Sep 20, 2012

Summer vacation: A May wind in August

A waterfront history lesson

The May 4th monument
The bay

“五四,” I told the cab driver. Literally, that translates as “5-4” but it can also mean May 4th, as in May 4th Square, one of Qingdao’s major landmarks.

The plaza is just off Fushan Bay, which is where all the Olympic sailing stuff happened in 2008. The main feature of May 4th Square is the giant red “May Wind,” the largest non-moving steel sculpture within a city in China, according to the plaque.

We didn’t look it up until much later, but the sculpture commemorates a pretty significant event in Chinese history. Here’s a quick and dirty summary: Back in World War I, China joined the Allies on the condition that all German holdings in country — specifically Shandong Province, location of Qingdao and Qufu, Confucius’ birthplace — would revert to China. But the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles gave Shandong to Japan. So on May 4, 1919, the students took to the streets in protest. The movement quickly spread to workers, businessmen and the intelligentsia, and China refused to sign the treaty.

Extreme May 4th

Japan still assumed control of Shandong. But this is where things get pretty complex. I haven’t read nearly enough to fully grasp the particulars, but out of the intellectual revolution that followed the protests of May 4th emerged the Chinese Communist Party. So that pretty, red sculpture is pretty important.

Shopping stalls

Today, the square is a beautiful place to relax. The bay is ringed with beachy, touristy shops, and people strolled back and forth, checking out shells and beaded necklaces and such. We watched people flying ornate kites as the sun set. After sunset, spotlights illuminated “May Wind,” giving her a noble presence even in the dark.

Next: You mean we aren’t the only Americans in China?