Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science
Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science Sculpture in Peking University
Patrick Smith, Somebody Else's Century: East and West in a Post-Western World:
… China’s story has been more complex. What followed the Qing abdication in early 1912 was a long period of unrest and the blooming of many flowers: warlords, republicans, reformers, revolutionaries. All the questions already suggested – “Chineseness,” the national direction, the place of tradition, what to do about the West – coalesced in the May Fourth Movement, a student uprising that erupted in 1919. May Fourth was vigorously modern, vigorously anti-Confucian. It’s legacy has been long-lived. The Tian’anmen incident seventy years later was explicitly an echo of “the May Fourth spirit.”
Among the interesting creations to come out ot the May Fourth era were a pair called Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy. They were conjured from the ferment early in 1919 - with none of the satire Westerners might assume – by a theorist named Chen Duxiu. “Only these two gentlemen,” Chen wrote, “can save China from the political, moral, academic and intellectual darkness in wich it finds itself.” This was an important remark. It was to declare a new ti – one rooted not in nostalgia for China as it has been but in China as it was, as it had become.
Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy have traveled far. A statue commemorating them stands today on the campus of Beijing University, when Cheng was a lecturer (the young Mao having been among his students). The curious things to note about the odd-sounding couple are two. They betoken a certain instrumentality at the core of Chinese thinking; Chen, indeed, was a avowed utilitarian. Science and democracy were now to be declared the path ahead, but they seemed in some measure to be conceived of as commodities – something that might arrive on the docks at Dalian, in crates. Equally, Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy portended something key in twentieth-centure China: The ti of the Confucian tradition was losing its atrraction. By the 1920s the very old thing that must be preserved was fading. Mr. Schience and Mr. Democracy stepped forward to suggest that another ti, from another place, an un-Chinese place, might stand where the tradition once stood.
Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy were much discussed in the decades after May Fourth. And Mr Science has never faltered as a figure in modern China. His counterpart has had a different fate. Mr Democracy is nominally honored; nothing is ever done in modern China but in the name of democracy. But in practice Chen’s creation, plainly enough, fell out of step. This was Mao’s deed. …