This article argues that China's New Culture Movement was not a movement, but a buzzword. It was coined by little-known intellectuals in the summer of 1919 and then used by them to sell their own, long-standing agendas. Even though they declared famous intellectuals such as Hu Shi and Chen Duxiu to be the movement's ‘centre’ and inspiration, some of them were as, if not more, important in shaping the discourses surrounding the expression ‘New Culture Movement’. Drawing upon newspapers, journals, and conference reports, this article shows this using the example of two case studies, both of which marketed their agendas as ‘New Culture Movement’: the Jiangsu Educational Association, which was a political-educational group in Jiangsu; and Chinese Christian intellectuals around the Apologetic Group in Beijing.
Regarding the New Culture Movement as a buzzword addresses some puzzles about it. It explains why it has proven difficult to agree on a starting and endpoint for the New Culture Movement. It also illustrates why such a huge variety of ideas, whose complexity has become ever more evident in recent scholarship, was subsumed under the one headline of ‘New Culture Movement’.