As one of the four ancient civilized nations, China boasts its history of five
thousand years and splendid treasure of civilization. For centuries China stood
as a leading position, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences,
but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was beset by civil unrest,
major famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation. During the middle decades
of the 19th century, capitalist forces of foreign countries invaded China, and
China was slowly transformed into a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. After
World War II, the Communists under MAO Zedong established an autocratic socialist
system that, while ensuring China's sovereignty, imposed strict controls over
everyday life and cost the lives of tens of millions of people. The founding of
the People's Republic in 1949 marked China's entry into the socialist stage. After
1978, his successor DENG Xiaoping and other leaders focused on market-oriented
economic development and by 2000 output had quadrupled. During the long period
of historical development, the industrious, courageous, and intelligent Chinese
people of all nationalities have collectively created a great history and we can
well founded that the blooming tomorrow of china is coming!
Xia (c. 2200 - c. 1750 BC)
Not much is known about this first Chinese dynasty
-- in fact, it until fairly recently, most historians thought that it was a myth.
But the archeological record has proven them wrong, for the most part. What little
is known indicates that the Xia had descended from a wide-spread Yellow River
valley Neolithic culture known as the Longshan culture, famous for their black-lacquered
pottery. Even though no known examples of Xia-era writing survive, they almost
certainly had a writing system that was a precursor of the Shang dynasty's "oracle
Shang (c. 1750 - c. 1040 BC)
There are three things to know about the Shang: one,
they were the most advanced bronze-working civilization in the world; two, Shang
remains provide the earliest and most complete record of Chinese writing (there
are a few Neolithic pots that have a few characters scratched on them; however,
a few characters do not a complete writing system make), scratched out on the
shoulder blades of pigs for oracular purposes; and three, they were quite possibly
the most blood-thirsty pre-modern civilization. They liked human sacrifice --
a lot. If a king died, then more than one hundred slaves would join him in the
grave. Some of them would be beheaded first. Some of them were just thrown in
still alive. Later dynasties replaced the humans with terra-cotta figures, resulting
in things like the underground army. They also did things like human sacrifice
for building consecrations and other ceremonial events. The Shang had a very odd
system of succession: instead of a patrilineal system where power was passed from
father to son, the kingship passed from elder brother to younger brother, and
when there were no more brothers, then to the oldest maternal nephew.
Zhou (c. 1100 - 771 BC)
think that the Zhou were much more "Chinese" than the Shang. For one,
they used a father-to-son succession system. Also, they weren't too keen on human
sacrifice. However, they weren't as good at working bronze as the Shang. Still,
it would be centuries before the West was able to cast bronze as well as the Zhou.
Some, though not all, scholars believe that the Xia, the Shang, and the Zhou actually
were three different cultures that emerged more or less at the same time in different
areas of the Yellow River valley. And the historical record supports this view
-- the Shang were conquered from outside by the Zhou, as the Xia had been conquered
from the outside by the Shang.
The Zhou actually didn't rule all of what
was then China. China was then made up of a number of quasi-independent principalities.
However, the Zhou was the most powerful principality and played the role of hegemon
in the area. They were located in the middle of the principalities, giving rise
to what the Chinese call their country -- the Middle Kingdom. The Zhou was able
to maintain peace and stability through the hegemon system for a few hundred years;
then in 771 BC, barbarians from the west sacked the capital.
Zhou (771 - 256 BC)
& Autumn Period (722 - 481 BC)
States Period (403 - 221 BC)
barbarians from the west sacked the capital, the Zhou moved east, thus neatly
dividing the Zhou dynasty into eastern and western periods. As might be expected,
the power of the Zhou declined somewhat. The so-called Spring & Autumn period
provides a history of period saw a proliferation of new ideas and philosophies.
The three most important, from a historical standpoint, were Daoism, Confucianism,
Daoism is a can be a very frustrating philosophy to study.
It is based on study of the Dao, literally translated, "the Way." For
starters, a man named Lao-zi, allegedly wrote the oldest great book of Daoism,
the Dao de Jing, The Way and Virtue.
who lived about five hundred years before Christ, basically believed that moral
men make good rulers and that virtue is one of the most important properties that
an official can have. He also believed that following the proper way of behaving
can attain virtue, and thus placed a great deal of stress on proper.
derived from the teachings of another one of Confucius' disciples, a man named
Sun-zi. Sun-zi believed that, for the most part, man would look out for himself
first and was therefore basically evil. Consequently, the Legalists designed a
series of draconian laws that would make a nation easier to control.
Qin (221 - 206 BC)
221 BC, the first Emperor of China (so-called because all the previous dynastic
heads only called themselves kings), Qin Shihuangdi, conquered the rest of China
after a few hundred years of disunity. Qin Shihuangdi had a great many accomplishments,
not the least of which was the linking together of many of the old packed-earth
defensive walls of the old principalities into the Great Wall of China. This is
not to say that he built the massive masonry construction that today is called
the Great Wall of China; what is today called the Great Wall was actually built
close to two thousand years later, during the Ming dynasty.
Han (25 - 220)
The Han dynasty plays a very important role in Chinese history.
For starters, they invented Chinese history, as we know it today. Additionally,
the overwhelmingly predominant ethnic group in China is called the Han; they are
named after the dynasty. But, most importantly, they developed (actually, it was
invented by Qin Shihuangdi, but perfected by the Han) the administrative model,
which every successive dynasty would copy, lock, stock, and barrel.
Kingdoms (220 - 265)
of the North and South (317 - 589)
The collapse of the Han dynasty
was followed by nearly four centuries of rule by warlords. The age of civil wars
and disunity began with the era of the Three Kingdoms (Wei, Shu, and Wu, which
had overlapping reigns during the period A.D. 220-80). In later times, fiction
and drama greatly romanticized the reputed chivalry of this period. Unity was
restored briefly in the early years of the Jin dynasty (A.D. 265-420), but the
Jin could not long contain the invasions of the nomadic peoples. In A.D. 317 the
Jin court was forced to flee from Luoyang and reestablished itself at Nanjing
to the south. The transfer of the capital coincided with China's political fragmentation
into a succession of dynasties that was to last from A.D. 304 to 589. During this
period the process of sinicization accelerated among the non-Chinese arrivals
in the north and among the aboriginal tribesmen in the south. This process was
also accompanied by the increasing popularity of Buddhism (introduced into China
in the first century A.D.) in both north and south China. Despite the political
disunity of the times, there were notable technological advances. The invention
of gunpowder (at that time for use only in fireworks) and the wheelbarrow is believed
to date from the sixth or seventh century. Historians also note advances in medicine,
astronomy, and cartography.
Sui (589 - 618)
The most important thing to know about this dynasty is that it
was very short (by dynastic standards) and that it did a pretty good job of re-unifying
China. Because it had a northern power base, it was part barbarian, as was the
Tang. Despite the fact that the royal houses of Sui and succeeding Tang were not
entirely Han Chinese, both of these dynasties are considered to be Chinese, as
opposed to the Mongols and Manchus later on.
Tang (618 - 907)
Tang is considered to be one of the great dynasties of Chinese history; many historians
rank them right behind the Han. They extended the boundaries of China through
Siberia in the North, Korea in the east, and were in what is now Vietnam in the
South. They even extended a corridor of control along the Silk Road well into
are two interesting historical things about the Tang. The first is the Empress
Wu, the only woman ever to actually bear the title 'Emperor' (or, in her case,
Empress). The second was the An Lushan Rebellion, which marked the beginning of
the end for the Tang.
Song (960 - 1125)
Song (1127 - 1279)
Song (pronounced Song) dynasty ranks up there with the Tang and the Han as one
of the great dynasties. Fifty years after the official end of the Tang, an imperial
army re-unified China and established the Song dynasty. A time of remarkable advances
in technology, culture, and economics, the Song, despite its political failures,
basically set the stage for the rest of the imperial era. The most important development
during the Song was that agricultural technology, aided by the importation of
a fast-growing Vietnamese strain of rice and the invention of the printing press,
developed to the point where the food-supply system was so efficient that, for
the most part, there was no need to develop it further. There was enough food
for everyone, more or less, the system worked, and it became self-sustaining.
Song was a time of great advances, politically and militarily, however, Barbarians,
forcing the dynasty to abandon a northern capital in the early 1100¡¯s,
conquered the northern half of China. Then a hundred and fifty years later, the
Mongols, fresh from conquering everything between Manchuria and Austria, invaded
and occupied China.
Yuan (Mongol) (1279 - 1368)
time of Mongol rule is called a dynasty, it was in fact a government of occupation.
While the Mongols did use existing governmental structures for the duration, the
language they used was Mongol, and many of the officials they used were non-Chinese.
Mongols, Uighurs from central Asia, some Arabs and even an Italian named Marco
Polo all served as officials for the Mongol government. One of the more significant
accomplishments of the Mongol tenure was the preservation of China as we know
it in that China wasn't turned into pastureland for the Mongolian ponies which
not only was common Mongolian practice for territories they'd overrun but had
actually been advocated by some of the conquering generals.
Yuan dynasty also featured the famous Khubilai Khan, who, among other things,
extended the Grand Canal. While in many ways, the Yuan was a disaster, the reluctance
of the Mongols to hire educated Chinese for governmental posts resulted in a remarkable
cultural flowering; for example, Beijing Opera was invented during the Yuan. On
the other hand, attempts to analyze the failure of the Song in keeping barbarians
out China led to the rise and dominance of Neo-Confucianism, a notoriously conservative
(if not outright reactionary) brand of Confucianism that had originally developed
during the Song.
Ming (1368 - 1644)
came the Ming. The Ming rulers distinguished themselves by being fatter, lazier,
crazier, and nastier than the average Imperial family. After the first Ming Emperor
discovered that his prime minister was plotting against him, not only was the
prime minister beheaded, but his entire family and anyone even remotely connected
with him. Eventually, about 40,000 (no, that is not a misprint) people were executed
in connection with this case alone. They were also virulent Neo-Confucianists.
the early 1400s, a sailor named Zheng He (with a fleet of some 300-plus ships)sailed
as far west as Mogadishu and Jiddah, and he may (or may not) have gotten to Madagascar.
This is nearly 100 years before Columbus had the idea of trying to sail to Asia
the long way around. But once the sailors came back, the trips were never followed
up on. Conservative scholars at court failed to see the importance of them. For
the first time in history, China was turning inwards, clinging to an incorrect
interpretation of an outmoded philosophy.
give the Ming their due, however, they did do some positive things. Among other
things, they moved the capital to Beijing, fortified the Great Wall (the massive
masonry structure that you see in all the pictures and postcards is, with some
recent, Communist-era repair, an all-Ming construction), built the Forbidden City,
and gave Macao to the Portuguese.
Qing (Manchu) (1644 - 1911)
1644, the Manchus took over China and founded the Qing dynasty. The Qing weren't
the worst rulers; under them the arts flowered (China's greatest novels, a work
known variously as The Dream of the Red Chamber, A Dream of Red Mansions, and
The Story of the Stone, was written during the Qing) and culture bloomed. Moreover,
they attempted to copy Chinese institutions and philosophy to a much greater extent
than then the Mongols of the Yuan. However, in their attempt to to emulate the
Chinese, they were even more conservative and inflexible than the Ming. Their
approach to foreign policy, which was to make everyone treat the Emperor like
the Son of Heaven and not acknowledge other countries as being equal to China,
didn't rub the West the right way, even when the Chinese were in the moral right
(as in the Opium Wars, which netted Britain Hong Kong and Kowloon).
problems that plagued the late (1840 onwards) Qing included rampant corruption,
a steady decentralization of power, and the unfortunate fact that they were losing
control on too many fronts at the same time. Rebellions sprouted like mushrooms
after a rain; apocalyptic cults undermined what little official authority remained.
Several of the rebellions, such as the Taiping Rebellion, very nearly succeeded.
Compounding the problems was squabbling between various reformers who disagreed
on how to best combat the chaos and the West (not necessarily in that order);
in hindsight, it is clear that the entire system was slowly collapsing.
things happened to prevent that. First, in 1911, the Qing dynasty collapsed and
China plunged headlong into chaos. Second, in 1914, the Archduke Ferdinand told
his driver to go down a street in Sarajevo he shouldn't have, and Europe plunged
headlong into chaos.
republic that Sun Yat-sen and his associates envisioned evolved slowly. The revolutionists
lacked an army, and the power of Yuan Shikai began to outstrip that of parliament.
Yuan revised the constitution at will and became dictatorial. In August 1912,
Song Jiaoren, one of Sun¡¯s associates, founded a new political party.
The party, the Guomindang (Kuomintang or KMT--the National People's Party, frequently
referred to as the Nationalist Party), was an amalgamation of small political
groups, including Sun's Tongmeng Hui. In the national elections held in February
1913 for the new bicameral parliament, Song campaigned against the Yuan administration,
and his party won a majority of seats. Yuan had Song assassinated in March; he
had already arranged the assassination of several pro-revolutionist generals.
Animosity toward Yuan grew. In the summer of 1913 seven southern provinces rebelled
against Yuan. When the rebellion was suppressed, Sun and other instigators fled
to Japan. In October 1913 an intimidated parliament formally elected Yuan president
of the Republic of China, and the major powers extended recognition to his government.
To achieve international recognition, Yuan Shikai had to agree to autonomy for
Outer Mongolia and Xizang. China was still to be suzerain, but it would have to
allow Russia a free hand in Outer Mongolia and Britain continuance of its influence
November Yuan Shikai, legally president, ordered the Guomindang dissolved and
its members removed from parliament. Within a few months, he suspended parliament
and the provincial assemblies and forced the promulgation of a new constitution,
which, in effect, made him president for life. Yuan's ambitions still were not
satisfied, and, by the end of 1915, it was announced that he would reestablish
the monarchy. Widespread rebellions ensued, and numerous provinces declared independence.
With opposition at every quarter and the nation breaking up into warlord factions,
Yuan Shikai died of natural causes in June 1916, deserted by his lieutenants.
People's Republic of China (1949- )
October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was formally established, with
its national capital at Beijing. "The Chinese people have stood up!"
declared Mao as he announced the creation of a "people's democratic dictatorship."
The people were defined as a coalition of four social classes: the workers, the
peasants, the petite bourgeoisie, and the national-capitalists. The four classes
were to be led by the CCP, as the vanguard of the working class. At that time
the CCP claimed a membership of 4.5 million, of which members of peasant origin
accounted for nearly 90 percent. The party was under Mao's chairmanship, and the
government was headed by Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) as premier of the State Administrative
Council (the predecessor of the State Council).
Soviet Union recognized the People's Republic on October 2, 1949. Earlier in the
year, Mao had proclaimed his policy of "leaning to one side" as a commitment
to the socialist bloc. In February 1950, after months of hard bargaining, China
and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance,
valid until 1980. The pact also was intended to counter Japan or any power's joining
Japan for the purpose of aggression.
the first time in decades a Chinese government was met with peace, instead of
massive military opposition, within its territory. The new leadership was highly
disciplined and, having a decade of wartime administrative experience to draw
on, was able to embark on a program of national integration and reform. In the
first year of Communist administration, moderate social and economic policies
were implemented with skill and effectiveness. The leadership realized that the
overwhelming and multitudinous task of economic reconstruction and achievement
of political and social stability required the goodwill and cooperation of all
classes of people. Results were impressive by any standard, and popular support