1919: The Year that Changed China by Dr Elisabeth Forster, Lecturer of Modern China (University of Southampton)
1919 was the year in Chinese history, that generated the most significant and radical changes in Chinese history. At the beginning of 1919, nobody in China, could of predicted that changes that were going to take place in that year.
Among the changes, that took place in 1919, was the adoption of Mandarin, as the national language of China. The emergence of the communist party in China began in 1919, with present day China, now being ruled by the communist party. Before 1919, there was very little support for the communist party. If the communists had not eventually succeeded in becoming the ruling party of China, the future cold war and the current trade dispute would have been very different.
Pre-1919, China was very similar to medieval Europe, with many different ethnic groups and languages, with one ethnic group being unable to understand or communicate with other fellow Chinese ethnic groups. The ‘intellectual’ language of China was classical Chinese. Any Chinese person, who had an ambition to work for the central government, had to be able to correspond and converse in classical Chinese, even though classical Chinese was only used for writing, not talking.
In 1919, the Chinese central government, decreed that all Chinese were to write and converse in one language, and selected Mandarin, as the sole language to be used in Peking. China was the dominant power in East Asia, until the arrival of the Europeans.
In the 1830s, China first meets British traders, and one of the consequences, was the opium was, between Britain and China, with the subsequent Chinese defeat coming as a huge shock to the Chinese people. As a consequence of this unexpected defeat, the Chinese looked for a reason , why the Europeans defeated the Chinese so decisively , and came to the conclusion, that not only modern military weapons and tactics, but European theology and philosophy contributed to the Chinese defeat. Another consequence of the Chinese defeat, was the birth of communism.
One of the reasons, why significant changes started to begin 1919, was the success of the Russian revolution. Foreign observers, thought that the Chinese would head in a different direction to the road that the Chinese actually took, and never thought that communism would succeed in China.
China participated in the First World War, from 1917, with the objective to recover Chinese provinces (Shandong) that had been seized by Germany. Instead, Japan had declared war on Germany, and seized the Chinese province. Japan was seeking to become the leading East Asian super power. There was major demonstrations in present day Tiananmen Square, in protest against the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, where China was unsuccessful in recovering its lost provinces. Eventually, China regained its lost provinces.
The local Chinese media spread rumors and conspiracy theories , especially concerning the ‘plain language’ advocates, as well as targeting the demonstrators protesting against the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The Chinese media were owned by political parties, commercial interests and academics.
One of the consequences of the events of 1919, in China, led to the civil war, and the Japanese invasion , which after the ending of the second world war, led to another civil war, with the communists winning the civil war, and the consequence that the communists party has ruled China since their victory in this civil war