Singapore — The Global Times, China’s nationalist media outfit, recently lauded Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former foreign minister George Yeo for the remarks they both made concerning China’s May Fourth Movement.
This is quite unusual for the Chinese tabloid, as it has taken a less-than-friendly tone towards issues in Singapore, as demonstrated last year when the Global Times seemingly cast doubt concerning ruling People Action Party’s (PAP) 4G leaders’ readiness to succeed PM Lee and the current crop of leaders.
This time, however, in an article dated May 5, Global Times writer Xin Bin cited the Singaporean Prime Minister, who had posted about the May Fourth movement not once but twice on his Facebook page. He said that the Prime Minister had called on “Singaporeans to reflect on the cultural renaissance and patriotism represented by the May Fourth Movement.”
“‘A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.’
On May 4 in 1919, university students in Beijing protested the outcome of the Versailles Treaty for China. In WWI, China had joined the allied powers to fight against Germany. China hoped to recover the Shandong peninsula, which was under German administration. Instead, the Versailles Treaty gave Shandong to Japan. The students saw this as a humiliating capitulation by China. Thousands marched in protest.
May 4 was a turning point for China. The youth and intellectuals rejected feudal traditions and traditional thinking. They agitated and mobilised for a revived China, a new era. May 4 stoked an age of ambition and patriotism, and the determination that China must never again be humiliated on the world stage.
This article is from 2015, but it gives a good overview of how the May 4 movement began, and how it shaped the China of today. Well worth the read! – LHL”
And then he posted a second article from Chinese daily Liane Zaobao written by former foreign affairs minister George Yeo in May 2009, whose title roughly translates to “May Fourth is part of Singapore’s rich heritage.”
This time PM Lee wrote as a caption, “If you use a bronze tray as a mirror, you can see if you’re dressed properly, if you use history as a mirror, you can know the reason why a country prospers or collapses; if you use people as a mirror, you can realise where you went wrong or did well.
These words by Emperor Taizong of Tang reminded us of the importance of history.
This year is the 100th anniversary of China’s May Fourth Movement.
Former foreign affairs minister George Yeo wrote an essay in 2009 that details the importance of the role the May Fourth Movement played in China’s modernisation, as well as the lasting impact it had on Singapore’s development.
A hundred years after the May Fourth Movement, it is worth it for us to reflect on the cultural revival and patriotism it represents. This essay (written by Yeo) is worth reading again.”
Mr Yeo also posted on his Facebook account May 5 a “Reflection on the Hundredth Anniversary of May Fourth,” where he gave a historical context of the demonstrations that the protestors carried out in Beijing, as well as an evaluation of China’s situation today.
“The huge difference is that China, from being spat upon a hundred years ago by the major powers, is now increasingly feared by some of them. This is a dramatic change. It will be a mistake if the centennial message of May Fourth is a continued emphasis on standing up to foreigners. It was right for China a hundred years ago to be intensely nationalistic. That was in self-defense. The need today is not for clenched fists but hands of friendship. China can make this change because it is strong and will become stronger.”
He touched on the significance of the May Fourth Movement in Singapore.
“The May Fourth Movement had a profound impact on ethnic Chinese all over the world as the way others treated them was inseparable from the way they treated China. In Singapore, the Chinese living here were swept along by the New Culture Movement. Chinese business associations, cultural organizations, schools, and newspapers were all profoundly affected. The Chinese in Singapore also became politically active. They supported China’s resistance against Japan’s invasion of the Mainland and suffered for it during the Second World War. After the War, the Chinese worked with other racial groups to fight for independence.
Ten years ago, Lee Huay Leng encouraged me to write a piece on the 90th anniversary of May Fourth. In it, I said that May Fourth is an important part of Singapore’s rich inheritance. The May Fourth spirit is an integral part of the Singapore spirit. It is therefore right that we also celebrate the centennial anniversary of May Fourth in Singapore sharing a common dream to make this a better world.”
In its article, the Global Times repeated what Mr Yeo had said, that China, who had once been bullied by other nations, because it has grown more powerful, is now the one being feared. But Xin Bin also said that China has not been a coloniser in the past, but has merely protected its own interests. “China has never had the tradition of imperial colonization and only safeguards the national interests that China considers legitimate.” /TISG