Today's new youth

"La Jeunesse" supplement to Life, April 2009

May 4, 2009, marks the 90th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, student protests launched in 1919 against Chinese government capitulation to concessions and unfavorable treaty terms.

To mark the occasion, many Chinese newspapers and magazines took a look back at the figures and events of the era, including the luminaries of the contemporaneous New Culture Movement spawned by Chen Duxiu's New Youth magazine (新青年, La Jeunesse).

"Youth" is the day's keyword. May 4 was designated National Youth Day in 1949 to commemorate the students in the street, but it is the "new youth" from the pages of the magazine who dominate retrospectives ninety years on.

The April issue of Modern Media's Life magazine included a supplement modeled on Chen's magazine. The Modern Media La Jeunesse is printed vertically (in simplified characters) and includes advertisements for books and journals done up in the style of a Republican-era publication. The cover even bears an imprimatur from the PRC publishing authorities where New Youth has an authorization from the Republican post bureau.

Some of the offerings in this issue include: Peking University professor Chen Pingyuan on PKU chancellor Cai Yuanpei, novelist Mo Luo on Lu Xun, Xiamen University professor Xie Yong on Hu Shi, Luo Jiufang on her father Luo Jialin, and an interview with poet and Chinese historian Vera Schwarcz. There are also photographs from roughly the same era by Sidney D. Gamble, a sociologist who spent three two-year periods in China between 1917 and 1932.

The Beijing News, May 4, 2009
Special feature

The Beijing News featured a special sixteen-page supplement on the May Fourth Movement today that followed the same general framework as Life's feature: profiles of the principles, an interview with a historian specializing in the period, a retrospective of the movement's influence on 20th century culture, and a look at the youth of today in light of the New Youth of that time.

The May Esquire focuses more on the last issue: it profiles a number of today's innovative young people, including fashion photographer Chenman (陈曼), Kaixin001 founder Cheng Binghao (程炳皓), Carsick Cars singer Zhang Shouwang (张守望), who's interviewed by Michael Pettis, and psychology professor-turned-earthquake volunteer Liu Meng.

In a nod to the past, magazine lists off some major events of the last 90 years as a sort of "new youth spiritual atlas." Many choices are obvious, and some absences are unsurprising, but for a one-page list it's not all that bad:

Esquire, actual and proposed covers
  • 1915.09.15, Shanghai: Thirty-six-year-old Chen Duxiu founds Youth magazines, which is renamed New Youth the following year
  • 1917, Beijing: Twenty-six-year-old Hu Shi publishes "A preliminary discussion of literature reform" in New Youth, starting the vernacular literature movement
  • 1918.10.05, Beijing: Thirty-two-year-old Shao Piaoping launches Jing Bao, carrying out freedom of the press
  • 1923.06, Shanghai: Thirty-year-old James Yen, thirty-two year old Tao Xingzhi, and others form the National Association of Mass Education Movement
  • 1936, Wujiang, Jiangsu: Twenty-six-year-old Yangjing University sociology student Fei Xiaotong does field work in Jiangcun, which he writes up as "Jiangcun Economics"
  • 1941, Tianjin: As editorial writer for the Ta Kung Pao, forty-year-old Wang Yunsheng speaks out against the Chiang Kai-shek regime's clampdown on public opinion
  • 1950, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong: Twenty-two-year-old dropout Li Ka-shing establishes the Cheung Kong plastics plant with US$7,000
  • 1961, Taipei: Writing in Wenxing magazine, twenty-six-year-old Li Ao starts a debate over Chinese and western culture
  • 1965.03.23, Shanghai: Thirty-three-year-old Lin Zhao writes Declaration to Humanity
    A Peking University student active in the land reforms in the 1950s, Lin was later imprisoned for refusing to write a confession during the anti-rightist campaigns. Writes Esquire, "During her time in prison, Lin Zhao writes vast numbers of passionate, courageous poetry and letters. Even after her paper and pen were confiscated, she pricked her fingers with a hairpin to write in blood on sheets and cell walls. Lin's unswerving pursuit of individuality and an independent spirit became a model for a generation. On April 29, 1968, thirty-six year old Lin was executed for the crime of being a counter-revolutionary." [See A Past Written In Blood by Philip Pan in the Washington Post for more])
  • 1966.07, Beijing: Twenty-four-year-old worker's apprentice Yu Luoke publishes "The Family Background Theory"
    Yu was barred from attending college due to his capitalist background. Writes Esquire: "In feverish language, Yu expressed his personal thoughts on the theory of family backgrounds, incurring the designation 'counter-revolutionary speech.' On March 5, 1970, he was executed. Before his execution, he wrote in his diary, 'I think that if I were to be denounced, I would make sure to remember two things: First, never bow my head. Second, be firm at the start and firm at the finish.' In 1979, Yu's case was overturned. he, Gu Zhun, and Zhang Zhixin were called that era's leaders of liberated thought"
  • 1978.12.23, Beijing: Twenty-nine-year-old Bei Dao launches the literary journal Today, which represents the "critical, questioning" voices of the youth
  • 1982, Taipei: Twenty-eight-year-old Lo Ta-yu releases his first album, Zhi-hu-zhe-ye
  • 1984, loess plateau of northern Shaanxi: Thirty-two-year-old Chen Kaige directs his first film, The Yellow Earth
  • 1986, Peking University, Old Hall: Twenty-five-year-old Cui Jian holds his first concert in Beijing
  • 1992, Beijing: Thirty-four-year-old Wang Shuo publishes Collected Works with the declaration, "I'm a hooligan, I fear no one"
  • 2000.04.04, Shanghai: Seventeen-year-old Han Han drops out of school, declares "I'm never going to college"
  • 2006.08, Beijing: Thirty-four-year-old Luo Yonghao establishes Bullog, a new blog platform

The magazine's cover story is on Han Han, who represents one facet of contemporary youth culture in the popular imagination. Han talks about literary magazines (he's launching one of his own), journalism, and the Sichuan earthquake in a feature illustrated by a meth lab chic photo shoot inspired by his latest novel.

But perhaps the best part of the "new youth" feature is the opening illustration, by graphic artist Zhang Shihao:

The New Youth

Lu Xun, Cai Yuanpei, Chen Duxiu, and Hu Shi cross a Beijing street in front of the symbols of contemporary youth culture and urban life. What would they think of of the society that has resulted from their New Culture Movement?

Links and Sources
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
From 2008
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Culture and corporate propaganda in Soho Xiaobao (2007.11): Mid-2007 issues of Soho Xiaobao (SOHO小报), illustrating the complicated identity of in-house magazines run by real estate companies.
+ Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship (2010.03): Internet executives complain about excessive Net censorship at an officially sanctioned meeting in Shenzhen.
+ Crowd-sourced cheating on the 2010 gaokao (2010.06): A student in Sichuan seeks help with the ancient Chinese section of this year's college entrance exam -- while the test is going on!
Danwei Archives