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chinese history guide

► CHINESE HISTORY GUIDE

China has a long recorded history stretching back nearly 5,000 years. Understanding something of this rich cultural heritage will allow you to get more out of your China tours and put some flesh onto the many monuments and temples to the past you will see.

Of course, much of what you can see today in China comes from the more recent dynasties starting with the Tang.

The major eras are listed below starting with the furthest in the past and then working towards the present in chronological order.

   
 
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  ► XIA DYNASTY BC 2100 TO BC 1600
 
xia dynasty map
 

► XIA DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Xia dynasty are the first Chinese dynasty to have been written about. It is difficult to definitively prove their existence as there was no writing system on a durable medium until the 13th Century BC and it is estimated they ruled from around 2070-1600 BC. We hear of them through ancient historical books such as the Classic of History, the Bamboo Annals and the Records of the Grand Historian which document that they were from the Huaxia tribe, descendants of the Han Chinese. Legend goes that the Xia tribe were plagued by floods from the Yellow River. The leader of the tribe, Shun, gave responsibility for stopping the floods to Yu, whose father had already been executed by Shun for failing at this task. Yu built canals that took the water away to the sea and after 13 years of work he successfully controlled the floods.

It is said that he never went back to his village in all that time to rest despite passing by his house on three occasions. Yu, or Yu the Great as he is known, was passed the throne by Shun as the most worthy but after his rule he passed it on to his son, thus beginning the long period of dynastic rule that was to follow in China. The Xia dynasty was to come to an end though when the corrupt king Jie was defeated by Tang, the first leader of the new Shang dynasty, at least according to the legend, as in reality we only have archeological evidence that actually comes from that time.

  ► SHANG DYNASTY BC 1600 TO BC 1046
 
shang dynasty map
 
 

► SHANG DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Shang dynasty, much like its’s supposed predecessor, the Xia, has an air of uncertainty about exactly when it existed but it’s traditionally thought to be 1766-1122 BC although modern archaeological finds are looking like dating it from 1600 - 1046 BC. Where it differs from it’s quasi-mythical predecessor is that the Shang have both documented evidence as well as archaeological finds. This being the oracle bones, the earliest known form of Chinese writing, made up mostly of divinations that are inscribed onto animal bones and turtle shells. Major discoveries have been made at the modern day city of Anyang, which is believed to be the last capital city of the Shang. These include tens of thousands of artifacts of which the bronzes have high levels of workmanship that would demonstrate a highly civilized society.

Also included in the discoveries at Anyang are over 20,000 examples of Chinese writing, the earliest ever discovered. This was the golden age of the Shang, a dynasty that clearly developed from it’s beginnings until the last Shang King, Di Xin, was defeated in battle by Wu of Zhou, forcing the Shang king to commit suicide. His son, Wu Geng, was kept on by King Wu to rule the Shang as a puppet leader but it was not long before the Zhou were in total control of Shang territory.

  ► ZHOU DYNASTY BC 1046 TO BC 221
 
zhou dynasty map
 

► ZHOU DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in Chinese history, coming about in 1046 BC and lasting up to 256 BC, however the dynasty only managed to keep total control over China until 771 BC. This period is known as the Western Zhou. The brother of King Wu of Zhou, known as the Duke of Zhou, did much to consolidate power for, at first, his brother and soon after the King’s early death, his son King Cheng. The Duke of Zhou managed to create a legitimacy for the new king’s dynasty  through the “Mandate of Heaven”, an ancient Chinese system that King’s power was granted to them from heaven in return for being a just and good king. This would allow kings and, in the case of what happened to the Shang, dynasties to be overthrown if they did not have the people’s best interests at heart. King’s did not need to be of noble blood, just be chosen from up above. It was used throughout Chinese history to remove kings during times of war and famine.

As royal authority waned towards the end of the Western Zhou period, the capital moved eastwards to Zhengzhou, thus beginning the period known as Eastern Zhou. Although the Eastern Zhou continued to accelerate the collapse of the king’s authority, his ritual importance allowed Zhou kings to stay in power for over 500 years more. We know the early period of this diminishing of power as the “Spring and Autumn” period from the work of Confucius. By the mid 5th century the “Warring States” period had begun. Han, Wei and Zhao were recognised as fully independent states. More of these states rose and fell over the coming centuries until the last of the Zhou kings, Nan, was killed by Qin, with Qin finishing the job of unifying China by 221 BC.

Despite all this upheaval the Eastern Zhou is actually remembered for its advancements in thought and is considered to be the Golden age of Chinese Philosophy. This was the time of the rise of such philosophical heavyweights as Confucius and Laozi (creator of Taoism) and brought rise to many beliefs still followed in China today. The Zhou dynasty also brought great advancements in bronze making and language with the modern writing system emerging towards the end of the dynasty.

  ► QIN DYNASTY BC 221 TO BC 206
 
qin dynasty map
 

► QIN DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Qin dynasty was only to last fifteen years but had an enormous influence on all dynasties that followed. It was the Qin that were the first Imperial dynasty and they that unified China. Unification required the Qin to defeat the other 6 major states, Zhao, Han,Wei, Yan, Chu and Qi in the period known as the Waring States.

After the defeat of the Qi in 221 BC, the leader of the Qin, Ying Zheng, gave himself the name “Qin Shi Huang” which literally means “First emperor of Qin” taking the title Emperor instead of King that the Zhou and Shang dynasty leaders before him had.
The Qin looked to lead through a strong imperial state with a strong military to keep order. The Qin took direct control over their new empire rather than giving power to the landowners in the near feudal system that preceded them. Direct access to this new massive population allowed the Qin to take on huge new projects such as building a huge defensive wall on the Northern edge of their territory that is now known as The Great Wall of China.

Many new major reforms that would shape China’s history were also implemented during this time including standardized weights, measures and currency as well as a standardized format of writing. Qin Shi Huang expanded their empire southwards, taking in Guangzhou, Fuzhou & Guilin as well as managing to strike as far south as Hanoi in present day Vietnam.

Despite all these amazing achievements, the one thing that people will always remember Qin Shi Huang for in the modern day is the one that was to greet him on his death, the Terra Cotta Army. Still one of the marvels of the world today, tens of millions flock from all over the world every year to see the grave of the great Qin Emperor, the first of a unified China.

After his death things quickly unravelled and a couple of short rules and much major unrest later a Chu lieutenant named Liu Bing managed to grab onto power and the new Han dynasty was formed but all these following dynasties would owe the QIn for their structure and we would owe them for our word “China” which is derived from “Qin”.

  ► HAN DYNASTY BC 206 TO AD 220
 
han dynasty map
 

► HAN DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

Liu Bing, or the Emperor Gaozu of Han as he was to be known after his death, founded the Han dynasty in 206 BC and it lasted until 220 AD albeit with a brief period from 9-23 AD where there was the Xin dynasty, called so despite only having the one emperor, Wang Mang. This break splits the Han dynasty into two sections known as the Western Han, before 9 AD and the Eastern Han from 23 AD. The vast majority of Chinese to this day refer to themselves as “Han people” and Chinese characters are referred to as “Han characters”.

The Han dynasty is known as a golden era in Chinese history with great economic prosperity and advances in the development of the money economy.

Much of the Western Han period of the dynasty was spent fighting and negotiating with the Xiongnu who were located to the north of China and had conquered much of Mongolia, Manchuria and the Tarim Basin under the chieftan/emperor Modu Chanyu. Trade embargoes and incursions were to follow with the Xiongnu even successfully invading what is now Shanxi province. But by the time of Emperor Wu it was the Xiongnu that were being hammered by the Chinese armies and they were forced to flee North of the Gobi desert. The Han expanded out to the west as well, conquering the lands now known as Xinjiang and by 51 BC the Xiongnu finally submitted to Han rule.

This was also the time of the famous imperial envoy Zhang Qian, a man who can be seen painted on the walls of the Mogao Caves and who played an important role in securing Xinjiang. He was the first official to bring back verified information about the civilizations that lay to the West of China and is widely credited with setting up the outposts and embassies that expanded Chinese trade routes out of China and into Central Asia, what is now referred to as the Silk Route.

After the relatively brief reign of Wang Mang, the Han regained their dynasty through the new emperor Guangwu of Han and the period known as Eastern Han began. The capital was moved from Chang’an, modern day Xian, to Luoyang and the Han began to secure the West of China from their old enemies, the Xiongnu, amongst others.

The Han started to reform the older, more brutal legal system they continued on from the Qin and even women were allowed to level charges against men, although still having a lower standing in society. The new religion of Buddhism was brought into China during this periods with texts being translated into Chinese and the first temples being constructed.

As with all dynasties in China, the Han were eventually doomed to fall and their empire was to end up splitting into three, the Cao Wei, the Shu Han and the Eastern Wu - this period was known as the Three Kingdoms era and it lasted from 220 AD until China’s partial reunification 45 years later under the Jin Dynasty.

  ► JIN DYNASTY AD 265 TO AD 420
 
jin dynasty map
 

► JIN DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Jin dynasty was set up by Sima Yan of the Wei dynasty and after conquering the Shu and Wu, China was briefly reunified. However this wasn’t to last and eventually the period known as the Western Jin was to come to an end due to internal conflicts amongst the princes as well as corruption. The Wu Hu uprising finally put pay to the Western Jin when the Northern tribes started to occupy more of the kingdom with many of the Jin fleeing south. Eventually the capital of Luoyang was overthrown in 311 and Emperor Huai captured. The final Eastern Jin emperor, Emperor Min was captured in Chang’an in 316 signaling the end of the Western Jin and as the court relocated itself to Jiankang (modern day Nanjing) and the Eastern Jin Dynasty began under Sima Rui in 317.

The Jin would continue to attempt to wrestle the lands to the north back from the Wu Hu but were mainly unsuccessful and by 376 the North had been reunified under the former Qin state and at the Battle of Fei River they invaded with 300,00 troops. With the Jin only having 80,000 troops, things might have looked bad but the Jin were well trained and the Qin were mainly conscripts and they were routed. General Liu Yu continued to attack and managed to take back the heartland of China. His success would be the downfall of the Jin though as his prominence became so great that he usurped the Emperor in 420 and ended the dynasty. He and his son ushered in a short lived Golden Era in China that lasted until the northern Xianbei once again conquered Northern China.

  ► SOUTHERN & NORTHERN DYNASTIES AD 420 TO 589
 
southern and northern dynasties map
 

► SOUTHERN & NORTHERN DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Southern & Northern Dynasties refers to a period of instability and civil war that lasted from 420 - 589. Despite being a time of political unrest, it was also a time that saw great advancements in many aspects of arts, culture & technology. It is also an epoch that saw the mass spread of religion in the forms of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism and the mass migration of the Han Chinese people to South of the Yangtze River.

The Southern Dynasty was compromise of 4 different dynasties that were set up by successful generals who managed to seize power only to find themselves unable to pass on this power to their offspring, starting in 420. Their capital remained at Jiankang, modern day Nanjing.

The Northern dynasties were mainly represented by the Northern Mongol tribe, the Xianbei during the 3 time periods associated with it but also by Sinicized barbarians. The differences between the Northern and Southern can be summed up in the literature of the time with the Southern being fairly “romantic” with the Northern being a bit more straight to the point.

Due to the increased spread and popularity of Buddhism during this time, Chinese scholars became well acquainted with the Indian Sanskrit, a language that had a highly organized phonological system. This in turn encouraged them to look at their own language and to chart the phonetics within it. The scholar Zhou Yi became the first known individual to describe the four tones of the Chinese language.

China was eventually to be reunited under Emperor Wen of Sui of the Northern dynasty and the time known as the Southern and Northern Dynasties finally came to an end with the Sui Dynasty replacing it.

  ► SUI DYNASTY AD 589 TO AD 618
sui dynasty map  

► SUI DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Sui dynasty ran from 581-618 making it one of the shorter dynasties but like that other short dynasty, the Qin, it can be looked at one of great achievement. The Sui managed to reunify China, reunify and standardize Chinese currency, expand the Great Wall and construct the Grand Canal that ran from Beijing in the North to Hangzhou, linking the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. It is still the largest canal in the world and is a greatly visited UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Sui government also started policies aimed at reducing the rich-poor divide which led to greater agricultural output. 

Unfortunately, like the Qin, the Sui’s demands on the poorer in it’s society to complete such monumental tasks as the Grand Canal helped contribute to it’s short existence. Their eventual demise occurred due to their failings in war, in particular against the Goguryeo of Korea. Despite amassing an army of over a million they were defeated in all four major excursions, leaving the empire in ruins. Eventually the Sui’s fate was sealed after an uprising started by a nobleman known as Li Yuan gave birth to the Tang dynasty with Li declaring himself Emperor Gaozu of Tang.

  ► TANG DYNASTY AD 618 TO 907
 
tang dynasty map
 

► TANG DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Tang dynasty was set up by Li Yuan, the Duke of Tang and former governor of Taiyuan. After taking control of Chang’an (modern day Xi’an), believed to be the biggest city in the world during the Tang dynasty, he quickly made himself the Regent to the child emperor and a year later declared the start of the new dynasty. Chang’an was to remain the power base for the whole of the Tang Dynasty and it became an incredibly wealthy city with the emperor at it’s centre. Religion was to play a major factor in Tang politics with Buddhism and Taoism being allowed to exist side by side until the Buddhist persecutions of the 9th Century. Li Yuan actually claimed direct lineage from Laozi, the philosopher credited for the creation of the Tao Te Ching and philosophical Taoism.

This was the golden age of the Silk Road. The Tang recaptured the lands to the west and reopened the old trade routes through Central Asia to the west. Despite strict travel document requirements, the Tang cities teemed with foreign merchants and China was accepting of foreign influence as at any point in history. The Chinese themselves took to the seas and had strong naval presences throughout the Persian Gulf, Arabia and north eastern Africa as well as trading with Japan and Korea to it’s east. The Tang started to mass produce their ceramics for sale abroad and there was an incredible demand for Chinese goods across the civilized world at that time.

There was to be a brief 15 year break in the Tang Dynasty when Wu Zetian rose to power. This was particularly astonishing due to the fact that Wu was a woman. She was the only Empress, or woman for that matter, to ever rule China. Rather unsurprisingly she is painted out to be somewhat devious but what is certain is that she was highly intelligent, rising from a lowly consort to Empress of her Later Zhou Dynasty. She diminished the power of the northwestern nobility creating a far more representative government of the Chinese people.

Perhaps the most successful leader of the Tang dynasty was Emperor Xuanzong. He reigned for over 40 years and resided over a period of economic growth to a background of increased humility from the Royal court. Xuanzong was a progressive. He listened to his advisors and is even credited with the abolition of the death penalty. However his chancellor Li Linfu’s aggressive foreign policy ultimately sowed the seeds of rebellion against him.

The Tang dynasty was a golden era for the arts and literature with nearly 49,000 poems surviving until the modern day. Some of these can be seen in the marvellous Forest of Steles in modern day Xian. This was the time of China’s most famous monk, Xuanzang, whose 17 year journey to India is chronicled in texts of the time and immortalized in the epic Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, written around 900 years later, the book that introduced us to the Monkey King.

Technology and engineering advances during the Tang dynasty were also numerous with such inventions as the striking clock and even air conditioning! Woodblock printing came about and the first full length printed book, the Diamond Sutra, complete with illustrations as well as the text was published in 868.
Things were to eventually turn sour for the Tang dynasty though after natural disasters, continual rebellions and attack from bandits. It eventually fell to a former salt smuggler, who had risen to the heady height of a military governor in record time, deposed Emperor Ai of Tang and declared himself Emperor establishing the Later Liang dynasty which brought about the start of the time known as the 5 dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

  ► FIVE DYNASTIES & TEN KINGDOMS PERIOD AD 907 TO 960
 
five and ten kingdoms map
 

► FIVE & TEN KINGDOMS HISTORY IN BRIEF

This period relates to yet another time of political instability across China and ran from 907 to 960. In the North there were 5 successive dynasties that rapidly followed each other while in the South and to the West 10 kingdoms ran concurrently, controlling their own region of the country. This is reflected by times being a little more stable in the South, though this is not to imply that they didn’t have their fair share of wars!

In 960 the North was unified under the Song Dynasty who were keen to reunite China once again. Finally by 975 all of China had be unified under the Song dynasty but the recurring divisions between the North and South, and indeed the different regions of the South themselves, would play a major role in creating the regional differences that exist in China to this day.

  ► SONG, LIAO, WESTERN XIA & JIN DYNASTIES AD 960 TO 1279
 
song liao western shia and jin dynasties map
 

► SONG, LIAO, WESTERN XIA & JIN IN BRIEF

The Song Dynasty began in 960 with the reunification of China and ran until 1279. It is split into 2 different distinct periods known as Northern and Southern, the Northern ruled until 1127 and had it’s capital in modern day Kaifeng. The Southern ran from 1127 until 1279 and had it’s capital in modern  day Hangzhou after the Song had been forced south of the Yangtze River by the Jin Dynasty.

The Song were the first government in the world to use paper money, they also were the first to be known to have used gunpowder as well as being the first Chinese government to have a permanent standing navy. This is also known as the first time a compass was used to tell “true north” enabling it’s use in maritime engagements and orienteering.

Between 907-1125 the Liao dynasty controlled the area to the North of China and in the Russian Far East and Northern Korea. The area to the west of China incorporating parts or all of the modern day provinces of Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, was run as the Tangut Empire or the Western Xia from 1038 to 1227. The Western Xia would fall to the Mongols whereas the Liao were brought down by the Jurchen people of Manchuria.

The Jurchen soldiers of the Jin Dynasty were to also bring an end to the period known as Northern Song when they sacked the capital Bianjing and abducted the emperor and many of his court. The ones who survived fled south to Lin’an where the Southern Song began. Despite losing large parts of China, the Song weren’t finished off by this loss and managed to retain control of a large part of China which included the majority of the population and the fertile land. With increasing trade by sea it was necessary for the Song to raise a permanent navy to protect their interests. This navy was made up of state of the art warships that had technology that made them more maneuverable, faster and with their new ability to launch gunpowder bombs - more deadly. When the Jin met the Song in battle on the Yangtze river in 1161, they were crushed by this new modern navy. This is despite the Jin having 70,00 men on 600 warships to the Song’s 3,000 on 120.

Despite this technology the Song’s days were numbered due to a new enemy from the North, The Mongols. Led by one of history’s most notorious leaders - Chinghis (Genghis) Khan. He was to bring the Jin dynasty in the north to it’s knees, making the Jin pay enormous tributes to the Khan empire. When the Jin moved it’s headquarters from Beijing to Kaifeng, it was the beginning of the end with the Mongols seeing this as a sign of revolt. Chinghis’ successor was to crush both the Jin and the Western Xia and the Khan’s alliance with the Song was as good as over once the Song had recaptured Kaifeng, Luoyang and Chang’an. After years more fighting the Mongol leader, Kublai Khan, declared the beginning of the Yuan dynasty in 1271 and by 1279 the Song had been completely conquered.

  ► YUAN DYNASTY AD 1279 TO 1368
 
yuan dynasty map
 

► YUAN DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Yuan dynasty was founded in 1271 by the grandson of the infamous Chinghis Khan, Kublai Khan. It was to rule China until 1368 and was the first foreign empire to rule the whole of China. The Mongols had been ruling parts of northern China for sometime before 1271 but the dynasty wasn’t declared until then. Kublai Khan was considered to not only be the emperor of the Yuan Dynasty but also the leader of the Mongol Empire - the Great Khan ruling supreme over all other khanates. Despite this title the Western Khans went about their own growth with nominal interest in the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongol emperors of the Yuan dynasty still very much considered themselves Mongolia with almost none of them even learning the Chinese script and placing the Han Chinese in the bottom class of society. However they were able to converse in Chinese and some such as Tugh Temur or Emperor Wenzong sponsored cultural events writing poetry and reading Chinese classical texts.

Buddhism was strongly supported during the Yuan Dynasty and many temples and monuments were built but the Mongols were open to allowing trade to thrive with people of most religious beliefs however this was to become more discriminatory as time went on with Muslims and Jews forced to follow Mongol practices. This was to backfire on the Yuan as they were to side with the Han, who were treated as a lower class. The founder of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang had several Muslim generals in his ranks. The fate of the Yuan was to be sealed after natural disasters and famines ravaged the land, coupled with their inability to form effective policies against it. The Yuan managed to hang on to control of part of the North after the declaration of the Ming Dynasty in a period known as the Northern Yuan however it only really maintained control within Mongolia and therefore had lost it’s ability to declare itself the rightful dynasty to rule China.

  ► MING DYNASTY AD 1368 TO 1644
 
ming dynasty map
 

► MING DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Ming Dynasty ruled China from 1368, when they replaced the Yuan, until 1644. They were a return to Han Chinese rule under their founder, known as the Hongwu Emperor. During his reign a system was set up to provide a permanent soldier class which saw the emperor’s standing army grow to over a million and the port of Nanjing becoming the largest dockyards in the world. He put his many son’s into power throughout China expecting this to ensure his direct family succession to the throne. This was to be a short lived dream after his successor was usurped by the Prince of Yan who was to become known as the Yongle Emperor in 1402. He was to make Yan a secondary capital and name it Beijing by 1403 it was the capital. He also restored the Grand Canal first engineered in the Sui dynasty. He used his eunuch supporters to balance the power of the scholars and one of these eunuchs was to become one of the greatest explorers of all time, Zheng He. Born in Yunnan province to a Hui Muslim family and he was to die a muslim as well. His 7 voyages are the stuff of legend, stretching from east Africa, through Arabia, around India and the Maldives and down into Java and further still. Many believe he reached as far as Australia although the proof for this is not complete.

After making Beijing the capital, mass construction began on the city, most notably - construction of the Forbidden City. Yongle expanded the empire and spread Chinese culture through woodblock printing. He strengthened the Great Wall although this was to prove futile, as history was going to prove.

Coupled with weaker emperors and new factions appearing was the rise of Europe in the 16th Century and this “new” trading partner saw an influx of foods from the New World such as chillies entering Sichuan cuisine and the widespread planting of potatoes and corn. These new foods were to temporarily stave off the eventual famines, crop failures and floods that would be a major factor in the downfall of the Ming along with lack of access to silver caused by the Japanese and Spanish and, of course, the Manchurian invasion that was coming!

  ► QING DYNASTY AD 1644 TO 1911
 
qing dynasty map
 

► QING DYNASTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The Qing were the last ruling imperial dynasty of China. They were to rule China from 1644 until 1912. They were the first to really see China as a multi cultural empire, mainly due to themselves being a vast minority in Han China.

The Qing were formed by the Aisin Gioro clan, a member of the Jurchen people who had set up the Later Jin Dynasty some half a millennium earlier. Nurchai, their leader started to form the people of the North East into “banners” which in turn formed the Manchu people. By 1644 they had captured the Ming capital of Beijing. By 1683 the Kangxi Emperor had completed the conquest of China and it had been fully united again. The Qianglong emperor extended Qing control into Central Asia in the latter part of the 18th Century with the boundaries we recognise now for China starting to become apparent. However this period also started to see the signs of unrest that had plagued previous dynasties but instead of just having internal unrest to deal with the Qing also had the outside forces of the West to deal with and the Qing elite were not ready to alter their mindset to fit that of the fast changing world around them.

The Opium War that ensued enabled foreign powers to impose unequal treaties upon the Chinese. Revolts in Central Asia were to leave millions dead and despite the Chinese rallying themselves the First Sino-Japanese War was to hurt them badly. They lost control over Taiwan and Korea and things were to turn even worse for the Qing when foreign powers decided to invade after the violent Boxer Rebellion. The government attempted to hold on to power by bringing in sweeping reforms to transform the Qing into a modern empire but it was to be too late for them. After the death of the Empress Dowager Cixi the Manchu court managed only to alienate those attempting reform and by October 1911 the Revolution had occurred leaving Pu Yi, the last emperor, to abdicate on February 12th 1912.

  ► REPUBLIC OF CHINA AD 1911 TO 1949
 
republic of china map
 

► REPUBLIC OF CHINA HISTORY IN BRIEF

This refers to the period of time after the last Emperor and before modern Communist China. It is also sometimes used to refer to the island of Taiwan where the leaders of the Kuomintang fled to after defeat to the Communists in 1949. The Republic was formed on 1st January 1912 ending over 4000 years of imperial rule.
Sun Yat-sen was to become the Republic of China’s first president and is regarded in China as the “Father of the nation” enjoying a unique position in Chinese 20th Century politics by being hugely popular on both Taiwan and on the mainland. He wasn’t able to hold on to power though and warlords were to take over.

By 1925 the Kuomintang had established a government down in Guangzhou and by 1928 overspending had seen the warlords of the North destroy their own economy and Chang Kai-shek, now leader of the party, managed to defeat the warlord armies having been armed by the Soviet Union. He established a government in Nanjing and expelled the communists he had used to get support from the Soviets from his party.

The war with Japan coupled with fighting the Soviets, who were now backing the Chinese Communist Party, eventually led to the Kuomintang losing control in a bloody civil war that saw them retreat to the island of Taiwan, still known as the Republic of China. The Communists had taken control of mainland China and things would never be the same again. Despite only having a tiny proportion of the overall land in China, Taiwan would be considered the home of the government of China by most non-Communist countries until well into the 1970’s.

  ► COMMUNIST PARTY 1949 TO PRESENT
 
communist china map
 

► COMMUNIST PARTY HISTORY IN BRIEF

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was formed on October 1st 1949 after victory for the Communists against the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War. Mao Zedong declared the PRC in Beijing and quickly added Hainan and Tibet to it. His now infamous Great Leap Forward in the 1950’s was to be responsible for an estimated 40-70 million deaths, mainly from starvation but millions also died due to their social standing or for opposing the policies that saw the ravaging of the countryside.

Population was to soar during his time with his belief that the Chinese should increase its population to increase it’s power. By 1966 Mao had started the period known as the Cultural Revolution, a time when family members were turned on each other, students encouraged to attack their teachers and persecution of anyone that had any foreign connections. It was to continue until his death in 1976 saved the people from the madness that had torn the social fabric of the country apart, something Chinese culture is only now starting to recover from with people starting to show an interest in their past. During this time the PRC replaced the Republic of China within the UN and joined the permanent Security Council.

A new dawn seemed on the cards after his death and Deng Xiaoping, a man who had gone from one of Mao’s favourites to someone he had denounced, took over the party reigns and started to relax the Communist party’s control of people’s day to day lives and brought in sweeping economic reforms that led China along the path of a Free Market economy. However those who thought this would lead to a relaxing of the CCP’s control of power were silenced violently in the now infamous Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, making clear that political reform was not going to be happening in tandem with economic reform.

The 90’s was to see the economic growth that dragged large parts of the peasantry out of poverty under the direction of Jiang Zemin. This growth was to continue during the the beginning of the 21st Century under Hu Jintao with China joining the WTO in 2001 and hosting the Olympic Games in 2008 and although growth has finally started to slow, new president Xi Jinping  has continued economic reforms that will soon see China become the world’s largest economy.

    By Phil Stanley & Headseast