AN ANALYSIS OF THE EARLY MAY FOURTH INTELLECTUALS’ INTERPRETATION OF ‟UNIVERSAL VALUES” - A Europe-China Cultural Encounter Perspective
There is an increased tension between China and the European Union (EU) over ‟universal values” of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. This is a question about ethical universalism and cultural relativism, a legendary debate by the Enlightenment thinkers. The real cultural encounter with China did not take place in Europe until the enlightened Europeans looked to China for the modernization projects to reform European society. The Chinese started to learn the Western technologies and sciences after the Opium wars, then the late Qing reformers initiated constitutional monarch reforms. After all these efforts failed, the early May Fourth intellectuals realized the importance of abandoning their traditional cultural superiority and learning the Western values and principles to truly transform China into a modern state. The author aims to examine how the early May Fourth intellectuals perceived democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in New Youth (1915- 1920), a leading radical periodical in the May Fourth period. The author finds that the early May Fourth intellectuals held a universalist view and advocated that democracy, the rule of law, and human rights should replace the outworn Chinese Confucian ethics and traditions and be implemented in China. However, instead of transplanting the whole Western values and principles into China, they stressed the importance to enlighten the masses with the new conception of the state and their new master role in the republic, and to implement direct democracy to foster their skills of political participation due to the unique Chinese cultural context. Hence, partial assimilation rather than complete modelling took place in the May Fourth intellectuals’ encounter with the Western thoughts.
China, Europe, cross-cultural encounter, universal values, the May Fourth Movement, 20th century, ethical universalism, cultural relativism, New Youth