When Western ears hear about Tiananmen Square in Beijing, images of Chinese students protesting against the Communist government and facing down army tanks come to mind. However, this famous square has seen many historical events, not just the infamous showdown in 1989.
On May 4, 1919, Chinese students also took to Tiananmen Square to protest. This time, however, they were protesting not their own government, but events going on in far away Paris. Students called for the dismissal of three Chinese officials who, they felt, had poorly represented Chinese interests in the Paris Peace Conference that was hammering out the treaties that would finalized the Armistice that had ended World War I the previous November. In particular, they were upset about the humiliation of the Conference granting to their arch-rival Japan the Shandong Peninsula on the Chinese mainland. The Shandong had been a German enclave in China that, as with other German territories around the globe, were being doled out among the victorious powers.
The Chinese expected to get their peninsula back. It was theirs, after all. They had just “lent” it the Germans – we’ll ignore the fact that the lending was forced on a weakened Chinese state. The Japanese, however, had contributed a lot to the Allied effort in the war and had a very influential presence at the Conference and they wanted to Shandong, which was perceived as the key to China. The Peace Conference sided with the Japanese much to the chagrin of the Chinese. With the hindsight granted by time, we can now see that this decision played into Japanese hands who had larger designs on the rich Chinese mainland. The Shandong was destined to play a key role in the Japanese invasion of China leading up to World War II.
Featured Image: “May 4th Demonstrations.” By Unknown (3/17), Public Domain.
Image 1. “Protesting the Treaty of Versailles.” By Unknown – May Fourth Movement: From riots to cultural revolution – See more at: http://gbtimes.com/past-present/modern-china/history-chinese-communist-party/may-fourth-movement-riots-cultural#sthash.rQd4JeZB.dpuf, Public Domain.
Hao, Zhidong, “May 4th and June 4th Compared: A Sociological Study of Chinese Social Movements.” Journal of Contemporary China 6.14 (1997): 79-99.
Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N., “Chinese Students and Anti-Japanese Protests, Past and Present” World Policy Journal 22.2 (2005): 59-65.