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Chen Pingyuan: “May 4th”, the Forever Spiritual Signpost

Source: People’s Daily Date: 2017-05-04


The May 4th Movement is unique in the Chinese history. It was short in duration, with little sacrifice and yet far-reaching influence. The same month when it happened, Provost of Peking University Gu Mengyu, student leader Luo Jialun and renowned political commentator Zhang Dongsun wrote on the Morning News, Weekly Review and Current Politics, calling it a movement and praising the spirit it embodied. The second year after the movement, the students of Peking University held events in commemoration of the May 4th Movement. In the 100 years afterwards, the Chinese society has evolved, with shifting political dynamics. Intellectuals, academics and politicians of diverging positions have never stopped debates on the May 4th. While they may come to different conclusions, they all agree that it is a milestone in the Chinese history.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, the People’s Daily and other major newspapers would publish editorials or articles to commemorate the May 4th and promote its spirit. This has contributed to the thoughts in China. We need to respond to the criticisms on May 4th. Any idea, critical or praising, can be an important thought as long as it facilitates social changes. In this sense, May 4th is still with us.
The May 4th is both a subject for study and a source of inspirations. Academics seek truth, while the media tend to hype up on the subject. The May 4th stimulates ideas. It is not a cure for all. Yet people can always derive new things from it.

The May 4th Movement is far more than the student march. It includes three interconnected parts: enlightenment, literature revolution and political protest. This is what people should take note of when examining the May 4th. Out of their conceit, people often accuse the former generations of being shallow, naive and fickle. In fact, later generations cannot compare with the May 4th generation in terms of the in-depth thinking and decisive actions.

May 4th is designated as the youth day not an art day, just because of the youthful vigor it symbolized. Young people, whatever time they live in, all have their dreams. However, only a few of them can realize their dreams because of external reasons and internal reasons, including the ability to adapt. A man who has ideas but does not act is too shallow. And one who only acts but has no ideas is boorish at best. The ability to communicate is not only a lubricant for people-to-people exchange, but also an effective way to attract followers and even the key to leave a legacy.

The movement was dominated by the new youths. The middle school and college students were far behind Cai Yuanpei, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, Hu Shi and the Zhou Brothers. Yet, they seized the opportunity, emerged on the world stage and accomplished big things later on. It is therefore useful to compile a collection of works by the May 4th young people and look into how they struggled, thought and communicated a century ago. This will offer inspirations to the young people who are studying or working today.

The May 4th is an important spiritual signpost. Time has changed, but its vitality has never changed.