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Who was Mr Democracy? The May Fourth Discourse of Populist Democracy and the Radicalization of Chinese Intellectuals (1915-1922)

  • EDWARD X. GU (a1)

Democracy is a symbol of the May Fourth era, and one of the two cores of the so-called ‘May Fourth spirit’ that generations of Chinese liberal intellectuals energetically want to carry forward in order to promote the liberal develop ment of democratization in China. In an essay published in January 1919 to celebrate the third anniversary of the publication of Xin Qingnian (New Youth), Chen Duxiu, one of the intellectual leaders of the New Culture Movement, respectfully gave democracy and science the nicknames ‘Mr Democracy’ (de xiansheng) and ‘Mr Science’ (sai xiansheng), and proclaimed that ‘only these two gentlemen can save China from the political, moral, academic, and intellectual darkness in which it finds itself’.Chen Duxiu, ‘Xin qingnian zuian zhi dabianshu’ (New Youth's reply to charges against the magazine), Xin Qingnian (New Youth): (hereafter cited as XQN), Vol. 6, No. 1 (15 Jan. 1919), pp. 10-11. Seven decades later, on the eve of the People's Movement on the Tiananmen square in spring 1989, many Chinese intellectuals published enormous essays or articles on the legacies of the ‘May Fourth spirit’, challenging the official monopoly over the power of historical interpretation.For more details about the ideological struggle for the historical interpretation of the May Fourth spirit between official historians and liberal intellectuals, see Gu Xin, Zhongguo Qimeng de Lishi Tujing (Historical Image of the Chinese Enlightenment) (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1992). One of the major themes in these essays or articles was the appeal to the young generation of Chinese intellectuals to strive for liberty, democracy, and science by inheriting the ‘May Fourth spirit’.

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Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
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