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

 The English empire engaged in planned military, religious and political conquests that elevated Protestantism in the American colonies during the years 1689-1690. During 1688, Lord Churchill’s military coup sparked a pursuit of religious and political dominance in England, and such a pursuit carried over into the colonies in America. As such, the military was a portal into political positions for soldiers. Furthermore, the English empire engaged in stringent military training, employed political positions based upon a system of meritocracy, and carried out the endeavors of the Crown nearly a century before the onset of the American Revolution.[1]


According to known historian Charles M. Andrews, the American colonies were not the result of a planned English conquest.[2] Additionally, Mr. Andrews further asserted that England became one of the world’s greatest colonizing powers without any “fixed policy, in fact, without any clear idea of what she and her people were doing.”[3] However, to the contrary, the English empire has an extensive military history that rests upon a system of meritocracy; in fact, the military used planned tactics, combined with the support of the local provincial soldiers, to gain control of Boston and Maine during 1689.[4]

The English empire used garrison government as a system that placed skilled soldiers into high-ranking military and political positions in England and America.[5] The English empire was a combative body that used military garrisons as a representation of strength and organization to intimidate outside forces and enforce domestic order.[6] The English empire used garrison government because it was a system that produced military and political dominance in pursuit of religious and imperialistic endeavors throughout Britain and the English colonies. “The army was the forceful and administrative foundation of the nation-state and its American empire.”[7]



Reciprocity, or gift exchange, shaped the Iroquois way of life. It was through reciprocity in which communities were built, alliances formed, peace maintained, and trade preserved. Additionally, the lack or unwillingness to exchange gifts resulted in hostility towards villages and nations, unfriendliness towards European colonists, and resulted in war. Reciprocity was revered so highly among the Iroquois because gift exchange was a part of the Cosmogonic Myth, an important aspect of Iroquois spirituality.

Iroquois reciprocity was entrenched in their belief in the Cosmogonic Myth; which was a mythological belief based on the Sky World. The Cosmogonic Myth details the creation of the universe as the Iroquois believe it transpired.[1] Sky Woman and her husband were two vital participants in the Cosmogonic Myth an­­­­d they resided in the Sky World. Like a courting ritual, Sky Woman and her husband exchanged gifts and obligations with each other to establish their relationship. Sky Woman took care of her prospective husband by cooking him a “potent” soup which cured his illness. Sky Woman brought her husband bread baked with berries; her potential husband sent her home with enough venison to nearly fill her house.[2]

Charles M. Andrews was wrong to associate the “blind unreason of revolt” with the actions of the American revolutionaries.[1] The revolutionaries were able political organizers who persuaded the people in Massachusetts to defend their life, liberty and towns against the Crown.[2] In Massachusetts, the American revolutionaries coupled effective military strategy with political solidarity to defend themselves from the British Regulars.[3]


            The Crown did not tolerate colonial activity that challenged the mother country’s constitutional authority over the colonies. The colonies were not supposed to interrupt the course of trade with Great Britain.[4] During the second half of the eighteenth century, British Parliament placed burdensome and restrictive economic and political policies on the colonies, such as the Sugar Act of 1764, the Declaratory Act of 1766, and the Tea Act of 1773.[5] “Between 1764 and 1774, Great Britain imposed on her American colonies a series of measures that plunged the empire into periodic and ever more serious crises until the armed confrontation of April 19, 1775.”[6]

            During 1764, Parliament imposed the Sugar Act on the American colonies. The Sugar Act, revised from the Molasses Act of 1733, initiated a series of aggressive policies placed on the colonies; followed by the Stamp Act of 1765, the Declaratory Act of 1766, the Townsend Acts of 1767, and then the Tea Act of 1773. The Sugar Act was enacted to curtail illegal sugar and molasses smuggling from the French West Indies to the Northern colonies in America.[7] The colonists had a long history of smuggling sugar, rum and molasses from the French, as well as from other foreign colonies in the West Indies, as a way to increase their own individual prosperity. The colonists were not opposed to alternative business markets that could aid with their financial prosperity, even if such relationships did not benefit the Crown. However, the Crown viewed the colonists as British subjects and further maintained that all benefits of trade, originally, belonged to Great Britain.[8] The Crown aimed to keep the colonists from profiting off of foreign markets, as well as from hurting British trade. Moreover, the Crown also needed to raise money to support its imperial agenda.

            During 1764, Great Britain viewed the profits rendered from colonial trade as insignificant and attempted a direct tax, or fee, on the colonists.[9] The Stamp Act of 1765 burdened colonists to pay a direct tax for paper from the Crown, or imprint with a rubber stamp all newspapers, pamphlets, marriage certificates, wills, diplomas and all other paper documents that circulated throughout the colonies. Depending on the type of transaction, a paper transaction could range from half a penny to ten pounds. The Crown demanded payment in hard money, which was scarce, and this further threatened to drain finances.[10] Many colonists felt they had to give their money to Great Britain “as oft and in what quantity they please to demand it.”[11]Although the colonist repealed the Stamp Act in Parliament, shortly after it was enacted, the colonists still felt their prosperity was threatened and they grew resentful and fearful of worse things to come.[12]

The English development of the American colonies during the first four decades of the 17th century did not involve the legal institution of Negro slavery.[1] The English settlers had indentured servants during this time, but permanent Negro slavery did not legally exist. It was not until the tobacco colony of Virginia, in 1640, enacted a radical court order that helped develop the legal institution of Negro slavery throughout the Southern colonies in America.[2]


            The journey across the Atlantic Ocean was expensive. The less financially fortunate settlers arrived as indentured servants to their master.[3] Indentured servitude paid for the servant’s trip to America, but the servant had to honor the temporary contractual arrangement in order to get released as a free person.[4] An indentured servant was bound by a contract to serve their master for a set number of years, typically four to seven years or until the age of twenty-one.[5] While the servant was under contract, they “might be sold or conveyed from one master to another at any time” up to the expiration of the contract.[6] Indentured servitude was linked to the development of chattel slavery in America.[7]

            A shortage of labor and an abundance of land placed a high value on involuntary labor in the tobacco colony of Virginia.[8] The colony required cheap, permanent and tireless labor to harvest tobacco. Tobacco required labor intensive work, but not skilled work.[9] The Virginia colonists embarked upon creating an empire “upon smoke” and the requirement for permanent labor developed into a necessity for the colonists.[10]

Emperor Yongzheng used a once dedicated Ming-loyalist and Chinese citizen, Zeng Jing, as a tool of propaganda to prove the greatness of the new emperor’s rule over China during the years 1728-1735.[1]Emperor Yongzheng became heavily involved with his image as a noble ruler.[2] He invested a lot of time and resources into a single man that he let greatly influence his image as Emperor of China.[3]


The succession of Emperor Yongzheng was the result of a military coup.[4] The previous emperor, Emperor Kangxi, had fifty-six children.[5] Emperor Kangxi did name a successor to the throne; however, he then deemed the original heir apparent brutal, debauched, and unfit to rule.[6] Prior to the death of Kangxi during 1722, several of his sons divided into various factions and conspired against each other for the succession to the throne.[7] The fourth son, who became Emperor Yongzheng, seized the throne in a military coup.[8]There was doubt whether Emperor Yongzheng was the rightful heir to the throne.[9] Once he became emperor, he censored the record of his succession and silenced other writings that he deemed harmful to his regime or to the plight of the Manchus.[10] Emperor Yongzheng made it a part of his mission to squelch negative rumors about his succession, and he continued to look for examples to prove his heavenly mandate to rule.[11]

During October 1728, a Ming loyalist, Zeng Jing, conspired and had a treasonous message delivered to Emperor Yongzheng.[12] The letter detailed the reasons why a barbaric Manchu should not rule over the people of China.[13] Zeng believed Manchus were foreign barbarians and it was scholars, such as himself, “who best know how to be emperor.”[14]