Gems of History

Standing up for what is right

The May 30th Movement (五卅運動) was a major labor and anti-imperialist movement sparked by the killing of Chinese protesters at the Shanghai International Settlement (or concession) on May 30, 1925. The protesters were demonstrating against the Japanese No. 8 Cotton Mill whose Japanese foreman shot dead Gu Zhenghong (顧正紅), a labor leader, on May 15. The British Municipal Police opened fire, killing 13 and wounding many protesters, most of them unnamed students.

The massacre sparked nationwide anti-foreign demonstrations, collectively called the May 30th Movement.

Meng Xian Cheng (孟憲丞), then a young professor of St. John University set up by the Western mission in Shanghai, was so grieved when he saw the massacre with his own eyes. He was a graduate of the university and had taught there since his graduation.

On June 1, Meng resolutely called a meeting of professors of St. John University as the dean of Chinese Classical Language. He did this at the risk of being fired from his position and with disregard for the “patronage” given to him by university president Francis Lister Hawks Pott (Bu Fang Ji 卜肪濟), a British.

At the assembly, Meng said: “If our student knows only that he is a student of St. John but doesn’t know he is a Chinese national too; if he sees foreigners killing his compatriots yet remains indifferent; then there is no way to justify our daily lessons on citizen’s self-awareness. We would then be ashamed to meet with our students on the rostrum and provide them with our knowledge and writings.”

With the support of most professors, they resolved that the students of St. John can join the patriotic anti-imperialist movement.

On June 3, the students gathered at the sports ground, raised the national flag at half-mast to pay tribute to the victims of the massacre. Pott flew into a rage from shame and suppressed the students. When Meng saw Pott bully and humiliate the Chinese, he announced his break with St. John and Pott.

Meng had been Pott’s student. The Briton was instrumental in getting him employed at St. John. But Meng held, “I love my mentor, but I love the truth even more.”

Meng’s courageous act of upholding justice inspired awe. He led the patriotic students and walked out of St. John University. Together with other professors, they set up the Guang Hua University (光華大學), which means to glorify the Chinese nation. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 21 (April 5-18, 2016): 5.