Chapter 1 May Fourth as Affect

In: Remembering May Fourth
Author: Gloria Davies
  • 1 City University of Hong Kong
  • | 2 University of Pennsylvania

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This essay explores the memorableness of “May Fourth” writings in relation to their emotion-arousing capacity. It argues that our understanding of “May Fourth” is impoverished if we do not heed the affective power of its textual legacy and treat “May Fourth” instead as an object of analysis, to be studied in relation to the factual significance of selected actions, ideas, persons and texts. Using J.A. Austin’s notions of the “constative” and “performative” as a heuristic device, the essay addresses the performative dimension of expressions, statements and key texts that have come to be subsumed under “May Fourth”. It draws on a range of readings of “May Fourth” from the Republican era to the present-day to discuss the proposition that one feels compelled to make sense of “May Fourth” only if one has been affected by what one reads as “May Fourth”. It also connects the affective power of “May Fourth” to a poetics of the possible at work in the linguistic play of baihua writings of the time.

Remembering May Fourth

The Movement and its Centennial Legacy