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May Fourth Movement: Taiwan must beware the CCP, top historian says

A CENTURY LATER:While the ideas that the May Fourth Movement advocated can be seen in Taiwan, the nation is unlikely to influence China, the academic said

Staff writer, with CNA

Historian Yu Ying-shih speaks during an interview at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, on Friday.

Photo: CNA

The ideas of democracy and science have been carried out partially, even comprehensively, in Taiwan, Chinese American historian Yu Ying-shih (余英時) said on Friday, but cautioned that the nation should be wary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and keep its democratic system intact.

The CCP is “the biggest threat Taiwan is faced with,” the 89-year-old Yu said in an interview at his home in Princeton, New Jersey.

A Princeton University emeritus professor, Yu has been described by his peers as the greatest Chinese intellectual historian of his generation.

He said that most ordinary people in Taiwan do not understand the threat, and only think that China is very rich and that Taiwan has to compromise with it to earn money.

“It depends on how far you want to go in compromising,” Yu said. “If it is a compromise made regardless of political consequences, I think Taiwan will become a second Hong Kong in the future.”

“The interior ideology of Taiwan is in great disarray, without a common consensus. This is a huge crisis,” Yu said.

Yu made the remarks ahead of the 100th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, which started with a student-led march in Beijing on May 4, 1919, in protest against foreign powers exerting control over parts of China and the weak Chinese government at the time.

The march marked an upsurge of Chinese nationalism and a move toward political activism by ordinary people rather than just intellectual elites.

In a broader sense, the term “May Fourth Movement” often refers to a cultural movement from 1915 to 1926 in which intellectuals and students pursued democracy and science to modernize and strengthen China.

However, the anti-imperialist, democratic and nationalist ideals expressed by the students who took to the streets a century ago are now credited by the CCP for having lit the revolutionary flame that led to its formation.

Yu said that that communists took advantage of the movement to build themselves up before they established the People’s Republic of China government in 1949.

Communists emphasized “the people’s democratic dictatorship,” claiming that a “proletarian dictatorship” was true democracy, he said.

Such a claim runs contrary to the spirit of the May Fourth Movement and its activists, Yu said.

He said that democracy and science are closely related to each other, because democracy cannot exist without freedom of speech, action and organization, which is also what science needs.

Without freedom, scientists cannot achieve their research goals, the historian said, adding that communist China does not want democracy and science, nor knowledge, only the skills to control people.

China’s true gospel is “serving the party,” Yu said.

“The communists uphold a one-party dictatorship under the cover of May Fourth patriotism and by taking advantage of nationalist sentiment. It is what it has done most successfully,” Yu said.

Citing many Chinese university professors and researchers, Yu said “it is now the worst time” for freedom of speech in China, adding that students monitor instructors’ remarks in classes, resulting in fear among the latter that they could be sacked because they have said something “incorrect.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) administration completely contravenes the May Fourth spirit, Yu said.

However, he said that the May Fourth Movement’s ideals have not gone extinct in China.

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