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New Youth

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Cover of New Youth
New Youth
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese新靑年
Simplified Chinese新青年
Literal meaningNew Youth
French name
FrenchLa Jeunesse

New Youth or La Jeunesse (French: La Jeunesse, lit.'The Youth'; simplified Chinese: 新青年; traditional Chinese: 新靑年; pinyin: Xīn qīngnián; Wade–Giles: Hsin1 Chʻing1-nien2) was a Chinese literary magazine founded by Chen Duxiu and published between 1915 and 1926. It strongly influenced both the New Culture Movement[1] and the later May Fourth Movement.[2]

Publishing history[edit]

Chen Duxiu founded the Youth Magazine (Chinese:《青年杂志》) on September 15, 1915 in Shanghai.[3], b) Chen Duxiu founded "Youth Magazine" (later renamed "New Youth") in 1915 in Shanghai, with the initial aim to spread new thoughts and cultures, especially Western ideals of democracy and science, to promote the modernization and progress of Chinese society. In 1921, Chen Duxiu became the cofounder of the Chinese Communist Party.[4]The purpose of Chen Duxiu's creating this magazine was to hope that young people at that time would express their opinions and thoughts to help save China and authors could offer new thoughts for young people at that time.[5]He also sought to advocate for a literary revolution by promoting the use of vernacular Chinese instead of classical Chinese, making literature more accessible to the general public. Another significant reason was his desire to enlighten the youth, considering them as the future of the nation, and to foster a sense of patriotism and social responsibility among them. Furthermore, Chen Duxiu aimed to critique feudal traditions and promote individual freedom and equality, driving social reform and progress.

Upon its publication, the Shanghai YMCA requested the magazine to change its name, claiming that its title was too similar to their existing publications "Youth" and "Shanghai Youth." Although, from today's perspective, the similarity might seem negligible, the YMCA perceived it as an infringement on their established brand. This led Chen Duxiu to agree to the name change, potentially to avoid conflicts and also possibly to give the magazine a fresh and distinctive identity that aligned with its mission of promoting new thoughts and culture.

The term "youth" was not originally part of the Chinese lexicon but was introduced by missionaries around the turn of the 20th century. The YMCA, which was established globally in 1844 and introduced to China in 1876, had a significant influence on the use of the term. The YMCA's focus on youth work and publications aimed at educating and influencing young people underscored the term's adoption in Chinese society.[6]

In September 1916, the Youth Magazine was renamed New Youth. The reason for the name change was that the Shanghai YMCA accused the Youth Magazine of being similar to and confusing with their publication in terms of name, and demanded that the name be changed.[7] Later historians inferred from this that "the word 'new' was added to match the name with its advocacy of new ideas and culture."[8]

Its headquarters moved to Beijing in January 1917 when Chen was appointed Chairman of the Chinese Literature Department at Peking University.[9] The team of editors and authors has gradually expanded. In Volume 3, senior scholars such as Zhang Shizhao, Cai Yuanpei, and Qian Xuantong were added to the group of authors. However, there were also contributions from young students such as Yun Daiying, Mao Zedong, Chang Naide, and Huang Lingshuang. In August 1917, after the publication of the third volume of New Youth, the Qunyi Book Club found it difficult to continue publishing because of the lack of wide distribution and poor sales, and suspended the publication for a while.[10] After Chen Duxiu's vigorous negotiation, the book club reluctantly agreed to renew the publication at the end of the year.[11] In January 1918, New Youth was republished after a 4-month hiatus. Volume 4 was joined by Zhou Zuoren, Shen Yinmo, Shen Jianshi, Chen Daqi and Wang Xingqiong. Volume 6 was edited by Chen Duxiu, Qian Xuantong, Gao Yihan, Hu Shih, Li Dazhao, Shen Yinmo, all of whom were professors at Peking University. Thus, New Youth was transformed from a local publication dominated by Anhui people to a "national" publication dominated by Peking University professors.[10] Those editors initiated the New Culture Movement, promoting science, democracy, and Vernacular Chinese literature.[2][1]

Influenced by the 1917 Russian October Revolution, La Jeunesse increasingly began to promote Marxism. Over its history, the magazine became increasingly aligned with the Chinese Communist Party.[3] The trend accelerated after the departure of Hu Shih, who later became the Republic of China's Education Minister. Beginning with the issue of September 1, 1920, La Jeunesse began to openly support the communist when its editorial office was moved back to Shanghai,[12] 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 young people, including many leaders of the Chinese Communist Party.

Notable contributors[edit]

Chen Duxiu[edit]

New Youth magazine was established based on the failures in creating the Anhui Common Speech Journal which only lasted two years. After that, Chen bounced back and forth between Japan and China as the Qing Dynasty crumbled to wait for an opportunity to engage in Chinese politics. [13]Then, Chen Duxiu founded La Jeunesse and also edited it in the early years.[14] The editorial policies clearly reflected his personal values by supporting the new and growing vernacular literature movement and the revolution against established societal norms, Confucian values, and the use of Classical Chinese.[1] Chen was the leader of the May Fourth Movement student demonstrations. He was also a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party and provided their theoretical platform.

Former Editorial Office of the New Youth in Shanghai

Chen published "A Letter to Youth" (Chinese: 敬告青年) in the first issue of September 15, 1915.[15] The letter issued six challenges:

  • Be independent and not enslaved (Chinese: 自由的而非奴隶的)
  • Be progressive and not conservative (Chinese: 进步的而非保守的)
  • Be in the forefront and not lagging behind (Chinese: 进取的而非退隐的)
  • Be internationalist and not isolationist (Chinese: 世界的而非锁国的)
  • Be practical and not rhetorical (Chinese: 实利的而非虚文的)
  • Be scientific and not superstitious (Chinese: 科学的而非想象的)

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

Chen Hengzhe[edit]

Chen Hengzhe was famous as the first Chinese female professor, Western history professor, and the first person who published non-Chinese Western history.[16]Chen Hengzhe published her short story “Raindrops" (Chinese: 小雨点) in September 1920. She was the first female writer to use the new vernacular style. It was the first Chinese children's story. She also published a collection of her works entitled, Raindrops, in 1928. Chen was among the first ten women to study overseas on government scholarships. She graduated from Vassar College and the University of Chicago. The first vernacular Chinese fiction was her short story "One Day" (Chinese: 一日), published 1917 in an overseas student quarterly (Chinese:《留美学生季报》). This was a year before the publication of Lu Xun's "Diary of a Madman", which has often been incorrectly credited as the first vernacular Chinese fiction.

Hu Shih[edit]

Hu Shih was the most excellent Chinese intellectual in the 20th century. He frequently published speeches at Beijing University and other places totally authored 44 books and numerous articles which influenced tens of thousands of Chinese people. Hu Shih promoted family planning, female equality, free marriage, and the need to have a child or not.[17] Hu Shih was one of the early editors. He published a landmark article "Essay on Creating a Revolutionary `New Literature" (Chinese: 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, Chinese: 国語), a national language of literature" (Original Text: 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 Chinese, a dead language of past generations. On the other hand, the vernacular is living and adapts to the age. He urged authors to write in the vernacular in order 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.[18]

In the July 15 issue, Hu published an essay entitled, "Chastity" (Chinese: 贞操问题). In the traditional Chinese context, this refers not only to virginity before marriage, but specifically to women remaining chaste before they marry and after their husband's death (Chinese: 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 Nationalist (Kuomintang) and Chinese communist parties. 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 direction became clear.

Lu Xun[edit]

"Diary of a Madman" published in New Youth on May 15, 1918

Lu Xun was an important contributor to the magazine. His first short story "Diary of a Madman" (Chinese: 狂人日记) was published in "La Jeunesse" in 1918.[18] The story was inspired by Nikolai Gogol's story "Diary of a Madman". While Chinese literature has an ancient tradition, the short story was a new form at that time, so this was one of the first Chinese short stories. It was later included in Lu's first collection, A Call to Arms, (Chinese: 呐喊) which also included his most well known novella, The True Story of Ah Q, (Chinese: 阿Q正传). "Diary of a Madman" records a scholar's growing suspicion that the Confucian classics brainwash people into cannibalism. Lu Xun symbolized the cruel and inhumane nature of old traditional Chinese society structure in this manner. Despite being a harsh metaphor, it was not exceptional due to numerous other contemporary indictments of the old society which were equally scathing. Other fiction by Lu Xun published in La Jeunesse includes "Kong Yiji" (Chinese: 孔乙己) and "Medicine" (Chinese: 药).The madness in Lu Xun’s Diary of Madman not only indicates a self-consciousness that is radically modern in breaking with a tradition but also demarcates an oppositional and new symbolic practice and order.[19]

Li Dazhao[edit]

Li Dazhao

Li Dazhao (1889–1927), had played an important role in the New Culture Movement and would soon become the cofounder of the Chinese Communist Party.[20] He devoted his lifetime to communism.[21]Li Dazhao was the magazine's chief collaborator in the Chinese Communist Party,[22] and published, among other things, an introduction to Marxist theory in the May 1919 issue of New Youth.[23] In it, he also argued that China, while not possessing a significant urban proletariat, could be viewed as an entire nation that had been exploited by capitalist imperialist countries.

Mao Zedong[edit]

Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People's Republic of China, in his youth contributed articles against the oppression of women under Confucianism and on the importance of physical fitness.[2][22] "The well-known quotation of Mao Zedong (1893–1976), cited above, which compares young people to the morning sun, claimed for youth the authority to define the nation’s future and endowed it with all the power to make changes that would revolutionize society."[24]In April 1927, the 38-year-old Li Daozhao was arrested and then killed by a warlord in Beijing University. [25]

Liu Bannong[edit]

A group photo of the early teachers of Peking University. From left: Liu Bannong, Shen Yinmo, Chen Daqi, Ma Yuzao, Zhang Fengju, Zhou Zuoren, Li Xuanbo.

Liu Bannong was an important contributor to the magazine starting from 1916, invited by Chen Duxiu.[26] His article "My View on Literary Reform: What is literature?" (我之文學改良觀) was published in "La Jeunesse" in 1917. He suggested both on the content and the form of literary reform.

Significant Articles[edit]

"The Draft of Literature Revolution"(Chinese: 文学改良刍议)[edit]

Hu Shi's literary revolution ideas rooted in his various personal experiences. Initially, it was the pamphlets from Zhong Wen'ao, a secretary at Tsinghua University's student supervision office, that sparked his thoughts on Chinese script reform. In 1915, he discussed the issue of romanizing Chinese characters with his friend Zhao Yuanren. However, Hu believed that Chinese characters, as an educational medium, could not be abolished. Thus, he proposed improving teaching methods. The real motivation for Hu to consider replacing classical Chinese with vernacular Chinese came from his discussions with friends like Mei Guangdi and Ren Shuyong at Ithaca from the summer of 1915 to August 1916. These debates made Hu more radical, leading him to propose the slogan "literary revolution," which he first mentioned in a poem in 1915. Despite opposition from Mei and others, Hu became more convinced of the potential of vernacular literature and decided to stop writing in classical Chinese, focusing instead on vernacular poetry.[27]

On January 1, 1917, Volume 2, Number 5, Hu Shi published "Wen xue gai liang chu yi", which put "not avoiding vulgar words and phrases" at the end, with the purpose of "solemnly putting forward my proposition of vernacular literature",[28] and ultimately came to the conclusion that "vernacular literature will be the authentic literature of China",[29] which became the "fuse" that ignited the "Literary Revolution". Wen xue gai liang chu yi was published in New Youth, Vol. 2, No. 5, and the correspondence between Hu and Chen in Vol. 2, No. 2, already reveals the mystery. Hu Shih's letter briefly mentions his proposed literary revolution, which "must begin with eight things," which are, in order, not to use diction, not to use stereotyped phrases, not to speak of counterpoints, not to avoid vulgar words and phrases, and to emphasize the structure of grammar, not to make a sickly speech, and not to be excessively sentimental, not to use classical expressions, and to be meaningful".[30] In addition to his slight doubts about the fifth and eighth items, Chen Duxiu said, "The rest of the six things, they all join hands in admiration".[30]

"A Madman's Diary"[edit]

On May 15, 1918, Volume 4, Number 5, Lu Xun published his first vernacular fiction, A Madman's Diary on New Youth. Lu Xun's works in New Youth are mainly a critique of nationalism, a loving compassion for distorted life and a sense of self-torture and self-sacrifice. In these levels of expression, an extremely vivid discourse of self-examination is formed.[31] A Madman's Diary aesthetically creates a rhetoric of freedom contrary to the eight-legged literary style, introducing elements of modernity into the expression of the mother tongue in strangeness and tearing.[32] Rather than closing off the mother tongue, it reopens the door to it. Traditional meaningful forms wormed their way to life under its pen.

"Plea to a crime"(Chinese: 罪案之答辩书)[edit]

"An Open Letter to the Youth" is the inaugural work of "Youth Magazine." In this article, Chen Duxiu expresses his earnest hopes for the youth, emphasizing their crucial role in the nation's survival and urging them to be conscious and courageous in their endeavors. He advocates for the equal importance of science and human rights, marking the beginning of the New Culture Movement and sounding its clarion call. Chen Duxiu critiques Confucianism and other feudal theories and morals, promoting democracy and opposing feudal autocracy. He champions a scientific attitude, rejects superstition, and underscores the need to use scientific rationality to address social issues, arguing that superstition is a root cause of national decline. Chen Duxiu's propositions aim to dismantle traditional beliefs, establish independent and autonomous character, and drive social progress.[33]

In 1919, Vol. 6, No. 1, Chen Duxiu published "Zui an zhi da bian shu", and the "Da bian shu" contained the following passage:

"My fellow-citizens were originally innocent, but it was only because of their support for Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science that they committed these monstrous sins. To support Mr. De one has to oppose Confucianism, ritual, chastity, old ethics, and old politics; to support Mr. Sai, one has to oppose old art and old religion; to support Mr. Deand Mr. Sai, one has to oppose the national essence and old literature. If you think about it carefully and calmly, do you know if there are any other crimes in this magazine apart from supporting Mr. De and Mr. Sai? If not, please do not to make special difficulties for this magazine, but to have the strength and courage to oppose Mr. De and Mr. Sai is the only way to be considered a good man, the only way to be considered fundamental."[34]

This passage has been quoted repeatedly by later historians. A closer look at Chen's argument suggests that support for Mr. De and Mr. Sai was the basic position of the New Youth, and that opposition to old ethics, old politics, old art, old religion, old literature, and other specific ideas were all based on this principle. As a matter of fact, since the late Qing Dynasty, the concepts of democracy (civil rights, constitutionalism, republicanism) and science have been repeatedly advocated by the people of China (with different emphasis in different periods), and have become the mainstream discourse of the intellectual circles in the May Fourth Period.[10]

Poetry, drama, and other fiction[edit]

Though perhaps most famous for publishing short fiction, La Jeunesse also published both vernacular poetry and drama. Hu Shih's "Marriage" (Chinese: 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 female protagonist eventually leaves her family to escape the marriage in the story. Poems published included those by Li Dazao (Chinese:李大钊), Chen Duxiu (Chinese: 陈独秀), Lu Xun (Chinese: 鲁迅), Zhou Zuoren (Chinese: 周作人), Yu Pingbo (Chinese: 俞平伯), Kang Baiqing (Chinese: 康白情), Shen Jianshi (Chinese: 沈兼士), Shen Xuanlu (Chinese: 沈玄庐), Wang Jingzhi (Chinese: 汪静之), Chen Hengzhe (Chinese: 陈衡哲), Chen Jianlei (Chinese: 陈建雷), among others.

Ideological Tendency[edit]

The New Youth fought against the feudalistic and revivalist literati and other feudalistic literary trends. This mainly included the struggle against the feudal revivalist forces of the "Wenxuan School" (Chinese: 文选派) and the "Tongcheng School" (Chinese: 桐城派) represented by Liu Shipei and Lin Qinnan, who opposed the vernacular language and defended the literary language, and opposed the new morality and defended the old morality.[35] Chen Duxiu wrote "Zui an zhi da bian shu", in which he frankly admitted the world's accusation that the New Youth had "undermined propriety and religion," among other things. He believed that only Mr. De (Democracy) and Mr. Sai (Science) could save China from all the darkness in politics, morality, academics and ideology.[36] On behalf of the magazine, Chen Duxiu swore, "If I support these two gentlemen, I will not shirk all government oppression, social attacks and ridicule, or even the breaking of my head and the shedding of blood".[37]

The so-called New Youth "at first advocated literary revolution, but later turned to communism",[38] the ideological orientation of the New Youth magazine before 1918 was basically of the nature of the old democratic revolution. The victory of the October Revolution aroused a strong interest in Marxism among the Chinese advanced elements, and the intellectuals quickly accepted and studied Marxism, using the proletarian worldview as a tool for observing the destiny of the country.The publication of New Youth, Volume 5, No. 5, published on October 15, 1918, contained Li Dazhao's "Shu min de sheng li"(Chinese: 庶民的胜利) and "Triumph of Bolshevism" (Chinese: Bolshevism的胜利), which produced a significant reaction among the advanced elements and progressive young students in China. The publication of Li Dazhao's "Shu min de sheng li" and "Triumph of Bolshevism" in the fifth volume of New Youth, published on October 15, 1918, had a significant impact on the Chinese advanced elements and progressive young students,[39] he was an early group of intellectuals who carried out the dissemination of Marxism. The social trends after the May Fourth Movement and the increasing radicalization of the academic world made it difficult for the leading newspaper New Youth to be confined to university campuses. Published on September 1, 1920, New Youth, Vol. 8, No. 1, was reorganized as the organ of the Shanghai Initiation Group of the CCP.[36] The Nouvelle Jeunesse became an ideological position for the propagation of Marxism.


Hu Shih wrote a letter to a friend in 1923: "In the past 25 years, there have only been three magazines that can represent three eras. It can be said that three new eras have been created: one is Current Affairs Daily, one is Xinmin Congbao, and one is New Youth."[40] The new era created by New Youth refers to the era of democratic science.

In 1936, Mao Zedong recalled: "I started reading this magazine (referring to New Youth) when I was studying in Normal University. I admired the articles of Hu Shih and Chen Duxiu very much. They replaced Liang Qichao and Kang Youwei who had been abandoned by me. It became my role model for a while."[41] New Youth had a huge appeal to the young Mao Zedong, primarily due to the fact that it promoted and advocated democratic science.

Zheng Zhenduo recalled in Chinese New Literature Series·Literary Debate Collection·Introduction that it was a youth magazine that advocated "moral, intellectual and physical" education, and was indifferent from other ordinary magazines at that time. In fact, apart from asking young people to establish a correct outlook on life, there is not much practical content.[42] It can be said that in the early days, New Youth was a truly ordinary magazine with a younger generation as its intended readers.

Bei jing Xin bao reported that: "Recently, Peking University faculty members Chen Duxiu, Hu Shizhi, Liu Bannong and Qian Xuantong advocated a new Chinese literature, advocating a change to the vernacular style, and for China's 2,000 years of obstacles to the cultural shackles of the most thought of Confucianism and Mencius, and the parallelism of the Pianwen prose style. For the doctrinal analysis."[43]

In 1926, Ge Gongzhen wrote China's first History of Chinese Newspapers. The timing of his book coincided with the final publication of New Youth. The book's introduction to New Youth was very brief: "At first it advocated literary revolution, but later it turned communist."[38] After May Fourth Movement, New Youth turned to socialism, and in September 1920 it was reorganized as the organ of the Shanghai Communist Group. In 1923-1926, it became the theoretical journal of the CCP Central Committee. Ge Gongzhen saw the whole process of the development of New Youth.[10]

Guo Zhanbo published A History of Chinese Thought in the Last Fifty Years (Chinese: 《近五十年中国思想史》), in which he claimed that "from the New Youth, we can see the changes in his personal thought, and at the same time, we can see the changes in the world of thought at that time," [44] formally confirming the self-expectation and self-positioning of the New Youth's colleagues. self-positioning. From then on, commenting on New Youth from the perspective of the history of ideas became the mainstream discourse in the academic world, while the literary revolution, which was the most popular concern and the one with the most actual achievements, gradually faded out of the historians' view.[10]


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  • 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.
  • Feng, Liping (April 1996). "Democracy and Elitism: The May Fourth Ideal of Literature". Modern China (Sage Publications, Inc.) 22 (2): 170–196. ISSN 0097-7004. JSTOR 189342.
  • 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.
  • Song, Mingwei (2017). "Inventing Youth in Modern China". In Wang, David Der-wei (ed.). A New Literary History of Modern China. Harvard, Ma: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 248–253. ISBN 978-0-674-97887-4.
  • 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 978-0140062793. Attractively written essays on the men and women who promoted intellectual revolution in modern China.

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