May 4th Movement

The Movement was born in response to German concessions in Shandong being given to Japan rather than China in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles which ended the First World War. China had expected a favourable outcome from the Treaty, as it had sent 100,000 workers to help Britain and France on the Western front, losing 2000 Chinese to the war. However, the warlord government of Duan Ci, which had controlled Beijing in 1918, had made a secret deal with Japan, promising it Shandong in return for loans. When it was revealed that China had lost the mining-rich Shandong, students from Beijing’s universities gathered at Tiananmen Square to protest this humiliation. Workers went on strike and Japanese goods were boycotted – students, workers and intellectuals were united by their shared indignation, marking the start of a unified nationalist movement. Within a month, protests had spread to 20 provinces and 100 towns and cities. The government responded with arrests and declared martial law, but despite this repression May 4th gave rise to a youth movement that embraced Western thought and new political ideologies.