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The first Chinese speech in the history of the White House senior officials: Full text of Bo Ming's "China May 4th Spirit from an American Perspective"

The first Chinese speech in the history of the White House senior officials: Full text of Bo Ming's "China May 4th Spirit from an American Perspective"


Matt Pottinger, deputy U.S. National Security Adviser, participated in the online seminar of the University of Virginia Miller Center on U.S.-China relations at the White House on May 4th at the 101st anniversary of the May 4th Movement in China. A speech on China's "May Fourth" spirit from an American perspective. This is the first time a senior White House official in American history has spoken in Chinese.

The following full text of Bo Ming's speech released by the US National Security Council

Good morning everyone. I ’m Matt Pottinger, deputy national security consultant, speaking to you at the White House. I bring my boss, Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, to everyone's enthusiasm.
Today we have gathered thousands of people from different regions online because the infectious disease pandemic prevents us from getting together. But through the miracle of the Internet, the scale of our gathering is actually larger. As Americans, as Chinese, as members of the human family, we all do our best to exert our creativity from "grand" to "small" to overcome difficulties and protect communities.

The “greatness” of human creativity includes the use of biotechnology and data analysis to develop treatments and vaccines. At the same time, the “smallness” of creativity includes the subtleties of life, such as staying at home and learning to cut and cut each other ’s hair. My wife is an experienced virologist and she is here today too, but from my head, you may find that she is still a novice as a home hairdresser.

This is the second time I have the privilege of talking to the audience at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. About ten years ago, after serving in the Marine Corps, I was invited to speak at the Miller Center, covering the knowledge I learned from military service and the relationship between the military and citizens. Since then, I always remember the enthusiasm and wisdom of the director of the Miller Center, Jerry Baliles, but unfortunately he died in October last year. He has served the public interest of Virginia and our country for life. We thank people like Jerry.

Today, I was invited by Professor Harry Harding and Professor Shirley Lin to share with you some thoughts on US-China relations. Professor Lin told me that this event happened on the occasion of the 101st anniversary of the May 4th Movement. I know that this is a good entry point to discuss the past and present of China from the American perspective.

During the May Fourth Movement in 1919, the end of the First World War, thousands of college students in Beijing gathered in Tiananmen Square to protest the unfair treatment China received at the Paris Peace Conference. In order to appease the Japanese Empire, Western countries transferred Germany's "rights" on the Shandong Peninsula to Japan.

Students marching to Tiananmen shouted, Return me to Shandong! Refuse to sign the Treaty of Versailles! And other slogans, the police forcefully dispersed the demonstrators. As it often happens after the government shuts down channels of peaceful expression, some students resorted to violence to protest the escalation. Aware of the popular complaints, the Chinese government refused to sign the Versailles Treaty.

Three years later, with the help and mediation of the United States, an agreement was reached at the Washington Naval Conference in 1922 and China recovered Shandong. However, today, a hundred and one years ago, the movement initiated by the students had a meaning far beyond the indignation of nationalism for unequal treaties. It inspired the Chinese people's exploration of modernization. As mentioned in the history of US-China relations as described by John Pomfret (Pan Wen), the May 4th Movement was "to revolutionize China's politics, society and culture." "Mr. Sai" and Mr. De were the slogans of the Chinese modernization movement. Some people call the movement "China's Enlightenment". Professor Vera Schwarcz (Shu Hengzhe) wrote a very insightful book on "May Fourth" on this topic. In fact, there are many excellent studies on "May Fourth". Today, at least two famous contemporary Chinese historians were invited to the conference: Rana Mitter of Oxford University and John Israel of the University of Virginia. To discuss the history and significance of "May Fourth", I suggest consulting these experts.

Now I want to take a few minutes to review a few Chinese people who have promoted the spirit of the May 4th Movement.

Naturally, Hu Shi was one of the most influential leaders in the May 4th era: before that, he was already an important thinker working hard for China's modernization. Hu Shi, who was born in Anhui Province, like Lu Xun and many famous writers, studied abroad at that time. At Cornell University he switched from studying agriculture to philosophy. Hu Shi studied at Columbia University under the guidance of American educator John Dewey.

Hu Shi's greatest gift to the Chinese is language. Before, the written language of China, "Wen Yan Wen", had basically remained unchanged for centuries. Many studies have proved that the distance between classical Chinese and vernacular is no less than Latin and modern Italian. The difficulty of written language sets a gap between the ruler and the ruled-this is the key to the problem. Classical Chinese, as well as literacy itself, are mainly controlled by a small number of political elites and readers. Their greatest wish is to "middle move", reading is not for the general public.

On the contrary, Hu Shi believed that the words should reflect the voice of the people, not just record the sages. What age people, what age words! He promoted vernacular Chinese and was convinced that the words should be popularized. He played main role in the development of Chinese language. In hindsight, the significance of Hu Shi's promotion of vernacular text was so obvious that it was easy to forget that this was a revolutionary idea at the time and had caused great controversy.

Gu Hongming, a Confucian scholar and professor of Western literature at Peking University, mocked literacy. He wrote in August 1919: "Think about forty million people, ninety percent are literate, what is the result. Think about it, in Beijing, coolies, grooms, drivers, baldheads, shop children, small vendors, hunters, lazy people, Homeless people have a culture, and like college students, they want to participate in politics. What about our wonderful situation? "
This kind of elite chauvinism has always hindered the democratic ideal supported by the May 4th Movement. Hu Shi used the vernacular he promoted to subtly refute the argument against the national social contract. Hu Shi said: "The only way to democracy is democracy." Government is a craft and needs practice. Hu Shi does not care about elitism at all.

However, the leaders of the May 4th Movement are often blamed by various parties. Government officials or royal literati once accused that the May 4th Movement was partial to the West, and the Chinese atmosphere was not enough or even patriotic.

But the life story of scholar Zhang Pengchun refutes the notion that "May 4th" is not "Chinese". Also the 'May Fourth' generation, like Hu Shi, Zhang Pengchun received a scholarship to study in the United States. Out of his love for drama, he was the first to change "Mulan" into a stage play. He introduced Western drama to Nankai University, which was funded by his brother; then he invited Mei Lanfang, a famous young man, to perform westernized Peking opera in the United States. In China's traditional moral cultivation and strict educational philosophy, Zhang Pengchun saw the advantages that can be combined with Western thought to form new things.

This finally demonstrated Zhang Pengchun ’s highest achievement: his decisive contribution to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration was drafted by an international panel of experts chaired by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt after World War II. Zhang Pengchun, a senior diplomat representing China, is a member of this group. The purpose of the "Declaration" is to prevent government from authoritarianism and war through moral demands to make the government respect basic human rights. The human rights stipulated in the 1948 Declaration included life, freedom, security, non-slavery or torture, freedom of religion and freedom of thought.

John Pomfret once wrote: "Combining Western individualism with Chinese collectivism," Zhang Pengchun contributed to a universal declaration applicable to all countries. Zhang Pengchun believes that the "Declaration of Human Rights" is not only about individual rights, but also related to individuals' obligations to society.

Zhang Pengchun's biographer, Hans Ingvar Roth of Stockholm University, emphasized his contribution to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He said that All aspects of the declaration that are most meaningful today, such as the universality of the declaration, religious neutrality and Emphasizing basic needs and dignity, Zhang Pengchun has a key contribution. 

Just a few years after the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations, frustrated by China ’s lack of democracy, Zhang Pengchun resigned as a diplomat. It is not difficult to find that Zhang Pengchun's judgment of the government's lack of democracy does not come from ancient Greek philosophy, but the moral character of leadership in traditional Chinese thought. Both Zhang Pengchun and Hu Shi knew that "Chinese discomfort and democracy" was nothing but nonsense and the most unpatriotic argument. Today ’s Taiwan is fresh evidence.

So, where is China's "May 4th" spirit now? In my opinion, the heirs of the May 4th Movement are Chinese citizens who are conscious of their citizens, and their performance lies in the courageous behavior they have undertaken. Dr. Li Wenliang is such a person. Dr. Li is not a public intellectual seeking to save China. He is an ophthalmologist and a young father. He first made a small brave action, and then a greater heroic move. In late December, he initially sent a warning to several medical school students through WeChat, saying that Wuhan Hospital found a serious case of coronavirus, urging friends to protect themselves and their families.

His warning, unexpectedly, was widely disseminated on the Internet, and Dr. Li felt uneasy. There is good reason for restlessness. The hospital supervisor quickly warned him not to disclose the news of the coronavirus case. Then, Dr. Li was "admonished" by the police for "publishing false comments on the Internet" and was forced to sign to admit "rumors" and was threatened with litigation. If anyone suspects that this is just an excessive act of the local police, then the official use of CCTV to publicize Dr. Li's so-called "rumors" will eliminate any doubt.

Then, Dr. Li made a bold heroic move. He posted his experience at the police station on social media and attached a warning letter from the police. The whole world is watching closely. At that time, Dr. Li was already infected with coronavirus. His death on February 7 made people all over the world feel like they had lost loved ones. Dr. Li told reporters that I think that in a healthy society, there should be multiple voices, and I don't approve of excessive intervention by public power. Dr. Li uses Hu Shi's Vernacular.

In China today, it takes courage to meet a reporter or become a reporter. Nowadays in China, it is even more difficult to find investigative reporters at home and abroad. Some citizen journalists trying to expose the epidemic in Wuhan are missing, including Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin, and Li Zehua. In recent months, the number of foreign journalists deported has exceeded the number deported by the Soviet Union in decades. Li Wenliang's doctor colleague Dr. Ivan also warned about the epidemic in Wuhan. According to reports, Dr. Effen can no longer show up after being interviewed.

When the government suppresses ordinary behavior with a little courage, it often invites bolder courageous behavior.

In the past few months, many people have shown moral and courage in action, all in pursuit of the common ideals of generations before Hu Shi and Zhang Pengchun a century ago. Some of them are politicians, some dedicate their lives to faith, and some follow the traditional Chinese conscience scholars, many of them ordinary citizens. Xu Zhangrun, Ren Zhiqiang, Xu Zhiyong, Yili Hamu, Fang Fang, 20 Catholic priests who refused to obey God ’s obedience to the Communist Party, and millions of Hong Kong citizens who demonstrated peacefully last year for the rule of law—rule of law. These are just a few.

Today, the May 4th Movement entered its second century. What will its ultimate legacy be? This question can only be answered by the Chinese people. The May 4th Movement belongs to them. Will the "May 4th" democratic aspirations wait until the next century? Will the core idea of   "May Fourth" be erased by the official censorship every time? Will those who still believe in this claim today be called "unpatriotic" and "pro-American" "subversive"? We know that the Communist Party will try its best to do so. After all, Mao Zedong's tolerance for a few of the most famous writers, Lu Xun, who is still officially recognized, is also limited. In 1957, the official Luo Jinan asked Mao Zedong: "What will happen to Lu Xun today?" Mao Zedong's answer shocked four people. Either he was kept in prison and he continued to write, or he said nothing.

Those who are interested in seeking truth and telling the truth in China may be comforted. Lu Xun wrote that The lies written in ink can never hide the truth of blood writing.

Finally, from the American perspective: Hu Shi is famous for solving problems without caring about abstract political theory. But let me break his rule of "less talk" and ask whether China today can benefit from less nationalism and more populism. Populist democracy pays less attention to left and right, but focuses on up and down. That is to say, the minority needs the majority's consent. When privileged people break away from the masses, become narrow and selfish, populism can make them shrink or get out. This is a motivation. It promoted Brexit in 2015; President Trump won the election in 2016; and promoted the founder of your school to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It can remind national dignitaries to remember who they should work for: "America first"!

Doesn't a similar idea exist in the "May 4th" spirit? Is n’t Hu Shi ’s vernacular text aimed at the nobles who are consciously great? Isn't it a declaration of war against the traditional power structure? Isn't it to establish a "people-oriented" government in China, rather than "hit the mountains and sit on the mountains"? The world will wait for the final answer provided by the Chinese people.

Thank you everyone!

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