Ancient Times (from Antiquity to A.D. 1840)
China, has a recorded history of nearly 4,000 years.
Anthropologists have uncovered the remains of China’s earliest discovered hominid, “Yuanmou Man,” who lived approximately 1.7 million years ago. “Peking Man,” who lived to the southwest of modern Beijing 400,000 to 500,000 years ago, had the basic characteristics of Homosapiens. Man in China passed from primitive society to slave society in the 21st century B.C., with the founding of China’s first dynasty, that of the Xia. The subsequent dynasties, the Shang (16th-11th century B.C.) and the Western Zhou (11th century-770 B.C.) saw further development of slave society. This era was followed by the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 B.C.), marking the transition from the slave society to feudal society.
In 221 B.C., Ying Zheng, a man of great talent and bold vision, ended the rivalry among the independent principalities in the Warring States Period and established the first centralized, unified, multi-ethnic state in Chinese history under the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.), and called himself Shi Huang Di (First Emperor), historically known as Qin Shi Huang, or First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. During his reign, Qin Shi Huang standardized the script, currencies, and weights and measures, established the system of prefectures and counties, and constructed the world-renowned Great Wall as well as a large palace, mausoleum and temporary regal lodges respectively in Xianyang, Lishan and other places. At the end of the Qin Dynasty, Liu Bang, a peasant leader, overthrew the Qin regime in cooperation with Xiang Yu, an aristocratic general. A few years later, Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu and established the strong Han Dynasty in 206 B.C.
In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), agriculture, handicrafts and commerce were well developed. During the reign of Emperor Wudi (Liu Che, 140-87 B.C.), the Han regime reached the period of its greatest prosperity: The emperor conquered the Xiongnu nomads, and sent Zhang Qian as envoy to the Western Regions (Central Asia), and in the process pioneered the route known as the “Silk Road” from the Han capital Chang’ an through Xinjiang and to Europe. In 33 B.C., Wang Zhaojun, a palace maiden, was married to Huhanxie, chieftain of the Xiongnu, leaving a moving story about marriage ties between the Han and the Xiongnu. The multi-ethnic country became more consolidated. The Han regime existed for a total of 426 years. It was followed by the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265) of Wei, Shu and Wu.
The Three Kingdoms Period was followed by the Jin (265-420), the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), and the Sui Dynasty (581-618). In 618, Li Yuan founded the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Later, Li Shimin (r. 626-649), son of Li Yuan, ascended the throne as Emperor Taizong, who was one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. After the Tang Dynasty, there came the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960). In 960, General Zhao Kuangyin of the Later Zhou Dynasty rose in mutiny, and founded the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In 1206, Genghis Khan unified all the tribes in Mongolia and founded the Mongol Khanate. In 1271, his grandson, Kublai Khan, conquered the Central Plain, founded the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and made Dadu (today’ s Beijing) the capital. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, handicraft industry and domestic and foreign trade boomed. Many merchants and travelers came from abroad. Marco Polo came from Venice and traveled extensively in China, later describing the country’ s prosperity in his Travels. The “four great inventions” of the Chinese people in ancient times—paper making, printing, the compass and gunpowder—were further developed in the Song and Yuan dynasties, and introduced to foreign countries during this time.
In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Nanjing, and reigned as Emperor Taizu. When his son, and successor, Zhu Di, ascended the throne, he started to build the palace, temples, city walls and moat in Beijing. In 1421, he officially made Beijing his capital.
In the late Ming Dynasty, the Manchus in northeast China grew in strength. Under the leadership of Nurhachi, the Manchus invaded the Central Plain for three generations in succession, and finally founded the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The two most famous emperors of the Qing Dynasty were Emperor Kangxi (r. 1661-1772) and Emperor Qianlong (r. 1735-1796). The Kangxi and Qianlong reign periods were known as the “times of prosperity.”
The Opium War of 1840 marked a turning point in Chinese history. From early in the 19th century, Britain smuggled large quantities of opium into China, causing a great outflow of Chinese silver and grave economic disruption in China. In 1839, the Qing government sent Commissioner Lin Zexu to Guangdong to put into effect the prohibition on opium trafficking. When, in an effort to protect its opium trade, Britain initiated the First Opium War in 1840, the Chinese people rose in armed struggle against the invaders under the leadership of Lin Zexu and other patriotic generals. But the corrupt and incompetent Qing government capitulated to the foreign invaders time and again, and finally signed the Treaty of Nanjing with Britain, a treaty of national betrayal and humiliation. From then on, China was reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country.
After the Opium War, Britain, the United States, France, Russia and Japan forced the Qing government to sign various unequal treaties, seized “concessions” and divided China into “spheres of influence.” To oppose the twin evils of feudal oppression and foreign aggression, the Chinese people waged heroic struggles, with many national heroes coming to the fore. The Revolution of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in 1851, led by Hong Xiuquan, was the largest peasant uprising in modern Chinese history. The Revolution of 1911, a bourgeois-democratic revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, ended the rule of the Qing Dynasty. The monarchical system was discarded with the founding of the provisional government of the Republic of China. The Revolution of 1911 is of great significance in modern Chinese history. But the fruits of victory were soon compromised by concessions on the part of the Chinese bourgeoisie, and the country entered a period of domination by the Northern Warlords headed by Yuan Shikai. The people lived in an abyss of misery in this period.
New Democratic Revolution Period
Under the influence of the October Revolution in Russia, China’s May 4th Movement arose. During this great anti-imperialist, anti-feudal revolutionary movement led by patriotic students, the Chinese proletariat for the first time mounted the political stage. The May 4th Movement marked the change of the old democratic revolution to the new democratic revolution. It enabled Marxism-Leninism to further spread and link up with the Chinese people’s revolutionary practice, and prepared the ideology as well as the cadres necessary for the founding of the Communist Party of China. In 1921, Mao Zedong, Dong Biwu, Chen Tanqiu, He Shuheng, Wang Jinmei, Deng Enming and Li Da, representing the communist groups in different places throughout the nation, held the First National Congress in Shanghai, founding the Communist Party of China (CPC). In 1924, Sun Yat-sen, pioneer of China’s democratic revolution and the founder of the Kuomintang (KMT), worked together with the Communist Party of China to organize workers and peasants for the Northern Expedition (historically known as the Great Revolution). After Sun Yat-sen passed away, the right-wing clique of the KMT headed by Chiang Kai-shek staged a counter-revolutionary coup d’etat in 1927, murdering Communists and revolutionary people, and founded the Kuomintang regime in Nanjing. Thus the Great Revolution ended in failure. After that, the CPC led the Chinese people to wage the 10-year Agrarian Revolution War against the reactionary rule of the Kuomintang, which is also known as the “10-Year Civil War”.
In July 1937, Japan launched all-out aggression against China. The Kuomintang armies started a series of battles, which gave relentless blows at the Japanese invaders. In the enemy’s rear area, the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army, under the leadership of the CPC, fought against most of the Japanese forces, and almost all the puppet armies under extremely difficult conditions, thus playing a decisive role in the victory of the War of Resistance against Japan.
From June 1946, the Kuomintang armies launched an all-round attack on the Liberated Areas led by the CPC, and an unprecedented large-scale civil war started. To thoroughly emancipate the Chinese people, the CPC led the army and people in the Liberated Areas to start the nationwide War of Liberation.
Through the Liaoxi-Shenyang, Huai-Hai and Beiping-Tianjin campaigns, the CPC overthrew the rule of the Kuomintang and won a great victory in the new democratic revolution in 1949.
Contemporary Period (1949- )
From September 21 to 30, 1949, the First Plenum of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was held in Beijing, with the participation of various political parties, popular organizations, non-Party democrats and representatives from all walks of life. The CPPCC drew up a Common Program, which served as a provisional constitution. It elected a Central People’s Government Council, with Mao Zedong as Chairman, and appointed Zhou Enlai Premier of the Government Administration Council and concurrently Minister of Foreign Affairs. On October 1 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong solemnly proclaimed the formal establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
The early days of New China were a period of economic recovery and China established and expanded basic industries necessary for full industrialization. The 10 years from 1957 to the beginning of the “cultural revolution” in 1966 was the period in which China started large-scale socialist construction. The nation’s total industrial fixed assets quadrupled between 1956 and 1966, and the national income increased by 58 percent in terms of constant prices.