The May Fourth Movement (五四運動) and the New Culture Movement (新文化運動) emerged from the same historical background, but differed in how they arose, what they stood for and the developments that followed. The May Fourth Movement was triggered by the fledging Republic’s diplomatic failure, made evident when the imperialist powers treated China unfairly in favor of Japan regarding the Shandong Problem (山東問題) at the Paris Peace Conference.
After the First Sino-Japanese War, Japan remained bent on subjugating China: in August 1914, Japan took the opportunity to declare war on Germany while it was embroiled in the First World War, and sent its military to capture the German spheres of influence in Shandong and usurp Germany’s privileges as their own. In February 1915, Japan issued the Twenty-One Demands (二十一條), divided into five groups, to the Beiyang Government (北洋政府) in a bid to dominate China. To the incredulity of the Chinese people, the government under Yuan Shikai (袁世凱) publicly announced its partial acceptance of the first four demands on May 9 - thereafter known as the Day of National Shame. In September 1918, the government of Duan Qirui (段祺瑞) also declared its “glad” acceptance of the terms granting the Japanese concessions in Shandong.
China finally had a chance to set things right at the end of the First World War when, as one of the allied victors at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, it demanded the rightful return of German concessions in Shandong and the abolition of the Twenty-One Demands forced upon it by Japan. However, the allied powers refused and transferred Germany’s concessions in Shandong to Japan. News of this led to an outpouring of national fury and sparked the May Fourth Movement.
In 1914, the First World War erupted. In 1917, China declared its allegiance to the allied powers headed by France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America against the Central Powers headed by Germany. While China did not send troops, it provided logistical support by sending tens of thousands of laborers to Europe, a significant contribution that helped the allied forces achieve ultimate victory. The picture shows Chinese laborers crushing rocks and loading them onto vehicles for road paving.
On November 28, 1918, China’s Beiyang Government celebrated the victory in the First World War by holding a multinational military parade and inspection on the square of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿) in the Forbidden City (故宮). Xu Shichang (徐世昌), President of the Republic of China, delivered a speech for the occasion. The end of the First World War on November 11, 1918 and the victory of the allied powers, of which China was a member, was a joyous occasion for the nation. It had high hopes of reclaiming German interests in China, particularly in Shandong, and enhancing its international standing.
The Palace of Versailles, where the post-war peace conference was held from January 18 to June 28, 1919.
China’s representatives at the Paris Peace Conference were (from left) Lu Zhengxiang (陸徵祥) (delegation leader), Gu Weijun (顧維鈞, also known as Wellington Koo), Wang Zhengting (王正廷), Shi Zhaoji (施肇基) and Wei Chenzu (魏宸組).
Japan’s vast delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. In August 1914. Japan used the First World War as an opportunity to invade Shandong in China and seize the German spheres of influence there. After the war, it strove to usurp Germany’s concessions in China at the Paris Peace Conference.
On the left: the Big Three who dominated the Paris Peace Conference. They were (from left) Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France; Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States and David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The picture on the right shows Georges Clemenceau delivering a speech at the event. A total of 27 nations participated in the Paris Peace Conference, but in fact the main decisions were made by a few powers.
A group photo featuring diplomats from various nations who participated in the Paris Peace Conference. Gu Weijun is the fourth figure from the right in the back row. At the conference, China called for the abolition of Japan’s Twenty-One Demands and the return of Germany’s concessions in Shandong to China. Gu Weijun, in particular, impressed all who were present with the strength and validity of his argument.
The picture on the right shows Japan’s main representatives (from the left in the front row): Makino Nobuaki, Saionji Kinmochi (chief plenipotentiary) and Chinda Sutemi. The picture on the right shows Hara Takashi, the then Prime Minister of Japan. The conference saw sharp exchanges between the Japanese and Chinese delegates, with the former threatening to withdraw from the conference.
Attendees of the Paris Peace Conference leaving the venue. To safeguard their own interests, the Western powers ultimately sided with Japan and granted them all of Germany’s former concessions and interests in Shandong in their final adjudication of the Shandong Problem. Thus all of the diplomatic efforts that China had made to win back Shandong turned out to be in vain.
On the left: Arthur James Balfour (the first Earl of Balfour), foreign secretary of the United Kingdom; on the right: Beijing’s Chenbao (晨報, Morning Post) newspaper published on May 2, 1919. On May 1, 1919, Balfour informed the Chinese delegates of the Paris Peace Conference’s decision on the Shandong Problem. On the following day, Chenbao published an article titled Diplomatic Alarm: Announcement to People of the Country (外交警報 敬告國民), which confirmed China’s diplomatic failure at the Paris Peace Conference. It sparked national fury and lit the powder keg that was the ensuing mass patriotic movement.
Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe (pictures 1, 2, 3, 10), Visual China Group (pictures 6, 7, 9), misc. photo sources.