The Two Misters Who Led the Chinese to Communism

From May 4th To June 4th

On April 17, 1989, students from Beijing University, Tsinghua University, and other universities in Beijing marched to Tiananmen Square and started the famous 1989 Democracy Movement.

Born during the Cultural Revolution and having benefited from economic reform in the 1980s, they had experienced rapid economic growth but had also seen rampant corruption and growing income inequality. They had access to the outside world, and so they could see the huge and humiliating gap between China and the West. They believed that what would close the gap was democracy and science, the so-called “Two Misters.”

Frustrated that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had not allowed the free press and free elections it had promised before taking power in 1949, the students occupied Tiananmen Square to pressure the CCP to fulfill its promises. Unfortunately, the demonstration ended in a massacre on June 4th.

The May 4th Movement

The students had been inspired by another movement that had taken place exactly 70 years prior. On May 4, 1919, students from Beijing University, Tsinghua University, and eleven other local universities had marched to Tiananmen Square demanding the Chinese government refuse to sign the Treaty of Versailles.

Before World War I, the Qing government had been forced to lease the Shandong Peninsula to imperial Germany for 99 years. In 1917, as a republic, China had joined with the Allies against Germany, and during that year, 140,000 Chinese laborers were sent to the Western Front.

After winning the war, the Chinese expected that the Shandong Peninsula would be returned to China. However, the Versailles Treaty would give that territory to imperial Japan.

This was considered a slap in the face to China. Beijing students were outraged, and so they organized to occupy Tiananmen Square. In spite of the Chinese government’s crackdown, the movement soon spread to all the major cities, and it won the support of Chinese people from all walks of life. Eventually, the Chinese government backed down, and Chinese delegates at the Paris Peace Conference refused to sign the treaty.

This was a major symbolic victory for the students. Many of the participants were inspired to become leaders in cultural and political reform and revolution. Many of them also became radicalized and went on to mobilize peasants and workers into the Chinese Communist Party, which was established in 1921.

The Two Misters

Many of the student leaders of the May 4th Movement in 1919 had been influenced by the New Culture Movement, which had started a few years earlier. The leader of that movement, Chen Duxiu, blamed China’s problems on traditional Chinese culture and advocated replacing “Mr. Confucius” with “Mr. Science” and “Mr. Democracy.” Religion, including Christianity, was viewed as the enemy of these two misters.

The Rise of Communism and the Anti-Christian Movement

After the May 4th Movement, the Moscow-based Communist International, an international communist organization controlled by Stalin, saw its opportunity to spread Communism in China. To pave the way, the Communist International helped the CCP to start an Anti-Christian Movement in 1922, to eliminate the influence of Western missionaries on Chinese culture and education.

Many participants of the May 4th Movement abandoned Christianity as backward and superstitious and embraced Communism instead, even though many of them had been educated in schools run by Western missionaries. Most leading intellectuals, including Chen, either became Communist leaders themselves or became sympathetic to the Communist objectives.

The CCP was very canny. It promised democracy and promoted Communism as the scientific progress of civilization. Western missionaries and Chinese Christians, on the other hand, were viewed as accomplices of Western Imperialism.

Soon after the CCP took power in China, it started large-scale persecution of Christians. A few years later, it started the so-called Anti-Rightist Campaign and imprisoned almost all influential intellectuals. More than a million intellectuals and students were persecuted by either losing their jobs and/or being subjected to forced labor. More than 4,000 people died from mistreatment, hunger, or suicide. The Chinese intellectuals who had trusted the Communists or gone along with them paid the ultimate price for their political naivety.

The Tragic End of June 4th

Returning to 1989, on May 20, the Chinese government declared martial law in Beijing and demanded that the students on Tiananmen Square leave. But instead, more students joined the protest. Many Beijing citizens supported them with water, food, tents, and other necessities. Protests also broke out in other cities. Chinese students studying in the West held protests, too, and sought support for the protesters from their host countries.

On May 30, the Goddess of Democracy was erected on the square. This was viewed as a direct challenge to the rule of the CCP. The writing was on the wall that the Chinese government would end the protest by force.

In the late evening of June 3 and into the early morning of June 4, more than 150,000 soldiers with tanks and armored personnel carriers moved towards the square from four directions. Along the way, they met resistance from citizens and responded with live bullets. Around 5 am, students facing fully armed soldiers on all sides were forced to leave the square.

We still don’t know how many people died. Both the US and UK governments estimated there were more than 10,000 deaths. This tragic event is known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Over subsequent months, many participants were hunted down and jailed. Some escaped from China, but the hope of political reform and democratization within China suffered a great blow.

From May 4th to June 4th

In the May 4th Movement of 1919, Chinese intellectuals and students thought they had found a sure way to make China strong and prosperous. They believed that “Mr. Democracy” and “Mr. Science” would lift China out of weakness and backwardness and help China gain equal footing with the West. Unfortunately, they thought Christianity was the enemy of “Mr. Science,” and so they embraced Communism as scientific social progression. They expected to bring about a paradise without God, but what they got instead was a hell on earth.

They did not know that without Christian ethics and values, people in power have no moral restrictions. And without Christian ethics and values, people without power have no moral courage. Chinese intellectuals and students wanted to transform feudalist China into a republic like America, but they failed to take advice from former U.S. President John Adams, who said that "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

The two misters led Chinese people to Communism. The tragic end of June 4th, 1989 is the logical consequence of May 4th, 1919. Democracy without Christianity will inevitably degrade to mobocracy and then to dictatorship.

grew up during China's Cultural Revolution and immigrated to the US in 1995. He became a high school math teacher after having worked as an engineer for 20 years. Disillusioned with the current schooling model, he became an independent math teacher/tutor in 2018. He writes mainly on education and culture.

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