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10-08-2015, 16:46

Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy: The New Culture Movement

Although the failure of the 1911 revolution was a clear sign that China was not yet ready for radical change, discontent with existing conditions continued to rise in various sectors of Chinese society. The most vocal protests came from radical intellectuals who opposed Yuan Shikai’s conservative rule but were now convinced that political change could not take place until the Chinese people were more familiar with trends in the outside world. Braving the displeasure of Yuan Shikai and his successors, progressive intellectuals at Beijing University launched the New Culture Movement, aimed at abolishing the remnants of the old system and introducing Western values and institutions into China. Using the classrooms of China’s most prestigious university as well as the pages of newly established progressive magazines and newspapers, they presented the Chinese people with a bewildering mix of new ideas, from the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell to the educational views of the American John Dewey and the feminist plays of Henrik Ibsen. As such ideas flooded into China, they stirred up a new generation of educated Chinese youth, who chanted “Down with Confucius and sons” and talked of a new era dominated by “Mr. Sai” (Mr. Science) and “Mr. De” (Mr. Democracy). No one was a greater defender of free thought and speech than the chancellor of Beijing University, Cai Yuanpei: So far as theoretical ideas are concerned, I follow the principles of “freedom of thought” and an attitude of broad tolerance in accordance with the practice of universities the world over. . . . Regardless of what school of thought a person may adhere to, so long as that person’s ideas are justified and conform to reason and have not been passed by through the process of natural selection, although there may be controversy, such ideas have a right to be presented.2 The problem was that appeals for American-style democracy and women’s liberation had little relevance to Chinese peasants, most of whom were still illiterate and concerned above all with survival. Consequently, the New Culture Movement did not win widespread support outside the urban areas. It certainly earned the distrust of conservative military officers, one of whom threatened to lob artillery shells into Beijing University to destroy the poisonous new ideas and their advocates. Discontent among intellectuals, however, was soon joined by the rising chorus of public protest against Japan’s efforts to expand its influence on the mainland. During the first decade of the twentieth century, Japan had taken advantage of the Qing’s decline to extend its domination over Manchuria and Korea (see Chapter 3). In 1915, the Japanese government insisted that Yuan Shikai accept a series of twenty-one demands thatwould have given Japan a virtual protectorate over the Chinese government and economy. Yuan was able to fend off the most far-reaching Japanese demands by arousing popular outrage in China, but at the Paris Peace Conference four years later, Japan received Germany’s sphere of influence in Shandong Province as a reward for its support of the Allied cause in WorldWar I. On hearing the news that the Chinese government had accepted the decision, on May 4, 1919, patriotic students, supported by other sectors of the urban population, demonstrated in Beijing and other major cities of the country. Although this May Fourth Movement did not result in a reversal of the decision to award Shandong to Japan, it did alert a substantial part of the politically literate population to the threat to national survival and the incompetence of the warlord government. By 1920, central authority had almost ceased to exist in China. Two political forces now began to emerge as competitors for the right to bring order to the chaos of the early republican era. One was Sun Yat-sen’s Nationalist Party. Driven from the political arena seven years earlier by Yuan Shikai, the party now reestablished itself on the mainland by making an alliance with the warlord ruler of Guangdong Province in South China. From Canton, Sun sought international assistance to carry out his national revolution. The other was the Chinese Communist Party. Following Lenin’s strategy, the CCP sought to link up with the more experienced Nationalists. Sun Yat-sen needed the expertise and the diplomatic support that the Soviet Union could provide because his anti-imperialist rhetoric had alienated many Western powers. In 1923, the two parties formed an alliance to oppose the warlords and drive the imperialist powers out of China. For three years, with the assistance of a Comintern mission in Canton, the two parties submerged their mutual suspicions and mobilized and trained a revolutionary army to march north and seize control over China. The so-called Northern Expedition began in the summer of 1926 (see Map 5.1). By the following spring, revolutionary forces were in control of all Chinese territory south of the Yangtze River, including the major river ports of Wuhan and Shanghai. But tensions between the two parties now surfaced. Sun Yat-sen had died of cancer in 1925 and was succeeded as head of the Nationalist Party by his military subordinate, Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang feigned support for the alliance with the Communists but actually planned to destroy them. In April 1927, he struck against the Communists and their supporters in Shanghai, killing thousands. The CCP responded by encouraging revolts in central China and Canton, but the uprisings were defeated and their leaders were killed or forced into hiding.