A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World (Making of the Modern World)
In this powerful new look at modern China, Rana Mitter goes back to a pivotal moment in Chinese history to uncover the origins of the painful transition from pre-modern to modern. Mitter identifies May 4, 1919, as the defining moment of China's twentieth-century history. On that day, outrage over the Paris peace conference triggered a vast student protest that led in turn to "the May Fourth Movement." Just seven years before, the 2,000-year-old imperial system had collapsed. Now a new group of urban, modernizing thinkers began to reject Confucianism and traditional culture in general as hindrances in the fight against imperialism, warlordism, and the oppression of women and the poor. Forward-looking, individualistic, and embracing youth, this "New Culture movement" made a lasting impact on the critical decades that followed. Throughout each of the dramatically different eras that followed, the May 4 themes persisted, from the insanity of the Cultural Revolution to China's recent romance with space-age technology.
had brought the outside world to China began to close, so the opportunities to experiment became fewer and fewer. 101 4 GOODBYE CONFUCIUS New Culture, New Politics Although the May Fourth Movement broke out in May , its original causes emerged before May Fourth itself, as a result of China’s social situation and the First World War . . . In June , [president of the Republic] Yuan Shikai, who had spent days as [self-declared] emperor, died. After Yuan died, all sorts of people who
essay in New Youth entitled ‘My Views on Chastity’, which condemned the traditional insistence that women remain chaste, whereas men were not required to be so: ‘These women are to be pitied. Trapped for no good reason by tradition and numbers, they are sacrificed to no good purpose . . . We must do away with all the stupidity and tyranny that create and relish the sufferings of others.’9 ‘Moderation’ was another Confucian virtue which the May Fourth radicals rejected. Too often, Lu Xun argued,
that of figures such as Chen Duxiu and Mao Zedong, stemmed from their own experience of the crisis which China faced in the early twentieth century. Yet there is a disturbingly extreme tone to their writings as well. The message not to tolerate ‘moderation’ could be seen as a warning against compromise with evil, but could also encourage a single-minded reluctance to grant tolerance to alternative views. The shrill denunciations of Confucian culture may have been partly fuelled by the real sense
the Nationalist government. This was not because of a lack of intention. CCP writing of the time argued that the ‘feudal’ values of the Nationalists and their lackeys meant that they had no concern for the misery and deprivation in the rural areas of China in particular. A fairer assessment, though, is perhaps that the Nationalist government recognized the scale of its task but never found adequate ways to deal with it. The government never managed to create a strong revenue base from which to
occupation of the square then cut short on the night of June, a month later. A year earlier, in , a prophetic television series, Heshang [River Elegy], had warned: ‘It is as if many things in China ought to start afresh from May Fourth.’13 It is not just one date that was so important; the date sums up a time, an atmosphere and an energy that have such potency that they inform Chinese politics today, so much so that the Chinese government put up new memorials to May Fourth at the turn