It has come to my attention that my previous post about the Fall of Saigon left out one important thing. No, not that my trip through the Vietnamese section of a city allowed me to see more South Vietnamese flags flying right next to American flags than I had ever seen in my life. No, what I had left out was the debut of the new Avengers movie. After all, Tony Stark in the comics…erm…did something in Vietnam for the war….was Bengal in the movie? Anyways, for my post today, I will say a little bit about the May Fourth Movement…using as many quotes from the original Star Wars Trilogy as I can.Â Why? There is no why.
A LONG TIME AGO…
In was 1915 and China was experiencing THE DARK TIMES. Three years earlier, a revolution deposed the child EMPEROR and set up a NEW REPUBLIC. Unfortunately, this government’s POWERS WERE WEAK and this NEW HOPE did not last. And after getting rid of the foreign Manchu rulers, a completely untrustworthy man with IMPERIAL ties named Yuan Shika managed to gain political power over the REPUBLICans. China still found itself in the same situation as it had been, seventy years since the British EMPIRE sent in their ENEMY SHIPS, unleashed their BLASTERS, and started the Opium WARS, under the thumb of the United States, Japan, and various European powers. The outbreak of another war did not help matters much. Japan captured Chinese territory that had belonged to Germany and made several demands to the Chinese government. China was DEFENSELESS. Yuan agreed to the demands despite anti-Japanese anger, and had himself declared the new EMPEROR in response. Meanwhile, rival warlords had been setting up their little WRETCHED HIVES OF SCUM AND VILLAINY throughout the country. Yuan showed himself to be more concerned with having the EMPIRE STRIKE BACK against internal foes than against foreign occupiers. But EVERYONE GETS DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR and IT WAS UNAVOIDABLE that Yuan’s reign would end sooner than later.
A few scholars began to believe that it was Confucianism and HOKEY RELIGIONS that had held such A STRONG INFLUENCE ON THE WEAK MINDED, keeping China back while the Western world and Japan moved forward. These scholars varied in ages, mostly ranging from early twenties to early forties. One of these scholars, a 35-year-old named Chen Duxiu, began publishing a journal called La Jeunesse, putting forth the ideas of what was called the New Culture Movement. This movement sought to replace the cultural dominance of Confucianism with science and democracy, to let go of the cultural egotism that China is the center of the universe, to view Confucian texts and other classics with a critical eye instead of unquestioning reverence, to replace the Confucian family with individual freedoms and women’s rights, to make writing readable to everyone in China, and to make the culture LOOK AWAY TO THE FUTURE, TO THE HORIZON, as opposed to the past. Many educated youths began to take up the mantle of the New Youth of this New Culture.
In early 1916, Yuan Shikai’s various enemies forced him to abdicate as EMPEROR. He died that summer. The REPUBLICANS and Nationalists, who had suffered under his rule, had been unable to form an ALLIANCE with the other REBELS, so China pretty much fell into even more chaos. China declared war on Germany in the summer of 1917, entering the Great War even later than the United States did. There was a bit of cynicism to joining the ALLIANCE Powers; they just wanted to regain sovereignty over their own territory, specifically that which Japan oversaw, and perhaps they thought that the ALLIANCE Powers would win the war. Well, they were half-right. They had joined the side that won. And the side that won totally screwed them over. German territory was officially handed over to Japan, over the protests of the Chinese government, and the Chinese HAD NO CHOICE in the matter. Incidentally, the Chinese delegation was the only one at the Paris Peace Talks to support Korean independence from Japan. The Chinese were falling and SOMEONE HAD TO SAVE THEIR SKINS.
On the 4th of May, 1919, Chinese university students came together to protest this betrayal. They protested against the Japanese for occupying their lands. They protested against the Western powers for letting this happen. They protested against the Chinese government for putting up such weak resistance. They protested against Chinese culture for fostering such weakness. While many in Chinese society were wary of this last bit of protest, they were fine with the other three points. Members of the business community and the media came out in support of the students, and various strikes threatened to break the economy. The government tried to suppress this movement by THE FORCE, but THE MORE THEY TIGHTENED THEIR GRIP, the greater the anger was.
The success of the May Fourth Movement was…well…mixed. It did not kick the Japanese out of China, but it did pressure the government into not signing the Treaty of Versailles at the end of June. However, the movement proper kind of fizzled out within a couple years. There were many reasons, most of which are highly predictable with movements like this, as practically EVERYTHING THAD HAD TRANSPIRED HAD DONE SO ACCORDING TO DESIGN. Many outsiders had no time for whatever this was or were completely disconnected from the controversy as it was ALL SUCH A LONG WAY FROM them. Others were not all that interested in all of this anti-Confucianism and the breakup of families, thinking that THEY’D BE CRAZY TO FOLLOW such thinking, only the AIN’T CRAZY. Chinese Muslims just stayed away. Chiang Kai-shek, though a Methodist, disliked importing Western values into Chinese culture, preferring instead to simply pit various Western powers against each other for political gain while AVOIDING ANY IMPERIAL ENTANGLEMENTS and returning China to A MORE CIVILIZED AGE. He would turn the Nationalist Party more and more conservative and authoritarian, USING THE FORCE against both capitalism and communism…mostly against communism.
Meanwhile, the movement was undergoing an identity crisis. The protests had brought a disparate group of people together, but it just as quickly drove them apart. Liberals, Anarchists, Feminists, Proto-hippies, Marxists; there was no way that this REBEL ALLIANCE would last. In trying to adopt Western ways to impress the West, maybe the New Youth’s OVERCONFIDENCE WAS THEIR WEAKNESS. The failure of the movement to effectively…affect the Treaty of Versailles left many disillusioned. Disillusioned with the West in terms of politics and social issues. THEIR FAITH IN THEIR FRIENDS was shattered. IT WAS A DARK TIME FOR THE REBELLION as ANGER, FEAR, AGGRESSION took hold. Some just gave up on the DAMN FOOL IDEALISTIC CRUSADE altogether. Liberals, finding such LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING, tried to get the students to return to their studies and maybe try search for more ways to transform Chinese society. The more impatient radical members turned even further to the Left. Chen Duxiu, who helped to propagate the New Youth Movement, would become one of the founding members of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. Starting out as a PITIFUL LITTLE BAND, they would become a FORCE to be reckoned with. For them, THERE WAS NO TRY. They had to CLEAR THEIR MINDS OF QUESTIONS and seize the solution. So…the May Fourth Movement and the larger New Culture Movement would gradually DISINTEGRATED and THE ALLIANCE WOULD DIE, but something grew out of it as China entered A DANGEROUS TIME. Before the 1920s were over, the Nationalists under Chiang took over and the Communist REBELS HAD BEEN ROUTED.
Thirty years after the May Fourth Movement, the Chinese Communist Party took over China following A PERIOD OF CIVIL WAR and has never let go since. Many celebrated this victory while others were made to RESPOND TO AN ALTERNATIVE FORM OF PERSUASION AS MILLIONS OF VOICES SUDDENLY CRIED OUT IN TERROR AND WERE SUDDENLY SILENCED. After a brief dalliance with accepting criticism, the Communist decided that such critics would PAY THE PRICE FOR THEIR LACK OF VISION. Most had ACCEPTED THE TRUTH that IT WAS USELESS TO RESIST; for those who did, they and their families would ALL SUFFER FOR THIS OUTRAGE. Those who would NOT BE TURNED would BE DESTROYED. THE LAST REMNANTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC HAVE BEEN SWEPT AWAY FOREVER…except maybe in Taiwan.
The leaders had framed themselves as the inheritors of the May Fourth Movement, and what they said WAS TRUE FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW. Others, though, believe that IT’S NOT LIKE THAT AT ALL; that the RED GROUP utterly BETRAYED AND MURDERED the spirit of freedom that the movement put forth. Certain social freedoms have come about, but the government is still as authoritarian as ever. Sure, the May Fourth Movement happened ninety-six-years ago, but the effects have DOMINATED OUR DESTINY. Maybe had the powers that have been been more receptive to the demands of an OLD AND WEAK China and negated the need for a May Fourth Movement, China, its neighbors, and the world WOULDN’T BE IN THIS RIDICULOUS POSITION today. China: resentful of Japan and blocking any attempts by that country to militarize or celebrate its past. China: always favoring aggressive nationalism over the weak and ineffective national soul-searching. China: believing it UNWISE TO LOWER ITS DEFENSES for even the smallest of neighbors. China: unwilling to give an inch to even the most INSIGNIFICANT REBELLION in any province. China: setting up its economic influence everywhere. China: not willing to trust the Western powers for anything and rarely passing up an opportunity to call them hypocrites. China: highly skeptical about the virtues of democracy and this supposed freedom that the Occidentals seem to be babbling about all of the time. Maybe all of that would have been different. But this is where we are now. IT IS UNAVOIDABLE.