Political and Social Movements

Indian Reform Movement

What was the May Fourth movement?

It was a mass movement that emerged in China after May 4, 1919, when students in Beijing protested one of the outcomes of the peace conference held at Versailles earlier that year to officially settle World War I (1914–18): Japan, which had seized German territories in China during the war, was given control of the holdings. Student demonstrators criticized a weakened Chinese government for allowing the Japanese occupation. Following the death of powerful leader Yuan Shih-k’ai (1859–1916), the country’s central government crumbled: In northern China local military leaders (called war lords) rose to power, continually challenging the authority of the capital at Beijing. Meanwhile, revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) had begun promoting his three great principles—nationalism, democracy, and people’s livelihood—in southern China, where he gained the support of military leaders in the region. At about the same time, Chinese intellectuals had begun attacking traditional culture and society, urging government reforms and the modernization of industry. The May Fourth movement fanned the fires of revolution. The movement would have far-reaching—and unforseen—results. And some might argue that the story has not yet played out.

In 1919 Sun reorganized the Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party and began recruiting student followers. Two years later he became president of a self-proclaimed national government of the Southern Chinese Republic, establishing the capital at Guangzhou (Canton). His sights were set on conquering northern China. Toppling the northern war lords to reunify the country, in 1924 Sun began cooperating with both the Soviets and the Communist groups that had been formed by students following the 1919 protest. Under Sun’s leadership, the Nationalist Party began preparing for war. But Sun, who is regarded as the “father of modern China,” would not live to see the culmination of his plans: He died of cancer in 1925. Under military leader Chiang Kai-shek (1887–1975), the Kuomintang turned on its Communist members, whose leaders fled in fear of the generalissimo. In 1928, following a two-year military campaign, Chiang led the nationalists to capture Beijing, reuniting China under one government for the first time in 12 years. His rule of China lasted until 1949, when Communists won control of the mainland and Mao Tse-tung (1893–1976) became the first chairman of the People’s Republic of China. The expelled Chiang and his followers established a Chinese nationalist government on the island of Taiwan. Back on the mainland, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, his massive collectivization of agriculture and industry, brought economic failure and a two-year famine to China in the late 1950s.


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