The true legacy of the May Fourth protests – Zhang Lijia

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Zhang Lijia

One hundred years ago students protested in Beijing for patriotism and democracy. President Xi Jinping has jumped on the centennial anniversary by praising the patriotism of the May Fourth protests. Commentator Zhang Lijia notes that he ignored that democracy was an inherent part of its legacy, she writes in the South China Morning Post.

Zhang Lijia:

Back in May 1989, as a patriotic young factory worker in Nanjing, I organised a protest among factory workers in support of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing because I was inspired by our forebears of 1919. As both the centenary of the May Fourth Movement and the 30th anniversary of the June 4 incident approach, I can’t help but link the two events and wonder about China’s future.

Xi is keen to situate the May Fourth Movement in the context of the history of the Communist Party, which was founded by revolutionaries, including Chen, in 1921. At school, we all learned how the party ended China’s “century of humiliation” at the hands of Western powers and put the country on the road to rejuvenation. Many party leaders emerged during the May Fourth Movement, including Mao Zedong, who was an activist in Changsha in the summer of 1919.

However, this is just part of the story. There is also an anti-authoritarian streak in the May Fourth Movement. In the lead-up to the 1919 protests, intellectuals such as Japan-educated Chen and his Peking University colleague, US-educated Hu Shih, not only revolted against traditional Chinese culture but also explored liberalism, pragmatism, individualism, feminism and even anarchism. Freedom of thought and tolerance were two highly prized values.At the centre of this intellectual ferment were Mr Democracy and Mr Science.

More in the South China Morning Post.

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