New Youth (Xin Qingnian)

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Not to be confused with Lajeunesse (disambiguation).
Cover of New Youth

La Jeunesse[1] (or New Youth, Chinese: 新青年; pinyin: Xīn Qīngnián) was an influential Chinese magazine in the 1910s and 1920s that played an important role in initiating the New Culture Movement and spreading the influence of the May Fourth Movement.

Publishing history[edit]

The magazine was founded by Chen Duxiu on 15 September 1915 in Shanghai. Its headquarters were moved to Beijing in January 1917 when Chen was appointed Chairman of the Chinese Literature Department 北大文学系. Editors included Chen Duxiu, Qian Xuantong, Gao Yihan, Hu Shih, Li Dazhao, Shen Yinmo, and Lu Xun. It initiated the New Culture Movement, promoting science, democracy, and Vernacular Chinese literature. The magazine published all vernacular 白话 beginning with the May 1918 issue, Volume 4, Number 5. It was a first.

Being influenced by the 1917 Russian October Revolution, La Jeunesse increasingly began to promote Marxism and its philosophy. The trend accelerated after the departure of Hu Shih who later became the Republic of China (non-communist) Education Minister. Beginning with the issue of September 1, 1920, La Jeunesse began to openly support the communism movement in Shanghai. And with the June 1923 issue, it became the official Chinese Communist Party theoretical journal. It was shut down in 1926 by the Nationalist Government. La Jeunesse influenced thousands of Chinese youngsters including many leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.

A Japanese version of the magazine using the same kanji (shinseinen) began in 1920 and ran through 1950. The organ became a sort of unofficial propaganda for the Japanese Imperial forces during WWII. It is widely known for both its detective fiction and war stories.

Chen Duxiu[edit]

"La Jeunesse" was founded by Chen Duxiu 陈独秀 who was also the Editor in the early years. The editorial policies clearly reflected his personal values, with emphasis on the new vernacular literature 白话 revolution, the social revolution; against the established traditional society and confucian values, and against the old classical written wenyan Chinese. Chen was the leader of the May Fourth Movement student demonstrations 五四运动 espousing new values for China. Finally he was a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party and provided a theoretical platform for them.

Chen published "A Letter to Youth" 敬告青年 in the first issue of September 15, 1915. The letter issued 6 challenges:

  • Be independent and not enslaved 自由非奴隶
  • Be progressive and not conservative 进步非保守
  • Be in the forefront and not lagging behind 进取非退隐
  • Be internationalist and not isolatonist 世界非锁国
  • Be practical and not rhetorical 实利非虚文
  • Be scientific and not superstitious 科学非想象

The Letter further emphasized the urgency of pursuing science and liberty in order to remove the twin chains of feudalism and ignorance of the general population.

Hu Shih[edit]

Hu Shih 胡适 was one of the early editors. He published a landmark article "Essay on Creating a Revolutionary `New Literature" (建设的文学革命论) in the April 18, 1918 issue. He wrote that the mission of this language revolution is "a literature of the national language guoyu, a national language of literature" (国语的文学,文学的国语。). Hu then goes on to reason that for thousands of years, the written language was bound by scholars using classical wenyan, a dead language of the past. On the other hand the vernacular spoken language baihua 白话 is living and adapts to the age. He urged authors to write in the vernacular to describe life as it is. He further reasoned that Chinese literature had a limited range of subject matter because it used a dead language. Using a living language would open up a wealth of material for writers. Finally he argued that massive translations of western literature would both increase the range of literature as well as serve as examples to emulate. This was a seminal and prescient essay about the modern Chinese language. Hu Shih was an important figure in the transformation of the modern Chinese written and printed language.

In the July 15 issue Hu had an essay "Chastity" (贞操问题). In the traditional Chinese context, this refers not only to virginity of women before marriage, but also to their remaining chaste after the husband's death 守贞. He wrote that this is an unequal and illogical view of life, that there is no natural or moral law upholding such a practice, that chastity is a mutual value for both men and women, and that he vigorously opposes any legislation favoring traditional practices on chastity. (There was a movement to introduce traditional confucian value systems into law at the time.) Hu Shih also wrote a short play on the subject, (see Drama section below).

These are examples of Hu Shih's progressive views. They were quite radical at that time which was only a short six years after the overthrow of the Chinese imperial system. That epic event, the Xinhai Revolution developed two branches in the 1920s, the Kuomingtang Nationalist party, and the Chinese communist party. He tried to focus the editorial policy on literature. Chen Duxiu and others insisted on addressing social and political issues. Hu was a lifelong establishment figure in the Nationalist government and left "La Jeunesse" when its communist marxist direction became clear.

Lu Xun[edit]

Lu Xun 鲁迅 was an important contributor to the magazine. His first short story "A Madman's Diary" 狂人日记 was published in "La Jeunesse" in 1918. The story was inspired by Gogol's "Diary of a Madman". While Chinese literature has an ancient tradition, the short story was a new form at that time and this was among the first in Chinese short stories. The "Diary" was later included in Lu's first collection "A Call to Arms" 呐喊 which also included his most well known novella "The Story of Ah Q" 阿Q正传. "A Madman's Diary" records progressive instances of cannibalism in the protagonist's family. Lu Xun symbolized the cruel and inhumane nature of old traditional Chinese society structure in this manner. Even though it was a harsh statement, it was not exceptional due to numerous other contemporaneous scathing indictments of the old society. Other fiction by Lu Xun published in "La Jeunesse" include "Kong Yi Ji" 孔乙己 and "Medicine" 药. The Early Republic of China period from 1911 to late 1930s was a period of revolutionary changes at all levels and across all sectors in China. "La Jeunesse" was both an instrument of the changes and a witness to it.

Poetry, drama, etc.[edit]

"La Jeunesse" published both poetry and drama in the vernacular. Hu Shih's "Marriage" 终身大事 was one of the first dramas written in the new literature style. Published in the March 1919 issue (Volume 6 Number 3), this one act play highlights the problems of traditional marriages arranged by parents. The woman protagonist eventually left her family to escape the marriage. Poetry include those by Li Dazao 李大钊﹑Chen Duxiu 陈独秀﹑Lu Xun 鲁迅﹑Zhou Zuoren 周作人﹑Yu Pingbo 俞平伯﹑Kang Baiqing 康白情﹑Shen Jianshi 沈兼士﹑Shen Xuanlu 沈玄庐﹑Wang Jingzhi 汪静之﹑Chen Hengzhe 陈衡哲﹑Chen Jianlei 陈建雷 and others.

Chen Hengzhe 陈衡哲[edit]

In addition, Chen Hengzhe 陈衡哲 published her short story “Raindrops" 小雨点 in September 1920. She was the first woman writer using the new vernacular stye. It was the first Chinese children's story. "Raindrops" was also the name of a collection of her works published in 1928. Chen was among the first ten women to study overseas with government scholarship. She graduated from Vassar and University of Chicago. The first vernacular Chinese fiction was her short story "One Day" (一日), published 1917 in an overseas student quarterly (《留美学生季报》), a year before Lu Xun's "A Madman's Diary" (usually credited as the first). Chen was a low profile talented scholar with a number of "first" accomplishments.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Literally "The youth", in French.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Chow, Tse-Tsung. The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960). Detailed standard study of the movement, its leaders, and its publications.
  • Mitter, Rana. A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). ISBN 0192803417. Follows the New Culture generation from the 1910s through the 1980s.
  • Schwarcz, Vera. The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China, Norton(1999). ISBN 0-393-97351-4.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, Viking Penguin. (1981) ISBN 0 014 0062.79 3. Attractively written essays on the men and women who promoted intellectual revolution in modern China.
  • Feng, Liping (April 1996). "Democracy and Elitism: The May Fourth Ideal of Literature". Modern China (Sage Publications, Inc.) 22 (2): 170–196. ISSN 00977004. JSTOR 189342.

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