May Fourth and the Pivot of Chinese Socialism

This essay analyzes the reception of the communalism in China in the context of the powerful currents that contributed to and shaped it: the New Village Movement, anarchism, and Communism. Following on the heels of the fall of the Qing dynasty and the end of World War I, the May Fourth period was a time when China appeared threatened by imperialism from without and social war caused by the inequalities and instabilities of modernization from within. The former also shaped the latter, as clearly exemplified in the Boxer Uprising. However, for many Chinese intellectuals the solution to their national problems was not simply a matter of rejecting the globalizing world or of opposing it with force as the Boxers had done; rather, they sought to transform themselves into a society in consonance with modernity by studying foreign ideas. These ranged from Western science and democracy to religion and philosophy. Below is an investigation into communal living in the May Fourth period, a specific method of social transformation that synthesized and adapted elements from the New Village Movement, anarchism, and humanism. As a response to geopolitical and transnational intellectual movements, this communalism is particular to the May Fourth period in China. It marks the May Fourth period as a time when the possibilities for political action were not limited by the party form or by ideology.

In mid-March 1919, a month and a half before the epochal May Fourth event, the author and art critic Zhou Zuoren published the first article in Chinese on the Japanese New Village Movement, Atarashiki mura.1 In what would become an inspiration for communal living projects across China, Zhou relayed the utopian socialist ideas of Atarashiki mura’s founder, Mushak.ji Saneatsu. 2 Readers could vicariously experience a day in the life of Mushak.ji’s New Village, where residents created artwork as well as tilled the soil—artists became workers and vice versa. The essay’s widespread reception among Chinese intellectuals was nearly instantaneous, not least because it appeared in New Youth, the most influential publication of the New Culture Movement. Zhou, who was a colleague of the paper’s editor, Chen Duxiu, was by this time a staple commentator on cultural and literary issues in the magazine, though the essay on the New Village Movement was uncharacteristically political for him.

Zhou is generally treated as a minor character in the history of the May Fourth Movement. However, he is responsible for introducing a generation to communalism. His article initiated a wave of interest in communitarian lifestyles among students and radical intellectuals that survived the national disruptions of the May Fourth Movement while deepening the movement’s effect on social change in China. Zhou’s audience read about the communal experiment in Japan and found a model not just for interpersonal conviviality, but also for national renewal.

Conventional historical treatment obscures the working of communalism as the story of the May Fourth period is told in terms of competing political ideologies. Historians also tend to treat the more historically modest ideologies such as anarchism and liberalism as teleologically leading to a hegemonic dual-power scenario comprising the Communist Party and the Guomindang from the 1920s through the 1940s. 3 Especially among the post-war generation of historians, a nation-centered narrative based in modernization theory predominated.4 Modernization theory claims that the influence of modern Western military and political technology gradually drew China into the global community of developing nations. Further, the progress of China’s modernization was delayed by intellectual distractions such as anarchism and communalism. In contrast, the first aim of my investigation into communalism is to interpret an alternative (non-state, non-national) form of political action that was available to May Fourth activists.

Second, I hope to rediscover the effects of Japanese and Russian social and political movements on the May Fourth in China. By demonstrating how intellectual movements related transnationally I wish to question the un-nuanced portrayal of the May Fourth Movement as simply a patriotic and nationalist movement. As much as the Movement can be said to have objected to imperialism and Western domination, it was open to cooperative internationalism that included sharing political ideas with Japan and the West.5

The third aim is to demonstrate how communalism contributed to the founding of the Communist movement. Scholars have already noticed a similar dynamic with anarchism in China. Notably, Arif Dirlik argues that anarchists laid the ideological and organizational groundwork, perhaps unwittingly, for the emergence of the Communist Party.6 Dirlik examines elements of discourse prevalent in May Fourth periodicals and the study societies that coalesced around the May Fourth Movement. Another historian whose work deals with this issue most explicitly is Peter Zarrow, who sees anarchism as a key element in the formation of Chinese intellectual trends. 7 Even in China itself, new scholarship is being done that traces the impact of anarchism on artists who may never have considered themselves anarchists.8

The first section of this paper introduces the intellectual context of May Fourth China to show how political thought and action processed the radical nationalist and radical socialist ideals of the time. The second section looks at how communalism addressed the revolutionary crisis of May Fourth. Communalism is an umbrella term for anarchist and New Village experiments in transformative, prefigurative politics. Thus, the third and fourth sections, respectively, show how anarchism and the New Village ideal informed communalism. The fifth and sixth sections narrate how communalism instantiated in collective projects across China and then confronted a powerful political ideology, Communism. Throughout it is argued that communalism represents a pivotal moment in the history of Chinese socialism.


The May Fourth era is named for the patriotic, anti-government demonstration that took place in Beijing on the 4th of May 1919 and culminated, among other things, in the burning of the house of vice-minister Cao Rulin. This is the eponymous moment of the period, though the time-line of the May Fourth Movement spans a half-decade on either side of the May Fourth Incident. The Movement has its beginnings in the anti- Japanese indignation sparked by the September 1914 seizure of Qingdao in Shandong province, which was then a German possession, as well as the New Culture Movement among the literati, generally described as beginning with the founding of New Youth by Chen Duxiu in 1915.

By 1919 the explosive potential of these two trends was realized. On May Fourth, student demonstrators representing nearly all universities in Beijing took to the streets with a message. Their rallying cries included nationalist slogans revolving around some form of “Save the Nation!” often paired with more broadly anti-imperialist slogans such as “Self-Determination!” and “Oppose Power Politics!” 9 At the time, these two tendencies—the nationalist and the anti-Imperialist—found common ground in opposing the Republican government, though their interrelation results in a complex history prone to debates of interpretation. Does the May Fourth Movement signify the birth of a modern national consciousness in China? Or was the development of nationalism contested throughout the period?

The Qing Dynasty had fallen in 1911 and was succeeded by the supposedly modern and democratic Republic of China under the leadership of president Yüan Shikai. The early years of the Republic were tumultuous, and by 1919 China was confronted with a number of concrete problems. Not only had the country witnessed the decline of the Imperial System that had ostensibly maintained order and stability for millennia, but the new order which replaced it yielded to Japanese aggression and dissolved into warlordism on the periphery of the territory. For the intellectuals there was an added crisis: traditional philosophical traditions, namely Confucianism, appeared bankrupt in the face of early 20th century’s global modernity as alternative forms of Western philosophy such as socialism and liberalism appeared to offer the only practical solutions to the nation’s problems. This profound sense of uncertainty was felt by a generation of young intellectuals.

The decline of the Qing dynasty also spelled the decline in the traditional examination system, by which intellectuals would be assigned their governmental jobs. Losing faith in political solutions to the country’s problems, they shifted their attention to social questions, rediscovering the revolutionary movements that had been agitating since before the fall of the Qing. One quote from a Peking University student from around 1917 is revealing: “We had nothing to do with our government, that we knew very well, and at the same time we could no longer depend upon the principle of any so-called great leader like Woodrow Wilson….”10 The failures of the Versailles Peace Treaty, which had greatly disadvantaged China, were linked to the futility of World War I in the minds of most Chinese.

There was a ubiquitous skepticism of leaders such as Woodrow Wilson, who had neglected his pledge to defend national sovereignty. The political system dominated by elite Western nations and so-called democratic diplomacy were not appealing to Chinese.

The fact that the May Fourth Incident was ignited by widespread dissatisfaction with the results of official diplomacy also means that there was a degree of resistance to governmental solutions. Especially among the young and educated, after the Incident many spontaneously founded student unions to represent and make decisions for themselves. The failures of government oversight, both foreign and domestic, correlated in an increase of interest in socialism in this time period. 11 Specifically, the rise of anarchism was concurrent with the general elaboration in Chinese people’s minds of what the May Fourth Movement would mean.12

The ideas of the May Fourth Movement were not seen as purely intellectual pursuits; they were the evidence of a large-scale search for solutions to national problems. Though the May Fourth Movement was to some extent patriotic, it was also receptive to transnational political and social philosophies and shared many thematic qualities with cosmopolitanism. Again, anarchism, as the prevailing form of socialism in China at this time, based its appeal on theoretical inquisitiveness and perceived practical victories in education. One of the most popular campaigns of the New Culture Movement, for example, was the reorganization of Peking University under the libertarian-minded educator, Cai Yuanpei. 13 Cai, who accepted the chancellorship of the university in late 1916, was receptive to anarchist ideas and held many of the leading anarchists, such as Li Shizeng, Wang Jingwei, Wu Zhihui, and Huang Lingshuang, as close colleagues.14 Thus, the liberal Hu Shi’s declaration of “less talk about isms, more talk about problems” seemed, as “China’s first Marxist,” Li Dazhao, argued, out of touch with what most people thought about the practical applicability of new ideas to the Chinese situation.

Of the political ideologies circulating at the time, many tendencies of socialism coexisted amicably until around 1920, at which point debates over praxis generated a shift away from communalism and anarchism towards a Communist hegemony. As discussed earlier, Dirlik and others have done a sufficient amount of work retrieving the history of anarchism’s role in the origins of communism from obscurity. In this paper the focus is not how the anarchist movement that augured the Communist movement, but rather how communalism created the conditions for the Communist consolidation of Chinese socialism. True, many Chinese anarchists saw communalism as a method for creating their ideal stateless society. On the other hand, some were more inclined toward organizing in the labor movement.15 The overlapped in the sense that communalism combined a moralist critique of society and a utopian project of radical egalitarianism that challenged oppressive social relations. Its aims were consonant with anarchism since it synthesized elements from the anarchist movement and the New Village Movement, yet as historical social movements they are not identical.

As communalists put their ideas into practice they created a specific field of discourse conducive to communist organizing. They created conditions that were preparatory, like popularizing many formative elements (anti-imperialism, moral cultivation, anti-capitalism, organizational theories) of May Fourth New Culture, that were instrumental in making communism intelligible to a range of people. These conditions were also opportunities, like how communalist experiments provided a counter-model against which the communists could define themselves. Ultimately, the mindset of many young communitarians changed as they struggled to develop an appropriate solution to social problems.


At the conclusion of the First World War the threat of world revolution loomed large. Vladimir Lenin proclaimed it in his 1918 Prophetic Words: “only people who shut their eyes so as not to see, and stuff their ears so as not to hear, can fail to notice that all over the world the birth pangs of the old, capitalist society, which is pregnant with socialism, have begun.”16 Many were ready for a revolution that might overthrow the capitalist world system. In Europe and North America the tension manifest in general strikes such as in Seattle and the political revolutions like in Germany. No less in East Asia, where between the years of 1918 and 1922 hundreds of anti-government publications sprung up among the young and educated, and the national communist movements find their origins.

Aside from revolutionary upheaval, there were other causes for alarm from the intellectuals’ point of view. One was the geopolitical rearrangement following WWI that disadvantaged China by ceding Shandong province to Japan from Germany. A third was a tide of anarchist and socialist activity making its way to China through young people studying in Japan and France. A fourth major source was the collapse of the Qing Empire and the tribulations of the Republic of China. Combined altogether, this story reveals the transnational sources of the ways of thinking about China’s social problems.

This was a period of political indeterminacy conducive to utopian experimentation. It was to be short-lived, however; and within a few years the period can be seen to have concluded in the emergence of ultra-nationalist state-centered politics.

Though it was not to succeed in the long run, communalism did provide a moral and practical framework to approach social, political, and global issues. It offered a model of a new society that seemed plausible to some such as Zhou Zuoren. Historically, it also provided a political object lesson in the nature of this model’s limitations and failures. It provided experience in activism, media engagement, and networking for its organizers. It had a significant following even if its long-term leadership was limited.

After 1890, many Chinese intellectuals spent time in Japan as either a brief sojourn or as students. Most of these students went to learn modern scientific or academic subjects, but Japan was frequently a source of socialist or otherwise radical ideas that made inroads into China. Sun Yat-sen’s Tongmenghui (Revolutionary Alliance, precursor to the Guomindang) was founded in Japan, where it found support not only from expatriate Chinese, but also international sympathizers. The Chinese-language anarchist periodical Tianyi bao, published by husband and wife Liu Shipei and He Zhen, began production on Tokyo in 1907, from whence it was distributed internationally to a Chinese-speaking anarchist network. Furthermore, traveling students who would go on to play leadership roles in the Chinese Communist Party like Li Dazhao and Zhou Enlai spent years in Japan.

France, as another international destination for Chinese intellectuals, was a source for radical ideas. Simultaneous to the founding of the anarchist group in Tokyo, Chinese anarchists in Paris established the New World Society and began publishing the journal, New Era. New Era not only has the distinction of being the longest-running Chinese anarchist periodical, it was also singular in its distribution and impact. It was an organ whereby the anarchists in Tokyo and Paris could exchange news and views, but intellectuals in the also mainland read it. Two of the Paris anarchists, Li Shizeng and Wu Zhihui, known as “the deans of Chinese anarchism,” would be active in the New Culture, Labor-learning, and May Fourth Movements, as well as the Guomindang. They worked closely with Cai Yuanpei, the chancellor of Peking University, as he restructured the university into a modern educational institution.

The Frugal Study Society of 1912, the Diligent Work-Frugal Study Society of 1915, and the Sino-French Educational Association of 1916 were other innovative syntheses of anarchism and education that Li and Wu participated in. These earlier projects were parts of the Labor-learning Movement, a scheme to bring gifted Chinese students to France where they would study science and humanism, support themselves through hard work and anarchist conviviality, and ultimately transform into the next generation of revolutionary leaders. Indeed, when hard times hit the students in Paris, as in 1921 when the formal organizations could not support all the students, classmates spontaneously banded together in “mutual aid groups,” directly inspired by Li’s anarchist teachings.

It is fitting that a generation of Chinese intellectuals who spent time abroad would return with new inspiration. Another one of these individuals is the abovementioned Zhou Zuoren, who brought back the New Village Movement to China from Japan. Zhou was a poet, translator, and professor of literature during the May Fourth Movement, a member of the older generation of New Culture exponents. Zhou’s involvement in politics began with the New Village Movement, but his literary and cultural activism predates this. While studying in Tokyo he had contributed to Tianyi bao in articles that argued for literature as a means for transforming society. In these early articles he discussed the radical vision of Leo Tolstoy. The lineage of Tolstoy’s aesthetic and moral politics in Zhou’s May Fourth activism can also be traced through the thought and work of the Japanese novelist Mushak.ji Saneatsu.

Communalist ideas like the New Village Movement were not the only form of socialism that circulated in transnational intellectual currents. Chen Duxiu, the New Culture pioneer, distinguished between what he saw as the two main types: “utopian socialism” (kongxiang shehuizhuyi, literally “empty thought socialism,” synonymous with communalism) and “modern scientific socialism” (xiandai kexue shehuizhuyi, another name for Marxism).17 This latter form is represented clearly in the Communist International’s intervention in Chinese politics. 18 Yet the dispute over the form of socialism was not clearly divided along the lines sketched by Chen before 1920. In the immediate May Fourth period we don’t find a field of competing ideologies and dyed-in-the-wool partisans. Rather, a more fluid definition of the political prevails, represented most clearly by communalism that flourished from 1919 to 1921.

Communalism was a shared capacity among Chinese activists for a certain way of thinking about practical issues. One primary commonality is that communalists assumed that the division of labor creates social inequality. Thus, the solution to social problems is to have everyone perform an equal amount of hard work. The method for achieving this was not codified, though there were a variety of schemes drafted, as we know from the efflorescence of articles written about communal projects in May Fourth periodicals.

Communalism was not consistent, though we can easily identify definitive and recurrent themes such as individualism, humanism, and socialism. It borrowed inspiration from the most popular intellectuals of the time, Western figures as diverse as Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, and Peter Kropotkin. It was also deeply shaped by the aesthetics of novelists like Leo Tolstoy and the Japanese writers Mushak.ji Saneatsu and Natsume S.seki. The early socialist ideas of Henri de Saint-Simon even contributed to the formation of Chinese communalism. There is organizational overlap with the Japanese New Village and the international socialist movements, though communalism was experimental in its methodology—a revolutionary bricolage.

For a short period of time, the flexibility of the communalist movement earned it many followers. In the months following the May Fourth Incident, communalist ideas predominated among Chinese intellectuals. It captivated even those activists such as Mao Zedong, Li Dazhao, Qu Qiubai, and Zhou Enlai who would later become committed Communists. In fact, the general historiographical omission of the heterogeneity of May Fourth politics is one of the distortions engendered by the dialectical movement of China’s current de jure national ideology, Marxism-Leninism (later Marxism-Leninism- Maoism), over the unconsolidated form of politics that communalism represented. Yet, in the circumstances apparent to intellectuals during the May Fourth Movement, communalism seemed an attractive option.


The socialist alternative to Marxism in China was apparent even to non-Chinese intellectuals. Bertrand Russell, the Anglo-American philosopher, arrived in Beijing at the height of student agitation in the city. He was to serve a one-year appointment at Peking University, delivering lectures on a variety of topics. Though he was cloistered in the university for the most part, his proximity to the student movement and their intellectual leadership provided an opportunity to study the political situation in China closely.

Reflecting on his experiences in his 1922 book, The Problem of China, he assessed the growing communist intervention in Asia in the following passage:

… Bolshevism as it has developed in Russia is quite peculiarly inapplicable to China for the following reasons: 1) It requires a strong centralized state whereas China has a very weak state and is tending more and more to federalism instead of centralization; 2) Bolshevism requires a very great deal of government and more control of individual lives by the authorities than has ever been known before whereas China has developed personal liberty to an extraordinary degree and is the country of all others where the doctrines of anarchism seem to find successful practical application….19

Russell was a sympathizer with socialism and paid close attention to the movement in Asia. The second reason he gives for Bolshevism’s inapplicability in China is notable, as it illustrates how influential the Chinese anarchist movement was. As evidence of this we can look at the scale of anarchist publishing effort. The historian Chow Tse-tsung estimates that in the interim between 1915 and 1923, over 700 new magazines debuted in China.20 If this estimate is accurate, at least one tenth of all May Fourth periodicals were explicitly anarchist. 21 Additionally, certain gatherings, like an April 1920 student gathering in Fujian, were able to draw dozens of anarchists. For example, at the Congress of the Far Eastern Movement held in June 1921, thousands of anarchists were estimated to be in attendance.22

The position statement of the anarchist Evolution Society offers insight into what all of these anarchists stood for. Formed through the reconfiguration of four pre-existing groups, from the start this new affiliation had a periodical as its focal point. The project involved many of the most well-known anarchists in China: Huang Lingshuang and Chen Yannian (Chen Duxiu’s son) served as editors of the paper; Hua Lin and Ou Shengbai were contributors; and Zheng Peigang was the printer. Huang Lingshuang, who was responsible for position statement as well as much of the content, explains simply, “we would like to take the truths of ‘mutual aid’23 and spread them throughout society.” 24 This was not a violent message of class war. Huang Lingshuang thought of revolution as a scientific and biologically based process; it was “re-evolution”, not just revolt.

In the realm of practical political activities, anarchists were instrumental in the student, work-study and labor movements in China during the 1910s through the 1930s. In these movements, anarchists focused their strategy on dissolving the dichotomy between mental and manual work. Their ultimate goal was the creation of a generation of people who could just as easily write an essay as cultivate the land. Fortunately for them, they found a generation highly receptive to this message. Young radicals in the May Fourth period wanted to express themselves freely and to commit themselves to a cause.

As Russell points out about Bolshevism, any form of statist ideology could not be successful in the atmosphere surrounding the May Fourth Incident. Writing at the time this was all happening, he was accurate about what he saw but he could not foresee the eventual success of Marxism in China.

For many in late 1919, communalism seemed like a logical compliment to the work they had begun in the anti-imperialist phase (spring 1919) of the May Fourth Movement. In the summer of that year the student movement began to shift its focus from patriotic boycotts of Japanese goods and protests over the Versailles Treaty to experiments in libertarian education. In fact, the schooling projects were aimed at a universal free education with a focus on international issues and domestic social problems. Students in Beijing taught free classes to their younger counterparts, often donating their own funds in the effort.25

Another current of anarchist activism at this time was the Work-study Movement, which inspired a number of programs beginning in the 1910s.26 The most famous of these was the travel-work-study program developed by the anarchist Wu Zhihui to send Chinese students to France. The model was applied domestically as well. Work-study students were almost universally attracted to the idea of “laborism” ( laodong zhuyi), a valorization of human productive capacity, which not only benefited the individual laborer by providing them with dignity and better compensation, but also promoted social equality between mental and manual workers. 27

In practical terms this entailed a form of apprenticeship that young students practiced among the working class. Laborism, along with the concept of mutual aid, represented anarchist theory to many young people in China. One particular variant, Leo Tolstoy’s “pan-laborism”, was a subject of discussion in the mainstream press. 28 Tolstoy found the agrarian tradition of East Asian anarchists like Liu Shipei and He Zhen to be an inspiring counterfactual to the doctrines of modernist historical necessity used to foreclose discussion of utopian possibilities in the West. Tolstoy came to a different conclusion than the Marxists who were convinced that only an industrial proletariat could be a vanguard class. In a later section we will examine the leading Tolstoyan communal project in East Asia, the New Village Movement, and see that the admiration Tolstoy felt for the East Asian anarchists was reciprocated. Suffice for now to say that the social revolutionary positions articulated in the work-study ideas were the organizing principles for many May Fourth student and labor groups.

Anarchist groups like the Work-Study Society (Gongxue hui) of Peking Higher Normal College were integral to cultivating an atmosphere of campus radicalism that facilitated collective mass student action. Historians disagree, but one source even reports that one of the student protestors who entered and set fire to Cao Rulin’s house during the May Fourth Incident was Kuang Husheng, founder of the Work-Study Society. 29 Yet, the Work-Study Society was not simply an insurrectionary organization; their focus was rather on education and organization. They wanted to create an anarchist society in China through the principles of liberated manual and mental education for all Chinese people.

Beginning in November 1919, they published a paper, Work-Study (Gongxue), aimed at examining the intersection of labor and student issues.

It is instructive to compare the experience of the Work-Study Society in both its direct and indirect revolutionary practices to the May Fourth Movement as a whole. For example, the conflagration at Cao Rulin’s house on May Fourth was an isolated violent act in an otherwise peaceful movement, yet the movement is remembered today by the date of that incident. In the same way, “propaganda by the deed” (public acts of defiant violence such as assassination) became identified with the figure of the anarchist in the public imaginary much more clearly than the communal experiments and educational work that comprised most anarchist activity. Indeed, the May Fourth movement and the anarchist movement had both a hard and a soft side. We can identify these two moments in anarchist writing from before the May Fourth Incident. In the 1917 preface to the Beijing anarchist journal, Records of Freedom, we read:

There are both radical and gradualist modes of imparting [anarchist] doctrines.
One way is to use bombs and handguns in the fashion of Jing Ke30 and Sofia Perovskaya31; another way is to use speech and education to arouse sympathy and cultivate common virtues and wisdom. At first sight, these two modes seem incompatible, but when they are actually realized they move in unison and without contradiction.32

Thus, Work-Study was seen by its contributors, which included Zhou Zuoren, as a method of arousing an affective communalism. This affective discourse was not always explicitly anarchist, though it is necessary to investigate the anarchistic ideas that inflect it throughout. Like Zhou, Work-Study editors may never have considered themselves anarchists, but they could not avoid treading over the ground pioneered by anarchists. As Dirlik observes, the anarchists provided the intellectual vocabulary of the May Fourth Movement.33 Work-Study was an effort to bring multiple strands of thought together and theorize a practical form that could be common to all of them. It featured articles not only on anarchism and socialism, but also on the New Village Movement. Furthermore, it was part of a national network of such publications.

This network was geographically expansive and included some very active organizers. One of these figures was Yun Daiying, who in 1920 collaborated with some colleagues on a single-issue publication called Mutual Aid (Huzhu), which was published in Wuchang, Hubei province. Up until this time Yun had been active in writing for radical newspapers and drafting proposals for school reform. 34 The founding of the Mutual Aid project marked a step towards a more practically engaged form of activism for him. 35

Like many communalist groups, his collective, the Mutual Aid Society, stood for the “progress of youth by mutual [aid]”36 and democracy. In another part of the country, a similar invocation of the doctrine of mutual aid appeared in the name of the Work Study Mutual Aid Corps (Gongdu huzhutuan) in Beijing, which promoted a 3-part system of work, study, and communal living. The experiment was an attempt to apply the New Village model, which they had read about in New Youth, to an urban locale and was thus not explicitly anarchist, though it was heavily inspired by anarchism.

While it eventually ended in dissolution for its members and Wang Guangqi, its leader, the model was influential and soon the Beijing corps was joined by similar projects in other cities.37 In all there were four groups, and they found support among radical students such as those who edited the Zhejiang New Tide magazine. This periodical was, among other things, an organ used to support the practical activities of the New Village Movement projects. As Wang Guangqi wrote in issue number 7, dated January 1920: “The Work-and-Learning Mutual Aid groups are the embryo of the new society, and the first step in the realization of our ideals…. On paper we advocate a social revolution every day, but we have yet to begin to put it into practice.” 38 They intended to bridge the gap between revolutionary theory and practice by applying democratic and egalitarian ideals to their daily lives.

The idea proliferated. One other experiment to put the social revolution into practice was founded by Deng Zhongxia, future communist labor leader, who organized the Morning Garden Society at Peking University in October 1919 to encourage the “dual-movement” of student to worker and back while also practically aiding students with their daily lives. Deng, like Wang Guangqi and the others whose projects he had read about, believed that by disregarding the class distinctions associated with occupational specialization they could slowly alter the social composition of society as a whole without a class war.

Glancing ahead in time, we can confirm Dirlik’s argument that many of the elements that would later come to characterize the Communist movement’s platform were first introduced by the anarchists. 39 Anarchist publications ran articles discussing Western scientific theory, aesthetic politics, feminism, and even Marxism. The first translation of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto was in fact published in an anarchist paper, Tianyi bao. Likewise, it was primarily the anarchists in China who began discussing the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Aside from these obvious examples, we know that when the Communist cell in Hunan became active in labor organizing it followed the examples of anarchists Pang Renquan and Huang Ai. Most important for our purposes here, the anarchists contributed to the formation of communalism.

Communalism united the disparate communal projects of the May Fourth period advocated a method of changing society that it borrowed from anarchism, the method of prefigurative politics. Historian of the American New Left, Wini Breines, describes prefigurative politics as “the effort to build community, to create and prefigure in lived action and behavior the desired society, the emphasis on means and not ends, the spontaneous and utopian experiments that developed in the midst of action while working toward the ultimate goal of a free and democratic society.” 40 In the same way that the American New Left of the 1960s found prefigurative ways of expressing their politics, anarchists in May Fourth China were quick to propose new methods of challenging state power and social inequality.

In the May 1919 issue of New Youth, in what may have been the definitive month for Chinese radicalism, the anarchist Huang Lingshuang published his “Critique of Marxism,” contrasting Marxist communism with his own anarchist communist perspective. Unlike the hierarchical socialist doctrine of the Marxists that adapts radical politics to the bourgeois state form, Huang wrote, “anarchist communists want to subvert the organization of the state and allow the common people to establish a variety of associations to run enterprises, such as educational associations and agricultural associations. Step by step these associations will become complex enough to deal with all business in society so as to abolish all kinds of authoritarian power and bring equality and happiness to every individual.” 41

A German anarchist named Gustav Landauer wrote in 1910 that, “the state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; i.e., by people relating to one another differently.” 42 If, as Huang and Landauer believe, this is the case, then state socialisms like Marxism can be seen as inadequate to the task of reforming society. Communalism and anarchism, however, by altering social relations, create the conditions for the envisioned socialist society—utopia does not have to wait until “after the revolution.”


What did a new world of social relations look like? Anarchists certainly had their work-study model, but a fresh vision came in 1919 when another transnational social movement converged in Chinese intellectual circles. The New Village Movement, like some forms of anarchism, was premised on a belief that the ideal form of social life could be developed within the present society. However, unlike anarchism, which has historically been articulated into various and recurrent tendencies—anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, mutualism, etc.—the New Village Movement referred to the lifestyle of one specific site, Atarashiki mura (New Village), in Japan. Also unlike most of the Chinese projects (one notable exception, the Village of Youth, comes to mind), it was intended to be a fully self-sustained village. The New Village Movement was an extension of the lifestyle of Atarashiki mura in that the village had two levels of membership: one literal and one metaphorical. In the latter sense, anyone who agreed with the tenets of the Atarashiki mura could be considered a “resident”. In this way, the village which was established and located in Japan could quickly attract Chinese followers.

The most notable of these followers was Zhou Zuoren, who advocated for the movement in many of the major May Fourth periodicals. As mentioned above, Zhou’s ties to international intellectuals ran deep. As a student Zhou, like his brother the famous novelist Lu Xun, was sent to Japan to receive training in a technical field. Again like his brother, he discovered an abiding interest in literature instead. When Zhou returned to China in 1911, he shortly thereafter began correspondence with members of the Shirakabaha, or White Birch Society.43 Zhou maintained a relationship to Japan through both his literary and familial relations. His wife, in fact, was Japanese and the couple spoke Japanese in the home. Though he was loyal to his country, Zhou would later collaborate with the Japanese government during its occupation of Beiping (now Beijing). Needless to say that Zhou found Japan to be a source of intellectual stimulation, and in the case of his relationship to Saneatsu Mushak.ji, an inspiration.

In 1919, Zhou had his first opportunity to revisit Japan with his wife. He made the trip twice that year, first for family business and again to visit Atarashiki mura. On this second occasion, he met with Mushak.ji Saneatsu, a meeting that solidified the collegial relationship the two had been cultivating through correspondence. Zhou was ecstatic about visiting Mushak.ji’s communal experiment as he saw in it the seeds of a moralist and aesthetic revolution. For Zhou, like Mushak.ji, literature and moral renewal were the only practical methods of transforming society. When he returned to China he made it his mission to popularize the idea for a New Village being developed by Mushak.ji.

In “Riben de xincun,” mentioned at the beginning of this thesis, Zhou provides detailed information about Atarashiki mura. For example, residents are to wake up at six every morning, except for one person whose duty it is to wake at five o’clock and prepare breakfast. This special task rotates so that everyone shares in the meal duty equally. From seven in the morning to five in the evening everyone must work in the field, although rainy days are an occasion to stay inside during the day and do crafts such as making rope and straw sandals. This routine may seem strenuous, but there was a lot of time left for leisure. If in the course of a task one becomes tired they have the option to switch to an easier chore.

Evenings provide an opportunity for self-guided personal enrichment such as study, creative writing, or art. Mushak.ji’s detailed calendar of holidays included the birthdays of Jesus, Buddha, the French sculptor Rodin, and Leo Tolstoy.

It was a system attractive to activists in the creative class. The New Village Movement became known throughout certain intellectual and artistic circles in Japan, China, and Korea through individuals like Zhou. 44 Thus, Mushak.ji’s Atarashiki mura was not always identified with a social movement per se. It was popularized as much through art as through activists since its utopian goals were aesthetic as well as political.

These artists believed that individualism and self-perfection would benefit society as a whole; communal living, even when practiced in the countryside, was not an escape from social obligations.

If we were to set a date for the inception of the New Village idea, it would be Spring 1918. In March of that year Mushak.ji published a series of essays on what he had provisionally called Atarashiki mura in a mainstream newspaper, the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun. Beginning with “There Is A Country” and later “Embarking on the Road to the Happy Life,” which appeared in two parts, these provided a set of goals and a detailed program to pursue these goals through the creation of an agricultural village. Mushak.ji appealed to sentiments of pacifism, compassion, and rationality to make his case. 45 He expected his readers to be motivated by these ideals and to come forward to make the utopia a reality. This was not a call for some sort of decentralized New Village model, however; the effort was really only to be attempted under the direction of Mushak.ji himself.46

Mushak.ji was optimistic about the responses his transformative platform would solicit, though only eight people contacted him about the Atarashiki mura that spring, three of whom he had already known.47 Nevertheless, Mushak.ji seems to have appreciated the fact that this would be a long and slow process, an outlook that seemed to be vindicated before too long. In 1920 he wrote a poem that reflected back upon the initial stages of the project with satisfaction:

Fire from a single match is capable of kindling everything flammable in the world.
It’s simply a matter of brothers and sisters the world over becoming earnest and working together.48

In all, Mushak.ji wrote three articles on Atarashiki mura that spring. In the following months he reproduced them in the artistic journal edited with his friends, Shirakaba (White Birch). The theorizing of Atarashiki mura was not initially connected to a social movement because aside from penning the essays for the newspaper, Mushak.ji had no clear way forward for the movement. Within a couple months the path became clearer as he began working with a modestly-sized but committed group of organizers who held meetings in Tokyo. In July Mushak.ji and this group began publishing Atarashiki mura magazine, which would be the centerpiece of their outreach strategy. The founding of Atarashiki mura signaled Mushak.ji’s withdrawal from the Shirakaba project, though he continued to appeal to his Shirakabaha colleagues to join him on his new venture. The activist turn in his career was an extension of his artistic ideals; it became a form of aesthetic politics that would influence the New Village inspired projects in China as well.

In August the Atarashiki mura organizers consolidated their operation at a makeshift headquarters in Hongo, Tokyo. Seven members begin living at headquarters full time.49 Over the course of the next month they drafted a list of goals and operating procedures for the movement. The list bears the imprint of Mushak.ji’s humanist individualism very strongly, but it is also notable for how it divides membership into two levels:

Our ideal is that everyone in the world has a right to live a natural life, and to attain self-enlightenment. In order to accomplish this, one must not do harm to others. One should live honestly, for the sake of one’s own happiness and freedom, and should not destroy the happiness of others. One who seeks such a life, who believes in the possibility of such a life, and who exhorts others to lead such a life—such a one is a member of the New Village, and is our brother and sister.
There are two classes of membership: the first consists of those who come and live under our principles, actually putting them into practice; the second, of those who are not in a position to practice these principles, but who agree with them.
The number of first-class members is limited, but anyone may become a second class member.
First class members contribute all their money to the Village unconditionally.
They are given one year in which to dispose of their previously-owned property.
After a year’s residence in the Village, one who stays on must turn over all his property to the Village, without reservation.
First-class members are required to work voluntarily. Members have no right to command or direct each other. The work of the Village is decided by a general meeting of the members. A member may insist upon his own ideas so long as they are not opposed to the spirit of the Village.
Second-class members shall do their utmost to spread the ideals of the Village, to support its work, and to further the realization of its ideals by deeds of moral support. They shall each contribute no less than one yen per month to the Village, unless doing so prove [sic] to be a definite hardship.50

After the preliminary meetings of organizers had drafted this statement they were ready to solicit more membership. They began to hold general informational meetings on the September 14. By the next week Mushak.ji and three committee members were on a train trip bound for Totoro (later to become Nobeoka). The aim of this trip was two-fold: aside from planning to purchase land they took the opportunity along the way to visit supporters in the major cities. On this trip Mushak.ji delivered lectures on the aims of Atarashiki mura and the status of the work they had done so far. The reception was warm and new branches of the New Village Movement were set up in Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe.

The troupe reached their destination on October 10 th but there was still a lot of work to be done. The journey between Tokyo and Totoro in Hyuga prefecture took them over two weeks because of all the stops they had made along the way and they were tired from the effort. Additionally, there were a few complications with purchasing the land.

The budget they had set of 50 Yen per tan (0.245 acres) was difficult to meet on the market. Moreover, some of the locals they had arranged to meet with were apprehensive about selling to Tokyoites. It was later revealed the some of the resistance by the local peasants was cause by intervention by the local police. Without meeting with instant success in the venture, they were soon joined by two female committee members (including Mushak.ji’s first wife, Fusako) and a few supporters who wanted to facilitate the purchase.

Eventually a willing seller was found and the Atarashiki mura group acquired land in the heavily forested hills in rural Hyuga. The land was within budget and boasted a diverse topography. There was enough wetland for a rice paddy and enough arable land to grow wheat and plant a vegetable garden. Additionally there was enough free space to erect a pair of modest dwellings. Thus, the story of the establishment of Atarashiki mura concludes within two months of this first meeting. Mushak.ji had convinced around 160 members to join the movement, but most of these were simply sympathetic city dwellers.

It would take a dozen committed residents to begin the arduous process of building houses and planting the crops that would sustain the village. Mushak.ji memorialized the atmosphere of the moment in verse:

Some dozen of us
walk along a midsummer forest path.
Men and women. Some talking. Some silent
Some walking fast. Some walking slow.
Each thinking his or her own private thoughts.
We head, however, toward the same goal…. 51

The philosophy of the New Village was aimed at a form of communal living. First of all, resident members in the New Village were to pool resources. They grew rice, mushrooms, and other vegetables. Though it was not a large space for animals, they raised chickens for eggs. Members did not make a salary but earned an allowance from the communal savings. The land was communally held, and all were to share the use of machinery and the library, which contained textbooks and literature. A couple days a week every resident was given the liberty of dedicating time to artistic expression and study. (Mushak.ji, who worked the same amount as everyone else, took this time to pen poems and paint pictures of pumpkins. According to John Hughes, Mushak.ji produced seven novels, five books of essays, fifteen one-act plays, and nine long plays between 1908 and 1923, most of these were produced during his leisure time at Atarashiki mura 52) To promote health, medical supplies were provided to each member.

They practiced a modified form of consensus decision-making, which was actually criticized for having “anarchic implications” by his contemporaries, a view repeated by later commentators.53 Yet Mushak.ji viewed it as the most just form of social process that could possibly be developed. It was designed so that it neither impinged on each individual’s conscience nor did it allow one person to make decisions for the whole group. Every member was given an equal say. In these reforms we can see the blossoms of Mushak.ji’s vision. Now, let us spend some time to examine how the philosophical foundations of Mushak.ji’s thought constituted the New Village Movement, and the content of that philosophy.

In “Atarashikimura: The Intellectual and Literary Contexts of a Taish. Utopian Village,” Angela Yiu shows how Atarashiki mura grew out of the cultural milieu of Meiji-Taish. Japan, borrowing from popular intellectuals of the time such as Thomas More, Tolstoy, and S.seki.54 As a utopia it sought to transcend this period of history, however, and reveal universal human values. Conversely, these values were attainable in the context of the New Village in the specific historical moment. Yiu points out one of the interesting tensions in utopian studies: although “utopia” means literally “no place, ” Atarashiki mura “is a physical manifestation” of an ideal. 55 From the outset Mushak.ji intended this manifestation to spark a movement of broad social transformation that would follow the example set at the village. This movement would bring the New Village model to China, synthesizing the ideas of Russian, Japanese, and Chinese intellectuals.

Utopian communalism did not just transcend history; it also transcended national boundaries. The Russian influence can be traced back to Leo Tolstoy. Though they came from different countries Tolstoy had a similar background to Zhou and Mushak.ji. Tolstoy was a prolific writer and critic of literature. Like Mushak.ji he was born into an affluent aristocratic family (Tolstoy was a count, Mushak.ji the son of a viscount).

Tolstoy was an independently minded adolescent. He rejected many of the rules enforced on his own education and the lessons taught to him by his tutors, his family, and his university. In response to his upbringing, Tolstoy began to form his own thoughts about education. Mushak.ji and Zhou both read Tolstoy and took from him a desire to reform the imperfect system they had been brought up in. After freeing his serfs Tolstoy created a school for the peasant children at his family’s villa, Yosnaya Polyana. Tolstoy’s utopian project there was similar in spirit to Atarashiki mura in Japan and the communes in China.

As one of the keystones of his political platform, education was not simply academic for Tolstoy. As he wrote, “everywhere the greater part of one’s education is acquired not at school but in life.”56 Throughout his life he developed a habit of learning skills from the peasants and craftspeople he knew. This is how he learned how to farm, repair broken items, and sew. As an aristocratic landowner, he could have kept himself comfortable without engaging in these activities himself. Yet this was a moral project for Tolstoy, who believed that social changed and moral acts of self-cultivation were interlinked. This was the core of his humanism. As evidence of the humanist sensibility of the two authors, both Tolstoy and Mushak.ji found this type of education necessary complements to aesthetic cultivation.

The Russian scientist, writer, and “anarchist Prince”, Peter Kropotkin, is also woven into this story. Kropotkin was a seminal figure in the history of the international anarchist movement, and one of the most influential writers in China during the May Fourth Movement.57 Mushak.ji was introduced to Kropotkin’s social theory through the Japanese anarchists at a young age, though he was uneasy about their associations with violence and revolution. Mushak.ji’s New Village was a response against the anarchists as much as it was a continuation of their communal ideals. Indeed, there were many similarities between the socialist and New Village movements, as well as some crucial differences. Of course Mushak.ji was critical of revolutionaries. In his poem, “Revolutionary” we read that “I dislike the life of a revolutionary.//I like the lives of people//who move steadily ahead to finish their work” 58—but the radical nature of his thought was observed by more than a few revolutionary socialists.

The crucial difference was one of method. Mushak.ji admired K.toku Shushui, a translator of Kropotkin and anarchist who was executed for his involvement in the High Treason Incident. But Mushak.ji was uneasy with the violent reputation of the anarchists, though K.toku, at least, was innocent. Shirakaba magazine, unlike other literary journals of the time, kept itself aloof from the debates over the High Treason Incident. 59 Though the Shirakaba writers wished to remain aloof from socialist politics, they were noticed by the most famous Japanese anarchist of the day, .sugi Sakae. .sugi commented on the tension between the Shirakaba writer’s aristocratic cosmopolitanism, which might be a limit to the amount of suffering they were exposed to, and their potential influence in progressive social change: “While reacting on the one hand against the evil practices of their forefathers, they have also opposed themselves to the upstart bourgeoisie. Whenever we look at Shirakaba we are always reminded of the young Tolstoy or Kropotkin. Were not Tolstoy and Kropotkin young noblemen, like those of the Shirakaba group, who had taken one step further?”60 .sugi points out an apt parallel between Shirakaba’s individualistic and humanistic cosmopolitanism and the anarchists’. This was an established genre of political action. We can see the most representative example in Kropotkin’s “An Appeal to the Young.” Historian Donald Keene points out that .sugi suspected and hoped that the authors “might covertly be anarchists, like Tolstoy and Kropotkin, as bridges to the society of the future.” 61

The New Village Movement is unique to the history of social movements and communal studies because of its connection to international modern literature. Especially in the figures of Mushak.ji and Zhou Zuoren in China we can study a socio-political utopia that is consonant with aesthetic ideals expressed in a literary genre. This connection points to what might be the defining and uniting element of New Village theory and praxis, aesthetic politics. Tolstoy is a salient point of reference; though before returning to Tolstoy’s influence on Mushak.ji, we should clarify our discussion of the politics of culture.

The 1910s in China witnessed a sort of cultural revolution, as Maurice Meisner points out. The spirit of the time held to the “fundamental belief in the efficacy and necessity of transforming ‘consciousness’….” 62 Aesthetic politics was method for changing this sort of consciousness. It is an understanding and subtle manipulation of the transformative power of cultural production to suit political ends. Generally, there are two moments in the development of an aesthetic politics. We can see the first very clearly early in the career of Mushak.ji, who criticized the Naturalist school of literature by opposing, “I don’t want to get a sense of life from art, but I would like to get a sense of art from life”63—the pertinent point of this being that the phenomenal world is suffused with aesthetic meaning that can be accessed through the correct livelihood.

The second moment of aesthetic politics involves constructing such a platform on which access to latent meaning of life. Mushak.ji developed an aesthetic politics that pursued visions of a new society while expanding the horizons of the vision. The content of this form of political activism may have altered throughout his career, variously emphasizing humanism, individualism, and rural simplicity, but it was a pattern that concerned Mushak.ji throughout. The differences with other socialist activism and art are notable since Mushak.ji’s emphasis is on gradual change.

For Mushak.ji, his form aesthetic political activism was differentiated from typical political activism. In the poem, “Tolstoy’s Words”, for example, Mushak.ji prophesies that the aesthetic political sensibility will prevail once people begin to live the right livelihood:

Most of the time when I read Tolstoy
I indeed agree with him.
The day is coming when
the seeds that Tolstoy sowed
will surpass the seeds that Marx sowed.
First there’s the need to know truly how to love and reverence human life. 64

When comparing the New Village Movement in both its Chinese and Japanese contexts, as this paper attempts, a couple of parallels appear. In both cases the movement appealed to social radicals who wanted an alternative form of political activity. Yet in both cases as well, the state-form of politics comes to dominate the historical narrative. In Japan, Taisho democracy maintained itself only at the expense of increasingly conservative social policies such as the Peace Preservation Law of 1925 and similarly restrictive measures of national security. 65 The historical narrative developed after World War II about the militarization of state and society throughout the 1920s is compelling, especially since these processes were successful in eliminating or at least repressing most forms of dissent. Yet, Atarashiki mura as a historical fact does not fit this narrative. It was a political and social vision that operated outside of the state, and still survives over ninety years later.

The New Village Movement is a challenging case of historical possibility.

Historians are sometimes presented with the task of determining whether or not a utopian effort was destined to fail, though in this case its not obvious that we can answer conclusively. In reference to Atarashiki mura’s success, Arishima Takeo, member of the Shirakabaha and communal pioneer in his own right, had this to say to Mushak.ji:

“…Failure does not mean a total waste. Projects of this kind have up to now always ended in failure, but this is not failure in the usual sense of the word. Indeed, if it seemed that your project had succeeded it would be a most suspicious kind of success, for people would certainly detect behind it the foul odor of compromise.” 66 To people across the world at the time and even to the present the possibility of a different future seems real.

This challenge is often dismissed as romanticism, voluntarism, and, yes, utopianism, but to write the present onto the past as some teleological inevitability risks an fatal historical fallacy, to see the past as Pangloss did, “the best of all possible worlds.” On the other hand we should avoid overstating the case for historical possibility.

Obviously the deck is stacked against the utopians as far as historical precedent goes.

Still, we should be interested in probing the possibilities of what historian Reinhart Koselleck calls “vergangene zukunft,” or “futures past.” 67 This approach entails situating the way in which people envision their ideal society, and how they work towards that ideal, in the context of their time.


No less than in Japan, the New Village Movement in China is important for an understanding of interwar intellectual life. When Zhou Zuoren first contributed an article on the New Village in March 1919 he set off a lively discussion about the possibility for an immanent, bottom-up transformation of social life in China. 68 In New Tide magazine Guo Shaoyu contributed his “Investigation into the New Villages,” a research paper on the Movement’s aims.69 Zhou also composed “The Spirit of the New Villages” in a subsequent issue of New Youth. In this latter essay Zhou further elaborated on how the New Village could create model citizens.70

Many saw the potential of this movement almost immediately, though there were some critics, notable the Chinese liberal Hu Shi. Articles began to appear across a political and geographical spectrum of New Culture magazines. Immediately Zhou began to advertise his services to the Movement. He turned his house into the office for the Chinese New Village Movement, arranged for trips to Japan to visit Atarashiki mura, and translated and contributed writing on the New Village model. Students in the cities began to organize themselves into urban New Villages. As an unconsolidated organization, the New Village Movement in China has not left many traces. Aside from Zhou Zuoren, it’s difficult to speak of any sort of national leadership. The primary sources for studying them come from the articles written about them in May Fourth periodicals.

We will now look at two of these projects that are the subject of a valuable study by Anna Gustafsson-Chen: the Labor-learning Mutual Aid Corps of Beijing and the Benefit the Masses Book Society in Wuchang, as they are representative of the trajectory from New Village adaptations with anarchist input to tokenized points of reference in the debates about New Life, communism, and their different revolutionary methods. 71 After that we will look at a particular young activist from Hunan, Mao Zedong, who in 1919 ventured to Beijing to meet with Zhou Zuoren and discuss the New Village. These three moments of May Fourth history demonstrate the depth of communalism’s engagement with the political activities of May Fourth intellectuals.

Inspired by Zhou’s New Village Movement, the Labor-learning Mutual Aid Corps was actually a network of four communalist projects that would influence many others.

Some of their principle organizers include Shi Cuntong, an activist from Hangzhou who made a national reputation by penning a polemical student essay against Confucian family values that resulted in expulsion from his school. Another organizer was the revolutionary and future communist martyr, Yu Xiusong. Initially, in 1919, the group solidified around a plan that was very different, the commune developed by Wang Guangqi.

Wang published a series of proposals for communes. These began in April 1919as requests for new ideologies based on combining mental and manual labor, but after reading Zhou Zuoren’s article about Atarashiki mura in later 1919 Wang immediatelycalled for the creation of a New Village.72 The response to his article was enthusiastic, and others began calling for small, federated societies that practiced mutual aid as well.

At the time many thought that the New Village model could be imported whole-cloth to China, but it was Wang who in a December 1919 article, “New Life in the City,” would propose the urban communes that eventually came to define communal practice. 73

Wang intended the Labor-learning Mutual Aid Corps to lead the “bloodless revolution,” a phrase that became common among New Life writers. They would begin by organizing the youth into corps based on a balanced job complex of mental and manual work, thereby achieving “the unity of education and occupation.” 74 This practice could be extended across the entire world, simultaneously strengthening local solidarity and international cooperation.75 Shi Cuntong latched onto this idea, writing in 1920 that the Corps “should be a model of the ideal society whose policy should be to reform society.”76 By the middle of 1920 all four Labor-learning Mutual Aid Corps were established. They operated on a form of consensus decision-making, shared all of their possessions (including clothes) in common, and were active propagandists. One of the groups established a restaurant that the participants would work at to raise money for the group, while others attempted to run laundromats, tutor students, and run a cinema.

Almost without exception these tasks proved to be too onerous for the Corps’ participants and by the end of the year all of the groups had fallen apart.

The causes for the project’s failures are difficult to pinpoint but commentators were quick to point to some of the obvious flaws of the group. These included allegations of personal rivalry, lack of financial acumen, and deeper arguments about the unfeasibility of the project in the first place. None of the participants had much formal business training. Additionally, few had any experience with navigating the interpersonal conflicts that arise in any venture. Clearly the project received little traction on the ground, despite enthusiastic beginnings. After the initial energy wore out, membership began to decline. For this reason the amount of attention on the failure of the Corps was almost equal to the excitement generated by its founding. How could such a hopeful and bright project meet such an abrupt end? Whatever the formal accomplishments of thegroup, it served as a crucial turning point in the history of Chinese socialism.

When the movement fell apart in 1920, Shi fled to Japan where he resumed his revolutionary activities with Japanese anarchists such as .sugi Sakae. Yu, on the other hand, turned quickly towards the communist party. These two individual paths point tothe fact that after the Corps disbanded, activists drifted into one of two polarized camps,the anarchists and the communists. Within another year, however, Shi was back in Chinaand active in the Communist Party. He found himself in Shanghai, the center of the communist movement, where he began writing a history of the labor movement for theSocialist Youth League of China.77

The Benefit the Masses Book Society was another novel adaptation of New Village ideals. It was a bookstore and literature distributor run by a collective and spearheaded by the anarchist-turned-communist, Yun Daiying, who had previouslycontributed revolutionary writings to New Youth. Yun was searching to be more than simply an intellectual. Inspired by the practical projects of the Atarashiki mura, drafted up plans for a village where money and private property were abolished. He persisted in a rural ideal longer than others, but by 1921 began to think it was too difficult to found a village.78 Instead he and his comrades decided that an urban commune along the lines of Wang Guangqi’s Labor-learning Mutual Aid Corps would be more effective.

They advocated the communist principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need,” hoping that their communistic social relations among themselves would inspire massive change in society. 79 The Book Society was run democratically internally, but it was also oriented towards promoting change in its propagandistic mission. They rejected leadership-based decision-making in favor of consensus. It was hoped that by demonstrating egalitarian and cooperative social relations they could inspire others to do the same. Mutual aid for them, as for Kropotkin, was an evolutionary imperative, not simply a lofty ideal.

Yun was committed, like many anarchists of his time, to spreading the message and practice of mutual aid. The Benefit the Masses Book Society was the second of Yun’s communal ventures. In 1920 in fact (as noted in an earlier section), he was a founder of the anarchist journal Huzhu, which was the Chinese translation of the term “mutual aid.”

However, by 1922 Yun became active in Xianqu [The Pioneers], a magazine that in its first issue published a piece, “Gongchan zhuyi yu wuzhengfu zhuyi” [Communism and Anarchism], where another erstwhile anarchist, Deng Zhongxia writes what might be an accurate summary of what many activists were feeling: “The ultimate goals of Communism and anarchism are not so different. The merits of anarchism are all included in Communism. But anarchism does not have all the merits of Communism. Communism contains objective, operational strategy and method.” 80 Thus, Deng did not disagree with the goals of anarchism—he still held to a vision of an egalitarian society based on just labor relations—he had simply come to see anarchism and communalism as being limited in their capacity to achieve these goals. Communism was the solution.

After their turn away from communalism, Communists like Chen Duxiu, Cai Hesen, Li Dazhao, Shi Cuntong, Deng Zhongxia, and Yun Daiying begin using Xianqu, to attack their ideological opponents, anarchists, guild socialists, and Christians. At this point in 1922, Yun began to directly reflect on the shared experiences of the New Life projects. His doubts were expressed in an article that referenced the failures of both the Labor-learning Mutual Aid Corps and the Benefit the Masses Book Society while posing an open question as to what new revolutionary methods could be. He writes:

We believe that the individualistic New Villages are mistaken…. If we are to use the labor of one hand and one foot to fight against the capitalists, then that is the Labor-learning Mutual Aid Corps all over again, and that is definitely not the way to do it.81

After the dissolution of the Benefit the Masses Book Society in 1921 its members split into two communist cells.

In 1919, upon his return to Changsha from Beijing, Mao Zedong and his collective organized a New Village-inspired project, the “New People’s Study Society” along the models of other student groups. By this time, Mao had already become a regular reader of New Youth and his passion for social revolution was evident. Later that year, Mao would travel to one of the centers of new social and political thought, Peking University, with plans of participating in the anarchistic work-study program in France. Mao’s writings show that even until 1919, when he explained approvingly, “there is a group of people who hope to merge all the nations on earth into a single whole, to unite all humans and form a big family…. The leader of this group is Kropotkin, a Russian,” that he was influenced by anarchism.82

Mao Zedong’s first notable contributions to socialist thought might surprise those who associate him with Mass-line communist politics. In his “Great Union of the Popular Masses,” Mao actually comes down on the side of decentralized lifestyle-based social transformation against a Leninist dictatorship. Orthodox CCP reproductions of this article include only selective portions of the text of this article, focusing on the beginning of the essay where Mao calls for “the great union of the popular masses” to oppose the powerful unions of the capitalists and aristocrats. By truncating the text it is thus easier to characterize the essay as evidence of a Maoist/Leninist theory of the proletarian party, as Li Jui has insisted.83 Yet the article was written in three parts, the second of which, “Taking Small Unions as the Foundation”, directly contradicts such characterization. In this sections Mao lays out the theoretical basis for the formation of small unions. He writes, “Because common interests are limited to a small part of the people, it is small unions that are set up.”84

From this basis, small unions can be federated into a great union. The form of a solidary union has advantage over violence, a lesson Mao and other May Fourth era students had recently learned.85 Also interesting in this article is how Mao explicitly prefers the methods of the anarchist Peter Kropotkin to those of Marx. As Mao saw it, Marxists advocate the violent form of revolution (“do unto others as they do unto you”), whereas another “party” of revolutionaries, whose leader is the Russian Kropotkin, want to “attain peace together, happiness and friendship…in an age of prosperity.” 86

We can see the influence of communalism on Mao as he repeated one of its characteristic ideas: to change society in a way that would avert the need for violent revolution or class war. In the “Manifesto on the Founding of the Xiang River Review,” Mao Zedong described this as the “bloodless revolution.”87 Their revolution was based on study and propaganda. The Xiang River Review, like many other May Fourth periodicals, dedicated itself to this revolutionary strategy. Mao proffers two choices for revolutionary movement. One the one hand the revolutionaries can acknowledge the humanity of the opposing classes, that “the abuse of oppressive power is an unconscious error or misfortune on their parts,”88 The alternative is that the radicals can use “oppression to overthrow oppression,” though Mao declares that this would only end in a further reign of barbarity. Thus, the Xiang River Review stood for a democratic movement, unified in its resistance to religious, intellectual, economic, and imperialist oppression.

Aside from his other involvements, Mao’s Strengthen Learning Society was a group that sought to promote social reform through education. Members bought New Culture magazines from Beijing and shared them among the members in Hunan. They thought that the New Culture Movement and communalism led in very progressive and necessary directions.

In the conventional historiography, these features of Mao’s early revolutionary activity are neglected. Instead, the influence of the founder of the CCP, “China’s first Marxist,” Li Dazhao, is emphasized in order to prove that Mao was a Leninist from the start. Yet even this characterization is only partly true. Indeed Li and Mao had a close relationship from when they began their concerted revolutionary activities working at the library at Peking University in 1920, but Li himself was not at that time a committed Marxist.89 Rather, he was an exponent of communalism and his writing of this time cites Kropotkin frequently.90 Shortly after the October Revolution in Russia Li was convinced that the Bolsheviks advocated socialism akin to anarchism. For him the Soviet revolution would re-organize “all the governments of the world. There will be no congress, no parliament, no president, no prime minister, no cabinet, no legislature, and no rule. There will be only the joint soviets of labor, which will decide all matters.” 91

Indeed, communism and Marxism were not absent from May Fourth discourse before the arrival of the Russian Comintern agents in March 1920. For this reason it’s important to note the distinction between Communism as a political movement advocating the dictatorship of the proletariat led by a vanguard party on the one hand and communism as the idea of “from each according to ability, to each according to need” on the other. Li Dazhao’s political development demonstrates the dialectical movement of the two. In February 1918 Cai Yuanpei Li to a position in the university’s library. This, like other appointments that Cai made, was part of an effort to bring the best radical intellectuals representing various ideological camps together. Li was a powerful and persuasive writer and he knew more about Marxism and the Russian Revolution than most other Chinese intellectuals (which in 1918 wasn’t saying much).

In June he published an article in New Youth on the Russian Revolution. Then he began a Marxist study group, originally the New China Study Group. In 1918 Mao also went to Peking to meet with Li Dazhao, who would become a mentor for him. Li is now remembered as a founder of the CCP. Yet before the Young China Study Association became the Marxist study society it promoted a theory of transformation much more in line with communalism. Appearing in Shaonian Zhongguo its manifesto read:

We must escape from the confines of the old society and head for the wilderness and forests, where we can create a truly free, truly egalitarian association. Then, by promoting economic and cultural autonomy through cooperative labour, we can cut ourselves off completely from the corrupting influence of the old society.

After that we will set about the rebuilding of the latter on the pattern of our own society. Unlike the socialist parties of Europe, we do not declare war on the old society by the method of armed insurrection. 92

The Young China Study Association provides another example of the rift developing between the New Life and the Marxist sensibilities. At this time we see Wang Guangqi and Li Dazhao representing separate sides on the issue of ideological consolidation. That was in 1921, when they started to divide the group on the issue; Wang became more involved in the Work-Study Mutual Aid Corps and Li Dazhao shifted to the CCP. Mao went with Li.

Yet, Li had not always been opposed to communalism. Indeed, while a student in Waseda University in Tokyo, Li had shown interest in European utopian socialism and Mushak.ji’s Atarashiki mura project. 93 In 1919 Li was even instructing intellectuals to move to villages and farm. This is strikingly different from the Marxism he later became associated with, though he was in fact very interested in what he knew of Marxism even in 1919. His take on the issue was idiosyncratic for a Marxist, but wholly consistent for a communalist exponent. Li argued that the doctrine of mutual aid could be used as a complement to Marx’s theory of class struggle. His argument can be summarized as holding that class struggle is not a permanent phenomenon. It only exists in societies in which the economic structure is unjust. However, even in class societies, in which humans are alienated from their true nature and societies are divided into antagonistic groups, the spirit of “mutual aid” remains alive in peoples’ heart. Once the injustice is corrected, class struggle will be replaced by mutual aid. 94

The May Fourth Movement signified a moment of revolutionary potential for Li Dazhao; it was “part of a movement to liberate all of mankind.”95 This liberation was affective as much as political. As he would write shortly after the May Fourth incident in Beijing: “our demand right now is for a free, liberated self, and for a world in which people can love and be loved without obstacle.” 96 The way in which love operates as an organizational principle is through egalitarian, horizontal networks. In an article written in early 1920, Li spells out how the principles of the May Fourth Movement oppose dictatorship with federated small groups united around a common purpose. Like Mao in “The Great Union of the Popular Masses,” Li believed that the future of revolutionary organization lay in the decentralized affinity groups formed by students, workers, teachers, peasants, women, and socialists that appeared across China. 97 In this light, it is easy to understand Li’s support for the work-study projects in their incipient stages. Like many others, Li believed that altering quotidian social relations could prefigure largescale social transformation.


By 1920, it appeared to some intellectuals that communalism and Marxism did not perfectly complement each other. Rather there might be some tensions between the two perspectives. We can see this clearly when Chen Duxiu, professor at Peking University and the founder of New Youth and the CCP, and Zheng Xiangzong, an anarchist, debate in a set of articles in New Youth in November 1920. Chen introduces the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat as one of the key concepts that distinguishes “modern utopian socialism” (by which he meant communalism) and “scientific socialism.” He writes that society is a complex organism and its transformation involves deliberate study of its objective conditions. Revolution cannot be made through violence, assassination, and propaganda by the deed. Zheng responds that he is unconvinced by the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat. Education for him is the key towards successful revolution.

Tied to this premise is the understanding that all people are entitled to education. Zheng asks the question, “if everyone is a student, who will do the dirty work?” The implicit answer is that everyone must do it in equal parts. Yet for Zheng there is no system of law that can mandate this because the transformation towards a compassionate communitarian system must be voluntary. Human reason must be cultivated on the individual level. This will not only bring social peace, but also dissolve class and gender inequalities.98

To revisit, by 1921, explanations for the failure of the communal projects were forthcoming in the most popular May Fourth journals. Shi Cuntong explained their failure in terms of structural constraints:

Present-day society is organized on a capitalist basis, and the capitalists keep a firm grip on all capital resources. There is absolutely nothing we can do about that, and to imagine regaining control of those resources is a mere pipe-dream!

Pitting our feeble strength against such a treacherous, vicious society as this— how could we but be defeated? We tried to rebuild society, but found we could not even penetrate it, even after creating the Work-and-Learning Mutual Aid Corps. Rebuilding society? It was never even on the cards! From now on, if we want to rebuild society we must plan to do it wholesale and from the very roots!

Piecemeal reforms will get us nowhere. As long as society is not reformed at the roots, no experiments in new lifestyles are possible. So long as such experiments fail to distance themselves from everyday society, it follows that they will always be under its sway, and consequently come up against countless obstacles. The only way around this is a joint uprising of the peoples of the whole world, which will uproot those obstacles once and for all… ‘To rebuild society, we must gain entry into the capitalist controlled means of production.’ This is our conclusion. 99

Though he was sympathetic to communalism, he became increasingly critical of it after the failure of his Labor-learning Mutual Aid Corps. Shi’s explanation had a lot of purchase among Chinese radicals and as he drifted away from communalism many others like Mao, Yun, and Li were trying to offer a new solution to the problems they saw in society. It was in this atmosphere that the Comintern agents found a receptive milieu of radicals with questions. Thus, as we have seen, the failure of the communal projects was pivotal for Chinese socialism. Though history does not remember their success, they are not inconsequential because they created the conditions for a new political experiment: Communism.

In 1920, when the Communist nucleus was founded in Beijing, a few anarchists were recruited. Another cell organized in Shanghai was comprised mostly of anarchists.

Additionally, the Guangzhou cell was almost entirely anarchist. 100 This can be partially explained by the fact that in 1920 the Communists had not instigated an ideological schism between themselves and the anarchists—that would come later. In the years 1919- 1920, communalism was predominant, then, as we have seen, it began to rapidly wane. In this context the Communist leadership appeared to offer both attractive theoretical positions about historical materialism and germane political models. Those who joined the Communist movement rejected the alternative form of politics that communalism represented.

We can map this trajectory of communalism alongside that of the Chinese anarchist movement. In Chinese political culture, anarchism was more than an explicit political position, anarchism pervaded May Fourth discourse with the notions of iconoclasm, decentralization, and an emphasis on social revolution. Scalapino and Yu hinted at this trend, though their analysis of the breadth of a dispersed anarchist sensibility was limited to anarchism’s influence on the nascent communist movement of the post-May Fourth period.101

Arif Dirlik estimates that ninety-two anarchist societies operated in China in the decade following the May Fourth Incident. It is difficult to ascertain an exact amount, however, because many anarchist groups operated underground. In the proliferation of anarchist magazines and attendance at anarchist events, it is obvious that anarchists were active and mobile during the May Fourth Movement. Certain gatherings, like an April 1920 student gathering in Fujian, were able to draw dozens of anarchists; at the Congress of the Far Eastern Movement held in June 1921, thousands of anarchists were estimated to be in attendance.102

Yet after the failures of the New Life projects we witness a slow exodus into the ranks of the communist movement from anarchists and communalists. The first sign we have of Mao distancing himself from anarchism and communalism altogether comes from his December 1, 1920 letter to friends in France where he debates the merits and problems of the positions of Xiao Zisheng, Cai Hesen, and Li Hesheng, who have all been corresponding with Mao. This letter is instructive to the historian in that it reveals the fault lines in the discourse over the means of revolution as they occur to young radicals.

The occasion for this letter is the founding of the New People’s Study Society, one of the ubiquitous student political groups formed around 1919. At first Mao summarizes the stated principles of internationalist socialism. Second, he responds to the question of methods for the group. In this section he clearly sees a tension between the polarized positions of Cai Hesen, the Bolshevistic proto-Leninist who advocates the dictatorship of the proletariat, and his old friends Xiao Zisheng who seems to represent communalism very cogently by advocating “a moderate revolution, a revolution with education as its instrument…”103 The vehicle for revolution in Cai’s eyes is the Communist Party; for Xiao it is a combination of democratic syndicalism in industry and small-scale federated cooperatives. Mao expresses skepticism about the reality of anarchist courses of action.

Following Hesen his criticisms are standard Leninist critiques. He says, for one, education is a costly method of social transformation and is easily bent in a capitalist direction. Next, capital and its class of elites are a powerful force that must be resisted by a more powerful force, presumably a strong worker’s state. Third, gradual reform neglects the historical necessity of overcoming the capitalist class at the present moment that the Bolsheviks have demonstrated to be upon the world. Further, even if the communalist or anarchist agenda was realized it would lead to overpopulation and thus scarcity of resources. Ultimately, Mao’s disagreement with the communal project was not based on their different goals relating to the operation of society, but only to do with the means of achieving communism.

A little over a month later Mao drafted a reply to Cai Hesen specifically. In it he professed to be won over to the Communist Party. “Without achieving political power,” he writes, “it is impossible to launch, maintain, and carry through the revolution.” 104

Again, this is a difference of revolutionary method that is singled out. Mao agrees with Hesen in the materialist conception of history and the organization of a vanguard party. Regarding his earlier anarchism he expresses doubt: “there are substantial reasons for my present refusal to recognize that the principles of anarchism can be verified.” 105 This view becomes strengthened for Mao as more and more people are won over to Leninist Communism. His same arguments against anarchism will appear and re-appear in his letters to comrades throughout the 1920s. 106

Yet, like many radicals of his generation, his views on the ultimate goals of revolutionary activity grew out of the heady period of New Culture agitation. As a young adult reading New Youth he admired Chen Duxiu’s calls to challenge traditional culture.

Then, as an assistant librarian in Beijing he followed Chen and Li Dazhao into the ranks of the Communist movement. As Roxann Prazniak points out, Mao’s thought about social issues such as feminism and society formed during his anarchist phase (1919-1920) and “shifted only slightly” after he became a committed Marxist. 107 The primary difference is over the question of revolutionary strategy.

In some very appreciable ways, the anarchist activities of the May Fourth Movement appealed to the earlier legacy of Chinese anarchism. The memory of Li Shizeng’s 1912 Society to Promote Virtue, whose membership pledged to refuse all offer of political office, was appropriated by a Peking University group with the same name and espousing the same goals later in the decade. Also similar to guidelines adopted by members of Liu Shifu’s group, the Xin Society (Conscience Society), initiates pledged that they would not solicit prostitutes or take concubines. Cai Yuanpei commented that not even the teachings of Confucianism are this strict. About 1000 students and faculty joined this group. This model of gradual revolution through prefigurative politics still appealed to some, though it was being confronted more and more by the communist movement.

The organizational efforts of the Communists culminated in the formation in 1921 of a Chinese Communist Party. Though no formal declarations were issued from the first conference of July 1921, by June 10 of the next year the party issued a statement from their Second Congress. In it they declare their goals and methods of revolutionary change, which reflect a Leninist influence.

For them society would not (as the anarchists and communalists thought) be changed by decentralized communal experiments. Structural conditions prevented such efforts from having any effect: “These conditions will remain unchanged so long as power remains in the hands of the feudal-lord government, in the hands of the militarists; so long as power is not seized from their hands; and so long as a democratic government is not established.”108

Following the Leninist doctrine of democratic centralism they go on to state: Democratic government means a democratic party government. We have in mind the creation of power on the basis of a total reorganization of the entire political system of administration. Basically, this demand entails the overthrow of the authority of the reactionary, counter-revolutionary elements and groups by revolutionary methods, by a democratic party, or by a bloc of democratic groupings which will organize power to conform to the historical requirements of their own country and with consideration for the realities of the new international environment.109

The “First Manifesto of the CCP on the Current Situation”, written by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, identifies the militarization of the government as a primary obstacle to their goals, defined as “working class liberation” and the “proletariat revolution”. There is no mention of anarchist organizing, communalism, or even New Culture ideas. They even conclude the manifesto with a list of policy proposals for the new democratic government, a far cry from the form of utopian politics that had predominated with communalism.110 Yet these Communists were many of the same individuals as the New Life exponents, only a few years later.


To summarize, we have ended the story in the early 1920s as the Communist movement triumphs over the legacy of communalism. By investigation this history we can revise the historiography of the May Fourth Movement by understanding the historical context of the origins of Chinese communism. Because so many Chinese communists were radicalized during this period, historians will doubtless debate the meaning of the May Fourth Movement for generations to come. However, it is clear that in the years 1919-1920, Communism was not the clear sole successor to Chinese socialism—it coexisted with others, communalism included. The communalist and Communist forms of politics were dialectically related as much as one configured the other. Further, the heterogeneity of the May Fourth Movement should be asserted as much as the heterogeneity of the political doctrines that constitute the positions within May Fourth discourse. The treatment of a movement instead of an ideology is an attempt to keep this in mind, though it is acknowledge that throughout this paper some of these doctrines have been treated as ideal types. Political action took many shapes at the beginning of the twentieth century, some were never destined for permanence. These futures past reveal what it means to be utopian, or political in a resistant sense in a specific historical context. Maurice Meisner writes that “utopias are the products of trans-historical moral ideas, and the relationship between moral demands and historical realities is a most tenuous and uncertain one.” 111

And this is nowhere better illustrated than in the communes of May Fourth, which were shaped as much by their historical context in interwar East Asia as it was by the individual leaders of the movement who stressed humanitarianism and moralism. Was communalism part of a wave of futile utopianism that swept from Russia to Japan to China? It’s hard to say. Regardless, the making of a perfect society, the emblematic May Fourth ideal, was never a fait accompli. It is an important tension within the period nonetheless.


1 Zhou Zuoren, “Riben de xincun” [“Japan’s New Village”], Xin qingnian [New Youth] 6, no. 3 (March 1919). In this paper periodicals will be referred to by their English title where applicable. Otherwise the pinyin transliteration of the Chinese title will be used. Atarashiki mura translates literally into “New Village” and is referred to in its original Japanese to distinguish between the Mushak.ji’s village itself from

2 Also known by the more formal version of his name, Mushanok.ji, he preferred the more familiar Mushak.ji.

3 See chapter 2, “Building State and National Amid Cultural Revolution” in R. Keith Schoppa, The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

4 For example see the work of John King Fairbank. For a sustained critique of modernization historiography see Paul A. Cohen, Discovering History in China: American Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984): 14-22.

5 See Maurice Meisner, “Cultural Iconoclasm, Nationalism, and Internationalism in the May Fourth Movement,” in Benjamin I Schwartz, ed., Reflections on the May Fourth Movement: A Symposium , (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1972).

6 Arif Dirlik, The Origins of Chinese Communism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

7 Peter Gue Zarrow, Anarchism and Chinese Political Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).

8 Qingshu Meng, Wuzhengfuzhuyi yu wusi xinwenhua: weirao “Xin qing nian” tongren suo zuo de kaocha (Kaifeng: Henan daxue chubanshe, 2006).

9 Tse-tsung Chow, The May Fourth Movement (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 108.

10 Quoted in Tsi C. Wang, The Youth Movement in China (New York: Krishna Press, 1972), 36.

11 Socialism here is an umbrella term for left-wing social and political movements. It includes anarchism, guild socialism, communism, utopian socialism, and communalism. Jiang Kanghu founded the Chinese Socialist Party in 1911, though his particular socialism does not represent all Chinese socialists, who often disagreed with each other considerably.

12 Anarchism is a political philosophy and social movement whose definition may never reach consensus. Here it refers to a socialist philosophy that holds a positive estimation of the human capacity to coordinate society autonomously from the state. For a survey of historical anarchism see Robert Graham, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2005).

13 For more information on Cai’s ties to anarchism see Cai Shangsi, Cai Yuanpei xueshu sixiang zhuanji (An intellectual biography of Cai Yuanpei) (Shanghai: Lianyang shudian, 1950).

14 Libertarian is used here in its original historical usage rather than its more recent American meaning. Libertarian socialism is synonymous with anarchism. Cai’s views on education are spelled out in his “Views on the Aims of Education” in Ssu-yü Teng and John King Fairbank, eds. China’s response to the West: A Documentary Survey, 1839-1923 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979): 235-8.

15 For more on anarchists in the Chinese labor movement see Yat-kau Kwan, “Deng Zhongxia and the Shenggang General Strike 1925-26” (PhD Dissertation, Boston Spa, Wetherby: University of London, 1985).; Daniel Y. K Kwan, Marxist Intellectuals and the Chinese Labor Movement: A Study of Deng Zhongxia (1894-1933) (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997).; Ming K Chan and Arif Dirlik, Schools into Fields and Factories: Anarchists, the Guomindang, and the National Labor University in Shanghai, 1927-1932 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991).

16 V. I. Lenin, “Prophetic Words” (1918). Found in V. I. Lenin. Lenin’s Collected Works. Volume 27. 4th English Edition (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 499.

17 Chen Duxiu and Zheng Xianzong, “Guojia, Zhengfu, Falu” (Nation, Government, Law), Xin Qingnian (November 1920).

18 The activity of the Communist International (Comintern) advisors in China such as Gregory Voitinsky is a standard Cold War narrative that will not fit within the scope of this paper.

19 Bertrand Russell, The Problem of China (New York: Century, 1922), 185.

20 Chow (1963), 1.

21 For documentation of anarchist publications, see Huzhu yuekan (Mutual Aid Monthly) 1 (March 15, 1923), or appendix to Daniel Cairns, “Anarchist Periodicals in the May Fourth Era” (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Anarchist Studies, August 2008).

22 Edward S. Krebs, Shifu, Soul of Chinese Anarchism (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 179-180.

23 Mutual aid,” the titular concept of Kropotkin’s most popular scientific book, posed as a corollary to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Kropotkin argued that just as competition was a factor in evolution, the capacity to provide inter- and intra-species assistance also influenced the chances for survival and adaptation for a species. See Daniel Philip Todes, Darwin Without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

24 [Huang] Lingshuang, “Jinhua zazhi xunyan” [The Declaration of Evolution], reprinted in Wusi shiqi qikan jieshao [Introduction to the Periodicals of the May Fourth Period], vol. 3 (Beijing: Sanlian Shudian, 1979), 493. Translation by Jackson Turner and Daniel Cairns.

25 Min-ch`ien T. Z. Tyau, China Awakened (New York: Macmillan, 1922), 146-7.

26 See: Paul Bailey, “The Chinese Work-Study Movement in France,” The China Quarterly 115 (September 1988): 441-461.

27 Shijie she, ed. “L.’Ou jiaoyu yundong” [The Educational Movement in France], (Tours: 1916), 75. Found in Bailey (1988), 451.

28 Derk Bodde, Tolstoy and China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950).

29 Duanzhi Chen, Wusi yundong zhi shi de pingjia , (Hong Kong: Xianggang Zhong wen da xue jin dai shi liao chu ban zu, 1973), 233. See also, Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 148.

30 The failed assassin of Qin Shihuangdi, the first emperor of China.

31 A populist revolutionary, hung in 1881 for killing the Czar.

32 “Shi she ziyoulu bianyan (Preface to the Truth Society’s Records of Freedom),” reprinted in Wusi shiqi qikan jieshao [Introduction to the Periodicals of the May Fourth Period], Vol. 3 (Beijing: Sanlian Shudian, 1979), 491. Translation by Jackson Turner and Daniel Cairns.

33 Dirlik (1993), 162.

34 Yun Daiying, Yun Daiying ri ji (Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang dangxiao chubanshe, 1981), 220.

35 Rahav Shakhar, “Yun Daiying and the Rise of Political Intellectuals in Modern China: Radical Societies in May Fourth Wuhan” (PhD Disstertation, Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, 2007), 72.

36 Tse-tsung Chow, Research Guide to The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, 1915-1924 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), 84.

37 See Marilyn K. Levine, The Lost Generation (Seattle: University of Washington, 1993), for a fuller history.

38 Nohara Shir., “Anarchists and the May 4 Movement in China,” trans. Philip Billingsley, Negations, < > (28 February 2008).

39 Dirlik (1989).

41 Huang Lingshuang, “Critique of Marxism” Xin Qingnian 5, no. 5 (May 1919). Found in Robert Graham, ed., Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 2005), 356.

42 Gustav Landauer, Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader, ed. and trans. Gabriel Kuhn (Oakland: PM Press, 2010), 214.

43 Chow, William Cheong-Loong, “Chou Tso-Jen: A Serene Radical in the New Culture Movement.” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1990).

44 For the New Village Movement in Korea see: Young-Doo Wang, “The Impact of Saemaul (New Village) Movement on Return Migration of Korea” (M.A. Thesis: Worcester, MA: Clark University, 1976).

45 See Lin Hengqing, “Xin Cun yu Wuzhexiaolu Shidu” [New Village and Mushak.ji Saneatsu], (Fujian: Fujian Normal University, 2004).

46 Mushak.ji saw himself as patriarch of the village.

47 Maya Mortimer, Meeting the Sensei (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 31.

48 Mushak.ji Saneatsu, “Fire From a Single Match” (July 1920). Found in Mushak.ji Saneatsu, Long Corridor, trans. and ed. Robert Epp (Stanwood, WA: Yakusha, 1996), 138.

49 It appears that three of these organizers names are Yoshio Inagaki [ ……..], Ishiyama Tetsuo […… ..], and IchihashiYoshinosuke [……….]. Found in Lin (2004).

50 Yozan T Iwasaki and Glenn Hughes, eds., New Plays from Japan (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1930), xi.

51 Mushak.ji (1996), 149.

52 Iwasaki, x.

53 Gavan McCormack, The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2001).

54 Angela Yiu, “Atarashikimura: The Intellectual and Literary Context of a Taish. Utopian Village,” Japan Review 20 (2008): 203-230.

55 Ibid, 221.

56 Leo Tolstoy, Tolstoy on Education, ed. Bob Blaisdell, trans. Christopher Edgar (New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2000), 10.

57 Jackson Turner, “Huzhu lun yu jindai Zhongguo sixian yanbian de neizai luoji” [The Theory of Mutual Aid and the Development of Modern Chinese Thought’s Internal Logic], (M.A. Thesis, Peking University, 2010).

58 Tolstoy, 130.

59 Donald Keene, Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 442.

60 .sugi Sakae in Tanaka Yasutaka, Kindai Hyoron Shu, II, 129-30. Found in Keene, 450.

61 Ibid.

62 Meisner in Schwarz, ed. (1972), 16.

63 Stephen W Kohl, ed., The White Birch School (Shirakabaha) of Japanese Literature: Some Sketches and Commentary, Occasional paper – Asian Studies Committee, University of Oregon ; (Eugene: Asian Studies Committee, University of Oregon, 1975), 46. First published in Shirakaba 2.2 (Feb 1911), 151.

64 Mushak.ji (1996), 77.

65 Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

66 Arashima Takeo in Tanaka Yasutaka, Kindai Hyoron Shu, II, 232-33. Found in Keene, 452.

67 Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985).

68 Zhou Zuoren, “Riben de Xincun” [Japan’s New Village], Xin qingnian 6, no. 3 (March 1919).

69 Guo Shaoyu, “Xincun yanjiu” [Investigation into the New Villages], Xin chao 2, no. 1 (July 1919).

70 Zhou Zuoren, “Xincun de jingshen” [The Spirit of the New Village], Xin qingnian 7, no. 2 (January 1920).

71 Anna Gustafsson Chen, “Dreams of the Future: Communal Experiments in May Fourth China” (Ph.D. diss., Lund University, 1998).

72 Wang Guangqi, “Gongzuo yu rensheng,” Xin Qingnian 6, no. 4 (April 1919).

73 Wang Guangqi, “Gongdu huzhutuan”, in Wusi shiqi de shetuan, vol. 2, 370-2.

74 The socialist concept of a “balanced job complex” involves a mixture of menial and stimulating tasks, equally distributed amongst a group. It is intended to promote fairness and fulfillment in the workplace.

75 Wang “Gongdu huzhutuan,” 373.

76 Shi Cuntong, “’Gongdu huzhutuan’ di shiyuan he jiaoxun,” Xingqi pinglun 7 (May 1, 1920), 3.

77 Shi Cuntong, Laodong yundong shi [History of the Labor Movement] (Shanghai: Labor Secretariat, 1922).

78 Yun Daiying (1981), 652.

79 Yunhou Zhang, et al, eds., Wusi shiqi de shetuan, vol. 1, 4 vols. (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1979), 133.

80 Kwan (1997), 28.

81 Yun Daiying, “Weilai zhi meng” [Dream of the Future], Wusi shiqi de shetuan, vol. 1, 196. Translation found in Gustafsson-Chen, 81.

82 Mao Zedong, Mao Zedong ji, Vol. 1 (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1975), 59-60. Found in Hun- Yok Ip, “The Origins of Chinese Communism: A New Interpretation,” Modern China 20, no. 1: 38.

83 Li Jui, The Early Revolutionary Activities of Comrade Mao Tse-tung , ed. James C. Hsiung, trans. Anthony W. Sariti (White Plains N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1977).

84 Mao Zedong, “The Great Union of the Popular Masses” in Stuart Schram, ed. Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949 (Armonk N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1992), 384.

85 Mao (1992), 381.

86 Mao Zedong, “The Great Union of the Popular Masses,” trans. Stuart Schram, The China Quarterly 49 (March 1972): 79.

87 In Mao (1992), 319.

88 Ibid.

89 Dirlik (1989), 8.

90 Meisner (1967).

91 Li Dazhao, “The Victory of Bolshevism,” (1918). Found in Teng and Fairbank (1979), 247.

92 Shaonian Zhongguo issue No. 2 (August 1919). Found in Shiro.

93 Maurice Meisner, Li Ta-chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), 55-56.

94 Li Dazhao, “Class Struggle and Mutual Aid,” in Li, Vol. 3, 285-288. Found in Xiufen Lu, “Li Dazhao’s Materialist Conception of History,” East West Connections 9, no. 1 (December 2009): 100-119.

95 Li Dazhao, “Talk at the Anniversary Celebration of the Citizens Magazine,” Guomin zazhi [Citizens magazine] (November 1919).

96 Li Dazhao, “The Self and the World,” Meizhou pinglun [Weekly Critic] 29 (July 6, 1919).

97 Li Dazhao, “From Vertical Organization to Horizontal Organization,” Jiefang yu gaizao (January 15,


98 Chen and Zheng.

99 Shi Cuntong, “Experiences and Lessons of the Work-and-Learning Mutual Aid Corps,” Xingqi pinglun 48 (May 1 1920).

100 Dirlik (1993), 202.

101 Robert A. Scalapino and George T. Yu, The Chinese Anarchist Movement (Berkeley: University of California, 1961).

102 Krebs (1998), 179-180.

103 Mao, Zedong (1992), 8.

104 Ibid, 35.

105 Ibid.

106 Ibid, 68; 136.

107 Roxann Prazniak, “Mao and the Woman Question in an Age of Green Politics: Some Critical Reflections,” in Arif Dirlik, ed. Critical Perspectives on Mao Zedong’s Thought (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1997), 24.

108 Brandt, et al, eds. A Documentary History of Chinese Communism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), 57.

109 Ibid.

110 Ibid, 62-3.

111 Maurice Meisner, Marxism, Maoism, and Utopianism: Eight Essays (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), 3.


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