Full Citation

  • Title Background to the Chinese Revolution
  • Author Harris, Richard H. HARRIS, R.
  • Publication Title The Times Literary Supplement
  • Date Friday,  Apr. 7, 1961
  • Issue Number 3084
  • Page Number 211
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Review
  • Publication Section Reviews
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © News International Associated Services Limited.
BACKGROUND TO THE CHINESE REVOLUTION Chow Tse-tsung The May Fourth Movement 486pp Harvard University versity Press London Oxford University Press ?4 The revolution of 1911 in China toppled over a symbol it did very little else once Sun Yat-se-n's bid for power had been checked The momentum of tradition was enough to keep officialdom in its old grooves the enclosure of China from the outside world was still enough to leave Confucianism unquestioned questioned by all but the advanced few and the obediience to authority which this doctrine inculcated was enough to delay the growth of revolutionary sympathies For the young Chinese educated in the foreign-style schools and universities that spread over the country in the first two decades of this century neither 1911 still less the assumption of power by the Nationalists in Nanking in 1928 really sparked a revolutionary elan For this class the blissful revolutionary tionary dawn was concentrated in the years of intellectual ferment and long-delayed iconoclasm during and immediately after the First World War years when the free importation and exchange of ideas deliriously flowered The young all agreed on what they wanted to overthrow China could not emerge as a modern nation-state while the peeling walls of the past still remained standing For this short time the West was looked to unequivocally as the source of renewal for a moribund civilization tion As early as 1923 sides were being taken and nationalism had put the West in th dock Dr Chow's exhaustive and wellinformed informed study of this period fills a vital gap in our awareness of modern Chinese revolutionary bjstory During these seven or eight years all the lines of Chinese rethinking in the two previous decades began to converge By the end of the period they had all diverged again This survey reminds us of the survival today in Peking in Formosa or in exile of many of the young men prominent in 1919 The actual incident on May 4 1919 which has given its name to the intellectual movement of the time was the first effective intervention of students in modern Chinese history though Dr Chow quotes precedents from the Han an I Sung dynasties to show that it was no new phenomenon in China It arose from China's treatment at the Versailles peace conference ference when Japan with th secret connivance of Britain France and the United States was allowed to retain the territorial and economic concessions in Shantung province she had been quick to seize when war broke out The intense antiJapanese feeling in Chine vented itself on a supine government that was prepared to accept these terms The demonstrating students clashed with the police sacked the house of one of the responsible Ministers and thereby caught the imagination of all those who shared their newly-defined patriotism especially the new middle class in the treaty ports But the fundamental issue that embraced braced all those in the May 4 movement ment and that really came to a head at this time was the transformation of traditional Chinese civilization The approaches were various the displacement of the stylized written form by ordinary spoken Chinese and the outburst of a new literature stirred by this linguistic reform represented the cultural side of the movement On the political side the young were mixing for themselves selves heady political stimulants from western bottles with labels like anarchism socialism liberalism idealism pragmatism materialism and before long Marxism In the social sphere the tyranny of the family system was attacked and the emancipation of women openly urged The contrast between old and new was blindingly displayed Dr Chow chronicles this spate of intellectual endeavour and argument from its political beginnings with Japan's twenty-one demands in 1915 He marks the intellectual beginnings ginnings in the same year with the foundation of the periodical New Youth by Ch'en Tu-hsiu and he ends his account in 1922 with the Communist munist Party established and the various other political and literary differences clearly visible In these days of expectancy the new giants to be invited in from the West to liberate China were dubbed Mr Science and Mr Democracy cracy and their target was the crumbling family establishment of Confucius and sons All over China new magazines sprang up John Dewey and Bertrand Russell arrived to lecture in China and to be idolized But the exciting scurry of ideas soon began to shape themselves into different prescriptions for China's ills The literary revolutionaries aries drew apart from the political the liberals from the nucleus of newly-converted Marxists At the end of the period the antagonisms that were to rack China for another twenty-five years were all in being One aspect of the later struggle between the Communists and the Kuomintang arose from different estimates of the movement Sun Yatsen sen was too much of an outsider to the Chinese intellectual tradition to guide such young forces And when Chiang Kai-shek took over he soon showed himself a reactionary The result was that the liberal political thinkers of the May 4 period who might have given it some intellectual direction never established lished a firm foothold in the Kuomintang tang The bulk of the intellectuals drifted slowly during the next decade towards the Communists and those who remained were swept into the united front of 1949 as democratic cratic personages Western ideas were welcomed not merely because the Chinese intellectuals tuals were by then convinced of the need for westernization what the West represented most compellingly pellingly was a liberation from the cyclical determinism of Chinese history a concept of revolution wedded to progress Alas the disciples of Dewey and Russell so ready to embrace western progress soon turned away from the political ideas on which it rested What Jhey saw of the West was the unthinking greed of the Treaty Ports and the careless regard for China's interest by European Governments Jf Confucianism was a doctrine about the nature of man and of man in society then what better substitute carrying with it the Utopian dream than Marxism When Moscow abjured the Tsarist concessions and sent its emissaries to propagate the new doctrines the trumpet of a new truth seemed to shatter the old walls Dr Chow swings his searchlight over every detail of the period and maintains an undeviating objectivity No understanding of China's present revolution is possible without a clear picture of the May 4 period Sometimes times excessive detail obscures the main themes and this study might have had more shape if Dr Chow had carried the story forward another two or three years nevertheless we must be grateful for such a comprehensive hensive survey