May Fourth Movement

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China is moving into the modern world with such speed that it is understandable that there are inevitable time warps. But such anomalies point to the transcendent questions of what China is and where is china going. These questions are crucial to us because in the twenty first century China is a significant player in world affairs; if we hope to deal intelligently with China and its people we must understand their past and present. Revolution was one of the most important problems facing individual Chinese and China as a nation. Focusing on the New Culture/May Fourth Movement (1915-1923) and how its salient features, dominant themes were to influence successive generations of educated Chinese. Beneath the surface during the decade of military struggle China was stirring. A new generation, who had still been learning of their letter when the Empire disappeared, was coming of age. Their experience of the politics of their elders was uninspiring. They were ready for new loyalties and new ideas. The centre of new thought was Beijing University. It was based on the Tong Wen Guan, which had been transformed into a university by the 1898 reformers; and it was only one of their reforms to survive. In 1916 the liberal scholar Cai Yuanpei had become its president. He encouraged debate and built staff representing every shade of opinion. While China’s own culture remained the foundation of education it was studied critically. Typical was the work of Gu Jiegang, the young historian who applied to the classics the methods he has already used in his studies of the colloquial drama, treating the classics as accretions of tradition. The most influential writer at Beijing was Chen Duxiu. In his journal ‘New Youth’ he encouraged his contributors in an open minded search for radical solutions to the nation’s problems. He preached science and democracy as the basis of renewed national strength. He launched a head on attack on Confucianism, dismissing it as irrelevant to the modern world. Above all, he brusquely dismissed the central dilemma which faced china, the choice between preserving her culture and preserving her existence as a nation. In an essay which persuaded new way called ‘New Year 1916’, Chen Duxiu rhapsodized: The epoch in which you are living, what epoch is this?.....To live in the present world, you must raise your head and proudly call yourself a person of the 20th century and not confine yourself to the following the 19th. For evolution of human civilization is replacing the old with the new, like a river flowing on, an arrowing flying away, constantly continuing and constantly changing. (pg.208) Another example from, Hsu (2002) suggest Chen Duxiu called for the destruction of conservatism in order to make room for constructing a new culture. We indeed do not know which of our traditional institutions may be fit for survival in the modern world. I would rather see the ruin of our traditional ‘national quintessence’ than have our race of the present and future extinguished because of its unfitness for survival….The world continually progresses and will not stop. All those who cannot change themselves and keep pace with it are unfit for survival and will be eliminated by the processes of natural selection. Therefore, what is the good of conservatism (pg. 498). Chen Duixu’s bold attack on traditionalism opened up a new vista in the musty intellectual world, and quickly won him an enthusiastic following the educated youth. A third young member of the Beijing staff was Hu shi recently returned from America. He had studied first under liberty bailey at Cornell, then at Columbia under the philosopher John Dewey, whose central tenet, that truth as we can know it is no more than inductively verified prescriptions for change, was an idea whose relevance to china seems very obvious to the new generation. Dewey’s pragmatism gave Chen Duxiu’s appeal for open-minded, radical thought a philosophical foundation. The spark which lit this...
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