May 4th Movement: 100 years since anti-imperialist strikes and boycotts in China

World Today

May 4th Movement: 100 years since anti-imperialist strikes and boycotts in China

Chinese President Xi Jinping led a gathering in Beijing marking 100 years since the May Fourth Movement. Xi praised the May 4 student protesters who opposed a World War One treaty as unfair to China.

And he said today’s youth should carry on that spirit. CGTN’s Nathan King explained what happened a century ago.

May 4 movement was a pivotal moment in China’s modern history that was sparked on the other side of the world in Paris. In 1919, the victorious powers in the First World War gathered to negotiate the peace in the French capital.

China – which sided with the British, French and United States – expected something in return. For providing hundreds of thousands of laborers at the Western Front, China wanted an end to foreign privileges extracted from China. It asked the allies to reject Japan’s so-called Twenty-One Demands that sought control over Chinese territory. China also wanted the return of Shandong, a German-occupied enclave, which included the key port city of Qingdao. Japan had seized control of the city during the war.

Despite an eloquent, detailed and comprehensive case delivered by Chinese diplomat Gù Wéi-jūn, better-known in the West as Wellington Koo, the then Great Powers rejected Chinese claims, granting control of Shandong to Japan.

China became the only major Allied power that declined to sign the Versailles peace treaty of 1919.

The May 4th movement sprung from Chinese anger over the Paris Peace conference. Student strikes spread. A huge boycott of Japanese products followed. There was a rejection of Western liberal thinking, and anger at U.S. hypocrisy. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had promised an end to Great Power politics and self-determination for nations across the world.

Marxism became a popular alternative for Chinese intellectuals. And, in 1921, some of the leaders of the May 4th movement became founding members of the Chinese Communist Party.