The “feeling of rapture, of exhilaration” which Mei experiences which exposed to these publications and their contents is both the result of a “shock of the new” (to paraphrase Robert Hughes), but also a shock of recognition, as this eighteen year-old “new youth” sees publications which directly mirror her own sensibilities. The definitive "new" publication of this period was the journal New Youth (新青年; La jeunesse), but when, shortly afterwards, Mei’s cousin and new husband attempts to cheer her up by buying some of these same publications, he ends up buying willy-nilly “any book with ‘new’ in the title, which is why books such as A New Introduction to Hygiene, New Methods for Playing Baseball, and even A New Approach to Sexual Intercourse were mixed in with the pile of New Youth and New Tide.” Though it never fails to “bring a smile to her lips,” Liu Yuchun’s erroneous purchase of “new” publications such as New Methods for Playing Baseball is arguably not entirely misguided, insofar as the term “new,” for Mei, has shifted from being a mere adjectival modifier, to being an object of fixation in its own right.
Wherein lie the origins of this May Fourth period fascination with newness and children or youth? Of course, the attention to youth as a site of potential social transformation is itself nothing new. Prominent precedents include Huang Yuanyong 黃遠庸, Lan Gongwu 藍公武 and Zhang Junmai 張君勱 ‘s 1912 founding of the Journal of the Young China Association《少 年中國周刊》, Liang Qichao’s 梁啟超 1899 essay “Ode to Young China” (Shaonian Zhongguo shuo 少年中国说), or four centuries earlier, Li Zhi’s 李贽 1590 essay “Ode to the Child-like Mind” (tongxin shuo童心说) (which itself harkens back to Mencius). Nevertheless, this May Fourth “youth” discourse represents the intersection of these earlier Chinese precedents, on the one hand, and a body of medico-political knowledge which was being introduced into China during precisely that same period, on the other.