The Shadow of Democracy

Rebecca Karl

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

    Abstract

    It is next to impossible to write today, now, in this fraught historical moment about the May Fourth Movement and its centenary with anything other than sheer astonishment - still! - over the number of different sorts of people in China who organized themselves at that time, and who, in the extended process of self-organization, articulated - however inchoately and sometimes even incoherently - an intellectual and activist program of resistance and opposition to the corrupt domestic governmental systems, global institutions, local organizations, and specific individuals who were betraying the very principles of democracy and sovereignty that were supposed to be upheld. The betrayal of democratic and sovereign principles was part of an ongoing process of the elaboration of an establishment political position exercised by and through the wished-for domination of political and economic possibility by the powerful and by those who strove for power. As that process of imperialist-colonial expansion along with anti-democratic state-formation and sociocultural hegemonizing - sometimes in tandem with one another, and sometimes separately - became ever more evident, an increasingly vocal opposition posed itself as an active political force and not merely as a detached or abstract form of remonstrance. Through their activist political interventions and in the ensuing contingent realization of an incipient mass movement - incomplete, urban-based, and often elitist, to be sure - a new political consciousness and a new political discourse arose: a consciousness and discourse of the possibilities of and in mass mobilization, of a political practice of mass democracy. The May Fourth Movement, in its temporal proximity to and political juxtaposition with the Korean and Indian movements of the same year, and in the political space created by the ongoing revolution in Russia, helped constitute a world historical moment. That protracted moment can be seen as the inflection of the forces of global capitalism and imperialism into modern historical consciousness and political activism in China, as elsewhere.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)379-387
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Asian Studies
    Volume78
    Issue number2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - May 1 2019

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    Keywords

    • China
    • cultural revolution
    • democracy
    • internationalism
    • mass activism
    • May Fourth Movement
    • politics

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Cultural Studies
    • History

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