An official website of the United States government

Reflections on China’s May Fourth Movement: an American Perspective

May 5, 2020

“Reflections on China’s May Fourth Movement: an American Perspective.”

4 May 2020 to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.  


Good morning everyone.I’m Matt Pottinger, the Deputy National Security Advisor, speaking to you from the White House.  I bring warm greetings from the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
大家,早安。 我是博明,副国家安全顾问,在白宫与您讲话。我带来我的上司,美国第四十五任总统Donald J. Trump向大家的热情致意。

We gather today online, from a thousand different places, because a pandemic still prohibits us from meeting in person.But through the marvel of the Internet, we have managed to come together as an even bigger group than if there had been no public health emergency.  In ways big and small, we are all tapping our ingenuity as Americans, as Chinese, as human beings, to overcome hardship and preserve our communities.
今天我们在线聚集了几千个来自不同的地区的人,因为传染病大流行使我们没有办法相聚。 但通过因特网的奇迹,我们聚集的规模反而更大。作为美国人、作为中国人、作为人类大家庭的成员、我们大家都各尽所能,发挥着从“宏大”到“小巧”的创造力,克服困难,保护社区。

“Big” examples of human ingenuity include harnessing biotechnology and data analytics to develop therapies and vaccines.“Small” examples of ingenuity include family members figuring out how to give each other haircuts when barbershops are closed.  My wife, who is speaking on a panel later today, is a highly trained virologist.  She is new to her role as the family barber, as you might have guessed by looking at my hair.
人类创造力的“宏大”包括利用生物技术和数据分析来开发治疗方和疫苗。同时,创造力的“小巧” 包括生活中的细微之处,比如,待在家里学习相互剪剪头发。我的妻子是个有经验的病毒学家,她今天也在,不过从我的头,您可能发现作为家庭理发师,她还是个新手。

This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of addressing an audience at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.Nearly a decade ago I was invited to speak about what I’d learned from service in the Marine Corps and about the relationship between our military and the civilians it defends.  Since that day, I’ve never forgotten the warmth and wisdom of the Miller Center’s director, Governor Jerry Baliles, who passed away last October after a life of public service to the Commonwealth of Virginia and to our nation.  We give thanks for people like Jerry.
这是我第二次有幸在弗吉尼亚大学米勒中心与听众交谈。 约十年前,在海军陆战队服役后,我应邀在米勒中心发言,内容是我从兵役中学到的知识,还有军队与公民的关系。 从那以后,我始终记得米勒中心主任Jerry Baliles的热情和睿智,但他不幸在去年10月去世。他曾为弗吉尼亚和我们国家的公共利益,而服务终生。 我们感谢像Jerry这样的人。

Today, I’ve been invited by Professors Harry Harding and Shirley Lin to share some thoughts about U.S.-China relations.When Professor Lin told me this event would land precisely on the 101st anniversary of the start of China’s historic May Fourth Movement, I knew I had a potent topic for discussing the China of then and now.
今天,我受 Harry Harding(何汉理)教授和林夏如(Shirley Lin)教授的邀请,同大家分享关于美中关系的一些想法。 林教授告诉我,这次活动恰好是在 “五四”一百零一周年之际。我知道,这是个很好的切入点来展开从美国的视角讨论关于中国的过去和现在。

On May the fourth, 1919, following the end of World War I, thousands of university students from across Beijing converged on Tiananmen Square to protest China’s unfair treatment at the Paris Peace Western nations chose to appease Imperial Japan by granting it control of Chinese territory that Germany had previously occupied, including the Shandong Peninsula.
1919年的“五四”,一次大战结束,北京数千大学生聚集在天安门广场,抗议中国在巴黎和会上受到的不公平待遇。 西方国家为了安抚日本帝国,将德国在山东半岛 “权益”转让日本。

The Chinese students who marched to Tiananmen that day shouted “give us back Shandong!” and “don’t sign the Versailles Treaty!” Police forced the students to disperse.  But, as frequently happens when governments close down avenues for peaceful expression, some protesters resorted to violence.  In a principled move that acknowledged popular anger, China refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles later that year.
游行到天安门的学生高喊:“还我山东!” “拒签《凡尔赛条约》!”等口号,警察强力驱散示威人士。正如政府关闭和平表达的途径后经常会发生的那样,一些学生诉诸暴力,抗议升级。 意识到民怨沸腾,中国政府拒绝签署《凡尔赛条约》。

China would regain control of Shandong three years later with the help of the United States, which brokered an agreement at the Washington Naval Conference in 1922.But the movement ignited by those students exactly 101 years ago was about much more than nationalist outrage at “unequal treaties.”  The movement galvanized a long-running struggle for the soul of modern China.  As John Pomfret wrote in his fine history of U.S.-China relations, the May Fourth Movement aimed for “a wholesale transformation of Chinese politics, society, and culture.” “ Science” and “Mr. Democracy” were the mottos of this movement to transport China into modernity. Some called the movement the “Chinese Enlightenment.”  Vera Schwarcz wrote an insightful book by that title.  In fact, there’s a lot of good scholarship on this subject.  At least two eminent historians of modern China are participating in this event today—Oxford’s Rana Mitter and the University of Virginia’s John Israel.  I refer you to the experts to explore the history and meaning of the May Fourth Movement.
三年以后,在美国的帮助和调停下,1922年在华盛顿海军会议达成协议,中国收回了山东。然而,一百零一年前的今天,学生们发起的运动,意义远远超越了对不平等条约的民族主义的愤慨。它激励了对中国人民对现代化的探索。 正如John Pomfret(潘文)所描述的美中关系历史中提到,“五四”运动在于“彻底改变了中国的政治,社会和文化”。 “赛先生”和“德先生”是那次中国现代化运动的口号。 有人称运动为“中国的启蒙运动”。 Vera Schwarcz(舒衡哲)教授以此为题目,写了本关于“五四”的很有见地的书。 实际上,关于“五四”有很多极好的研究。 今天至少有两位著名的当代中国历史学家应邀参加会议:牛津大学的Rana Mitter和弗吉尼亚大学的John Israel。探讨“五四”的历史和意义,我建议请教这些专家。

But I would like to spend a few minutes highlighting a few Chinese heroes that I believe embody the May Fourth spirit, then and now.

Hu Shih is naturally identified as one of the most influential leaders of the May Fourth era. He was already an influential thinker on modernizing China.  Hu Shih’s family was from Anhui province.  Like Lu Xun and many other leading writers of their generation, Hu Shih traveled overseas to study.  After switching his focus at Cornell from agriculture to philosophy, Hu Shih studied at Columbia University under the American educator John Dewey.
很自然,胡适是“五四”时代最有影响力的领导人之一:此前,他已经是个为中国现代化而努力的重要思想家。出生在安徽省的胡适,同鲁迅和许多成名作家一样,当时到国外留过学。在康奈尔大学他从学农业,转向学习哲学。胡适曾在美国教育家John Dewey的指导下在哥伦比亚大学学习。

Hu Shih would contribute one of the greatest gifts imaginable to the Chinese people:The gift of language.  Up until then, China’s written language was “classical,” featuring a grammar and vocabulary largely unchanged for centuries.  As many who have studied it can attest, classical Chinese feels about as close to spoken Chinese as Latin does to modern Italian.  The inaccessibility of the written language presented a gulf between rulers and the ruled—and that was the point.  The written word—literacy itself—was the domain primarily of a small ruling elite and of intellectuals, many of whom aspired to serve as officials.  Literacy simply wasn’t for “the masses.”
胡适贡献给中国人最伟大的礼物是语言。之前,中国的书面语言“文言文”几个世纪以来基本上没有变化。许多研究证明,文言文与白话的距离,不亚于拉丁文同现代意大利语。书面语言的艰深,在统治者和被统治者之间设置了鸿沟——这是问题的关键。 文言文,还有识字本身,主要由少数政治精英和读书人掌握,他们最大的愿望是“中举”,读书不是为了普罗大众。

Hu Shih believed otherwise. In his view, written Chinese—in form and content—should reflect the voices of living Chinese people rather than the documents of dead officials. “Speak in the language of the time in which you live,” he admonished readers. He believed in making literacy commonplace.  He played a key role promoting a written language rooted in the vernacular, or baihua—literally “plain speech.”  Hu Shih’s promotion of baihua is an idea so obvious in hindsight that it is easy to miss how revolutionary it was at the time.  It was also highly controversial.
与此相反,胡适认为文字应该反映人民的声音,而不只是记录先贤。“是什么时代的人, 说什么时代的话!” 他推广白话文,确信文字要普及。他对中文语言的发展起了关键作用。 事后看来,胡适推广白话文的意义是如此之明显,以至于很容易忘记,这在当时是革命性的想法,曾引起过极大的争议。

Gu Hongmin, a Confucian gentleman and Western literature professor at Peking University, ridiculed widespread literacy for China and what it implied.In August 1919 he wrote: “Just fancy what the result would be if ninety percent of [China’s] four hundred million people were to become literate.  Imagine only what a fine state of things we would have if here in Peking the coolies, mafoos [stable boys], chauffeurs, barbers, shop boys, hawkers, hunters, loafers, vagabonds, [etc.] all became literate and wanted to take part in politics as well as the University students.”
 北京大学的儒家学者和西方文学教授辜鸿铭,嘲笑扫盲。 他在1919年8月写道:“想想四万万人,九成识字,结果是什么。 想一想,在北京,苦力、马夫、司机、剃头匠、店小二、小商贩、猎人、懒汉,流浪汉都有文化,同大学生一样,都想参与政治,我们的美妙处境会怎样呢?”

Such elitist chauvinism was—and some would argue still remains—a headwind impeding the democratic ideals espoused by the May Fourth Movement.Hu Shih, wielding the language he had helped bring to life, skillfully dismantled arguments against broadening the social contract.  “The only way to have democracy is to have democracy,” Hu Shih argued.  “Government is an art, and as such it needs practice.”  Hu Shih didn’t have time elitism.
这种精英沙文主义一直阻碍了“五四”所拥护的民主理想。 胡适运用他所推广的白话,巧妙地反驳了反对全民社会契约的论点。 胡适说:“民主的唯一途径就是民主”政府是一门手艺,需要实践。 胡适根本不在乎精英主义。

Still, May Fourth leaders were constantly sapped of energy by accusations, sometimes leveled by government officials or their proxies among the literati, that the movement was slavishly pro-Western, insufficiently Chinese, or even unpatriotic.

The life and contributions of P.C. Chang make a mockery of the notion that the May Fourth ideals weren’t “Chinese” enough.Like his friend Hu Shih, Chang had studied in the United States on a scholarship.  Attracted to the theater, he was the first to adapt the Chinese story of Mulan for the stage.  He brought Western plays to Nankai University, which his brother helped found.  And he organized a tour of the United States by the Peking Opera star Mei Lanfang, adapting the music and dance to Western tastes.  In China’s philosophy of moral cultivation and rigorous education, Chang saw advantages that could be combined with ideas from the West to form something new.

This culminated in Chang’s crowning achievement:His decisive contributions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This was the document drafted after World War II by an international panel chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt.  Chang, who was by then a veteran diplomat representing the China, was a member of the panel.  The declaration’s aim was to prevent despotism and war by morally obligating governments to respect fundamental rights.  The rights enshrined in the 1948 declaration include life, liberty, and security; the right not to be held in slavery or subjected to torture; the right to freedom of religion; and the right to freedom of thought.   这最终彰显了张彭春的最高成就:对《世界人权宣言》的决定性贡献。 这份宣言是第二次世界大战后由罗斯福夫人(Eleanor Roosevelt)主持的国际专家小组起草的。代表中国的资深外交官张彭春是该小组的成员。 《宣言》的目的是通过道义上的要求,使政府尊重基本人权来防止专制和战争。1948年宣言中规定的人权包括生命、自由、安全、不被奴役或遭受酷刑、宗教自由以及思想自由。

“Marrying Western belief in the primacy of the individual with Chinese concern for the greater good” Chang helped craft a document that would be relevant to all nations, John Pomfret wrote. A declaration on human rights was not simply about the rights of the individual, in Chang’s view. It was also about the individual’s obligations to society.
John Pomfret曾写道:“把西方的个人主义和中国的集体主义结合起来,” 张彭春促成了一份所有国家适用的普世宣言。张彭春认为,《人权宣言》不仅仅是关于个人权利,也同个人对社会的义务有关。

Chang’s biographer, Hans Ingvar Roth of Stockholm University, highlighted the weight of Chang’s contributions to the Declaration:“Chang stands out as the key figure for all of the attributes now considered significant for this document: its universality, its religious neutrality, and its focus on the fundamental needs and the dignity of individual human beings.”
张彭春的传记作家,斯德哥尔摩大学的Hans Ingvar Roth强调了他对《世界人权宣言》的贡献,他说:“如今宣言中最有意义的所有方面,比如宣言的普世性、宗教中立性、对个人基本需求和尊严的强调,张彭春都有关键贡献。”

A few short years after the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations, Chang resigned his post as a Chinese diplomat, having grown dismayed by the lack of democracy in China. In diagnosing the problem, it is easy to imagine P.C. Chang prescribing a closer reading not of ancient Greek philosophy, but of traditional Chinese ideals about virtuous leadership.  The cliché that Chinese people can’t be trusted with democracy was, as both P.C. Chang and Hu Shih knew, the most unpatriotic idea of all.  Taiwan today is a living repudiation of that threadbare mistruth.
《宣言》在联合国通过后的短短几年,对中国缺乏民主感到沮丧,张彭春辞去了外交官职务。不难发现,张彭春对政府缺乏民主的判断并不来自于古希腊哲学,而是中国传统思想中对领导的品德要求。张彭春和胡适都知道“中国人不适和民主” 不过是一派胡言,是最不爱国的论调。今天的台湾就是鲜活的证据。

So who embodies the May Fourth spirit in China today?To my mind, the heirs of May Fourth are civic-minded citizens who commit small acts of bravery. And sometimes big acts of bravery.  Li Wenliang was such a person.  Dr. Li wasn’t a demagogue in search of a new ideology that might save China.  He was an ophthalmologist and a young father who committed a small act of bravery and then a big act of bravery.  His small act of bravery, in late December, was to pass along a warning via WeChat to his former medical school classmates that patients afflicted by a dangerous new virus were turning up in Wuhan hospitals.  He urged his friends to protect their families.
那么,如今中国“五四”精神在哪里呢? 在我看来,现在“五四”的继承人,就是有公民意识的中国公民,其表现在于他们做出的大大小小的勇敢行为。李文亮医生就是这样的人。 李医生并不是寻求拯救中国的公共知识分子,是个眼科医生,年轻的父亲。他先是做出了小小的勇敢行动,然后才是更大的英勇举措。 12月下旬,他最初是通过微信向几名医学院同学传递警告,说武汉医院发现严重的冠状病毒病例,敦促朋友们保护自己和家人。

When his warning circulated more widely than he intended, Dr. Li was upset and anxious—and with good reason.Supervisors at his hospital quickly admonished him for leaking word of the coronavirus cases.  Li was then interrogated by the police, made to sign a “confession,” and threatened with prosecution if he spoke out again.  Anyone tempted to believe this was just a case of overzealous local police, take note: China’s central government aired a news story about Dr. Li’s “rumor-mongering.”
他的警示,没想到,在网上被广为传播,李医生感到不安。不安是有充分理由的。 医院主管迅速告诫他,不要透露冠状病毒病例的消息。 然后,李医生,因“在互联网上发表虚假评论”,受到警察的“训诫”,被迫签字承认“造谣”,被威胁诉讼。如果有人怀疑,这只是地方警察的过激行为,那么官方动用中央电视台对李医生所谓“谣传”大肆宣传,会消除任何疑问。

Then Dr. Li did a big brave thing. He went public with his experience of being silenced by the police.  The whole world paid close attention.  By this time, Dr. Li had contracted the disease he’d warned about.  His death on February 7 felt like the loss of a relative for people around the world.  Li’s comment to a reporter from his deathbed still rings in our ears: “I think there should be more than one voice in a healthy society, and I don’t approve of using public power for excessive interference.” Dr. Li was using Hu Shih-style “plain speech” to make a practical point.
然后,李医生做了一件大胆的英勇举措。  他在社交媒体上发表了自己在派出所的遭遇,附上了警察的警告信。全世界都密切关注。 那时李医生已经感染了冠状病毒。他在二月七日的去世使全世界人民感觉像失去了亲人一样。李医生告诉记者:“我认为,健康的社会,应该有多个声音,我不赞成公权力的过度干预。” 李医生使用的是胡适的“大白话”。

It takes courage to speak to a reporter—or to work as one—in today’s China.Even finding an investigative reporter in China, foreign or local, is getting hard.  Citizen journalists who tried to shed light on the outbreak in Wuhan went missing, including Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua.  More foreign reporters were expelled in recent months than the Soviet Union expelled over decades.  Ai Fen, a colleague of Dr. Li Wenliang who also raised the alarm about the outbreak in Wuhan, reportedly can no longer appear in public after she spoke to a reporter.
在今天的中国, 见记者, 或当记者都需要勇气。如今在中国,连找到国内外的调查记者都难上加难。一些试图揭露武汉疫情的公民记者失踪了,包括陈秋实、方斌和李泽华。 最近几个月,被驱逐出境的外国记者人数超过了几十年中被苏联驱逐出境的人数。 李文亮的医生同事艾芬医生也对武汉的疫情提出了警告。据报道,艾芬医生在接受采访后再也不能露面了。

When small acts of bravery are stamped out by governments, big acts of bravery follow.

We have seen big acts of moral and physical courage recently by people pursuing the ideals that Hu Shih and P.C. Chang championed a century ago. Some are political insiders; some have devoted their lives to God. Others follow the long tradition of scholars serving as China’s conscience.  Many are regular citizens.  Xu Zhangrun, Ren Zhiqiang, Xu Zhiyong, Ilham Tohti, Fang Fang, 20 Catholic priests who have refused to subordinate God to the Communist Party, and the millions of Hong Kong citizens who peacefully demonstrated for the rule of law last year.  The list goes on.

As the May Fourth Movement today marks the inaugural year of its second century, what will its ultimate legacy be? It is a question only the Chinese people themselves can answer.  The May Fourth Movement belongs to them.  Will the movement’s democratic aspirations remain unfulfilled for another century?  Will its core ideas be deleted or distorted through official censorship and disinformation?  Will its champions be slandered as “unpatriotic,” “pro-American,” “subversive”?  We know the Communist Party will do its best to make it so.  After all, Mao Zedong had limited tolerance even for Lu Xun, China’s most celebrated modern writer and one of the minority of May Fourth heroes whose writing wasn’t heavily censored by the Party.  In 1957, an official named Luo Jinan asked Chairman Mao: “What if Lu Xun were alive today?”  Mao’s reply about the national hero surprised many in the audience:  “He could either sit in jail and continue to write or he could remain silent.”
今天, 五四运动进入它第二个世纪。它的最终遗产将是什么?这个问题,只有中国人民才能回答啊。 五四运动属于他们。“五四”的民主愿望还会等到下一世纪吗?“五四”的核心思想会不会每次都被官方的审查而抹掉? 今天仍然坚信这一主张的人会被称为“不爱国”、“亲美”有“颠覆性”吗?我们知道共产党会尽量这样做的。 毕竟,毛泽东对“五四”英雄中少数仍被官方承认的最著名作家鲁迅的宽容度也是有限的。1957年,官员罗稷南问毛泽东:“鲁迅今天还活着会怎样?” 毛泽东的回答语惊四座,“要么被关在牢里继续写他的,要么一句话也不说。”

Those with the fortitude to seek and speak the truth in China today may take comfort, however, in something Lu Xun wrote:“Lies written in ink can never disguise facts written in blood.”

One final thought from a U.S. perspective: Hu Shih famously preferred solving concrete problems to wallowing in abstract political theory.  But let me break his rule against discussing “isms” to ask whether China today would benefit from a little less nationalism and a little more populism.  Democratic populism is less about left versus right than top versus bottom.  It’s about reminding a few that they need the consent of many to govern.  When a privileged few grow too remote and self-interested, populism is what pulls them back or pitches them overboard.  It has a kinetic energy.  It fueled the Brexit vote of 2015 and President Trump’s election in 2016.  It moved the founder of your university to pen a declaration of independence in 1776.  It is an admonition to the powerful of this country to remember who they’re supposed to work for: America first!
最后,从美国的角度来看:胡适以解决问题而不在乎抽象政治理论著称。 但是,让我打破他“少谈主义”的规则,试问今天的中国是否能从少一些民族主义和多一些平民主义中受益。平民主义民主较少关注左与右,而是关注上与下。 就是说,少数人需要得到多数人的同意。 当掌握特权的人脱离群众、变得狭隘和自私,平民主义能使他们退缩或出局。这是一种动力。 它推动了2015年的英国脱欧;2016年特朗普总统胜选;推动了贵校的创始人1776年参与签署《独立宣言》。它能提醒国家权贵记住他们应该为谁工作:“美国优先”!

Wasn’t a similar idea beating in the heart of the May Fourth Movement, too? Weren’t Hu Shih’s language reforms a declaration of war against aristocratic pretension?  Weren’t they a broadside against the Confucian power structure that enforced conformity over free thought?  Wasn’t the goal to achieve citizen-centric government in China, and not replace one regime-centric model with another one?  The world will wait for the Chinese people—the people—to furnish the answers.
类似的想法不也在“五四”精神中存在吗? 胡适的白话文难道不是针对自觉了不起的贵族吗?难道不是对传统权力结构的宣战吗?不是要在中国建立“民为重”的政府,而不是“打江山坐江山”吗?世界将等待中国人民最终提供的答案。

Thank you.