US official mistaken about May Fourth Movement

By Zhang Yiwu Source:Global Times Published: 2020/5/14 17:09:43

US Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger Photo:cnsphoto

US Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger's speech on the May Fourth Movement, delivered in Putonghua on May 4, was aimed at causing conflict and confrontation within China.

Pottinger's speech had two parts. First, he was trying to explain the May Fourth Movement from the US' perspective. Second, he applied his interpretation to the current situation in China. The two parts share the same concept - populism, which is not a positive word either in China's or the West's politics.

In his speech, Pottinger deliberately ignored ties among the May Fourth Movement, the rise of the left-wing movement at that time, the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921, and the fact that the May Fourth Movement was a patriotic and revolutionary campaign to save the country from the oppression of imperialism and feudalism.

He made no mention of contributions by Chinese revolutionary socialists such as Chen Duxiu or Li Dazhao, two of the both of whom co-foundersed of the CPC. Instead, he listed scholars Hu Shi and Zhang Pengchun, who had close connections with the US. Hu was a former ambassador to the US (1938-42) for the then Nationalist government (1912-49). Zhang, who once served as vice chairman of the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations, is relatively not well known to the Chinese public.

Pottinger was advocating that the May Fourth spirit was actually influenced by the US' values. Anyone with knowledge of this piece of history knows this is a deliberate misinterpretation.

According to Pottinger, one of May Fourth Movement's themes was to serve ing the public. Yet the spirit was not highly valued by neither Hu nor Zhang, but was vigorously promoted by Chen and Li. This is where Pottinger's view clearly contradicts the historical context of modern Chinese history.

The most ridiculous part of his talk was combining the May Fourth spirit with the "America ffirst." doctrine. 

"Populism… is an admonition to the powerful of this country [the US] to remember who they're supposed to work for: America first. Wasn't a similar idea beating in the heart of the May Fourth Movement, too?" Pottinger asked. Despite of his fluent Chinese, what he said completely runs contrary to the reality in China today.

On the one hand, the populism Pottinger mentioned has been widely criticized even in the West. On the other, the current social trend of Chinese young people - their rising sense of national pride - is fundamentally different from the populism that Pottinger conjured.

Some anti-China Americans, like Pottinger himself, regrettably still view China with a Cold War mentality. This is reminiscent of how the US perceived the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. They believe the Chinese government is suppressing its society and instigating nationalism. Pottinger was trying to "impress" Chinese youth through manipulative language, but he was actually alienating himself from them.

Pottinger's speech shows that the Trump administration is attempting to promote "peaceful evolution" in China. Chinese society should keep a watchful eye and respond accordingly.

The author is a professor at Peking University. 

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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