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History of China
Time : 2015-03-19  Source: ESL jobs|TEFL jobs|Teaching jobs|China jobs|TESOL jobs——Beijing union intelligence technology co., LTD   Views :  213

History of China

History of Ancient China
Chinese civilization originated in various city-states along the Yellow River valley in the Neolithic era. The origins of Chinese culture, literature and philosophy developed during the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC to 256 BC). It was the longest lasting dynasty and spans the period in which the written script evolved from ancient oracle script to the beginnings of modern Chinese writing.
The conventional view of Chinese history is that of a country alternating between periods of political unity and disunity and occasionally becoming dominated by foreign peoples, most of whom were assimilated into the Han Chinese population. Cultural and political influences from many parts of Asia, carried by successive waves of immigration, expansion, and assimilation, merged to create modern Chinese culture.
Zhou Dynasty

A bronze vassal from the Zhou Dynasty
The Zhou Dynasty was the longest dynasty in Chinese history, from 1027 to approximately 221 B.C. By the end of the 2nd millennium BC, The Zhou Dynasty was the longest dynasty in Chinese history, from 1027 to approximately 221 B.C. By the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the Zhou Dynasty began to emerge in the Yellow River valley, overrunning the Shang. The Zhou appeared to have begun their rule under a semi-feudal system. The Zhou were a people who lived west of Shang, and the Zhou leader had been appointed “Western Protector” by the Shang. The ruler of the Zhou, King Wu, with the assistance of his brother, the Duke of Zhou, as regent managed to defeat the Shang at the Battle of Muye. The king of Zhou at this time invoked the concept of the Mandate of Heaven to legitimize his rule, a concept that would be influential for almost every successive dynasty. The Zhou initially moved their capital west to an area near modern Xi’an, near the Yellow River, but they would preside over a series of expansions into the Yangtze River valley. This would be the first of many population migrations from north to south in Chinese history.
Spring and Autumn Period
In the 8th century BC, power became decentralized during the Spring and Autumn Period , named after the influential Spring and Autumn Annals. In this period, local military leaders used by the Zhou began to assert their power and vie for hegemony. The situation was aggravated by the invasion of other peoples from the northwest, such as the Qin, forcing the Zhou to move their capital east to Luoyang. This marks the second large phase of the Zhou dynasty: the Eastern Zhou. In each of the hundreds of states that eventually arose, local strongmen held most of the political power and continued their subservience to the Zhou kings in name only. Local leaders for instance started using royal titles for themselves. The Hundred Schools of Thought of Chinese philosophy blossomed during this period, and such influential intellectual movements as Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism and Mohism were founded, partly in response to the changing political world. The Spring and Autumn Period is marked by a falling apart of the central Zhou power. China now consists of hundreds of states, some only as large as a village with a fort.
Warring States Period
After further political consolidation, seven prominent states remained by the end of 5th century BC, and the years in which these few states battled each other are known as the Warring States Period. Though there remained a nominal Zhou king until 256 BC, he was largely a figurehead and held little real power. As neighboring territories of these warring states, including areas of modern Sichuan and Liaoning, were annexed, they were governed under the new local administrative system of commandeering and prefecture. This system had been in use since the Spring and Autumn Period and parts can still be seen in the modern system of Sheng & Xian (province and county. The final expansion in this period began during the reign of Ying Zheng, the king of Qin. His unification of the other six powers, and further annexations in the modern regions of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi in 214 BC enabled him to proclaim himself the First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.
Qin Dynasty

Historians often refer to the period from Qin Dynasty to the end of Qing Dynasty as Imperial China. Though the unified reign of the Qin Emperor lasted only 12 years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralized Legalist government seated at Xianyang (close to modern Xi’an). The doctrine of legalism that guided the Qin emphasized strict adherence to a legal code and the absolute power of the emperor. This philosophy of Legalism, while effective for expanding the empire in a military fashion, proved unworkable for governing it in peace time. The Qin presided over the brutal silencing of political opposition, including the event known as the burning and burying of scholars. This would be the impetus behind the later Han Synthesis incorporating the more moderate schools of political governance.
The Qin Dynasty is well known for beginning the Great Wall of China, which was later augmented and enhanced during the Ming Dynasty. The other major contributions of the Qin include the concept of a centralized government, the unification of the legal code, written language, measurement, and currency of China after the tribulations of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods. Even something as basic as the length of axles for carts had to be made uniform to ensure a viable trading system throughout the empire.
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) emerged in 206 BC, with its founder Liu Bang proclaimed emperor in 202. It was the first dynasty to embrace the philosophy of Confucianism, which became the ideological underpinning of all regimes until the end of imperial China. Under the Han Dynasty, China made great advances in many areas of the arts and sciences. Emperor Wu consolidated and extended the Chinese empire by pushing back the Xiongnu (sometimes identified with the Huns) into the steppes of modern Inner Mongolia, wresting from them the modern areas of Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai. This enabled the first opening of trading connections between China and the West, the Silk Road. Han Dynasty general Ban Chao expanded his conquests across the Pamirs to the shores of the Caspian Sea.[18] The first of several Roman embassies to China is recorded in Chinese sources, coming from the sea route in 166, and a second one in 284.
Nevertheless, land acquisitions by elite families gradually drained the tax base. In AD 9, the usurper Wang Mang founded the short-lived Xin (“New”) Dynasty and started an extensive program of land and other economic reforms. These programs, however, were never supported by the land-holding families, for they favored the peasants. The instability brought about chaos and uprisings.
Emperor Guangwu reinstated the Han Dynasty with the support of land-holding and merchant families at Luoyang, east of Xi’an. This new era would be termed the Eastern Han Dynasty. Han power declined again amidst land acquisitions, invasions, and feuding between consort clans and eunuchs. The Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in 184, ushering in an era of warlords. In the ensuing turmoil, three states tried to gain predominance in the Period of the Three Kingdoms. This time period has been greatly romanticized in works such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Jin Period
Though the three kingdoms were reunited temporarily in 278 by the Jin Dynasty, the contemporary non-Han Chinese ethnic groups controlled much of the country in the early 4th century and provoked large-scale Han Chinese migrations to south of the Chang Jiang. In 303 the Di people rebelled and later captured Chengdu, establishing the state of Cheng Han. Under Liu Yuan the Xiongnu rebelled near today’s Linfen County and established the state of Han Zhao. His successor Liu Cong captured and executed the last two Western Jin emperors. Sixteen kingdoms were a plethora of short-lived non-Chinese dynasties that came to rule the whole or parts of northern China in the 4th and 5th centuries. Many ethnic groups were involved, including ancestors of the Turks, Mongolians, and Tibetans. Most of these nomadic peoples had to some extent been “Sinicized” long before their ascent to power. In fact, some of them, notably the Ch’iang and the Xiong-nu, had already been allowed to live in the frontier regions within the Great Wall since late Han times.
Southern and Northern Dynasties
Signaled by the collapse of East Jin Dynasty in 420, China entered the era of the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The Han people managed to survive the military attacks from the nomadic tribes of the north, such as the Xian Bei and their civilization continued to thrive.
In Southern China, fierce debates about whether Buddhism should be allowed to exist were held frequently by the royal court and nobles. Finally, near the end of the Southern and Northern Dynasties era, both Buddhist and Taoist followers compromised and became more tolerant of each other.
In 589, Sui annexed the last Southern Dynasty, Chen, through military force, and put an end to the era of Southern and Northern Dynasties.
Sui Dynasty
The Sui Dynasty, which managed to reunite the country in 589 after nearly four centuries of political fragmentation, played a role more important than its length of existence would suggest. The Sui brought China together again and set up many institutions that were to be adopted by their successors, the Tang. Like the Qin, however, the Sui overused their resources and collapsed. Also similar to the Qin, traditional history has judged the Sui somewhat unfairly, as it has stressed the harshness of the Sui regime and the arrogance of its second emperor, giving little credit for the Dynasty’s many positive achievements.
Tang Dynasty
On June 18, 618, Gaozu took the throne, and the Tang Dynasty was established, opening a new age of prosperity and innovations in arts and technology. Buddhism, which had gradually been established in China from the first century, became the predominant religion and was adopted by the imperial family and many of the common people.
Chang’an (modern Xi’an) is thought to have been the world’s largest city at the time. The Tang, like the Han, kept the trade routes open to the west and south and there was extensive trade with distant foreign countries and many foreign merchants settled in China. The Tang introduced a new system into the Chinese government, called the “Equal Field System”. This system gave families land grants from the Emperor based on their needs, not their wealth.
From about 860 the Tang Dynasty began to decline due to a series of rebellions within China itself, and in the previously subject Kingdom of Nanzhao to the south. One of the warlords, Huang Chao, captured Guangzhou in 879, killing most of the 200,000 inhabitants including most of the large colony of foreign merchant families there. In late 880 Luoyang surrendered to him and on 5 January, 881 he conquered Chang’an. The emperor Xizong fled to Chengdu and Huang established a new temporary regime, which was eventually destroyed by Tang forces, but another time of political chaos followed.
Song Dynasty and Liao, Jin, Western Xia
In 960, the Song Dynasty (960-1279) gained power over most of China and established its capital in Kaifeng starting a period of economic prosperity, while the Khitan Liao Dynasty ruled over Manchuria, present-day Mongolia, and parts of Northern China. In 1115 the Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) emerged to prominence, annihilating the Liao Dynasty in 10 years. Meanwhile, in what are now the northwestern Chinese provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, and Ningxia, there emerged a Western Xia Dynasty from 1032 up to 1227, established by Tangut tribes.
It also took power over northern China and Kaifeng from the Song Dynasty, which moved its capital to Hangzhou. The Southern Song Dynasty also suffered the humiliation of having to acknowledge the Jin Dynasty as formal overlords. In the ensuing years China was divided between the Song Dynasty, the Jin Dynasty and the Tangut Western Xia. Southern Song experienced a period of great technological development which can be explained in part by the military pressure that it felt from the north. This included the use of gunpowder weapons, which played a large role in the Song Dynasty naval victories against the Jin in the Battle of Tangdao and Battle of Caishi on the Yangtze River in 1161. Furthermore, China’s first permanent 
standing navy was assembled and provided an admiral’s office at Dinghai in 1132, under the reign of Emperor Renzong of Song.
The Song Dynasty is considered by many to be classical China’s high point in science and technology, with innovative scholar-officials such as Su Song (1020-1101) and Shen Kuo (1031-1095). There was court intrigue with the political rivals of the Reformers and Conservatives, led by the chancellors Wang Anshi and Sima Guang, respectively. By the mid to late 13th century the Chinese had adopted the dogma of Neo-Confucian philosophy formulated by Zhu Xi. There were enormous literary works compiled during the Song Dynasty, such as the historical work of the Zizhi Tongjian. Culture and the arts flourished, with grandiose artworks such as Along the River During Qingming Festival and Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute, while there were great Buddhist painters such as Lin Tinggui.
Yuan Dynasty
Jurchen tribes’ Jin Dynasty, whose names are also rendered “Jin” in pinyin, was defeated by the Mongols, who then proceeded to defeat the Southern Song in a long and bloody war, the first war where firearms played an important role. During the era after the war, later called the Pax Mongolica, adventurous Westerners such as Marco Polo traveled all the way to China and brought the first reports of its wonders to Europe. In the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols were divided between those who wanted to remain based in the steppes and those who wished to adopt the customs of the Chinese.
Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, wanting to adopt the customs of China, established the Yuan Dynasty. This was the first dynasty to rule the whole of China from Beijing as the capital. Beijing had been ceded to Liao in AD 938 with the Sixteen Prefectures of Yan Yun. Before that, it had been the capital of the Jin, who did not rule all of China.
Before the Mongol invasion, Chinese dynasties reportedly had approximately 120 million inhabitants; after the conquest was completed in 1279, the 1300 census reported roughly 60 million people. The 14th century epidemics of plague (Black Death) is estimated to have killed 30% of the population of China.
Ming Dynasty
Photo to the right: Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang – Founder of the Ming Dynasty
Throughout the Yuan Dynasty, which lasted less than a century, there was relatively strong sentiment among the populace against the Mongol rule. The frequent natural disasters since the 1340s finally led to peasant revolts. The Yuan Dynasty was eventually overthrown by the Ming Dynasty in 1368.
Urbanization increased as the population grew and as the division of labor grew more complex. Large urban centers, such as Nanjing and Beijing, also contributed to the growth of private industry. In particular, small-scale industries grew up, often specializing in paper, silk, cotton, and porcelain goods. For the most part, however, relatively small urban centers with markets proliferated around the country. Town markets mainly traded food, with some necessary manufactures such as pins or oil.
Despite the xenophobia and intellectual introspection characteristic of the increasingly popular new school of neo-Confucianism, China under the early Ming Dynasty was not isolated. Foreign trade and other contacts with the outside world, particularly Japan, increased considerably. Chinese merchants explored all of the Indian Ocean, reaching East Africa with the voyages of Zheng He, original name Ma Sanbao.
Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the dynasty, laid the foundations for a state interested less in commerce and more in extracting revenues from the agricultural sector. Perhaps because of the Emperor’s background as a peasant, the Ming economic system emphasized agriculture, unlike that of the Song and the Mongolian Dynasties, which relied on traders and merchants for revenue. Neo-feudal landholdings of the Song and Mongol periods were expropriated by the Ming rulers. Land estates were confiscated by the government, fragmented, and rented out. Private slavery was forbidden. Consequently, after the death of Emperor Yong-le, independent peasant landholders predominated in Chinese agriculture. These laws might have paved the way to removing the worst of the poverty during the previous regimes.
The dynasty had a strong and complex central government that unified and controlled the empire. The emperor’s role became more autocratic, although Zhu Yuanzhang necessarily continued to use what he called the “Grand Secretaries” to assist with the immense paperwork of the bureaucracy, including memorials (petitions and recommendations to the throne), imperial edicts in reply, reports of various kinds, and tax records. It was this same bureaucracy that later prevented the Ming government from being able to adapt to changes in society, and eventually led to its decline.
Emperor Yong-le strenuously tried to extend China’s influence beyond its borders by demanding other rulers send ambassadors to China to present tribute. A large navy was built, including four-masted ships displacing 1,500 tons. A standing army of 1 million troops (some estimate as many as 1.9 million[who?]) was created. The Chinese armies conquered Vietnam for around 20 years, while the Chinese fleet sailed the China seas and the Indian Ocean, cruising as far as the east coast of Africa. The Chinese gained influence in Eastern Turkestan. Several maritime Asian nations sent envoys with tribute for the Chinese emperor. Domestically, 
the Grand Canal was expanded, and proved to be a stimulus to domestic trade. Over 100,000 tons of iron per year were produced. Many books were printed using movable type. The imperial palace in Beijing’s Forbidden City reached its current splendor. It was also during these centuries that the potential of south China came to be fully exploited. New crops were widely cultivated and industries such as those producing porcelain and textiles flourished.
In 1449 Esen Tayisi led an Oirat Mongol invasion of northern China which culminated in the capture of the Zhengtong Emperor at Tumu. In 1542 the Mongol leader Altan Khan began to harass China along the northern border. In 1550 he even reached the suburbs of Beijing. The empire also had to deal with Japanese pirates attacking the southeastern coastline;[22] general Qi Jiguang was instrumental in defeating these pirates. The deadliest earthquake of all times, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556 that killed approximately 830,000 people, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor’s reign.
During the Ming dynasty the last construction on the Great Wall was undertaken to protect China from foreign invasions. While the Great Wall had been built in earlier times, most of what is seen today was either built or repaired by the Ming. The brick and granite work was enlarged, the watch towers were redesigned, and cannons were placed along its length.
Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) was founded after the defeat of the Ming, the last Han Chinese dynasty, by the Manchus. The Manchus were formerly known as the Jurchen and invaded from the north in the late seventeenth century. An estimated 25 million people died during the Manchu conquest of the Ming Dynasty (1616-1644). The Manchus adopted the Confucian norms of traditional Chinese government in their rule of China proper.
Photo to the right: Much of the Forbidden City was constructed during the Qing Dynasty
The Manchus enforced a ‘queue order’ forcing the Han Chinese to adopt the Manchu queue hairstyle and Manchu-style clothing. The traditional Chinese clothing, or Hanfu was also replaced by Manchu-style clothing. Qipao (banner men dress and Tangzhuang), usually regarded as traditional Chinese clothing nowadays, are actually Manchu-style clothing. The penalty for not complying was death.
Emperor Kangxi ordered the creation of the most complete dictionary of Chinese characters ever put together at the time. The Manchus set up the “Eight Banners” system in an attempt to avoid being assimilated into Chinese society. The “Eight Banners” were military institutions, set up to provide a structure with which the Manchu “bannermen” were meant to identify. Banner membership was to be based on traditional Manchu skills such as archery, horsemanship, and frugality. In addition, they were encouraged to use the Manchu language, rather than Chinese, though this had been changed significantly in the later course of the dynasty. Bannermen were 
given economic and legal privileges in Chinese cities.
Over the next half-century, the Qing consolidated control of some areas originally under the Ming, including Yunnan. They also stretched their sphere of influence over Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia. But during the nineteenth century, Qing control weakened. Britain’s desire to continue its opium trade with China collided with imperial edicts prohibiting the addictive drug, and the First Opium War erupted in 1840. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanjing.
A large rebellion, the Taiping Rebellion (1851–1864), involved around a third of China falling under control of the Taiping Tianguo, a quasi-Christian religious movement led by the “Heavenly King” Hong Xiuquan. Only after fourteen years were the Taipings finally crushed – the Taiping army was destroyed in the Third Battle of Nanking in 1864. The death toll during the 15 years of the rebellion was about 20 million,[24] making it the second deadliest war in human history.
French political cartoon from the late 1890s. A pie represents “Chine” (French for China) and is being divided between UK, Germany, Russia, France and Japan.
In addition, more costly rebellions in terms of human lives and economics followed with the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars, Nien Rebellion, Muslim Rebellion, Panthay Rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion. In many ways, the rebellions and the unequal treaties the Qing were forced to sign with the imperialist powers are symptomatic of the Qing’s inability to deal with the new challenges of the 19th century.
By the 1860s, the Qing Dynasty had put down the rebellions at enormous cost and loss of life. This undermined the credibility of the Qing regime and, spearheaded by local initiatives by provincial leaders and gentry, contributed to the rise of warlordism in China. The Qing Dynasty under the Emperor Guangxu proceeded to deal with the problem of modernization through the Self-Strengthening Movement. However, between 1898 and 1908 the Empress Dowager Cixi had the reformist Guangxu imprisoned for being ‘mentally disabled’. The Empress Dowager, with the help of conservatives, initiated a military coup, effectively removed the young Emperor from power, and overturned most of the more radical reforms. He died one day before the death of the Empress Dowager (some believe Guangxu was poisoned by Cixi). Official corruption, cynicism, and imperial family quarrels made most of the military reforms useless. As a result, the Qing’s “New Armies” were soundly defeated in the Sino-French War (1883-1885) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895).
At the start of the 20th century, the Boxer Rebellion threatened northern China. This was a conservative anti-imperialist movement that sought to return China to old ways. The Empress Dowager, probably seeking to ensure her continued grip on power, sided with the Boxers when they advanced on Beijing. In response the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China. Consisting of British, Japanese, Russian, Italian, German, French, US and Austrian troops, the alliance defeated the Boxers and demanded further concessions from the Qing government.

History of Modern China
This is a continued history of China from Imperial times. Please follow this link if you would like to read more about the history of Ancient China.
The Modern Era
Frustrated by the Qing court’s resistance to reform and by China’s weakness, young officials, military officers, and students began to advocate the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and creation of a republic.
A revolutionary military uprising, the Wuchang Uprising, began on October 10, 1911 in Wuhan. The provisional government of the Republic of China was formed in Nanjing on March 12, 1912 with Sun Yat-Sen as President. However, Sun was forced to turn power over to Yuan Shikai, who commanded the New Army and was Prime Minister under the Qing government, as part of the agreement to let the last Qing monarch abdicate (a decision he would later regret). Yuan Shikai proceeded in the next few years to abolish the national and provincial assemblies and declared himself emperor in 1915. Yuan’s imperial ambitions were fiercely opposed by his subordinates, and faced with the prospect of rebellion, Yuan abdicated and died shortly afterwards in 1916, leaving a power vacuum in China. His death left the republican government all but shattered, ushering the warlord era when China was ruled by shifting coalitions of competing provincial military leaders.
In 1919, the May Fourth Movement began as a response to the insult imposed on China by the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I, but quickly became a protest movement about the domestic situation in China. The discrediting of liberal Western philosophy amongst Chinese intellectuals was followed by the adoption of more radical lines of thought. This in turn planted the seeds for the irreconcilable conflict between the left and right in China that would dominate Chinese history for the rest of the century.
In the 1920s, Sun Yat-Sen established a revolutionary base in south China, and set out to unite the fragmented nation. With Soviet assistance, he entered into an alliance with the fledgling Communist Party of China (CPC). After Sun’s death from cancer in 1925, one of his protégés, Chiang Kai-shek, seized control of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party or KMT) and succeeded in bringing most of south and central China under its rule in a military campaign known as the Northern Expedition. Having defeated the warlords in south and central China by military force, Chiang was able to secure the nominal allegiance of the warlords in the North. In 1927, Chiang turned on the CPC and relentlessly chased the CPC armies and its leaders from their bases in southern and eastern China. In 1934, driven from their mountain bases such as the Chinese Soviet Republic, the CPC forces embarked on the Long March across China’s most desolate terrain to the northwest, where they established a guerrilla base at Yan’an in Shaanxi Province.
During the Long March, the communists reorganized under a new leader, Mao Zedong. The bitter struggle between the KMT and the CPC continued, openly or clandestinely, through the 14-year long Japanese invasion (1931-1945), even though the two parties nominally formed a united front to oppose the Japanese invaders in 1937, during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) portion of World War II. The war between the two parties resumed following the Japanese defeat in 1945. By 1949, the CPC occupied most of the country.
At the end of WWII in 1945 Japanese troops in Taiwan surrendered to Republic of China troops giving Chiang Kai-shek effective control of Taiwan. As Chiang was defeated by the CPC, he fled with the remnants of his government to Taiwan in 1949.
1949–1976: Socialist transformation under Mao Zedong
Following the Chinese Civil War and the victory of Mao Zedong’s Communist forces over the Kuomintang forces of General Chiang Kai-shek who fled to Taiwan, Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Mao’s first goal was a total overhaul of the land ownership system, and extensive land reforms. China’s old system of landlord ownership of farmland and peasant workers was replaced with a distribution system in favor of less wealthy peasants. Mao laid heavy emphasis on class struggle and theoretical work, and in 1953 began various campaigns to suppress former landlords and capitalists. Foreign investment was largely wiped out. Many cultural and historical buildings and artifacts were destroyed by the Maoist regime, since they were considered reminders of the past.
Mao believed that socialism would eventually triumph over all other ideologies, and following the First Five-Year Plan based on a Soviet-style centrally controlled economy, Mao took on the ambitious project of the Great Leap Forward in 1958, beginning an unprecedented process of collectivization in rural areas. Mao urged the use of backyard iron smelters to increase steel production, pulling workers off of agricultural labor to the point that large amounts of crops rotted unharvested. Mao decided to continue to advocate these smelters despite a visit to a factory steel mill which proved to him that high quality steel could only be produced in a factory; he thought that ending the program would dampen peasant enthusiasm for the leap forward.
The implementation of Maoist thought in China may have been responsible for over 70 million excessive deaths during peacetime, with the Cultural Revolution, Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957-58, and the Great Leap Forward. Because of Mao’s land reforms during the Great Leap Forward, which resulted in famines, thirty million perished between 1958 and 1961. By the end of 1961 the birth rate was nearly cut in half because of malnutrition. Active campaigns, including party purges and “reeducation” resulted in imprisonment and/or the execution of those deemed contrary to the implementation of Maoist ideals. [6] Mao’s failure with the Leap reduced his power in government, whose administrative duties fell on Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping.
Supporters of the Maoist Era claim that under Mao, China’s unity and sovereignty was assured for the first time in a century, and there was development of infrastructure, industry, healthcare, and education, which raised standard of living for the average Chinese. They also claimed that campaigns such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were essential in jump starting China’s development and “purifying” its culture. More nuanced arguments claim that though the consequences of both these campaigns were economically and humanly disastrous, they left behind a “clean slate” on which later economic progress could be built. Supporters often also doubt statistics or accounts given for death tolls or other damages incurred by Mao’s campaigns, attributing the high death toll to natural disasters, famine, or other consequences of political chaos during the rule of Chiang Kai-Shek.
Critics of Mao’s regime assert that Mao’s administration imposed strict controls over everyday life, and believe that campaigns such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution contributed to or caused millions of deaths, incurred severe economic costs, and damaged China’s cultural heritage. The Great Leap Forward in particular preceded a massive famine in which 20–30 million people died; most Western and many Chinese analysts attribute this to poor agricultural and economic planning.
To impose socialist orthodoxy and rid China of “old elements”, and at the same time serving certain political goals, Mao began the Cultural Revolution in May 1966. The campaign was far reaching into all aspects of Chinese life. Red Guards terrorized the streets as many ordinary citizens were deemed counter-revolutionaries. Education and public transportation came to a nearly complete halt. Daily life involved shouting slogans and reciting Mao quotations. Many prominent political leaders, including Liu and Deng, were purged and deemed “capitalist-roaders”. The campaign would not come to a complete end until the death of Mao in 1976.
1976–1989: Rise of Deng Xiaoping and economic reforms
Mao Zedong’s death was followed by a power struggle between the Gang of Four, Hua Guofeng, and eventually Deng Xiaoping. Deng would maneuver himself to the top of China’s leadership by 1980. At the 3rd Plenum of the 11th CPC Congress, Deng embarked China on the road to Economic Reforms and Openness (Gaige Kaifang), policies that began with the de-collectivization of the countryside, followed with industrial reforms aimed at decentralizing government controls in the industrial sector. On the subject of Mao’s legacy Deng coined the famous phrase “7 parts good, 3 parts bad”, and avoided denouncing Mao altogether. Deng championed the idea of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), areas where foreign investment would be allowed to pour in without strict government restraint and regulations, running on a basically capitalist system. Deng laid emphasis on light industry as a stepping stone to the development of heavy industries.
Supporters of the economic reforms point to the rapid development of the consumer and export sectors of the economy, the creation of an urban middle class that now constitutes 15% of the population, higher living standards (which is shown via dramatic increases in GDP per capita, consumer spending, life expectancy, literacy rate, and total grain output) and a much wider range of personal rights and freedoms for average Chinese as evidence of the success of the reforms.
Although standards of living improved significantly in the 1980s, Deng’s reforms were not without criticism. Conservatives asserted that Deng opened China once again to various social evils, and an overall increase in materialistic thinking, while liberals attacked Deng’s unrelenting stance on the political front. Liberal forces began manifesting with different forms of protest against the leadership, which in 1989 resulted in the Tiananmen Square protests during which China’s government was condemned internationally. Critics of the economic reforms, both in China and abroad, claim that the reforms have caused wealth disparity, environmental pollution, rampant corruption, widespread unemployment associated with layoffs at inefficient state-owned enterprises, and has introduced often unwelcome cultural influences. Consequently they believe that China’s culture has been corrupted, the poor have been reduced to a hopeless abject underclass, and that the social stability is threatened. They are also of the opinion that various political reforms, such as moves towards popular elections, have been unfairly nipped in the bud. Regardless of either view, today, the public perception of Mao has improved at least superficially; images of Mao and Mao related objects have become fashionable, commonly used on novelty items and even as talismans. However, the path of modernization and market-oriented economic reforms that China started since the early 1980s appears to be fundamentally unchallenged. Even critics of China’s market reforms do not wish to see a backtrack of these two decades of reforms, but rather propose corrective measures to offset some of the social issues caused by existing reforms.
1989–2002: Economic growth under the third generation
After Tiananmen, Deng Xiaoping retired from public view. While keeping ultimate control, power was passed onto the third generation of leadership led by Jiang Zemin, who was hailed as its “core”. Economic growth, despite foreign trade embargoes, returned to a fast pace by the mid-1990s. Jiang’s macroeconomic reforms furthered Deng’s vision for “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”. At the same time, Jiang’s period saw a continued rise in social corruption in all areas of life. Unemployment skyrocketed as unprofitable SOE’s were closed to make way for more competitive ventures, internally and abroad. The ill-equipped social welfare system was put on a serious test. Jiang also laid heavy emphasis on scientific and technological advancement in areas such as space exploration. To sustain vast human consumption, the Three Gorges Dam was built, attracting supporters and widespread criticism. Environmental pollution became a very serious problem as Beijing was frequently hit by sandstorms as a result of desertification.
The 1990s saw two foreign colonies returned to China, Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, and Macau from Portugal in 1999. Hong Kong and Macau mostly continued their own governance, retaining independence in their economic, social, and judicial systems. Jiang and President Clinton exchanged state visits, but Sino-American relations took very sour turns at the end of the decade. Much controversy surrounded the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, which the U.S. government claimed was due to bad intelligence and false target identification (DCI statement). (Conflicting reports have alternately claimed that the bombing was deliberate or accidental.) Inside the US, the Cox Report stated that China had been stealing various top US military secrets. And in 2001, a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US spy plane, inciting further outrage with the Chinese public, already dissatisfied with the US.
On the political agenda, China was once again put on the spotlight for the banning of Falun Gong in 1999. Silent protesters of the spiritual movement sat outside of Zhongnanhai, asking for dialogue with China’s leaders. Jiang saw it as threatening to the country’s political situation, and outlawed the group altogether, while using the mass media to denounce it as an evil cult.
Conversely, Premier Zhu Rongji’s economic policies held China’s economy strong during the Asian Financial Crisis. Economic growth averaged at 8% annually, pushed back by the 1998 Yangtze River Floods. After a decade of talks, China was finally admitted into the World Trade Organization. Standards of living improved significantly, although a wide urban-rural wealth gap was opened, as China saw the reappearance of the middle class. Wealth disparity between East and the Western hinterlands continued to widen by the day, prompting government programs to “develop the West”, taking on such ambitious projects such as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. The burden of education was greater than ever. Rampant corruption continued despite Premier Zhu’s anti-corruption campaign that executed many officials.
2002 – Present
The first major crisis faced by China in the 21st century as a new generation of leaders led by Hu Jintao after assuming power was the public health crisis involving SARS, an illness that seemed to have originated out of Guangdong province. China’s position in the war on terror drew the country closer diplomatically to the United States. The economy continues to grow in double-digit numbers as the development of rural areas became the major focus of government policy. In gradual steps to consolidate his power, Hu Jintao removed Shanghai Party Chief Chen Liangyu and other potential political opponents amidst the fight against corruption, and the on-going struggle against once powerful Shanghai clique. The assertion of the Scientific Perspective to create a Harmonious Society is the focus of the Hu-Wen administration, as some Jiang-era excesses are slowly reversed. Although the administration continues to face pressure to reform the political system and the party, the Hu-Wen administration is comparatively better received than the Jiang administration. In the years after Hu’s rise to power, respect of basic human rights in China continue to be a source of concern.
The political status and future of Taiwan remain uncertain, but steps have been taken to improving relations between the Communist Party and several of Taiwan’s pro-unification parties, notably former rival Kuomintang.
The continued economic growth of the country as well as its sporting power status has gained China the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. However, this had also put Hu’s administration under intense spotlight. While the 2008 Olympic is commonly understood to be a come-out party for People’s Republic of China, in light of the March 2008 Tibet protests, the government received heavy scrutiny. The Olympic torch was met with protest en route. Within the country these reactions were met with a fervent wave of nationalism with accusations of Western bias against China.
In May 2008, a massive earthquake registering 8.0 on the Richter scale hit Sichuan province of China, exacting a death toll officially estimated at approximately 70,000. The government responded more quickly than in it did with previous events, and has allowed foreign media access to the regions that were hit the hardest. The adequacy of the government response was generally praised, and the relief efforts extended to every corner of Chinese life.
In May and June 2008, heavy rains in southern China caused severe flooding in the provinces of Anhui, Hunan, Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong, with dozens of fatalities and over a million people forced to evacuate.

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