“When the May Fourth Movement took place in 1919, I was only sixteen years old, a student at the Tianjin Women’s Normal College”, wrote Deng Yingchao (邓颖超/ 鄧穎超; pinyin: Dèng Yǐngchāo) years after the events. “On May 4, 1919 students in Beijing held a demonstration asking the government to refuse to sign the Versailles Peace Treaty and to punish the traitors at home. In their indignation, they burned the house at Zhaojialou and beat up Lu Zhongxiang, then Chinese envoy to Japan. The following day, when the news reached Tianjin, it aroused the indignation of students there who staged their own demonstration on May 7th. They began by organizing such patriotic societies … We had no political theory to guide us at that time, only our strong patriotic enthusiasm. In addition to the Beijing students’ requests, we demanded, ‘Abrogate the Twenty-One Demands!’ ‘Boycott Japanese Goods!’ and ‘Buy Chinese-made goods!’ Furthermore, we emphatically refused to become slaves to foreign powers!” (quoted in: Patricia Buckley Ebrey: Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook, p. 360).
The protests of May 1919 marked the beginning of Deng Yingchao’s involvement in politics. Later she joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and married Zhou Enlai. Like Deng Yingchao, thousands of students throughout China, moved by patriotic fervour and the desire to change their country, took part in the demonstrations. The social and political movement that ensued marked the beginning of mass politics in post-revolutionary China.
In the present article, we shall briefly examine the origin and development of the May Fourth Movement, as well as its consequences for China’s political life. Continue reading