May Fourth Movement

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May Fourth Movement

(1919), first mass movement in modern Chinese history. On May 4, about 5,000 university students in Beijing protested the Versailles Conference (Apr. 28, 1919) awarding Japan the former German leasehold of KiaochowKiaochow
or Jiaozhou
, former German territory, area c.200 sq mi (520 sq km), along the southern coast of Shandong prov., China. Its administrative center was the city of Qingdao. Germany leased Kiaochow in 1898 for 99 years, but in 1914 Japan seized it.
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 (Jiaozhou), Shandong prov. Demonstrations and strikes spread to Shanghai, and a nationwide boycott of Japanese goods followed. The May Fourth Movement began a patriotic outburst of new urban intellectuals against foreign imperialists and warlordswarlord,
in modern Chinese history, autonomous regional military commander. In the political chaos following the death (1916) of republican China's first president and commander in chief, Yüan Shih-kai, central authority fell to the provincial military governors and
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. Intellectuals identified the political establishment with China's failure in the modern era, and hundreds of new periodicals published attacks on Chinese traditions, turning to foreign ideas and ideologies. The movement split into leftist and liberal wings. The latter advocated gradual cultural reform as exemplified by Hu ShihHu Shih
, 1891–1962, Chinese philosopher and essayist, leading liberal intellectual in the May Fourth Movement (1917–23). He studied under John Dewey at Columbia Univ., becoming a lifelong advocate of pragmatic evolutionary change.
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 who interpreted the pragmatism of John Dewey, while leftists like Chen DuxiuChen Duxiu
or Ch'en Tu-hsiu
, 1879–1942, Chinese educator and Communist party leader. He was active in the republican revolution of 1911 and was forced to flee to Japan after taking part in the abortive "second revolution" of 1913 against Yüan Shih-kai.
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 and Li DazhaoLi Dazhao
, 1888–1927, professor of history and librarian at Beijing Univ., cofounder of the Chinese Communist party with Chen Duxiu. He was the first important Chinese intellectual to support the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.
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 introduced Marxism and advocated political action. The movement also popularized vernacular literature, promoted political participation by women, and educational reforms.


See Hu Shih, The Chinese Renaissance (2d ed. 1964); V. Schwarcz, Chinese Enlightenment Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May 4th Movement of 1919 (1986).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

May Fourth Movement


a mass anti-imperialist movement in China in May and June 1919.

Influenced by the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, the May Fourth’ Movement developed in response to the decision of the Paris Peace Conference not to return to China the former German concessions in Shantung, which had been captured by the Japanese. It began on May 4,1919, in Peking, where students demonstrated against the decision and the betrayal of Chinese national interests by the venal leaders of the Peking government. The police arrested several dozen demonstrators; the students of Peking responded the following day by boycotting classes and declaring a strike.

The action of the students in Peking was supported by students in other cities, and in early June workers, the urban petite bourgeoisie, and the nationalist bourgeoisie joined the struggle. The principal center of the movement shifted from Peking to Shanghai, where 50,000–70,000 workers and nearly all the merchants went on strike. Under pressure from the popular masses, the Peking government was forced to dismiss the three officials who had compromised themselves most by their ties with the Japanese imperialists. The May Fourth Movement provided a strong impetus to the development of the working-class and national liberation movement in China and fostered the dissemination of Marxism throughout the country.


Dvizhenie “4 maia” 1919 goda v Kitae. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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