All good things must come to an end, and at no time is this fact truer than in China in 1911, when the Xinhai Revolution resulted in the fall of the Qing Dynasty. This led to a period of unrest, as the world's powers engaged in World War I. Even though China had participated in the war on the side of the Allies, China was betrayed during the negotiations at the Treaty of Versailles. Instead of being given autonomy over a controlled sphere of interest in the Shandong district of China, the Treaty of Versailles instead gave this territory over to Japan. China's May 4th Movement ended up being an anti-West, anti-imperialist cultural shift that grew out of student demonstrations in 1919.
The weak response of the Chinese government to reclaim the Shandong province for itself in self-defense led to accusations of corruption. Whether or not the government was corrupt or not, it was most evidently incapable of performing its duties, because the Chinese cause was completely ignored by the Western powers. The student protests which were started at the May 4th Movement had sparked a move towards more political action and a growing sense in the pride of Chinese nationalism. Japan had become a powerful nation after defeating Russia in 1908, and therefore the Western powers did not want to interfere with Japanese influence in East Asia. The world was In a period of upheaval, and many different types of political arrangements for government were tested out, from Fascism in Italy and Germany, to Communism in the Soviet Union, to Democracy in Britain, France, and the United States.
At the end of World War I, the representatives of China made three requests as reward for participating in the war. The first was the abolition of all privileges of foreign powers in China. The second was the cancellation of the "Twenty-One Demands," which allowed for foreign intervention in Chinese trade. The third request was the return of Shandong province to China, which was a territory that had been Germanys, and which had been seized by Japan. The Western powers were too busy during the meetings to deal with China's requests, and paid little attention to China. Woodrow Wilson's advocacy of self-determination was encouraging to the Chinese, but the Americans were unable to follow through after the end of World War I, and became an isolationist country. The later meeting at the Paris Peace Conference is what ultimately began the May 4th Movement, which became known as the "Shandong problem" in the West.
Student representatives from Beijing met and drafted several requests in defense of China, and in opposition to foreign intervention in Chinese affairs, especially since the new government was supposed to be asserting Chinese power after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. The following five requests made by the students are as follows. The first was the opposition to the granting of Shandong to the Japanese. The second point was bringing the average Chinese citizen to be concerned about the weak position of China in the world. The third point was the recommendation of large protests in the capital. The fourth was the creation og a union in order to better organize the movement. The fifth point was to hold a demonstration immediately against the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. These five points represent the beginning of an intellectual uprising on the campuses of China's elite colleges.
About 3,000 students were in attendance at this meeting in Tiananmen Square. A boycott of Japanese industry ensued, and thousands of people took to the streets in the weeks that followed. The slogans that the citizens used were, "Get rid of traitors at home, struggle for sovereignty internationally," and "Don't sign the Treaty of Versailles." A general strike ensued and the nation learned what it meant to have large-scale nationalism take over the public psyche. The media and chambers of commerce supported the workers and students in their struggle. Shanghai became a particularly important city for the May 4th Movement because of its strategic location close to Japan and its wide contact with Western powers. The economy of Shanghai was nearly ruined as a result of the general strike, and therefore the Chinese representative at the Paris Peace Conference refused to sign the peace treaty at the Paris Peace Conference.
Japan retained control over Shandong province, as was expected as Japan was a rapidly industrializing and militarizing country. Despite this, Chinese nationalism had woken up, and the May 4th Movement became an intellectual turning point towards a radical shift in Chinese philosophy about its contact with the outside world and its self-determination to maintain control over its land. The betrayal of the West, despite the good ideas of the 14 Points as laid out by Woodrow Wilson, meant that China was distrustful of the Western way of life and Democracy. These beliefs of self-determination and Chinese nationalism were the beginning of the Chinese civil war, in which China would be engulfed in after the exit of Japan at the end of World War II.
It is possible that if the United States were firmer in its international assertion of power and sticking to the 14 points, then Chinese history would today be very different. The United States could have helped China build up its own self-determination, and would have served as a reinforcing measure for the validity of Chinese democracy. Instead, Marxism became a prevailing force in China, since nationalism and public good were both well served in Communist literature. Many of the students who had been protesting during the May 4th Movement went on to study Marxism in greater detail, and looked to Russia to see how the Russian Revolution ended up overthrowing the old Tsar. The Chinese Communist model was also very attractive because it gave a good strong infrastructure for controlling the enormous Chinese population, which was about 500 million, larger than any other country in the world.
In opposition to the May 4th Movement and the rise of popularity of Communism as a form of government for China, the powerful Chiang Kay-shek, leader of China, began a movement called the "New Life Movement," which reduced the epidemic levels of corruption, factionalism, and opium addiction which had controlled China for decades. (Chiang, Kai-shek, 1934) The policies he pursued maintained the history of Chinese philosophy, Chiang Kai-shek did not do as the May 4th Movement did in moving itself away from Confucian values, but rather he moved the country more closely towards them. The idea of self-cultivation and "correct" living are central to this movement, which emphasizes the individual and the improvement of oneself over the idea of mass integration that was at the core of the Communist plans for China.
After the Japanese left China, Chiang Kai-shek tried to reassert control, but his government's reputation had been tarnished, and nobody trusted him anymore on Mainland China. He fled to what is now known as Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War from 1945-1949, and managed to rule over the small island as a western-oriented and democratic society. He was supported by the Americans due to his adherence to anti-communism, and maintained his power through this relationship. Chiang Kai-shek is still a disputed hero in Chinese legend, because part of the Chinese speaking world considers him to be a very powerful Chinese leader, and the other part of the Chinese speaking world considers him to be a crooked politician who was in the pocket of the west.
Chen Duxiu, who was the Dean of Peking University, was one of the biggest proponents of what he called the "New Culture" movement in China with his 1916 essay, "Our Final Awakening." (Chen, Duxiu, 1916) In it, Chen admonishes the weakness of Chinese culture and national strength, but does not blame these two things on Chinese ways of life. Rather, Chen believes in modern society, an integration of both can occur. Chen realized however that democracy in 1916 was not a good system for the Chinese people, because they had never known what that had meant under the Qing Dynasty, or for thousands of years prior. The Chinese way of mind had to be adapted to accept democracy as an important form of anticorruption in government, but this never happened. The May 4th Movement happened at the same time as Chen's writing, but they preferred the ideas of Communism because of the way that the state had supreme power, even though all Chinese were considered the same. This system fit more readily in the mindset of having China move as a collective conscience rather than as a liberalized democracy under a constitutional government.
It is difficult to say if the May 4th Movement was good or bad, because the answer depends on whom you ask. For the national pride of China the May 4th Movement was certainly a necessary event, and had wide implications for the future of Chinese politics. There were problems with the movement for the West, however,…