Weapons of Mass Creation

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