Way back in 1925, during the heyday of foreign imperialism in Shanghai, discontent was fomenting among the local populace over what were generally considered to be unfair privileges granted to foreigners and Chinese exclusion from the governing Shanghai Municipal Council. The deals the foreign powers had struck up with Manchu officials in the 19th century, suspect from the beginning, had little official legitimacy after the fall of the Qing more than ten years earlier. Tensions reached a boiling point when labor protests at a Japanese factory resulted in an assault and the death of a Chinese employee on May 15th.
Leftist student groups, the KMT and the recently formed Chinese Communist Party (still officially allied with the KMT at this time), responded to the incident by organizing one of the biggest anti-imperial protests the city had ever seen. On May 30th thousands of protesters descended on Nanjing Road and the Shanghai Municipal Police were called in to quell the situation. They proceeded to arrest several students and haul them into the police station off of what is now Guizhou Lu, but this just further enraged the protesters who then marched to the station demanding the student organizers’ release. Maybe it was panic, maybe it was rage, but the police exercised bad judgment on a colossal scale by opening fire on the assembled crowd. Depending on the source, somewhere between six and twelve were killed and dozens more wounded.
The actions of the police became a call to arms for the already unhappy urban Chinese community around the country and started what is now known as the May 30th Movement (五卅运动:Wusa Yundong): 135 or so protests of various levels of violence and intensity took place around the country lasting for about 16 months. The damage to foreign trade was tremendous and as a result the Chinese were allowed five seats on the Shanghai Municipal Council. The more important result however was boosting CCP membership, only about a 1,000 strong before the movement, to over 10,000 and elevating them to a position of prominence on the national political scene.
In the nineties a giant metal monument (pictured above) was installed just south of the Nanjing Road in People’s Park to commemorate the May 30th Movement. The sculpture is a tortured steel frame in the shape of a flame (no doubt the flame of discontent that ignited nation-wide protests) and composing it you can just make out the two characters for 五 and 卅 composing it. If you examine the rousing socialist bas relief behind it, you will find a detailed explanation of the events that marked that fateful day in 1925 (Chinese only of course), but we wouldn’t recommend it. The city’s homeless population apparently fails to grasp the monument’s historical richness and instead tend to use its relative seclusion to literally take a piss on their shared heritage. But, in the spirit of the monument, it’s kind of fitting the way underclasses are making their voices heard. Power to the people, right on.