peking, students in several other cities of China spontaneously rose up in protest together with native merchants and workers. Student unions were established in all the major cities and through street speeches they successfully campaigned for the boycott of Japanese products being dumped into the market. They found in the organization their power to fight for their country.
The national consciousness or “Save China” sentiments then could be fostered only alongside liberalism. Traditional ethics and institutions which had made possible the subservience and humiliation of the country had to be questioned. The warlords and the bureaucrats, only wishing to aggrandize themselves, were using the doctrine of Orthodox Confucianism as mask. Desperately, they always tried to keep the people to their feudal conditions of ignorance and superstition. With the return of Ch’en Tu-hsiu, Ts’ai Yuan-pei and Hu-Shih between 1915 and 1917 from their studies abroad, the liberal spirit in the intellectual field acquired new energies. They all held reform views. Ch’en founded the New Youth Magazine inspite of anti-subversion measures imposed by the government. Ts’ai instituted reforms in the National University of Peking and encouraged the co-existence of diversity progressive men like Lu Ta-chao. Soon there was the New Tide Society of Peking students which spearheaded the May Fourth Movement in its second phase following the incident.
The intellectual movement generated by the “new intellectuals” had two main branches. First the use of the the vernacular was advocated in place of the inutile classics. Second, new thought- meaning science and democracy- was advocated. Taken together, these two delivered a punishing blow against feudalism and traditional thinking. The effect of the vernacular would be to easily reach the people and science would provide them with clear methods of solving their problems.
The May 4th incident was the keystone or climactic point of this intellectual movement. The leaflets and other literature of the demonstration were in the vernacular and its leaders were the “new intellectuals”.
Coming back to the relationship of nationalism and liberalism, one can clearly see their fruitful copulation in the May 4th demonstration. It was no surprise that it impelled socialism. The impulsion was itself the fervor of the demonstrations that followed that of May 4th. But, there was the staying element in nationalism that only had to be linked finally with another staying element in liberalism. Nationalism maintained an element repellent of imperialism and liberalism had an element repellent of the traditionalism of the feudal warlords conniving with the imperialists. But, of course, nationalism- more masculine than liberalism- could take care of itself in the open field of action while also independently liberalism- more feminine- retreated coyly into its academic shell.
It was no surprise at all that in December 1919 the Society for the Study of Socialism was established in Peking and similar study groups were set up in all the big cities of China like Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong. In March 21, 1920, the Karakhan declaration was made public. By this declaration, the Soviet Union was giving back to China all the concessions that the Tsarist government had extorted from the Chinese people. Chinese social and political organizations enthusiastically welcomed the Soviet declaration and they also came to know that the declaration was issued even the preceding year and was blocked the the warlords and the imperialists holding on tightly to their spheres of influence.
Thus, socialism began to interest the Chinese intellectuals intensely. They soon discovered in it ways of strengthening themselves without putting their foot on the other countries. In May 1920, the Chinese Communist Party was organized in Shanghai by the stream of intellectuals like Che’en Tu-hsiu, Li Ta-chao, Shen ting-i and so on.
The May Fourth Movement is today considered by the Chinese Communists as the beginning of a popular movement that brought them to power. At present, May 4th is celebrated as Youth Day, whereas the Kuomintang – as it became too reactionary- rejected its significance long ago. Without a study of this movement, impelled mostly by the students, one can never understand fully the Communists triumph in China.
Although the motives of the different participants in the May Fourth Movement demonstrations may be nationalist, liberal, nationalist-liberal, anarchist, or what-not, there were objective conditions to which some aspects of the demonstrations corresponded in an effectual manner. As observed before, there were fusing elements in the major intellectual forces that are nationalism and liberalism. These fused elements hit the core of the social conditions of the Chinese people then.