Questions and Analysis: The Rethinking of the New Culture Movement

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.11, 2015


Questions and Analysis: The Rethinking of the New Culture Movement



Chen Tingxiang, Xie Dikun, Chen Weiping and Zhu Shoutong


The New Culture Movement marked the point when science and democracy began to take root in China, and, more importantly, laid the intellectual foundation for the spread of Marxism, so it had clear anti-feudal and enlightenment characteristics. However, some so-called “rethinking” in the last two decades has to some extent undermined the image of the New Culture Movement as promoting a progressive direction for the new culture of the Chinese nation. This year happens to be the one hundredth anniversary of the New Culture Movement. To clarify the historical record, the journal has invited scholars in the relevant fields to a dialogue in writing with a view to reexamining some of the “rethinking” of the last two decades. Professor Chen Tingxiang of the History and Culture School of Sichuan University puts forward the view that the New Culture Movement was undoubtedly one of the high points in the contention of different schools of thought in Chinese intellectual history. It is significant not only because it was a creative application of the scientific world view, but because it emphasized the union of the liberation of man and the new morality. Hence the proponents of modernization selected the useful elements of Western thought, and, combining them with intrinsic Chinese thought, applied them to some of China’s most immediate and most urgent problems. In this way, the New Culture Movement was an important milestone in Chinese intellectual history. Xie Dikun, Research Fellow at the CASS Institute of Philosophy, holds that how we assess the New Culture Movement and how we understand its relation to enlightenment is both practically and theoretically significant for carrying on the tradition of the May Fourth Movement and promoting the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The New Culture Movement created conditions for the spread of Marxism and the emergence of the New Democratic Revolution. The contradictions expressed by its major advocates in relation to the enlightenment stemmed from the conflict between Chinese and Western cultures and the immediate turbulence of Chinese society. In fact, the New Culture Movement was not limited to the cultural sphere; the subsequent revolution and wars were its continuation in other forms. Professor Chen Weiping, at the Institute of Modern Chinese Thought and Culture and the Department of Philosophy, East China Normal University, believes that the target of the New Culture Movement’s fierce attacks was feudal despotism; it attempted to eliminate the accumulated dregs of traditional Chinese culture, so as to rebuild the foundations of a new culture. At the same time, the New Culture Movement did not adopt an attitude of wholesale rejection of the fine elements in China’s traditional culture. Rather, jettisoning the traditional study of the Confucian classics, it stressed taking a scientific approach to researching traditional culture, introducing its ideas into the modern disciplinary system and thereby revitalizing it. Zhu Shoutong, a distinguished Visiting Professor at the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of the University of Macau, points out that the New Culture Movement’s spiritual values illuminated the “fragments of civilization” in the New Literature; the energy from the West drove the New Literature and stimulated in it a certain radical attitude. The New Culture Movement and its core values of “Democracy and Science” played a decisive role in the intellectual character, spiritual mien and cultural traits of the New Literature. It remains necessary to reiterate the inherent and necessary connection between the emergence of the New Literature and the New Culture Movement.