Historical Focus and Political Rants

The Dreams that Fueled Hong Xiuquan


Dreams are often difficult to interpret. Dreams are believed to offer a metaphysical and divinatory knowledge, as well as provide ethical clarity concerning actions in the world. The leader of the Taiping Movement, Hong Xiuquan, relied on the dream world as proof of his calling from God to transform the minds of his followers. Hong used his dreams and his limited interpretation of the bible to persuade distressed and wealthy Chinese followers to believe he was their heavenly leader. Hong Xiuquan proclaimed there was a kingdom in heaven, yet he left earth a hell in his wake. His dream world validated his actions as a self-proclaimed prophet because Hong believed the will of heaven rested with him.

America’s open-door policy emerged from the interplay between the private and public sectors.[1] The reciprocal relationship between the American businessman and the American politician has roots traced back to a great debate between Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, and a coalition of American businessmen during 1899-1901.[2] The debate developed the strategy for America’s economic strength to “dominate all underdeveloped areas of the world.”[3] The partnership between the public and private sector endured throughout the decades due to the strong understanding that the American businessmen must have an overseas market for their product to ensure America’s domestic prosperity.[4] The open door policy helped shape American foreign policy from 1900-1958.


            The depression and social unrest that occurred during the 1890’s prompted American manufacturers, American farmers, American merchants and American entrepreneurial groups to blame a lack of available markets to sell their products as the reason for the poor economic climate of the country.[5] As a result, American leaders concluded that overseas expansion would provide an outlet to end such tensions.[6] The open door policy provided the proper tactics for the United States to embark on world expansion of its financial market, as well as the strategy required to open such markets for the sale of American products in underdeveloped countries.[7]

            The “Review of the World’s Commerce,” a report prepared by the State Department’s Bureau of Foreign Commerce on April 25, 1898, noted that American artisans and operatives must have access to sell their goods in foreign markets if such livelihoods are expected to keep their employment throughout the entire year.[8] Government officials invested their time on behalf of the private companies, and on behalf of such company interests to expand the private sector overseas.[9] The State Department’s Bureau of Foreign Commerce vowed to become a staunch competitor in “the world-wide struggle for trade.”[10]

The Great American Orator

Wendell Phillips was an American orator who aimed to discredit the Constitution of the United States because he believed the document supported slavery and created a national divide. Despite his contempt for the United States Constitution, Phillips realized the importance of American politics and American institutions. He understood the power of public opinion and harnessed his oratory skill to preach “revolution to thoughtful men” in the North. During the years 1850-1875, Wendell Phillips dominated the American lecture platform.

Wendell Phillips was frustrated with the political inactivity to manumit the slaves in the United States. Phillips could not tolerate the constant backsliding of the Northern politician and their wavering stance on civil liberties for the bondsman. He called Abraham Lincoln “that slavehound from Illinois.” Due to political ambiguities that surrounded slavery and freedom, Phillips felt compelled to attack and agitate the public on topics related to the abolition of slavery for the bondsman. He felt politicians would not adamantly pursue the immorality of slavery. Wendell Phillips attempted to bring about social change via public speaking. He made his reputation by telling people what they did not want to hear, and he was relentless in his mission to bring freedom to the slaves.




Changing a Country with Writing, Literature, and Protests



To renovate the people of a nation, the fictional literature of that nation must first be renovated…..to renovate morality, we must renovate fiction, to renovate manners we must first renovate fiction….to renew the people’s hearts and minds and remold their character, we must first renovate fiction. ~Liang Qichao


                The Chinese Enlightenment of the 20th century was initiated in 1915[1] by intellectuals that united together in an effort to turn their shared ideas of a cultural awakening into political action demonstrated through protests, literature, and organized societies.[2] The May Fourth Revolution during 1919 connected science with democracy, and this challenged past traditions of filial devotion to parents, subservience to the state, and cultural superstitions in China.[3] The use of writing, literature, and protest activities were vital tools used by student demonstrators to awaken society to critical thought with a hope of leading China towards a more democratic state among the other nations of the world.[4]

            China’s inability to consolidate power after the 1911 Republican Revolution re-opened the door to imperial restoration, authoritarian politics, and warlord militarism.[5] Between the years 1911-1920, the country’s cultural history was challenged by ideas of the Enlightenment that fostered concepts of democracy, science, and critical rationality.[6] Confucianism, filial devotion, and superstitions were being challenged as backward thinking.[7] Delivering the ideas of the Enlightenment to the masses was a great struggle for the May Fourth activists.[8] The activists realized literature was the way to change the minds of the masses and a way to implement democratic values into Chinese society.[9] Literature was used as an instrument of the Enlightenment to help change a country’s identity.[10]

            The New Youth magazine, founded in September 1915 and directed towards an older and more sophisticated audience[11], believed the ultimate source of Chinese weakness was “to be fought in the realm of ideas and values.”[12] The New Youth magazine took many Western ideas and introduced them to China, such as: the emancipation of women and youth, science, individual freedom, Darwinism, and utilitarianism.[13] The magazine berated traditional Chinese ideas, values, institutions, and Confucianism.[14] Human rights became a rally cry. Democracy was touted as the “new tides” of the world and a national awakening was heralded by many members of the New Youth magazine.[15]

            Being able to think critically was viewed as a way to step closer to individual autonomy.[16] Traditional family customs were viewed as a way to keep an individual from finding their true self and personal happiness.[17] Patriotism was argued as nothing but blind loyalty to the state, and it was further argued that China needed citizens who could think clearly about specific problems.[18] The application of science and understanding the laws of cause and effect were championed as a way to approach the critical review of past traditions and future problems.[19] Radical intellectuals wanted to destroy the system of Chinese traditional values with hope of giving China a new identity.[20]

            The New Tide magazine was published in December 1918.[21] The target audience was middle-school graduates.[22] The magazine wanted all middle-school students throughout the country to fight for spiritual emancipation.[23] The magazine wanted students to embrace “modern scientific thought” and become “pioneers of the future.”[24] The magazine attacked Confucian values and feudal-minded social practices.[25] The New Youth and the New Tide publications advocated for the “reasoned doubt of all inherited customs and beliefs.”[26] These two publications provided a platform for like-minded intellectuals to inform the reading public, which was approximately five percent of China’s population, about a new culture and thought that defied the traditional conventions of Confucian scholars and the superstitions of the common people.[27] Critical rationality was encouraged by Enlightenment intellectuals, and the use of science was championed to understand problems versus relying on the traditional values of Confucianism as a guide for answers.[28] Radical intellectuals were motivated by a spirit of criticism.[29] Reliance upon Confucianism was frowned upon because it involved a complex system of allegiance to family hierarchy that was enforced and rewarded through the imperial bureaucratic system.[30] The advocates of the Enlightenment identified traditional values with “outworn habits,” especially habits of the mind and argued traditional values prevented citizens from benefiting from the individual and social autonomy made possible by the destruction of the imperial bureaucratic state of 1911.[31] Confucianism was associated with autocracy.[32] The Enlightenment advocates believed they had to change the mental outlook of the masses in order to save China.[33] A change in politics had to start with a change in the “habits of mind.”[34]

            More than three thousand students embarked upon Tiananmen Square on May 4, 1919, to defend the country’s poor treatment at the Paris Peace Conference and to demand the Chinese government fight to regain parts of China currently held by Germany, notably the Shandong Province, instead of allowing the area to transfer to Japan.[35] Students carried placards that read “Refuse to Sign the Peace Treaty!” “Oppose Power Politics!”[36] The protest activity led to the arrest of thirty-two Beijing students.[37] The students started a movement that ignited student rallies in major cities throughout China.[38] The students called for a boycott of German and Japanese goods; the removal of three Chinese officials who didn’t stand up for China at the Paris Peace Conference; instructed Chinese officials to not sign the Treaty of Versailles; and requested the release of all the protestors from prison.[39] The students’ united political efforts halted business in Shanghai for nearly two weeks until the officials were removed from office.[40] Factory workers showed their support by marching the streets and carrying signs that read “We are proud to be the rear guard of the great student movement.”[41] The May Fourth movement began a national crusade towards a “cultural and political awakening.”[42] The movement started the path towards a more modern China.[43] A path that took China farther away from feudalism.[44]

            During December 1920, students and teachers started the Society for Literary Research.[45] Among the members were New Youth editor Zhou Zuoren, New Tide contributors Ye Shengtao, Sun Fuyuan, and Zhu Ziqing.[46] The goal was to make literature an “active force in shaping Chinese social consciousness.”[47] Literature was used as a way to change thought.[48] The Society for Literary Research provided a vessel to expand upon the literature and ideas of the May Fourth movement.[49]

            Students involved in the May Fourth movement came together as a result of a “shared awakening and a similar mind-set.”[50] The founding of the New Tide magazine was started by people that joined together because they felt “their previous life and thinking had been aimless.”[51] The May Fourth advocates had a mission to bring social enlightenment to the masses.[52] “The generation of 1919 was the last-and thus the decisive-generation to break the bonds that had tied generations of their predecessors to the hierarchy of emperor and minister.”[53]

            Zhang Shenfu, a member of the New Tide society and instructor of mathematical logic at Beijing University, argued in his published article “Dangerous Thoughts” that all thought, not only “new ideas,” proposed danger and revolution because it “mercilessly upsets customary arrangements of privilege.”[54] Critical thought is necessary to examine culture and history and “the future belongs only to those who dare to think.”[55]                           

[1] Schwarcz, Vera, “A Curse on the Great Wall: The Problem of Enlightenment in Modern China,” Theory and Society, Vol. 13, No. 3 (May, 1984), pg. 457, http://www.jstor.org/stable/657460 (Accessed May 15, 2017).

[2] Jeffrey Wassterstrom and Liu Xinyong, “Student Protest and Student Life: Shanghai, 1919-49,” Social History, Vol. 14, No. 1 (January, 1989), pg. 3, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4285735 (Accessed May 18, 2017).

[3] Schwarcz, Vera, The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919 (University of California Press, 1986) pgs. 99, 106-107

[4] Ibid pg. 137

[5] Gu, Edward X., “Who was Mr. Democracy? The May Fourth Discourse of Populist Democracy and the Radicalization of Chinese Intellectuals (1915-1922),” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 32, No. 3 (July, 2001), pg. 591, http://www.jstor.org/stable/313182 (Accessed May 12, 2017).

[6] Schwarcz, Vera “A Curse on the Great Wall: The Problem of Enlightenment in Modern China,” pgs. 456-458

[7] Schwarcz, Vera, The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, pgs. 107-109

[8] Ibid pg. 138

[9] Ibid pgs. 37, 125

[10] Ibid pg. 76

[11] Ibid pg. 68

[12] Gu, Edward X., pg. 591

[13] Ibid pg. 592

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid pgs. 592-595

[16] Schwarcz, Vera, The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, pg. 137

[17] Ibid pgs. 107-109, 116-117

[18] Ibid pg. 38

[19] Ibid pgs. 100-101

[20] Gu, Edward X., pg. 591-592

[21] Schwarcz, Vera, “A Curse on the Great Wall: The Problem of Enlightenment in Modern China, pg. 457

[22] Schwarcz, Vera, The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, pg. 68

[23] Ibid pg. 69

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid pg. 158

[26] Schwarcz, Vera, “A Curse on the Great Wall: The Problem of Enlightenment in Modern China, pgs. 457-458

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid pg. 464

[30] Ibid pg. 460

[31] Ibid pgs. 456

[32] Schwarcz, Vera, The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, pg. 123

[33] Ibid pg. 94

[34] Ibid pg. 117

[35] Jeffrey Wassterstrom and Liu Xinyong, pg. 5

[36] Schwarcz, Vera, The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, pgs. 14-15

[37] Jeffrey Wassterstrom and Liu Xinyong, pg. 5

[38] Ibid

[39] Ibid

[40] Ibid

[41] Schwarcz, Vera, The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, pg. 147

[42] Ibid pg. 7

[43] Chung, Tan, “China’s Unending Quest for Mr. D and Mr. S,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 23 (June 5-11, 1999), pg. 1411, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4408045 (Accessed May 18, 2017)

[44] Schwarcz, Vera, The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, pg. 7

[45] Ibid, pg. 142

[46] Ibid

[47] Ibid pg. 142

[48] Ibid

[49] Ibid pg. 96

[50] Ibid pg. 69

[51] Ibid

[52] Ibid pg. 10

[53] Ibid pg. 26

[54] Schwarcz, Vera, “A Curse on the Great Wall: The Problem of Enlightenment in Modern China, p. 465.

[55] Ibid