TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- A recent speech by Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) to mark the centennial of the May Fourth student movement has drawn a strong backlash both internationally and from Taiwanese history experts for being an outrageously erroneous interpretation of the spirit of the movement.
The student movement took place on May 4, 1919, in Beijing, where students and intellectuals from 13 colleges stood up for a patriotic protest against the decision of the Versailles Peace Conference. This was against the backdrop of imperialistic expansion from Japan and western countries.
The event inspired a movement that explored individualism, pragmatism, and democracy, and, to some extent, gave birth to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
CNN reported that Xi hailed the event as a "great patriotic revolutionary movement," intentionally ignoring the core values of the intellectual and sociopolitical reform movement. His speech also made the world's intellectuals cringe as China today is known for its intolerance and quashing of open dissent.
Chen Yi-shen (陳儀深), Taiwanese professor from the Institute of Modern History of Academia Sinica, at a forum that marks the movement on Friday, said that Chinese authorities have thus far shown no interest in instituting a democratic system of government. He added Chinese citizens who attempt to form independent political parties and use the Internet to express their opposition to the Chinese authorities are targeted for harassment, detention, and imprisonment, as described in a U.S. Congress document 10 years ago.
In recent years, dozens of students have disappeared after advocating for labor or human rights at the campus, including a group of four Peking University students, ahead of Beijing's May Fourth commemoration event.
Chen also criticized Xi for intentionally misinterpreting the spirit of the May Fourth Movement, and leading the country in the opposite direction. He is doing this, Chen said, by enshrining Xi thought in the country's constitution and telling Xinjiang residents to worship Xi. "This is evidence of Beijing's support for anti-intellectualism and anti-individualism."
Today, the Chinese authorities and Xi see patriotism as something that suits the Communist Party, Chen added. "Taiwan, on the other hand, has succeeded in political modernization after the end of the Kuomintang's decades-long authoritarian rule and the formation of the Democratic Progressive Party, which is where the spirit of the May Fourth Movement is firmly rooted and has flourished."