The culture that led to the founding of the Republic of China and that flourished immediately afterwards was informed by two main concerns: the weakness of the government in the face of pressure by Western powers, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, and Japan, and the seeming backwardness of the political system, which previously had held primacy over East Asia. It was this climate that led to the rapid changes and quick questioning of thousand year old traditions.
The abolition of the empire had an immediate effect on dress and customs: the largely Han population immediately cut off the queues that they had been forced to grow in submission to the overthrown Manchus whom they considered alien barbarian invaders. Sun Yat-sen popularised a new style of men's wear, featuring jacket and trousers instead of the pre-existing robes. Adapted from Japanese student wear, this style of dress became known as the Zhongshan suit (Zhongshan being Sun Yat-sen's given name in Chinese). (Later, Mao Zedong's variant of the Zhongshan suit would become well known in the West as the Mao suit.) Meanwhile, Madame Sun popularised the qipao as the standard female dress. At the same time, old practices such as footbinding, which Chinese had long known was viewed as backwards and unmodern by Westerners, were forbidden.
In the late 1910s and early 1920s, students and intellectuals began to challenge old customs in what became the New Cultural Movement. The era called for iconoclasm, the assertion of individuality, and the liberalization of society (such as through the abolition of arranged marriages). Universities began to incorporate western subjects into the curriculum and discussion of numerous philosophies such as communism and anarchism ensued. Notably, Lu Xun published his satire Diary of a Madman to challenge Confucianism, Ba Jin questioned the hierarchical family structure, and Hu Shih called for writing in Vernacular Chinese instead of Literary Chinese for mass appeal. The literary journal New Youth, edited by Chen Duxiu, promoted science and democracy. These changes, though affecting urban and upper class society, failed to reach the peasantry who remained mostly illiterate. Economic equality and gender equality became great concerns among intellectuals, students, and the general public. With the movement of people towards cities also came concern for such issues. Many young intellectuals became interested in communism and liberalism.
In the 1930s, Chiang Kai-shek launched the New Life Movement to promote traditional Confucian social ethics, while rejecting individualism and Western capitalistic values. It also aimed to build up morale in a nation that was besieged with corruption, factionalism, and opium addiction. Some goals included courtesy to neighbors, following rules set by the government, keeping streets clean, and conserving energy.