Why is the May 4th Movement a Turning Point in Modern Chinese History?

May 4, 1919, known as Wusi in China, is a significant day in modern Chinese history. The country had contributed thousands of workers to the Allied effort during World War I, but instead of being rewarded at the Paris Peace Conference, German holdings in China were transferred to Japanese control. Protests against the deal that targeted autocratic Chinese leaders swept across the country, and under popular pressure, the Chinese delegation did not sign the Treaty of Versailles. Although territories in the Shandong Penninsula were given to the Japanese, the protests were ultimately successful in showcasing the power of collective action and building anti-imperialist sentiment. The event was also significant in that it was during a time of diverse, open intellectual fervor, which inspired and brought together many of the future founders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The excerpted readings and worksheets found below will help students to understand why the May 4th Movement started, how it spread across the country, and how it altered the course of modern Chinese history. There are three worksheets contained within the document.

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The text for the worksheet is taken from a June 2019 Carnegie Council podcast entitled "The Crack-Up: A Hundred Years of Student Protests in China, with Jeffrey Wasserstrom" and is based upon a New York Times opinion piece written by Wasserstrom.

Listen to the Carnegie Council podcast below for more.