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May Fourth Movement

The May Fourth Movement (五四运动 Wǔ-sì Yùdòng) was one of the famous anti-foreign movements in China. Some scholars call it "the Chinese Enlightenment." Taking place on May 4, 1919, it marked the beginning of the upsurge of nationalist feeling, with unity of purpose among patriotic Chinese of all classes. The movement grew out of dissatisfaction with the Treaty of Versailles settlement and the effect of the New Cultural Movement.

The effect of China's dissatisfaction

China optimistically joined in World War I in order to oppose Japan's aggression. China demanded the return of the former German concessions in Shandong and the abolition of unfair treaties such as the Twenty-one Demands. But as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the German rights in Shandong (Kiaochow) were formally transferred to Japan. The decisions of the Paris Peace Conference resulted in great disappointment and anger among the Chinese with an increase in strong nationalist and anti-Japanese feelings. This eventually led to the May Fourth Movement in 1919.

In fact, the western powers did not want to give up their concessions in China. Moreover, before the end of the war, they had concluded secret treaties with Japan in which they promised to support Japan's claims in Shandong in exchange for Japan's continued allegiance to the Allied cause. Thus the Western powers rejected China's demands at the Paris Peace Conference and the Shandong privileges were granted to Japan. As a result, anti-Japanese demonstrations and boycotts were organized on May 4, 1919, marking the beginning of the May Fourth Movement. Additionally, anti-Japanese feeling had increased in China since the forced acceptance of the Twenty-one Demands in 1915. The disappointment in 1919 further raised the nationalist feeling against Japan.

The effect of the New Cultural Movement

The New Culture Movement, which started in the early republican period, helped many Chinese intellectuals work towards the future. The movement aimed to introduce western concepts in China, such as democracy, equality and liberty; also a new style of writing as well as the latest science and technology of the time. The most famous leaders of the movement were Chen Duxiu, Cai Yuanpei and Hu Shih. Their ideas influenced many Chinese students who joined together to protest against Japan's aggression. It was in this intellectual atmosphere that the dissatisfaction with the Paris peace settlement brought about a massive outburst throughout the country on May 4, 1919.

On May 4, 1919, more than 3000 students from 13 colleges and universities in Beijing gathered together in Tiananmen Square to demonstrate. As the news spread, students, merchants and workers in other cities responded by organizing more demonstrations, along with strikes and boycotts of Japanese goods. These activities were held to denounce Japanese aggression. The movement possessed a unity of purpose among patriotic Chinese of all classes.

Actually, the effect of China's dissatisfaction and the New Cultural Movement were equally important to the May Fourth Movement. Due to China's dissatisfaction, Chinese increased their nationalism and anti-Japanese feeling. They wanted to oppose foreign rule and aggression, and to strengthen themselves. The New Culture Movement advanced the intellectual Chinese towards the future. This movement provided the intellectual background which made it possible for the dissatisfaction with the Paris peace settlement to develop into a nationwide anti-foreign movement.

Under public pressure, the government had to release the arrested students. The unpopular Foreign minister was removed. On June 28, 1919, the Chinese delegates refused to sign the peace treaty, because it did not grant China's requests. It really afforded the Chinese an intellectual background for those Chinese who love their nation. It raised their nationalism in order to protect the nation. Finally they could be a success.

The May Fourth Movement signaled the beginning of Chinese nationalism. It was the first time that different classes of people joined together to express their resentment against foreign aggression. In the following decades, the anti-foreign movement continued to work toward abolishing all the unfair treaties.

The May Fourth Movement also served as a intellectual revolution in China. Some intellectuals were interested in western learning to help resist foreign imperialism; some others who were bitterly disappointed by the Paris peace settlement began to turn to Marxist theory as the alternative to solve China's problems. It was during this time that Communism was studied seriously by some Chinese intellectuals such as Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao.

See also