We begin today with a short journey in Chinese literature and history. In 1922, a book was published by Lǔ Xùn (鲁迅) entitled 呐喊 (Nahan), or A Call To Arms. In the preface, Xun discusses a story of an event that happened to him while studying medicine in Japan. He was presented with a ‘slide’ of an image taken during the Russo-Japanese War. In the image was a Chinese man about to be beheaded for spying on the Japanese. Xun was shocked at the expressions of Chinese in the picture. He surmised that, although they seemed to be in adequate physical health, they were “broken” spiritually. Lu Xun would go on to become one of the most internationally renowned Chinese authors, as well as one of the few participants in the 五四运动 (May Fourth Movement) not to join the Communist Party. (Chinese tend to utilize military terms as social commentary… or at least, for a double entendré. So, I am pointing out that I am not utilizing this term to ask people to commit violence, “A Call To Arms” was not meant to be a physical call to mobilize firearms, per se.)
I find the story of Lu Xun and the May Fourth Movement are highly relevant today. So, first we take a short trip to revisit a quick overview of the May 4th Movement. The root cause of the May Fourth Movement was the Treaty of Versailles. During WWI, China had joined forces with the Allies, on the ground that Germany would relinquish Shandong (山东) back to China. Shandong was the birthplace of Confucius and, therefore, a special place in China. Despite this, in the Treaty of Versailles, Shandong was conceded to Japan, instead of China. (Eventually, Shandong was conceded to China, with special privileges to the Japanese.)
The problem with the handling of Shandong did not go over well with the population of China. It caused the government to be viewed as ‘weak.’ This is especially problematic in China, with the concept of the Dynastic Cycle ( 朝代循环) and the Mandate of Heaven (天命) – (which is too much to detail here). The Qing Dynasty was overthrown in 1911 by the XinHai Revolution (辛亥革命) over anger of corruption and abuses by the Imperial Dynasty . . . the May Fourth Movement, or the New Culture Movement, quickly followed the XinHai Revolution. This was a massive student uprising that eventually led to the birth of “Chinese Communism.” It was also a pivotal point where China turned its back on Western Liberalism . . . because of feeling slighted by the Shandong problem and lack of proper enforcement of Wilson’s “Fourteen Points.” More or less: Chinese culture felt as though Western Imperialism would never accept Chinese culture.
What is really interesting in the May Fourth Movement, is that Chiang Kai-shek (or Jiǎng Jièshí) – a close ally of Sun Yat-sen, had decried Marxism as “Western interventionism” and “counter to Chinese ideals.” Chiang and Sun Yat-sen would go on to be an important figures in the formation of the KMT (KuoMingTan) in Taiwan. I find this interesting because we tend to look at Chinese Communism as the “foreign” or “oriental” philosophy, instead of the Imperialism of the KMT. It really is a matter of perspective. (Thank you, Nietzsche.)