The Impact and Legacy of the May 4th Incident
In the immediate aftermath of the May Fourth Incident, Students in Beijing organized themselves into a general student union that included both men and women in order to organize a strike on their classes until their arrested compatriots were released, which finally occurred on May the 7th.1 Many Chinese who sympathized with the nationalistic sentiments of were outraged at the response of the government and at the Japanese, and in light of this, strikes and boycotts of Japanese goods spread throughout the nation in the weeks and months following the events in Beijing.2 From the perspective of the Protesters, the May 4th Incident was a partial success, as the Chinese delegation in Versailles chose, in spite of official orders from the Beijing government, not to sign the treaty, making them the only Entente power to refuse to do so.3 In addition to their actions in the ensuing protests, which took place mainly in the coastal cities, intellectuals, merchants, and workers also began to transfer their outrage into political action in the coming years, with many joining Sun Yat-Sen’s Goumindang (GMD).4 However, the outrage over the Versailles treaty also contributed to the development of another type of party that would play a major role in Chinese politics in the future.
For many Chinese intellectuals, China's treatment in the Versailles treaty produced a disillusionment with Wilsonian Liberalism and caused them to search for more radical solutions to the problems facing Chinese society.5 With this in mind, and the October Revolution in Russia providing an example of revolutionary change in a formerly ineffective and weak government, many Chinese began to look to Marxism as a possible solution for China.6 As these ideas about Marxism developed and official support from the newly formed Communist International became available,7 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was finally founded in 1921 with New Culture intellectual Chen Duxiu playing a critical role in its leadership.8 In light of this connection between the CCP, the New Culture Movement, and both the May 4th Incident and Movement, official CCP party discourse often places the events of May 4th 1919 as a precursor to the liberation of the Chinese nation from imperialism and nationalist corruption that they had achieved with the founding of the PRC in 1949.9
In addition to these political developments, the May 4th Incident was the beginning of a wider cultural phenomenon known as the May Fourth Movement.10 Within the May Fourth Movement was a continuation of the various social, political, and educational critiques of Chinese society that had been present in the New Culture Movement alongside new critiques that took into account the rise of ideologies like Marxism11 Included in the May Fourth Movement was a continued salience and discussion of the “Woman Issue” in Chinese society, that was increasingly joined by women themselves, with writers like Lu Yin, Feng Yuanjun, Ding Ling, Bei Wei, and Xiao Hong providing new perspectives on the May Fourth Movement's discourse.12
1 Chow, Tse-Tsung. The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964. 123-128.
2 Zarrow, Peter. China in war and revolution, 1895 - 1949. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2007. 149
3 Ibid,. 155
4 Gray, Jack. Rebellions and revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 199
5 Zarrow, Peter. China in war and revolution, 1895 - 1949. 173
6 Gray, Jack. Rebellions and revolutions: China from the 1800s to the 2000. 202
7 Ibid,. 210
8 Chan, Wing-tsit, et al. Sources of Chinese Tradition: Volume 2: From 1600 Through the Twentieth Century. Edited by De Bary Wm. Theodore and Lufrano Richard. Columbia University Press, 2000. 396
9 Zarrow, Peter. China in war and revolution, 1895 – 1949. 149
10 Chow, Tse-Tsung. The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China. 254
11 Ibid., 254-255
12 Dooling, Amy D., and Kristina M. Torgeson. Writing women in modern China: an anthology of womens literature from the early twentieth century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. 31-32