The May Fourth Movement, wusi yundong (五四运动), brought Chen Duxiu to the height of his influence. Chinese intellectuals around the country were sparked to anger by Liang Qichao’s telegram from Paris announcing the secret agreement between the Chinese government and Japan to turn over Germany’s territorial concessions to the Japanese. Already planning to protest the anniversary of Japan’s Twenty-One Demands, several thousand students flooded the Tiananmen Gate at the southern entrance to the Forbidden City. Frustrated and angry, Chinese reformers began to question if any of their liberal ideas were actually leading anywhere.
The protesters turned on the closest government official they could find, Cao Rulin, minister of communications for the current ruling warlord, torching his property. The protest spread nationwide.
As the Beijing government attempted to repress protests, Chen got himself arrested. Three days before going to prison, he wrote: “There are only two sources of civilization: one is the research institute and the other is the prison.”