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The May Fourth Movement as Event and Myth, 1919 tot 2019


Admission requirements

Successful completion of BA-1 College Modern Chinese History.


On May 4, 1919, approximately 3000 Beijing students took to the streets and gathered at Tiananmen Square. They were angered by the refusal of the allied powers to return the former German colony Shandong to China; instead, it was to be given to Japan. In the subsequent months, students, merchants and workers all over China went to strike in a fervently patriotic uproar directed mostly against Japan. Ever since, the so-called “May Fourth Movement” has been hailed as an important watershed in modern Chinese history. Since different groups claim this event for their own narrative, however, the May Fourth Movement has become a contested symbol of Chinese modernity.
On the one-hundredth anniversary of the movement, this course will look back at the political and intellectual context of 1919, and at the ways in which May Fourth was mythologized and appropriated throughout the 20th and 21st century. Through readings of both primary in translation and secondary sources, we will analyze what was (and is) at stake when this date is brought up, and why the memory of this event still poses a challenge to the Chinese leadership.

Course objectives

This course aims to familiarize students with the events that shaped China in the early 20th century, and to allow them to critically engage the ways in which these events were remembered. Furthermore, we will analyze how arguments are constructed in the secondary literature and practice how effectively structure and write your paper.


Check the timetable
for the correct time and location.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

This course provides 5 EC, which means about 140 hours of course work (1 EC = 28 hours). Those hours can roughly be divided as follows. This is of course an estimate.
o Seminar 12x2 hours: 24 hours
o Class preparation and assignments: 72 hours
o Final paper: 44 hours

Assessment method

o Class participation (25%)
o Assignments (25%)
o Final paper (50%)

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. A new version of the final assignment may be written if the overall mark for the course is “5.49” (=5) or lower. The deadline for this revised version will be determined in consultation.

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Assignment uploads

  • Reading lists

  • Communication

Reading list

See Blackboard. No prior reading required.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


For further information, please contact Daniel Stumm