May Fourth for the World

China's May 4th 1919 protests envisaged as a national and international movement – Shakhar Rahav

On 4 May 1919 approximately 3000 students from over a dozen institutions took to the streets of Beijing to protest news that the Paris peace conference was rejecting Chinese demands to force Japan to cede control over territories it held in Shandong Province. The term “May Fourth” or “May Fourth Movement” has become an icon in Chinese history, and has come to denote that demonstration and those that followed, including a general strike that paralyzed Shanghai that June. The term is also routinely used in a broader chronological sense: to invoke the entire period of cultural and political unrest that lasted from 1915 until 1923. In both cases Beijing and Shanghai are usually the focus of attention.  My argument here, though, is that just as it May Fourth’s significance lies in the events of more than one or two months, it also involves more than just one or two places. A broader geographical as well as temporal perspective is needed.