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Chinese History


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!


Dynasty Year
Xia (c. 2200 - c. 1750 BC)
Shang (c. 1750 - c. 1040 BC)
Western Zhou (c. 1100 - 771 BC)
Eastern Zhou (771 - 256 BC)
Spring & Autumn Period (722 - 481 BC)
Warring States Period (403 - 221 BC)
Qin (221 - 206 BC)
Han (25 - 220)
Three Kingdoms (220 - 265)
Dynasties of the North and South (317 - 589)
Sui (589 - 618)
Tang (618 - 907)
Northern Song (960 - 1125)
Southern Song (1127 - 1279)
Yuan (Mongol) (1279 - 1368)
Ming (1368 - 1644)
Qing (Manchu) (1644 - 1911)
Republican China (1911-1949)
Anti-Japanese War  
Return to Civil War  
The People's Republic of China (1949- )


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 bones."

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.

Western Zhou (c. 1100 - 771 BC)
Most scholars 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.

Eastern Zhou (771 - 256 BC)
Spring & Autumn Period (722 - 481 BC)
Warring States Period (403 - 221 BC)
After 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, and Legalism.
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.
Confucius, 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.
Legalism 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)
In 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.

Three Kingdoms (220 - 265)

Dynasties 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)
The 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 modern-day Afghanistan.
There 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.

Northern Song (960 - 1125)
Southern Song (1127 - 1279)

The 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)
While 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.
The 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)
Then 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.
In 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.
To 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)
In 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).
Other 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.
Two 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.

Republican China (1911-1949)
The 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 in Xizang.

In 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.

Anti-Japanese War

Civil War


The People's Republic of China
(1949- )
On 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).

The 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.

For 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 was widespread.


 
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