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

American President, Thomas Jefferson, admired the small farmer’s humble ability to live an independent life toiling on farm land in an effort to produce a simple abundance of crops to support the family.[1] Such a simplistic approach to life led to the noble development of the yeoman’s heroic reputation in America.[2] However, the yeoman farmer was indeed a commercial farmer and not independent of the market, as indicated by theorist that perpetuated the agrarian myth.[3] When the opportunity to sell crops was made available the small farmer did not limit crop production to the needs of the family, as the agrarian myth implies.[4] The virtuous image of the yeoman farmer is more applicable to a type of status designation of a myth-based character than to the reality of life of the 18th century small American farmer.[5]

            The word yeoman was not readily used during the 18th century.[6]According to American bibliographer Charles Evans’s work entitled American Bibliography, the word yeoman is not located in the more than thirty thousand literary works published in the United States between the years 1760-1800.[7] Thomas Jefferson’s most infamous work titled The Notes on the State of Virginia does not include the word yeoman, but words such as husbandmen, poor, farmer and laborer are used.[8] The word yeomanry was used, more so, to describe the common or ordinary people of the 18th century.[9] The ordinary farmer lived independently and toiled on farm land in an attempt to produce a decent crop; however, such independence was typically a result from a lack of transportation to sell their goods abroad, from a lack of money to increase their farm production, or from the lack of an accessible market to sell more crops to the public.[10] Once the farmer had such access or ability to sell crops, then an opportunity to make money was not disregarded.[11] Although the small farmer is respected for living off the land, the poor farmer attempted commercialism when opportunity was available in an effort to increase financial profit for the family.[12]

President Ronald Reagan condoned fiscal irresponsibility and political corruption and this allowed a revolving door effect between government and industry.[1] Reagan was surrounded by government employees who dedicated their allegiance to the business industry. Individuals with a genuine dedication to public service were typically excluded from Reagan’s political circle.[2] The Reagan Administration represented a period when the president viewed the government as trite, and those government employees with a penchant for greed and a lack of ethics profited well under this administration.[3] The Wedtech scandal, a scandal that involved military contracts to the armed services of the United States, is an example of the hands-off approach to fiscal responsibility within the White House during the Reagan Administration.[4]

            Ronald Reagan was not surrounded by people who held the federal government or public service in high regard.[5] An attitude of contempt towards government and the public sector was a common viewpoint held within the Reagan Administration.[6] Several of Reagan’s top government officials, such as Attorney General Edwin Meese and Reagan’s political director Lyn Nofziger, were engaged in political corruption that included influence peddling, fraud, bribery and conspiracy.[7] Such a violation of ethics by Meese and Nofzinger allowed a once struggling machine shop in Bronx, New York, to receive U.S. Pentagon no-bid contracts that totaled $250 million.[8]

            The Wedtech Corporation, formerly known as the Welbilt Electronic Die Corporation, was a struggling minority business during 1981.[9] By the end of 1981, the machine shop accumulated a net loss of $1 million.[10] The business was trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to win a five-year defense contract to produce small gasoline engines for the Army.[11] The machine shop did not win such contract because its bid was deemed too high. The Army wanted to pay $19.5 million for the engines, but the machine shop placed their bid at $39 million.[12]

Young Franklin Delano Roosevelt was politically impartial to helping laborers.[1]Tammany district boss, George Washington Plunkitt, helped change the political perspective of FDR.[2] During the United States Depression, FDR eventually became the voice which brought back the crippled labor workforce, and he helped lay the foundation for collective bargaining for the American worker.[3]

            During the coal strike of 1902, FDR criticized his cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, for getting involved with the strike on behalf of the American workers.[4] As a law student at Harvard University, Franklin Roosevelt was politically conservative but he received beneficial political advice from a Tammany district boss named George Plunkitt.[5] Mr. Plunkitt suggested that a true political education came from listening to the people.[6] Franklin Roosevelt heeded such advice during his political career, and made a point to understand the concerns of the American people.[7]

            During 1913, Franklin Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the United State’s Navy under President Woodrow Wilson.[8] During such employment, FDR learned to listen to the worker and to the complaints of organized labor.[9] Franklin had to deal with the organized pressure of the Navy League of the United States, which was mainly comprised of steel and shipping merchants and industry leaders. He once told a group of machinists “I want you all to feel that you can come to me at any time in my office and we can talk matters over.”[10] FDR carried the Navy experience into his position as United States President.[11]

During the mid 19th century throughout many northern states such as New York and Pennsylvania, Catholics were socially and politically ostracized by Protestants.[1] During this time, Catholics living in Florida did not experience a strong anti-Catholic movement like the Know-Nothing political party that campaigned around several northern states.[2] But by 1910, anti-Catholic feeling was on the rise in Florida.[3] The propaganda campaign initiated by a disillusioned populist politician, Tom Watson, corrupted rural areas in Florida with anti-Catholic propaganda.[4] Between the years of 1910-1917, the misinformation initiated by Watson helped rupture Florida’s church-state relationship with Catholics.[5]  

During 1855 residents of Florida, notably the political participants in the American Party that represented Leon County, expressed resentment towards the arrival of new Catholic immigrants to the state; however, the majority of Florida did not hold any strong animus towards Catholic immigration.[6] Florida differed from the national trend during the mid-19th century because the state did not engage in a heavy anti-Catholic campaign like many northern states.[7] Catholics were typically viewed unfavorably in Florida, as there was a distrust of Catholics held by Protestants, but these feelings did not manifest into any significant anti-Catholic movement until the 20th century.[8]  

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.