A Chinese student protest painting

A century of student activism in China

How China’s original activists remain influential today
Student activism in China dates back 100 years, but since their emergence as a political force in 1919, students have influenced and inspired landmark protests across the 20th century and beyond.

On 4 June 1989 the world watched on in horror as the Beijing spring protests by Chinese students were brutally repressed by military intervention. The foundation for that momentous and tragic event was laid in Beijing on 4 May 1919 when students took to the streets of the Chinese capital for the first time to protest the terms of the Versailles treaty. From that day on, student activism became an almost constant element and 'students' emerged as important advocates for political thought and practice.

In the anniversary year of both May and June Fourth, our esteemed speakers will reflect on a century of student activism and how it informs the 21st century Chinese landscape. China has evolved dramatically in the last century and even 20 years on from the Tiananmen Square protests, and today's student activists face entirely different challenges to their predecessors.

Our speakers will re-assess the legacy of China's original activists and its implication for today's generation of politically active students. 

This event was held on Tuesday 7 May at the University of Sydney and co-presented with China Studies Centrethe Department of History and the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

The speakers

Fabio Lanza is professor of modern Chinese history in the departments of History and East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona. He is the author of Behind the Gate: Inventing Students in Beijing (Columbia University Press, 2010) and The End of Concern: Maoist China, Activism, and Asian Studies (Duke University Press, 2017); and co-editor (with Jadwiga Pieper-Mooney) of De-Centering Cold War History Local and Global Change (Routledge, 2013).

Timothy Cheek is professor and Louis Cha Chair in Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia's (UBC) Institute of Asian Research and Department of History, as well as being director of the UBC Institute of Asian Research. His books include The Intellectual in Modern Chinese History (2015), Living with Reform: China Since 1989 (2006), Mao Zedong and China’s Revolutions (2002) and Propaganda and Culture in Mao’s China (1997). From May-June 2019 he is a Sydney China Distinguished Fellow in the Department of Chinese Studies.

Ruth Hayhoe is a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, with more than 35 years of professional experience in China, Japan and Hong Kong. Her most recent co-edited books include Religion and Education: Comparative and International Perspectives (2018), Comparative and International Education: Issues for Teachers (2017) and Canadian Universities in China’s Transformation: An Untold Story (2016).

Professor Ruth Hayhoe's visit is supported by Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre.

Wanning Sun FAHA is best known for her research in a number of areas, including Chinese media and cultural studies; rural to urban migration and social change in contemporary China; soft power, public diplomacy and diasporic Chinese media. Wanning is the author of a major report Chinese-Language Media in Australia: Developments, Challenges and Opportunities (2016). She is currently leading an Australian Research Council Discovery Project “Chinese-Language Digital/Social Media in Australia: Rethinking Soft Power (2018-2020). Wanning is also co-hosting (with Peter Fray) The Middle, a weekly radio program on Sydney 2ser on Australia-China relations.

Dr David Brophy studies the social and political history of China’s northwest, particularly the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and its connections with the Islamic and Russian/Soviet worlds. His first book, Uyghur Nation (2016), is on the politics of Uyghur nationalism between China and the Soviet Union in the early twentieth century. He currently holds an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellowship, for a project entitled 'Empire and Religion in Early Modern Inner Asia', in which he is exploring Inner Asian perspectives on the rise of the Qing in the 17th-18th centuries.

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