Monday, May 4, 2009

A Reminder of China's Voice

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the May 4th Movement of 1919.

Chinese leaders President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are celebrating not this historic event, but Chinese Youth Day which coincidentally falls on the same day.

They are calling on young people to serve the people and the country with their brains and brawns.

This call for patriotism is their way of trying to diffuse any thoughts of the one-month countdown to June 4.

That's because on May 4, students from the various universities gathered at Peking University and marched to Tiananmen Square, demanding the Chinese government stand up to western powers and protest the Treaty of Versailles of 1919.

China had teamed up with Germany in World War I, hoping that in exchange Shandong Province would be returned back to China from German control. However, in the Treaty of Versailles, the Western powers ignored Chinese demands and wanted to punish Germany by handing the province to Japan.

The students were angry with China's presence at the treaty talks, thinking that the country looked weak, and in the meantime the country itself was fractured thanks to the various warlords controlling their own fiefdoms.

As a result, the students called for a sense of nationalism, that it was time for the country to stand up and take back what was rightfully hers.

In the end the Chinese representatives refused to sign the treaty, despite the fact that Shandong was still handed to Japan.

Nevertheless, the mass protest was considered a huge victory that got the world's attention that the Chinese had an active voice that united various classes of people and later led to the creation of the Chinese Communist Party.

While students 70 years later took to Tianamen to mourn the death of reformer Hu Yaobang, they were also inspired by the May 4 Movement. And we all know what happened after that...

So while the government wants to celebrate Chinese Youth Day, its leaders are trying very hard to play down the event as well. They don't want this generation to get any ideas in their heads.

But with the global financial crisis, most young people just want to finish school and try to get a job -- any job. If the government can help them with that, they won't be protesting anytime soon.

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