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The May 4th Movement Essay

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Updated: May 12th, 2020

The Chinese students embarked on a nationwide demonstration on fourth of May 1919 to force the government to formulate stronger policies in response to the Treaty of Versailles since the agreement gave Japan the right to take over Shandong, yet the Chinese government did nothing to avert the situation. After the Siege of Tsingtao, Germany was compelled to surrender various territories under its leadership, and it was felt that China had to take over the region automatically, as the regions belonged to it, but it was surprising to note that the treaty made in Germany had handed over the territories to Japan. One of the major political consequences of the demonstration was that it marked the upsurge of the Chinese nationalism, where the political culture of the country shifted towards political mobilization (Rana 13).

Previously, citizens respected the culture, and it was against the cultural laws to engage the government in protests. Again, the protest gave rise to several young leaders who were willing to sacrifice their lives to benefit society. Initially, only elites were depended upon in providing alternative ideas whenever it was felt that the government was going against the established values. However, this changed after the May Fourth protest since populism was introduced as a new way of dealing with social issues where a leader emerges with his or her group to challenge the government.

The participants of the protest, such as Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, changed their political positions and seemed to support the leftist perspective, leading to the formation of the Communist Party in 1921 (Ping 451). Economically, the mode of production in China was purely feudalistic and was characterized by imperialism, whereby only a few foreigners controlled the economy. However, the protest marked a new beginning, as the country embraced a bourgeois-democratic revolution that aimed at kicking out all foreigners and facilitating nationalism. The leaders of the demonstration were the proletariat, the young scholars, and the new state bourgeoisie. The movement provided an opportunity for the intellectual community to shift from a traditional approach to the radicalized intellectual thought, which was very important in changing the country’s leadership. The Chinese policymakers never trusted their western counterparts, and they moved on to adopt different viewpoints that went against the western-style liberal democracy that had gained relevance in society.

Furthermore, the Fourteen Points on Democratic Propositions introduced by Wilson Woodrow were viewed with contempt because they were duplicitous and western-centric as well, even though they were based on morals. Before the protest, the country was highly unorganized, and unity was never a concern to many people since each group had its interests, with different ways of realizing their objectives. The protest played a critical role in national unification in 1928 since it made people understand that disunity gives the enemy an advantage to impose his or her rule.

The country’s leadership adopted the modern ideologies that were related to liberalism and democracy since people were aware of their rights after an interaction with the American belief on idealism, but this changed after the protest because of reluctance of the US to intervene by convincing the western allies, including Britain, France, and Japan to respect China’s propositions. The US had not joined the League of Nations and never wanted to adhere to its own Fourteen Points as suggested by Wilson Woodrow. With time, Marxism took over, and the intellectual community seized the opportunity to understand the provisions of the new ideology, including its benefits. Many historians suggest that the protest, together with other events, such as the overthrow of the monarchy in 1911 and elimination of the public service in 1905, contributed to the Chinese Renaissance.

In the traditional politics, it was suggested that culture had to be observed strongly meaning that only established rules and regulations had to be adopted, but the May Fourth suggested a new way of dealing with issues because it placed much emphasis on direct political proceedings and radical approaches (Guoqi 33). In subsequent years, Chinese society employed protests, demonstrations, and go-slows in dealing with the government. Initially, the citizens were never allowed to raise any finger to the government, as it was viewed as a lack of respect and opposition to the culture. Several groups rose up against the government to demand their rights after it became clear that each person has a right to life and ownership of property (Schoppa 24). The idea of representation was advocated, with the movement leaders promising a brighter future where they would ensure that the interests of each person are represented in their Communist Party.

The May Fourth resulted in the adoption of communist reasoning in the economic front, as the idea of class struggle seemed to offer a solution to the several problems that people faced in China. People were obsessed with democracy, but the new ideology promised inclusiveness of the poor in the economy since the previous model had incorporated them as underdogs. The traditional Chinese culture advised people to keep off from material things and put the focus on moral values. Western democracy ideals destroyed this belief and encouraged people to be self-centered and embrace the idea of individualism. However, the advent of communism seemed to encourage people to go back to their previous traditions that emphasized the virtue of altruism and generosity. Communism would produce leaders that would act as the protectors of public integrity.

Capitalism was a defective principle that would make the people poor, as it encouraged private ownership of property. Unfortunately, the majority in society never had access to the means of achieving their objectives since the owners of the means of production were mainly foreigners and the few rich in society. A system that produced only two classes in society was never appreciated because of the conflicts it would bring. Through the movement, the economic order of China was changed from capitalism to communism whereby the state controls all resources in society and equality is taken into consideration whenever these resources to distribute to various groups (Wasserstrom 60). China is one of the world’s economic powerhouses because of the strong economic policies that are based on communism.

Works Cited

Guoqi, Xu. Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011. Print.

Ping, Liu. “The Left Wing Drama Movement in China and Its Relationship to Japan.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, 14.2 (2006): 449-466. Print.

Rana, Mitter. A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.

Schoppa, Keith. Constructing a New Cultural Identity: The May Fourth Movement. Revolution and Its Past: Identities and Change in Modern Chinese History. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006. Print.

Wasserstrom, Jeffrey. “Chinese Students and Anti-Japanese Protests, Past and Present.” World Policy Journal, 22.2 (2005): 59-65. Print.

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