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The New Culture Movement

The New Culture Movement of the mid 1910s and 1920s followed the collapse of Chinese Republic  founded in 1912. Scholars like Chen Duxiu, Cai Yuanpei, Li Dazhao, Lu Xun, and Hu Shi, had classical educations but began to lead a revolt against Confucian culture.

What is the overview of the New Culture Movement?

The founders of the New Culture Movement gathered at Beijing University, where they were recruited by a chancellor  Cai Yuanpei.  Dean Chen Duxiu  and librarian Li Dazhao in turn recruited leading figures such as  philosopher Hu Shi, scholar of Buddhism Liang Shuming, historian Gu Jiegang, and many more. Chen founded the journal New Youth in 1915, which later became incredibly famous amongst the middle class and had hundreds of publications.
Yuan Shikai, who inherited part of the Qing dynasty military power after its collapse in 1911, attempted to establish order and unity, but failed to protect China against Japan and never became an emperor. When he died in 1916, the collapse of the traditional order caused severe consequences  and the search for a replacement intensified.

Chen Duxiu

Two western ideologies, democracy and science, were quickly gaining support throughout China. Democracy became a vital tool for those frustrated with the instability of China whereas science became a crucial instrument to discard the "darkness of ignorance and superstition."

The feminism, promoted by many New Culture leaders, was  an violation of traditional values. More specifically, the movement replaced sexuality over the traditional Chinese idea of similarity.

The movement of those times can be divided in two parts. The main contents of the first period were against feudal thought and superstition by democracy and science, and proposed a new naturalistic vernacular writing style, that replaced more complex 2,000-year-old classical style. Chen Duxiu and American-educated scholar Hu Shi were the most outstanding representatives in this period, besides them there were other bright figures like Lu Xun, Li Dazhao and etc.. The second  movement were influenced by Marxism and eventually became more and more political. Combined with the May 4th Movement, the later period of New Culture Movement accounted for the spread of  politic-focused Marxism.

What are the themes of the New Culture Movement?

Based on western standards, they aimed to create a new Chinese culture preferably democracy and science.

Main aspects of the movement:

* To write vernacular literature.
* To put an end to the patriarchal family in favor of individual freedom and women's liberation.

* To accept China’s place as a nation among nations, rather than the assertion of superiority of Confucian culture.
* To re-examine Confucian texts and ancient classics using modern textual and critical methods, which known as the “Doubting Antiquity School”.
* To build up democratic and egalitarian values.
* To orientate to the future rather than the past

What is the literary of that period?

The literary output of this time was huge. Many writers who published their first works around this time, became very famous later in time. For example, Lu Xun first published his short fiction Diary of a Madman and The True Story of Ah Q he faced such a great success that his works are still very popular nowadays.

A substantial literary establishment—publishing houses, journals, literary societies, and of course universities—provided a foundation for an active literary and intellectual capital throughout 1910s, 20s, and 30s. The New Youth journal was a leading forum for discussing Chinese weaknesses blaming Confucian culture.

Li Dazhao

Two major centers of literary and intellectual activity were Beijing -- home to Peking University and Tsinghua University -- and Shanghai, with its flourishing publishing sector. Moreover, a large number of Western doctrines became fashionable, particularly those which reinforced the cultural criticism and nation-building impulses of the movement.

What are two traits of the movement?

The movement have two remarkable traits. Firstly, it advocated anti-Confucianism and anti-Classical Chinese, while promoted democracy, science and Vernacular Chinese. And secondly,  it was mainly  Intellectuals movement; almost all of members were professors of Beijing University.

What is the media of the New Culture Movement?

New Youth

Magazines, slogans and language played a very important role in the New Culture Movement,Intellectuals and students used these media to promote their new ideas and claims.

1. Magazines: the New Youth journal not only indicated the beginning of the New Culture Movement, but also was the core magazine and the fortress or battlefield of the new culture. More than 300 intellectuals published there works in that magazine, including the most famous ones like Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, Lu Xun and Hu Shi . The magazine had a circulation of over 1,000 copies at the beginning, 15,000 to 16000 copies at the peak, and later was sold all over the country.

2. Slogans: slogan was one of the most powerful instruments in the both movements.  The most popular slogans in the New Culture Movement was Democracy and Science. These slogans communicated the soul and aims of the movement throughout  the country.

3. Language used: Vernacular Chinese originated from Classical Chinese, new literature and  drama. The most famous one was The Lunatic's Diary, the first collection of short stories written in Vernacular Chinese.

What is the effect of the New Cultural Movement?

The New Culture Movement, which started in the early republican period, helped many Chinese intellectuals build there way towards the future. The ideas were spread to influence many Chinese students who joined together to protest against Japan's aggression. It was that intellectual atmosphere that caused dissatisfaction with the Paris peace settlement which caused a massive way of protests throughout the country on May 4, 1919.


Throughout this movement,  nationalism and anti-Japanese feelings increased dramatically. Chinese citizens wanted to oppose foreign rule and aggression, and to strengthen independence ogf their own. The New Culture Movement created an intellectual background which transformed the Paris peace dispute into a nationwide anti-foreign movement.

The New Culture Movement was an anti-imperialist, cultural, and political movement growing out of student demonstrations in Beijing. The New Culture Movement sparked national protests and marked the upsurge of Chinese nationalism, a shift towards political mobilization and populist base rather than intellectual elites as well as a step away from cultural activities.

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