A Journal and a “Society”:
On the “May Fourth” Literary Tradition

By Wang Xiaoming

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 11, no. 2, pp.1-39

In his article, Wang Xiaoming re-assesses the legacy of Chinese new literature of the 1920s, often referred to as ‘May Fourth’ literature. Contrary to the common view that this period in modern Chinese literature heralded individualism and experimentation, Wang argues that the ‘May Fourth ‘ literary tradition laid the groundwork for Chinese writers’ collective turn to leftism in the 1930s. Using non-literary texts, such as theoretical essays and manifestos, as his main sources, Wang shows that both the first journal for new literature (New Youth) and the first organisation for new literature (the Literary Association) promoted a programmatic view of literary development and actively repressed alternative modes of expression and organisation. Wang discusses four characteristics of the ‘May Fourth’ literary tradition: neglecting literature’s own characteristics and values; the idea that literature must have a mainstream and a centre; the idea that the development of literature can be planned and produced; the idea that collective literary aims take precedence over individual literary ideals. Wang ends by saying that the ‘May Fourth’ literary tradition, even today, still casts a ‘dark shadow’ on modern Chinese literature, from which it is necessary to escape.