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China, May 4th movement

Michael J. Thompson

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place Eastern Asia » China

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

People Mao Zedong

Key-Topics democracy, rebellion, revolution, student movements

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00346.x


The May 4th movement in China is generally considered to mark the inception of modern Chinese history. A movement of students and intellectuals, it sought to challenge the pre-modern nature of Chinese society, culture, and politics. The members of this movement were united by their insistence that Chinese society be reworked by democracy and modern science; that the older Confucian traditions and feudal institutions of the past be swept away by more enlightened, rational forms of life; and for an insistence on a new humanism which would be able to transform the “inner life” of Chinese people. It was also an explicitly nationalist movement in the sense that it was seen that corrupt officials and foreign domination (both by western powers and the Japanese) were corroding Chinese society and its future. The initial thrusts of the May 4th movement concerned an opposition to the increasing imperial presence within China's borders, but they also concerned the increasing corruption within China itself. China's weakness can be traced to the late Qing Dynasty when it became increasingly difficult for the central government to provide military defense against bandits within the countryside. As a result, local lords began to organize their own militias. Over time, this led to the increasing power of local lords and the weakening of the central state. This loose connection of powerful lords ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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