The connection between the negotiations leading to the Versailles Treaty, the demonstrations of May 4, 1919 in Beijing, and the formation of a nation-wide public opinion is widely seen as foundational for modern China. In the “Wilsonian moment” of early 1919, an emerging global public opinion expressed aspirations to a fairer international order and the internal democratization of its constituent nation-states. The subsequent peace negotiations, with their worldwide real-time reporting, created an alternative global imaginary, challenging modern mass society and advocating utopian communities.
A handful of Chinese “citizen journalists” unaffiliated with major outlets set up the Paris News Service in early 1919, based on Sichuanese hometown networks and the Young China Association. It played a role in transmitting information and constructing public opinion in China, including on a local level in Sichuan. By retracing the details of how the news of the Versailles negotiations reached China, this presentation will highlight the role of the modern press and traditional hometown networks, leading to qualify the importance of both the moment of 1919 and its global dimension, which was deeply embedded not only in national trends, but also in local networks.
Sebastian VEG is a Professor of Intellectual History of modern and contemporary China at the EHESS (School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences), Paris and an Honorary Professor at the University of Hong Kong. He was director of the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Hong Kong from 2011 to 2015. He has studied Chinese intellectuals from May Fourth to the present, the history of publications and public spheres, and the democracy movement in Hong Kong. He was the co-principal investigator for a France-Hong Kong research grant on memories of the Mao era, and editor of Popular Memories of the Mao Era: From Critical Debate to Reassessing History (HKUP, 2019). His most recent book is Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals (Columbia UP, 2019).