The funeral procession of Sheng Xuanhuai (盛宣懷, 1844–1916) – the renowned Qing scholar-official, financier, and “father of Chinese industrialism” – meandered through the streets of Shanghai on 18 November 1917. The funeral was a grand event, one that was purportedly documented in film, later to be distributed as the first “news short-film” (新聞短片) in China. The North China Herald reported on the event in some detail, at times in rather florid language, and suggested that “the cortege was splendid and impressive, bringing back the days of the Manchu emperors. The ceremonial costumes, the musical instruments and much more of the accoutrements dated back to the days of the Empire” (“Sheng Kung-pao's Funeral,” 1917, 467–68). And indeed, the procession included a variety of ritual customs and insignia from Qing (1644-1911) times: imperial banners, ancestral tablets, Buddhist and Daoist priests, paper artifacts, and much more. Simultaneously, nonetheless, other kinds of participants and objects – new and not of imperial pedigree – were part of and intermixed with the older materials: certificates of rank were carried on cars; boy scouts and college students marched alongside the priests; many of the participants arrived by train (mainly from Sheng's hometown, Suzhou); and as the Shanghai portion of the procession ended, it continued by steamer to Suzhou. The conclusion of the North China Herald account, however, seems to have emphasized a dichotomy of old and new rather than a joyful mix of the two:
Hundreds of men, dressed in the ancient costume of the old dynasties, bore a strong contrast to the eight behind them, sons of intimate friends of the deceased. They were on horseback and wore high silk hats, frock coats and white breeches tucked in riding boots. Truly the passing of the old and the entering of the new. (Ibid.; emphasis added)
This view – the old giving way to the new – was not just an off-hand (Western) journalistic analysis; it was part of a larger discourse about the nature of modernity, about progress, and about the relationship between East and West. By the early twentieth century, China was often perceived by most Westerners and Chinese alike as traditional, backward, and weak. It was, thus, commonly stated that the old was giving way to the new (descriptive), should be giving way to the new (prescriptive), or was bound to give way to the new (quasi-fatalistic), if China was to survive. This kind of discourse was put forward by both Western and Chinese writers, who embraced this linear, progressive, view of the relationship between the old and the new, well before Sheng's funeral or the Qing's demise. In the aftermath of that demise, the New (not “Modern”) Culture Movement began to grow and seek solutions for the old-new nation's crisis. The Movement's rhetoric in particular advanced the need for the triumph of the new, and journals, such as New People, New Tide, or New Youth (新民, 新潮, 新青年) served as media for extending such views.