Concise Chinese History
1. Historical and Cultural Continuity
A significant aspect of China is its long cultural and national
history. The Chinese people have shared a common culture longer
than any other group on Earth. The Chinese writing system,
for example, dates back almost 4,000 years. The imperial dynastic
system of government, which continued for centuries, was established
as early as 221 BC. Although specific dynasties were overturned,
the dynastic system survived. China was even ruled at times
by foreign invaders, such as the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty,
from AD 1279 to 1368, and the Manchus during the Qing Dynasty,
from AD 1644 to 1911, but the foreigners were largely absorbed
into the culture they governed. It is as if the Roman Empire
had lasted from the time of the Caesars to the 20th century,
and during that time had evolved a cultural system and written
language shared by all the peoples of Europe.
The dynastic system was overturned in 1911, and a weak republican
form of government existed until 1949. In that year, after
a long civil war, the People's Republic of China, with a Communist
government, was proclaimed. This government and the ruling
Communist party have controlled China ever since. Although
the dynastic system has disappeared, the People's Republic
occupies essentially the same territory and governs the same
people. If anything, the culture and power of China seem stronger
in the late 20th century than at almost any other period in
history. Under the People's Republic, China's role in world
economic and political affairs has grown increasingly more
2. Beginnings and Early History
Archaeological evidence suggests that China is one of the
cradles of the human race. The earliest known human in China,
whose fossilized skull was unearthed in Shanxi Province in
1963, is believed to date back to 600,000 BC. The remains
of Sinanthropus pekinensis, known as Peking Man and dating
back to 400,000 BC, were excavated in 1923 at Zhoukoudianzhen
near Peking. Peking Man was closely related to Pithecanthropus
of Java and lived during the Old Stone Age. In the upper caves
of Zhoukoudianzhen are found artifacts of a late Old Stone
Age man (50,000-35,000 BC), who ranks in age with the Cro-Magnon
of Europe. This was an early form of Homo sapiens, or modern
man, who made tools out of bones as well as stones, made clothes
out of animal hides, and knew how to make fire.
Around the 4th or 3rd millennium BC, in the New Stone Age,
great changes occurred in the lives of the ancient Chinese.
Larger numbers of people began living together at settled
places, cultivating land, and domesticating animals. These
people made polished stone tools and built shelters in pit
dwellings and beehive huts that were covered with reed roofs.
Such villages were found mostly in the area of the great bend
of the Huang He on the North China Plain. Despite its severe
winters, this area was well suited to agriculture. In fact,
it closely resembled the other cradles of ancient civilizations,
such as the valley of the Nile in Egypt.
The people of this period (3000-2000 BC) also developed the
art of making pottery for storing food and drink. Two distinct
types have been discovered: red clay pots with swirling black
designs in the northwest near Yangshao village, and smooth
black pottery in northeast China near Lungshan, a site in
3. Shang Dynasty
The Chinese had settled in the Huang He, or Yellow River,
valley of northern China by 3000 BC. By then they had pottery,
wheels, farms, and silk, but they had not yet discovered writing
or the uses of metals.
The Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 BC) is the first documented era
of ancient China. The highly developed hierarchy consisted
of a king, nobles, commoners, and slaves. The capital city
was Anyang, in north Henan Province. Some scholars have suggested
that travelers from Mesopotamia and from Southeast Asia brought
agricultural methods to China, which stimulated the growth
of ancient Chinese civilization. The Shang peoples were known
for their use of jade, bronze, horse-drawn chariots, ancestor
worship, and highly organized armies.
Like other ancient peoples, the Chinese developed unique attributes.
Their form of writing, developed by 2000 BC, was a complex system
of picture writing using forms called ideograms, pictograms,
and phonograms. Such
early forms of Chinese became known through the discovery by
archaeologists oforacle bones, which were bones with writings
inscribed on them. They were used for fortune-telling and recordkeeping
in ancient China.
Bone libraries and others: ancient times. The earliest known
libraries were connected with palaces and temples. In China,
records of the Shang dynasty (1767?-1123? BC) were written
on animal bones and tortoise shells. An early library called
"The Healing Place of the Soul," in the palace of
Egypt's King Ramses II (1304?-1237 BC) at Thebes, consisted
of thousands of papyrus scrolls. Among the most important
libraries in the ancient Near East was the palace library
of Ashurbanipal (668?-627? BC) at Nineveh in Assyria. This
early type of national library, collected "for the sake
of distant days," consisted of over 30,000 clay tablets.
Early librarians were usually priests, teachers, or scholars.
The first known Chinese librarian was the philosopher Lao
Tse, who was appointed keeper of the royal historical records
for the Chou rulers about 550 BC.
4. Zhou Dynasty (1122-221 BC)
The Zhou Dynasty (1122-221 BC) saw the full flowering of ancient
civilization in China. During this period the empire was unified,
a middle class arose, and iron was introduced. The sage Confucius
(551-479 BC) developed the code of ethics that dominated Chinese
thought and culture for the next 25 centuries (See Confucius).
The Zhou conquest of the Shang was given an important meaning
by later moralistic interpretations of the event. The Zhou
kings, whose chief deity was heaven, called themselves "Sons
of Heaven," and their success in overcoming the Shang
was seen as the "mandate of heaven." From this time
on, Chinese rulers were called "Sons of Heaven"
and the Chinese Empire, the "Celestial Empire."
The transfer of power from one dynasty to the next was based
on the mandate of heaven.
Zhou rule in China continued for nearly nine centuries. During
that time great advances were made. The long period of the
Zhou Dynasty is divided into two subperiods: Western (Early)
and Eastern (Later) Zhou, named for the locations of the capitals.
Western (Early) Zhou (1122-771
Western Zhou territory covered most of the North China Plain.
It was divided into about 200 princely domains. The Zhou political
system was similar to the feudal system of medieval Europe.
The Zhou people combined hunting and agriculture for a living.
Associating the success or failure of crops with the disposition
of nature, the people prayed to numerous nature gods for good
harvests. One of the ruler's duties was to placate heaven
and Earth for all people. Failure to do so deprived him of
the right to rule. Such beliefs are still widely held today
among the Chinese people. Ancestor worship also developed
during the Zhou period and has been important in East Asia
for the last 2,000 years.
The Zhou were invaded in 771 BC by a less cultured, more militaristic
people from the northwest. The capital was moved east to Luoyang.
From this point on, the dates are considered reliable. The
manner in which the Western Zhou fell followed a pattern that
was repeated throughout Chinese history. People who led a
nomadic, or wandering, life in the northern steppe land would
invade settled agricultural communities to solve periodic
The conflict between the nomads and settled farmers has been
a continuing feature of Chinese history. Settled Chinese called
the nomads "barbarians," a term applied to all peoples
of non-Chinese culture up to the 20th century. From this concept
an idea developed that China was the center of the civilized
world, hence the traditional name "Middle Kingdom/Country,"
referring to China.
Eastern (Later) Zhou (771-221
The Eastern Zhou is also two periods. The first is the Spring
and Autumn period (771-481 BC), named for a book credited
to Confucius. The second is the Warring States period (481-221
In the Spring and Autumn period, iron replaced bronze for
tools and weapons. The use of iron led to an increase in agricultural
output, growth of the population, and warfare among the states.
By the 4th century BC the number of states had shrunk to seven.
In 256 BC the princes of those states assumed the title of
king, stopped paying homage to the Zhou king, and continued
to fight for supremacy. The strongest of the seven states
The disruption caused by this prolonged warfare had a number
of long-range consequences. One was the rise of a new social
group, the scholars (shi). They were forerunners of the scholar-officials
of the Chinese Empire, who became the most influential group
in China. In the Later Zhou period, however, they were a relatively
small group of learned people. Often wandering from state
to state in search of permanent employment, the shi worked
as tutors to the children of feudal princes and as advisers
to various state governments. The most famous of these scholarly
shi was Confucius.
5. Qin Empire (221-206 BC)
After nearly 900 years, the Zhou Dynasty came to an end when
the state of Qin, the strongest of the seven surviving states,
unified China and established the first empire in 221 BC.
The Qin empire did not last long, but it left two enduring
legacies: the name China and the idea and structure of the
empire. This heritage outlasted the Qin Dynasty itself by
more than 2,000 years.
The first Qin emperor was called Qin Shi Huang Di. The title
of emperor was used for the first time in Chinese history
to set the Qin ruler apart--as the ruler of the unified land--from
the kings, the heads of the earlier, smaller states. The construction
of massive palaces and the ceremony of the court further enhanced
the power of the emperor by inspiring awe in the people.
A centralized bureaucracy replaced the old feudal system.
The empire was divided into provinces and counties, which
were governed by centrally appointed governors and magistrates.
The former ruling families who had inherited their places
in the aristocracy were uprooted and forced to live in the
capital of Xianyang (Xian). Other centralizing policies included
census taking and standardization of the writing system and
weights and measures.
The Qin army conducted massive military campaigns to complete
the unification of the empire and expand its territory. The
Qin empire stretched from the Mongolian plateau in the north
to Vietnam in the south. As with rulers before and after him,
the first emperor was preoccupied with defending his territory
against northern nomads. After waging several successful campaigns,
the emperor ordered the building of the wall of "ten
thousand li" (a li is a Chinese unit of distance) to
protect the empire. This task involved connecting the separate
walls that were built by former northern states to form the
famous Great Wall. The Ten Thousand Li Wall, as it is known
in China, is 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) long, from 15
to 50 feet (5 to 15 meters) high, and from 15 to 25 feet (5
to 8 meters) wide. Although closely linked with the first
ruler of the Qin Empire, the wall as it stands today dates
mainly from the later Ming Dynasty.
Qin Shih Huang Di's harsh rule provoked much opposition. The
emperor feared the scholars most. He had them rounded up and
put them to death or sent them into exile. Many went into
hiding. Moreover, all books, except technical ones, were confiscated
and burned. In the last years of his life, Qin Shih Huang
Di became fearful of threats on his life and lived in complete
secrecy. He also became obsessed with obtaining immortality.
He died in 210 BC in Shandong Province, far from the capital
of Xianyang (Xian), during one of his long quests to find
the elixir of life.
The Qin empire disintegrated rapidly after the death of the
first emperor. The legitimate heir was killed in a palace
intrigue, and a less able prince was put on the throne. Conditions
worsened throughout the empire. In 209 BC, rebellions erupted
all over China. Two men had the largest following. Hsiang
Yu was a general of aristocratic background; Liu Pang was
a minor official from a peasant family. By 206 BC rebels had
subdued the Qin army and destroyed the capital. The struggle
between Hsiang Yu and Liu Pang continued for the next four
years, however, until Liu Pang emerged as the victor in 202
BC. Taking the title of Kao Tsu, High Progenitor, he established
the Han Dynasty.
6. The Han Empire (202 BC-220 AD)
The four-century-long Han rule is divided into two periods:
the Earlier or Western Han and the Later or Eastern Han. In
between these two was the short-lived Hsin Dynasty (9-23 AD).
Earlier (Western) Han (202 BC-
The Han Dynasty preserved many features of the Qin imperial
system, such as the administrative division of the country
and the central bureaucracy. But the Han rulers lifted the
Qin ban on philosophical and historical writings. Han Kao
Tsu called for the services of men of talent, not only to
restore the destroyed classics but to serve as officials in
the government. From that time, the Chinese Empire was governed
by a body of officials theoretically selected on merit. Such
a practice has few parallels elsewhere at this early date
in human history.
In 124 BC, during the reign of Wu Ti (140-87, the Martial
Emperor), an imperial university was set up for the study
of Confucian classics. The university recruited talented students,
and the state supported them. Starting with 50 when the university
first opened, the number of government-supported students
reached 30,000 by the end of the Han Dynasty. Emperor Wu also
established Confucianism as the official doctrine of the state.
This designation lasted until the end of the Chinese Empire.
The Early Han faced two major difficulties: invasions by the
barbarian Huns and the influence of the imperial consort families.
In the Han Dynasty, the Huns (known as Hsiung-nu by the Chinese)
threatened the expanding Chinese Empire from the north. Starting
in Wu Ti's reign, costly, almost century-long campaigns had
to be carried out to establish Chinese sovereignty along the
northern and northwestern borders. Wu Ti also waged aggressive
campaigns to incorporate northern Korea in 108 BC and northern
Annam in 111 BC into the Han empire. The Early Han's other
difficulty started soon after the first emperor's death. The
widowed Empress Lu dominated politics and almost succeeded
in taking the throne for her family. Thereafter, families
of the empresses exerted great political influence. In AD
9 Wang Mang, a nephew of the empress, seized the throne and
founded a new dynasty of Hsin.
Wang Mang's overambitious reform program alienated him from
the landlords. At the same time the peasants, disappointed
with Wang's inability to push through the reform, rose in
rebellion. In AD 17 a rebel group in Shandong painted their
faces red (hence their name, Red Eyebrows) and adopted religious
symbols, a practice later repeated by peasants who rebelled
in times of extreme difficulty. Wang Mang's force was defeated,
and he was killed in AD 23.
Later (Eastern) Han (AD 23-220)
The new ruler who restored peace and order was a member of
the house of Han, the original Liu family. His title was Kuang
Wu Ti, "Shining Martial Emperor," from AD 25 to
57. During the Later Han, which lasted another 200 years,
a concerted but unsuccessful effort was made to restore the
glory of the former Han. The Later Han scored considerable
success in recovering lost territories, however. Sent to befriend
the tribes on the northwestern frontier in AD 73, a great
diplomat-general, Pan Ch'ao, eventually led an army of 70,000
almost to the borders of eastern Europe. Pan Ch'ao returned
to China in 101 and brought back information about the Roman
Empire. The Romans also knew about China, but they thought
of it only as the land where silk was produced.
The Later Han period was particularly plagued with evils caused
by eunuchs, castrated males recruited from the lower classes
to serve as bodyguards for the imperial harem. Coming from
uneducated and poor backgrounds, they were ruthlessly ambitious
once they were placed within reach of power. Toward the end
of the Later Han, power struggles between the eunuchs and
the landlord-officials were prolonged and destructive. Peasant
rebellions of the Taoist-leaning Yellow Turbans in 184 and
the Five Pecks of Rice in 190 led to the rise of generals
who massacred over 2,000 eunuchs, destroyed the capital, and
one after another became dictators. By 207 General Ts'ao Ts'ao
had emerged as dictator in the north. When he died in 220
his son removed the powerless emperor and established the
kingdom of Wei. The Eastern Han came to an end, and the empire
was divided into the three kingdoms of Wei, Shu Han, and Wu.
The pattern of the rise and fall of Han was to be repeated
in later periods. This characteristic came to be known as
the dynastic cycle.
The Chinese show their pride in Han accomplishments by calling
themselves the Han people. Philosophies and institutions that
began in the Zhou and Qing periods reached maturity under
the Han. During Han times, the Chinese distinguished themselves
in making scientific discoveries, many of which were not known
to Westerners until centuries later. The Chinese were most
advanced in astronomy. They invented sundials and water clocks,
divided the day equally into ten and then into 12 periods,
devised the lunar calendar that continued to be used until
1912, and recorded sunspots regularly. In mathematics, the
Chinese were the first to use the place value system, whereby
the value of a component of a number is indicated by its placement.
Other innovations were of a more practical nature: wheelbarrows,
locks to control water levels in streams and canals, and compasses.
The Han Chinese were especially distinguished in
the field of art. The famous sculpture of the "Han flying
horse" and the carving of the jade burial suit found
in Han period tombs are only two superb examples. The technique
of making lacquer ware was also highly developed. The Chinese
are proudest of the tradition of historical writing that began
in the Han period. Ssu-ma Ch'ien (145?-85? BC) was grand historian
(an office that combined the duties of court recorder and
astronomer) during the time of Wu Ti. His `Historical Records',
which took ten years to complete, established the pattern
and style followed by subsequent histories. In the Later Han,
the historical tradition was continued by the Pan family.
Pan Piao, the father, started to bring Ssu-ma Ch'ien's `Records'
up to date. The work was continued by his son Pan Ku (twin
brother of the general Pan Ch'ao) and was completed by his
daughter Pan Chao, China's earliest and most famous woman
scholar. Unlike Ssu-ma Ch'ien, the Pan family limited their
work to 230 years of the Early Han. This was the first of
the dynastic histories, subsequently written for every dynasty.
Pan Chao also wrote a highly influential work on the education
of women, `Lessons for Women'. `Lessons' emphasized the "virtues"
of women, which restricted women's activities. The Confucianism
that the Han Dynasty restored differed from the original teachings
of Confucius. The leading Han philosophers, Tung Chung-shu
and others, used principles derived from the early Chinese
philosophy of nature to interpret the ancient texts. The Chinese
philosophy of nature explained the workings of the universe
by the alternating forces of yin and yang--dark and light--and
the five elements: earth, wood, metal, fire, and water. The
Han period was marked by a broad eclecticism. Many Han emperors
favored Taoism, especially the Taoist idea of immortality.
Period of Disunity (220-581)
After the fall of the Later Han, the Chinese Empire remained
divided for three and a half centuries. The first half-century
began with the domination of the Three Kingdoms: Wei under the
Ts'ao family in the north, Shu Han under Liu Pei in the southwest,
and Wu under Sun Ch'uan in the southeast. Invaders from the
north soon overran the kingdoms and set up their own states,
but the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), established by one of
the barbarian tribes, the Toba, was the only one to last. Four
dynasties established by the Chinese ruled in the south during
the 4th and 5th centuries. The Three Kingdoms period was made
famous by the novel `Romance of the Three Kingdoms', which glamorized
the period as an age of chivalry.
8. The Sui Dynasty (581-618)
The prolonged period of disunity finally ended when a general
from the northwest united China by establishing the new dynasty
of Sui. A second great period of imperial unity was begun.
The relationship of the Sui to the succeeding Tang Dynasty
was much like that of the Qin to the Han. It served as the
unifying foundation on which its successor could build. The
first Sui emperor, Wen Ti, introduced a series of economic
reforms, such as reduction of the peasants' taxes, a careful
census for equitable tax collection, and restoration of the
equal allocation system used in the Northern Wei. Every taxable
male received a grant of land, part of which was returnable
when he ceased to be a taxpayer at age 60 and part of which
he could pass on to his heirs. He also revived the Han system
of examinations based on Confucian classics.
Sui Wen Ti's premature death might have been caused by his
ambitious son Yang Ti, whose grandiose projects and military
campaigns ultimately led to the Sui's downfall. Some of his
projects were productive, especially the construction of the
Grand Canal, which linked up the Huang, Huai, and Yangtze
rivers and connected north and south China.
Yang Ti's overly ambitious scheme of expanding his empire
led to disastrous wars against Korea. After a series of futile
expeditions, the Chinese army of over a million was defeated
and forced to flee. In 618, Yang Ti was assassinated in an
army coup; one of the coup leaders, Li Shih-min, installed
his father as emperor, founding the T'ang Dynasty. After about
a decade, during which he was able to secure his father's
abdication, he took the throne himself in 626 as the emperor
9. The Tang Dynasty (618-907)
The Tang emperors set up a political system in which the emperor
was supreme and government officials were selected on the
bases of merit and education. The early T'ang rulers applied
the equal allocation system rigorously to bring about a greater
equity in taxation and to insure the flow of taxes to the
government. A census was taken every three years to enforce
the system, which also involved drafting people to do labor.
These measures led to an agricultural surplus and the development
of units of uniform value for the principal commodities, two
of the most important prerequisites for the growth of commerce
The Tang capital of Chang'an (Xian) was one of the greatest
commercial and cosmopolitan cities in the world at that time.
Like most capitals of China, Chang'an (Xian)was composed of
three parts: the palace, the imperial city, and the outer
city, separated from each other by mighty walls.
The Tang was a period of great imperial expansion, which reached
its greatest height in the first half of the 8th century.
At that time, Chinese control was recognized by people from
Tibet and Central Asia in the west to Mongolia, Manchuria
(now the Northeast region of China), and Korea in the north
and Annam in the south.
The An Lu-shan rebellion
Most of the Tang accomplishments were attained during the
first century of the dynasty's rule, through the early part
of Emperor Hsuan Tsung's long reign from 712 to 756. However,
late in his reign he neglected government affairs to indulge
in his love of art and study. This led to the rise of viceroys,
commanders responsible for military and civil affairs in the
regions. An Lu-shan was a powerful viceroy commanding the
northwest border area. He had both connections at the imperial
court and hidden imperial ambitions. In 755 he rose in rebellion.
The emperor fled the capital with an ill-equipped army. These
troops soon rebelled and forced the emperor to abdicate in
favor of his son.
The new emperor raised a new army to fight the rebels. An
Lu-shan was assassinated in 757, but the war dragged on until
763. Afterward, the Chinese Empire virtually disintegrated
once again. The provinces remained under the control of various
regional commanders. The dynasty continued to linger on for
another century, but the Tang empire never fully recovered
the central authority, prosperity, and peace of its first
The most serious problem of the last century of Tang was the
rise of great landlords who were exempt from taxation. Unable
to pay the exorbitant taxes collected twice a year after the
An Lu-shan rebellion, peasants would place themselves under
the protection of a landlord or become bandits. Peasant uprisings,
beginning with the revolt under the leadership of Huang Ch'ao
in the 870s, left much of central China in ruins.
In 881 Huang Ch'ao's rebels, now numbering over 600,000 people,
destroyed the capital, forcing the imperial court to move
east to Luoyang. Another rebel leader founded a new dynasty,
called Later Liang, at Kaifeng in Henan Province in 907, but
he was unable to unify all China under his rule. This second
period of disunity lasted only half a century. Once again,
however, China was divided between north and south, with five
dynasties in the north and ten kingdoms in the south.
Buddhist influence in art, especially in sculpture, was strong
during the Tang period. Fine examples of Buddhist sculpture
are preserved in rock temples, such as those at Yongang and
Longmen in northwest China. The invention of printing and
improvements in papermaking led to the printing of a whole
set of Buddhist sutras (discourses of the Buddha) by 868.
By the beginning of the 11th century all of the Confucian
classics and the Taoist canon had been printed. In secular
literature, the Tang is especially well known for poetry.
The great Tang poets such as Li Po and Tu Fu were nearly all
The Tang period marked the beginnings of China's early technological
advancement over other civilizations in the fields of shipbuilding
and firearms development. Both reached new heights in the
succeeding dynasty of Sung.
Papermaking & Firearms
By the 13th century papermaking spread throughout Europe.
Paper was a Chinese invention. It had been adopted by the
Persians and then by the Arabs, who brought the art to Europe.
Powder (not gunpowder, because guns were not yet known) and
fireworks rockets were introduced into Europe in the 1200s.
They had been invented in China some years earlier.
The earliest mention of firearms is in a Dutch chronicle dated
1313. It states that firearms were invented in Germany. The
first picture of a primitive cannon can be found in an English
manuscript dated 1326.
10. The Song Dynasty (960-1279)
Over 300 years of Song history is divided into the two
periods of Northern and Southern Song. Because of the barbarian
occupation of northern China the second half of the Song rule
was confined to the area south of the Huai River.
Northern Song (960-1126)
General Chao K'uang-yin, later known as Sung T'ai Tsu, was
said to have been coerced to become emperor in order to unify
China. Wary of power-hungry commanders, Song T'ai Tsu made
the military into a national army under his direct control.
Under his less capable successors, however, the military increasingly
lost prestige. Unfortunately for China, the weakening of the
military coincided with the rise of successive strong nomad
nations on the borders.
In contrast to the military's loss of prestige, the civil
service rose in dignity. The examination system that had been
restored in the Sui and T'ang was further elaborated and regularized.
Selection examinations were held every three years at the
district, provincial, and metropolitan levels.
Only 200 out of thousands of applicants were granted the jinshi
degree, the highest degree, and appointed to government posts.
From this time on, civil servants became China's most envied
elite, replacing the hereditary nobles and landlords.
Song dominion extended over only part of the territories of
earlier Chinese empires. The Khitans controlled the northeastern
territories, and the Hsi Hsia (Western Hsia) controlled the
northwestern territories. Unable to recover these lands, the
Song emperors were compelled to make peace with the Khitans
in 1004 and with the Hsi Hsia in 1044. Massive payments to
the barbarians under the peace terms depleted the state treasury,
caused hardship to taxpaying peasants, and gave rise to a
conflict in the court among advocates of war, those who favored
peace, and reformers.
In 1069 Emperor Shen Tsung appointed Wang An-shih as chief
minister. Wang proposed a number of sweeping reforms based
on the classical text of the `Rites of Chou'. Many of his
"new laws" were actually revivals of earlier policies,
but officials and landlords opposed his reforms. When the
emperor and Wang died within a year of each other, the new
laws were withdrawn. For the next several decades, until the
fall of the Northern Sung in 1126, the reformers and antireformers
alternated in power, creating havoc and turmoil in government.
In an effort to regain territory lost to the Khitans, the
Song sought an alliance with the newly powerful Juchens from
Manchuria. Once the alliance had expelled the Khitans, however,
the Juchens turned on the Song and occupied the capital of
Kaifeng. The Juchens established the dynasty of Chin, a name
meaning "gold," which lasted from 1115 to 1234,
in the north. They took the emperor and his son prisoner,
along with 3,000 others, and ordered them to be held in Manchuria.
Southern Song (1126-1279)
Another imperial son fled south and settled in 1127 at Hangzhou,
where he resumed the Song rule as the emperor Kao Tsung. The
Song retained control south of the Huai River, where they
ruled for another one and a half centuries.
Although militarily weak and limited in area, the Southern
Song represented one of China's most brilliant periods of
cultural, commercial, maritime, and technological development.
Despite the loss of the north, trade continued to expand,
enabling a commercial revolution to take place in the 13th
century. Cut off from the traditional overland trade routes,
Song merchants turned to the ocean with the aid of such improvements
as compasses and huge oceangoing ships called junks. The development
of a paper money economy stimulated commercial growth and
kept it going.
End of the Southern Song
While the Song ruling class and the imperial court indulged
themselves in art and luxurious living in the urban centers,
the latest nomad empire arose in the north. The formidable
Mongol armies, conquerors of Eurasia as far west as eastern
Europe and of Korea in the east, descended on the Southern
Culture in the Song period
The Song period was noted for landscape painting, which in
time came to be considered the highest form of classical art.
The city-dwelling people of the Sung period romanticized nature.
This romanticism, combined with a mystical, Taoist approach
to nature and a Buddhist-inspired contemplative mood, was
reflected in landscape paintings showing people dwarfed by
In philosophy, the trend away from Buddhism and back to Confucianism,
which had begun in the late Tang, continued. Pure and simple
restoration of the ancient teaching was impossible, however,
because Confucianism had been challenged by Buddhism and Taoism.
Confucianism needed to explain humanity and the universe as
well as to regulate human relations within society. In the
late Tang and early Song, several strands of Confucianism
emerged. The great scholar Chu Hsi synthesized elements of
Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. This reconstituted philosophy
became known as Neo-Confucianism, and it was the orthodox
state doctrine until the end of the imperial system. Chu Hsi's
philosophy was one that stressed dualism, the goodness of
human nature, and self-cultivation by education through the
continuing "investigation of things."
The Song scholars and historians also attempted to synthesize
history. Ssu-ma Kuang made the first effort at producing a
comprehensive history since Ssu-ma Ch'ien of the Han. In 294
chapters, he wrote a chronological account of the period from
403 BC to AD 959, which was abridged by Chu Hsi in the 12th
century. Another first in Song scholarship was the creation
of encyclopedias. `Assembled Essentials on the Tang', a collection
completed in 961, became the example for the various types
of encyclopedic literature that followed.
The Song period is famous for porcelain with a celadon glaze,
which was one of the most desired items in foreign trade (See
Pottery and Porcelain). The development of gunpowder led to
the invention of a type of hand grenade. In shipbuilding,
the great seagoing junks were admired and imitated by Arab
and Western sailors. By far the largest ships in the world
at the time, they had watertight compartments and could carry
up to 1,000 passengers.
The Song Cities
Oceanic and coastal trade was concentrated in large ports
such as Canton, Hangzhou, and Chuanzhou (Marco Polo's Zayton),
where large foreign trading communities developed. Koreans
dominated the trade with the eastern islands, while Persians
and Arabs controlled commerce across the western seas. Along
with commercial expansion came the urbanization, or increasing
importance of cities, in Sung society. Hangzhou, the Southern
Song capital, had a population of more than 2 million. Commercialization
and urbanization had a number of effects on Chinese society.
People in the countryside faced the problems of absentee landlordism.
Although many city residents enjoyed luxury, with a great
variety of goods and services, poverty was widespread.
A change associated with urbanization was the decline in the
status of women of the upper classes. With the concentration
of the upper classes in the cities, where the work of women
became less essential, women were treated as servants and
playthings. This was reflected in the practices of concubinage
and of binding girls' feet to make them smaller. Neither practice
was banned until the 20th century.
11. The Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty (1279-1368)
The Mongols were the first of the northern barbarians to rule
all of China. After creating an empire that stretched across
the Eurasian continent and occupying northern China and Korea
in the first half of the 13th century, the Mongols continued
their assault on the Southern Sung. By 1276 the Southern Sung
capital of Hangzhou had fallen, and in 1279 the last of the
Sung loyalists perished.
Before this, Kublai Khan, the fifth "great khan"
and grandson of Genghis Khan, had moved the Mongol capital
from Karakorum to Peking. In 1271 he declared himself emperor
of China and named the dynasty Yuan, meaning "beginning,"
to signify that this was the beginning of a long era of Mongol
In Asia, Kublai Khan continued his grandfather's dream of
world conquest. Two unsuccessful naval expeditions were launched
against Japan in 1274 and 1281. Four land expeditions were
sent against Annam and five against Burma. However, the Mongol
conquests overseas and in Southeast Asia were neither spectacular
nor were they long enduring.
Mongol rule in China lasted less than a century. The Mongols
became the most hated of the barbarian rulers because they
did not allow the Chinese ruling class to govern. Instead,
they gave the task of governing to foreigners. Distrusting
the Chinese, the Mongol rulers placed the southern Chinese
at the lowest level of the four classes they created. The
extent of this distrust was reflected in their provincial
administration. As conquerors, they followed the Qin example
and made the provincial governments into direct extensions
of the central chancellery. This practice was continued by
succeeding dynasties, resulting in a further concentration
of power in the central imperial government.
The Chinese despised the Mongols for refusing to adapt to
Chinese culture. The Mongols kept their own language and customs.
The Mongol rulers were tolerant about religions, however.
Kublai Khan reportedly dabbled in many religions.
The Mongols and the West
The Mongols were regarded with mixed feelings in the West.
Although Westerners dreaded the Mongols, the Crusaders hoped
to use them in their fight against the Muslims and attempted
to negotiate an alliance with them for this purpose. Friar
John of Carpini and William of Rubruck were two of the better
known Christian missionaries sent to establish these negotiations
with the Mongol ruler.
The best account of the Mongols was left by a Venetian merchant,
Marco Polo, in his `Marco Polo's Travels'. It is an account
of Polo's travels over the long and perilous land route to
China, his experience as a trusted official of Kublai Khan,
and his description of China under the Mongols. Dictated in
the early 14th century, the book was translated into many
languages. Although much of medieval Europe did not believe
Polo's tales, some, like Christopher Columbus, were influenced
by Polo's description of the riches of the Orient.
After the death of Kublai Khan in 1294, successive weak and
incompetent khans made the already hated Mongol rule intolerable.
Secret societies became increasingly active, and a movement
known as the Red Turbans spread throughout the north during
the 1350s. In 1356 a rebel leader named Chu Yuan-chang and
his peasant army captured the old capital of Nanjing. Within
a decade he had won control of the economically important
middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, driving the
Mongols to the north. In 1368 he declared himself the emperor
Hung-wu and established his capital at Nanjing on the lower
Yangtze. Later the same year he captured the Yuan capital
Kublai Khan (1215-94)
The founder of China's Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty was a brilliant
general and statesman named Kublai Khan. He was the grandson
of the great Mongol conqueror, Genghis Khan, and he was overlord
of the vast Mongol Empire. The achievements of Kublai Khan
were first brought to the attention of Western society in
the writings of Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler who lived
at the Chinese court for nearly 20 years.
Kublai Khan was born in 1215, the fourth son of Genghis Khan's
fourth son. He began to play a major role in the consolidation
of Mongol power in 1251, when his brother, the emperor Mongke,
resolved to complete the conquest of China. He therefore vested
Kublai with responsibility for keeping order in conquered
territory. After Mongke's death in 1259, Kublai had himself
proclaimed khan. During the next 20 years he completed the
unification of China. He made his capital in what is now Beijing.
Kublai's major achievement was to reconcile China to rule
by a foreign people, the Mongols, who had shown little ability
at governing. His failures were a series of costly wars, including
two disastrous attempts to invade Japan; they brought little
benefit to China. Although he was a magnanimous ruler, Kublai's
extravagant administration slowly impoverished China; and
in the 14th century the ineptitude of his successors provoked
rebellions that eventually destroyed the Mongol dynasty. (See
Genghis Khan; Mongol Empire)
Marco Polo (1254-1323)
In 1298 a Venetian adventurer named Marco Polo wrote a fascinating
book about his travels in the Far East. Men read his accounts
of Oriental riches and became eager to find sea routes to
China, Japan, and the East Indies. Even Columbus, nearly 200
years later, often consulted his copy of `The Book of Ser
In Marco's day the book was translated and copied by hand
in several languages. After printing was introduced in the
1440s, the book was circulated even more widely. Many people
thought that the book was a fable or a gross exaggeration.
A few learned men believed that Marco wrote truly, however,
and they spread Marco's stories of faraway places and unknown
peoples. Today geographers agree that Marco's book is amazingly
Marco Polo was born in the city-republic of Venice in 1254.
His father and uncles were merchants who traveled to distant
lands to trade. In 1269 Marco's father, Nicolo, and his uncle
Maffeo returned to Venice after being away many years. On
a trading expedition they had traveled overland as far as
Cathay (China). Kublai Khan, the great Mongol emperor of China,
asked them to return with teachers and missionaries for his
people. So they set out again in 1271, and this time they
From Venice the Polos sailed to Acre, in Palestine. There
two monks, missionaries to China, joined them. Fearing the
hard journey ahead, however, the monks soon turned back. The
Polos crossed the deserts of Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan.
They mounted the heights of the Pamirs, the "roof of
the world," descending to the trading cities of Kashgar
(Shufu) and Yarkand (Soche). They crossed the dry stretches
of The Gobi. Early in 1275 they arrived at Kublai Khan's court
at Cambaluc (Peking). At that time Marco was 21 years old.
Marco Polo at the Court of the
Marco quickly became a favorite of Kublai Khan. For three
years he governed busy Yangchow, a city of more than 250,000
people. He was sent on missions to far places in the empire:to
Indochina, Tibet, Yunnan, and Burma. From these lands Marco
brought back stories of the people and their lives.
The Polos became wealthy in Cathay. But they began to fear
that jealous men in the court would destroy them when the
khan died. They asked to return to Venice. Kublai Khan refused.
Then came an envoy from the khan of Persia. He asked Kublai
Khan for a young Mongol princess for a bride. The Polos said
that the princess' journey should be guarded by men of experience
and rank. They added that the mission would enable them to
make the long-desired visit to Venice. The khan reluctantly
Since there was danger from robbers and enemies of the khan
along the overland trade routes, a great fleet of ships was
built for a journey by sea. In 1292 the fleet sailed, bearing
the Polos, the princess, and 600 noblemen of Cathay. They
traveled southward along Indochina and the Malay Peninsula
to Sumatra. Here the voyage was delayed many months.
The ships then turned westward and visited Ceylon and India.
They touched the East African coast. The voyage was hazardous,
and of the 600 noblemen only 18 lived to reach Persia. The
Polos and the princess were safe. When the Polos landed in
Venice, they had been gone 24 years. The precious stones they
brought from Cathay amazed all Venice.
Later Marco served as gentleman-captain of a ship. It was
captured by forces of the rival trading city of Genoa, and
he was thrown into a Genoese prison. There he wrote his book
with help from another prisoner. Marco was released by the
Genoese in 1299. He returned to Venice and engaged in trade.
His name appears in the court records of his time in many
lawsuits over property and money. He married and had three
daughters. He died about 1323.
12. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Having restored Chinese rule to China, the first Ming emperor
tried to model his rule after that of the Han, but the Ming
fell far short of the Han's accomplishments. The land under
Ming domination was less than under either the Han or the
Tang. The Ming dominion changed little after the first two
decades. It was confined mostly to what is known as China
proper, south of the Great Wall and east of Xinjiang and Tibet.
In culture, as well, the Ming lacked the Han's creativity
and brilliance. Coming after almost a century of foreign domination,
the Ming was a period of restoration and reorganization rather
than a time of new discovery. In a sense, the Ming followed
a typical dynastic cycle: initial rehabilitation of the economy
and restoration of efficient government, followed by a time
of stability and then a gradual decline and fall.
The emperor Hung-wu modeled his government on the Tang system,
restoring the doctrine and practices of Confucianism and continuing
the trend toward concentration of power in the imperial government,
especially in the hands of the emperor himself. He tried to
conduct state affairs singlehandedly, but the work load proved
overwhelming. To assist him, he gathered around him several
loyal middle-level officials, thus creating an extra-governmental
organization, the Grand Secretariat. The central bureaucracy
was restored and filled by officials selected by the examination
system. That system was further formalized by the introduction
of a special essay style called the eight-legged essay, to
be used in writing the examination. In addition, the subject
matter of the examinations was restricted to the Five Classics,
said to have been compiled, edited, or written by Confucius,
and the Four Books, published by Chu Hsi.
In the field of provincial government, the emperor Hung-wu
continued the Yuan practice of limiting the power of provincial
governors and subjecting them directly to the central government.
The empire was divided into 15 provinces. The first capital
at Nanjing was in the economic heartland of China, but in
1421 the emperor Yung-Lo, who took the throne after a civil
w ar, moved the capital to Peking, where he began a massive
construction project. The imperial palace, which is also known
as the Forbidden City, was built at this time.
The Ming produced two unique contributions: the maritime expeditions
of the early 15th century and the philosophy of Wang Yang-ming.
Between 1405 and 1433, seven major maritime expeditions were
launched under the leadership of a Muslim eunuch, Cheng Ho.
Each expedition was provided with several seagoing vessels,
which were 400 feet (122 meters) high, weighed 700 tons (635
metric tons), had multiple decks and 50 or 60 cabins, and
carried several hundred people. During these expeditions,
the Chinese sailed the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the
Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf. They traveled as far west as
eastern Africa and as far south as Java and Sumatra. But these
missions ended just as suddenly as they had begun.
In philosophy, Wang Yang-ming developed a system of thought
that ran counter to the orthodox teaching of Chu Hsi. While
Chu Hsi believed in learning based on reason and the "investigation
of things," Wang Yang-ming believed in the "learning
of the mind," an intuitive process.
During the second half of the Ming Dynasty, European expansion
began. Early in the 16th century Portuguese traders arrived
and leased the island of Macao as their trading post. In 1582
Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary, arrived in Macao.
Because of his knowledge of science, mathematics, and astronomy
and his willingness to learn the Chinese language and adapt
to Chinese life, he was accepted by the Chinese and became
the first foreigner allowed to live in Peking permanently.
Jesuits followed him and served the Ming emperors as mapmakers,
calendar reformers, and astronomers.
Unlike earlier brief contacts with the West or the later Western
incursions into China, the 16th-century Sino-Western relationship
was culturally oriented and mutually respectful. Both the
Chinese and the Jesuits tried to find common ground in their
thoughts. The Jesuits' activities produced 300,000 converts
in 200 years, not a great number among a population of more
than 100 million. Among them, however, were noted scholars
such as Hsu Kuang-ch'i and Li Chih-tsao, who translated many
of the works that Jesuits brought to China. The Jesuits wrote
over 300 Chinese works.
In the last century of its existence, the Ming Dynasty faced
numerous internal and external problems. The internal problem
was tied to official corruption and taxation. Because the
Ming bureaucracy was relatively small, tax collection was
entrusted to locally powerful people who evaded paying taxes
by passing the burden on to the poor. A succession of weak
and inattentive emperors encouraged the spread of corruption
and the greed of eunuchs. In the 1620s a struggle between
the inner group of eunuchs and the outer circle of scholar-officials
led to the execution of about 700 scholars.
Externally, the security of the Ming empire was threatened from
all directions. The Mongols returned and seized Peking in 1550,
and their control of Turkestan and Tibet was recognized by the
Ming in a peace treaty of 1570. Pirates preyed on the east coast,
and Japanese pirates penetrated as far inland as Hangzhou and
Nanjing. In the 1590s the Ming had to send expeditionary forces
to rescue Korea from invading Japanese soldiers under Toyotomi
Hideyoshi. The Ming drove back the Japanese forces, but not
without depleting the treasury and weakening their defensive
network against neighboring Manchuria to the northeast.
In Manchuria the Manchus (Pinyin: Manzu) had organized a Chinese-style
state and strengthened their forces under a unique form of military
organization called the banner system. However, it was not the
Manchus who overthrew the Ming but a Chinese rebel, Li Tzu-cheng,
who became a leader among the bandits who had become desperate
because of a famine in the northwest in 1628. By 1642 Li had
become master of north China and in 1644 he captured Peking.
There he found that the last Ming emperor had hanged himself,
ending the "Brilliant" dynasty. Li, however, was not
destined to rule. The rule was to pass once again into the hands
of a people from beyond the Great Wall, the Manchus. They were
invited into China by the Ming general Wu San-kuei to eliminate
the rebels. After driving the rebels from the capital, the Manchus
stayed and established a new dynasty, the Qing.
13. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Like the Mongols in the 13th century, the Manchus (formerly
the Juchen) were barbarians who succeeded in ruling the whole
of China, but, unlike the 13th-century conquerers, the sinicized
Manchus made their rule more acceptable to the Chinese. As
a result, Qing rule lasted 267 years, compared with 89 years
for the Yuan.
The Pax Sinica 1683-1795
The Manchus took Peking with relative ease in 1644, but they
did not gain control of the whole of China until 1683. Thereafter,
the Manchus enjoyed more than a century of peace and prosperity,
a period that came to be called Pax Sinica (Peace in China).
By the end of that period the dynasty had reached the height
of its power.
Two strong emperors who were considered models of all Confucian
ideals ruled for much of this period: the emperors K'ang-hsi
(1661-1722) and Ch'ien-lung (1735-96). By recruiting the well-educated
in government and promoting Confucian scholarship, these two
Manchu rulers firmly established themselves as Confucian rulers
in China. Outside China, both were successful conquerers.
All of the Ch'ing empire's vast territories, including Mongolia
in the north, Xinjiang in the northwest, and Tibet in the
southwest, were incorporated into the expanding Chinese Empire
during this period.
The Qing adopted the Ming system of government with two exceptions:
the insertion of Manchu power at the head of the Chinese state,
and the creation of the Grand Council in the emperor Yung-cheng's
reign. The Grand Council superseded the Grand Secretariat
and became the most powerful body in the government. In provincial
government, the Qing created 18 provinces from the 15 Ming
provinces. A governor, usually Chinese, headed each province,
and a governor-general, usually a Manchu before the 19th century,
headed every two provinces. Local landlords and administrators
were generally left alone if they submitted to the new rule.
The K'ang-hsi era marked the height of Jesuit success in China,
with more than 200,000 converts. Thereafter, Jesuit influence
waned rapidly because of the rivalry between the Jesuits and
other Catholic missionaries and the so-called Rites Controversy,
which concerned the Jesuits' willingness to tolerate the converts'
performance of ceremonies honoring Confucius. The pope denounced
the Jesuit view and prohibited the ceremonies.
The long period of peace and prosperity had some adverse effects
on Chinese society. There was a shortage of land, resulting
from an increase in the population from 100 million to 300
million at the end of the 18th century. Decadence and corruption
spread in the imperial court. There was a decline of the Manchu
military spirit, and the Qing military organization deteriorated.
The long and illustrious reign of the emperor Ch'ien-lung
was marred by the first of many serious rebellions in the
Qing era, the White Lotus Rebellion from 1796 to 1804. It
was not put down for ten years, and China entered the 19th
century rocked by revolt. More devastating were the incursions
of Western powers, which shook the foundation of the empire.
19th Century Invasions and rebellions.
The first of many Sino-Western conflicts in the 19th century
was the first Opium War, fought from 1839 to 1842. It was
more than a dispute over the opium trade in China; it was
a contest between China as the representative of ancient Eastern
civilization and Britain as the forerunner of the modern West.
Free trade advocates in the West had protested against the
restrictive trading system in force at Canton. They demanded
free trade in China, the opening of more ports to Westerners,
and the establishment of treaty relations. The Treaty of Nanjing,
which ended the first Opium War, opened five ports to the
British--the first of the "treaty ports" where Western
nations were granted various privileges. A second Opium War,
also known as the Arrow War, fought from 1856 to 1860, pitted
China against Great Britain and France.
The Opium Wars disrupted the old life and economy of southern
China. A number of peasant revolts occurred in the 1840s,
coming to a head in the Taiping Rebellion, the biggest rebellion
in Chinese history. The leader of the Taipings was Hung Hsiu-ch'uan,
from a village near Canton. Believing that God had chosen
him to save the world, he adopted a confused version of Christianity
as his guiding doctrine and set out to overthrow the Manchus
and change society. The combination of religious fervor and
anti-Manchu sentiment attracted a following that rose to over
30,000 within a short time. In 1852 the T'ai-p'ing T'ienkuo
(Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace) was proclaimed. In 1853
the rebels took the city of Nanjing and made it their capital.
Other revolts erupted at about the same time: the Nien Rebellion
in the northeast and Muslim rebellions in the southwest and
the northwest. Fearing a linkup among the rebels that would
engulf all of China, the Qing government created regional
armies manned entirely by Chinese and commanded by Chinese
of the scholar-gentry class. The commanders of the new forces,
all loyal supporters of the dynasty--Tseng Kuo-fan, Tso Tsung-t'ang,
and Li Hung-chang--suppressed the rebels with the help of
Western weapons and leadership. They annihilated the Taipings
in 1864, the Niens by 1868, and the Muslims by 1873.
The internal rebellions were suppressed, but external threats
continued. After a brief period of "cooperation"
in the 1860s, foreign powers renewed their assault on China,
reacting to widespread antiforeign violence. Again, China
became embroiled in a series of conflicts: the Tianjin Massacre
with France in 1870, the Ili crisis with Russia in 1879, the
Sino-French War from 1884 to 1885, and the Sino-Japanese War
from 1894 to 1895. Each brought further humiliation and greater
impairment of sovereignty. In the last two incidents territory
was lost, and an indemnity had to be paid to the victor in
the Sino-Japanese War.
China in the 19th century was beset by internal turmoil. It
was easy prey to more powerful nations that wanted to exploit
every advantage to profit from trade. Chief among these advantages
was the opium trade. Official Chinese resistance to opium
resulted in two trade wars in which Great Britain, France,
the United States, and Russia gained significant commercial
privileges. These conflicts were the first Opium War from
1839 to 1842 between China and Britain and the second Opium
War (1856-60) fought by China against Britain and France.
Opium had been introduced into China in the 7th century. By
the early 18th century opium addiction had become such a severe
problem that the government tried to prohibit trade in it.
The prohibition was a failure. When the British discovered
the value of the opium trade in 1773, they determined to benefit.
The Chinese paid the British for the opium, and the British
in turn used the money as part payment for goods bought from
In 1839 the Chinese government made a concerted effort to
suppress the opium trade. All the opium warehouses in Canton
were confiscated. This serious effort, followed by a minor
military incident, led to hostilities. In February 1840 the
British sent an expedition against Canton.
The conflict, in which the more powerful British were victorious,
was ended by the Treaty of Nanjing, which was signed on Aug.
29, 1842, and a supplemental treaty of Oct. 8, 1843. These
treaties provided for payment of an indemnity of 21 million
dollars by the Chinese, cession of five ports for British
trade and residence, and the right of British citizens in
China to be tried in British courts. It was at this time that
Britain gained control of Hong Kong.
In October 1856 the Canton police boarded a British-registered
ship, the Arrow, and charged its crew with smuggling. This
incident led to the second war. In this war the British were
joined by the French, and an Anglo-French force occupied Canton
late in 1857. The Treaty of Tianjin in 1858 temporarily halted
the fighting, opened new trading ports, allowed residence
in Peking for foreign emissaries, gave freedom of movement
to Christian missionaries, and permitted travel in the interior.
The Chinese refusal to ratify the treaty led to an Anglo-French
attack on Peking and the burning of the Summer Palace. In
1860 the Chinese signed the Convention of Peking by which
they promised to observe the 1858 treaty.
In terms of casualties, it was one of the worst civil wars
in history. More than 20 million--possibly more than 30 million--died,
and 17 provinces were ravaged by the Taiping Rebellion. This
was the most serious of several internal disturbances that
took place in China between 1850 and 1873 and that seriously
weakened the Qing Dynasty and helped prepare the way for the
revolutions of the 20th century.
The leader of the rebellion was Hung Hsiu-ch'uan, an unsuccessful
civil-service candidate who came under the influence of fundamentalist
Christianity. Thinking of himself as a son of God sent to
reform China, he helped found the Association of God Worshipers
in about 1846. Preaching that all property should be held
by the people, he attracted many followers in Guangxi Province.
By January 1851, when the rebellion began, Hung's ranks had
swelled from several thousand ragged peasants to more than
1 million disciplined and eager soldiers. They took the city
of Nanjing in March 1853 and made it their capital. For several
years the rebel armies dominated the Yangtze River valley.
They failed, however, to take Shanghai, where the defenders
were commanded by an American named Frederick Townsend Ward
and the British general known as Chinese Gordon . By 1862
the movement was losing steam, weakened by internal strife
and defections. Nanjing fell in July 1864 to the army of Gen.
Tseng Kuo-fan, and Hung committed suicide. Sporadic resistance
continued for four more years.
Late 19th Century Revolutionary
ideas and organizations
The reforms that were sponsored by the imperial government were
too little and too late. A drastic change was necessary. The
idea of overthrowing the Manchus was suggested by Liang Ch'i-ch'ao
in hisconcept of hsin min (new people). Publishing a magazine
in Japan, where he had fled after the Hundred Days, Liang called
for the Chinese people to renew themselves and also indicated
that the Chinese nation was distinct and separate from the ruling
dynasty of the Manchus. Although he did not advocate overthrowing
the dynasty, the message was quickly picked up by the more radical
leaders who were already leaning toward revolution.
One such leader was Sun Yat-sen, who is now revered as the father
of modern China by Nationalists and Communists alike. Born into
a peasant family near Canton, the traditional stronghold of
anti-Manchu rebels, Sun followed a traditional Chinese path
during his early years. He was educated in Hawaii, converted
to Christianity, and had a short-lived medical career before
switching to politics and attempting to propose a reform program
to Li Hung-chang in 1894. After forming a secret revolutionary
society and plotting an unsuccessful uprising in Canton in 1894,
Sun began a long period of exile outside China. He gained wide
recognition as a revolutionary leader in 1896, when his arrest
in the Chinese legation in London and subsequent rescue were
reported sensationally in newspaper articles.
In 1905, in Japan, he brought together several revolutionary
groups and formed the Revolutionary Alliance Society. Its
program consisted of the now famous Three People's Principles:
nationalism, freeing all China from foreign control; democracy,
overthrowing the Manchus and introducing a democratic political
system; and people's livelihood. Although Sun himself could
not live in China, members of the alliance infiltrated many
social organizations there. The revolutionary spirit that
had been developed by Sun became especially high among students'
and soldiers' groups.
The Empress Dowager
TZ'U-HSI (1835-1908). Known in the West as the empress dowager,
Tz'u-hsi dominated the political life of China for nearly
50 years. As ruler acting for child emperors, she and her
cohorts brought a measure of stability to their nation. But,
under her, the government was dishonest and did not make changes
that were needed to benefit the people. This eventually led
to the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty, which ruled from 1644 to
1911, and a revolution.
Tz'u-hsi was born in Peking on Nov. 29, 1835. She became a
consort of the emperor Hsien-feng (ruled 1850-61) and mother
of the emperor T'ung-chih. When T'ung-chih became emperor
in 1861, he was only 6. She and another consort became co-regents
along with a brother of the former emperor. Under this three-way
rule the Taiping Rebellion was ended. Other disturbances were
put down, and some modernization was brought to China.
Tz'u-hsi gradually increased her power within the ruling coalition,
and even when the emperor matured she continued to control
the government. After the young emperor's untimely death,
she saw to it that her 3-year-old nephew was named as heir,
though this violated succession law. Thus the two Dowagers
continued acting as regents. The other dowager died--presumably
murdered--in 1881, and Tz'u-hsi ruled alone. From 1889 to
1898 she lived in apparent retirement in the summer palace.
The new emperor's attempts at reform after losing the Sino-Japanese
War (1894-95), however, brought her back into action--determined
to stave off any changes. In 1899 she backed the officials
promoting the Boxer Rebellion. After China's defeat at the
hand of foreign troops, she fled the capital and accepted
humiliating peace terms. She returned in 1902 and belatedly
tried to install the reforms she had once opposed. Before
her death, on Nov. 15, 1908, she had the emperor poisoned.
His successor was a 2-year old who was forced from the throne
four years later.
In the summer of 1900 members of a secret society roamed northeastern
China in bands, killing Europeans and Americans and destroying
buildings owned by foreigners. They called themselves I-ho
ch'uan, or "Righteous and Harmonious Fists." They
practiced boxing skills that they believed made them impervious
to bullets. To Westerners they became known as the Boxers,
and their uprising was called the Boxer Rebellion.
Most Boxers were peasants or urban thugs from northern China
who resented the growing influence of Westerners in their
land. They organized themselves in 1898, and in the same year
the Chinese government--then ruled by the Qing Dynasty--secretly
allied with the Boxers to oppose such outsiders as Christian
missionaries and European businessmen. The Boxers failed to
drive foreigners out of China, but they set the stage for
the successful Chinese revolutionary movement of the early
Foreigners had entered China during an era of imperialism.
In the late 1800s Great Britain and other European nations,
the United States, Russia, and Japan scrambled for spheres
of influence there. In some cases they seized Chinese territories,
but usually they only sought the riches of trade and commercial
enterprise. At the same time, Roman Catholic and Protestant
missionaries tried to convert the Chinese to Christianity.
These outsiders were resented and feared by the Chinese, who
saw Western religion and business practices as a threat to
their traditional ways.
By May of 1900, Boxers were wandering the countryside and
attacking Western missionaries and Chinese converts to Christianity.
In June an expeditionary force, made up of Russian, British,
German, French, American, and Japanese troops, was organized
to proceed to Peking (now Beijing), put down the rebellion,
and protect Western nationals.
The Chinese dowager empress Tz'u-hsi, the aunt of Emperor
Kuang-hsu, ordered her troops to block the advance of this
expedition. The foreigners were turned back. Meanwhile, Boxers
were rampaging in Peking, burning down churches and the houses
of Westerners, and killing Chinese Christians. Foreign troops
then seized Chinese coastal forts to insure access to Peking.
Enraged, the dowager empress ordered the death of all foreigners
in China. The German minister to China was assassinated, and
Boxer rebels began an eight-week attack on the walled foreign
compound in Peking. (See Tz'u-hsi)
In response, the allied foreign governments sent some 19,000
soldiers to Peking, capturing the city on Aug. 14, 1900. The
invaders looted the city and routed the Boxers, while the
empress and her court fled to the north. By the time the rebellion
ended, at least 250 foreigners had been killed. It took a
year for the parties to the conflict to agree on a settlement,
which was entitled the Peace of Peking. This protocol, which
was signed in September 1901, was dictated by the Western
powers and Japan in such a way as to humiliate China. Heavy
fines were levied against the Chinese government, and existing
commercial treaties were amended in favor of the Western powers.
The foreign coastal defenses were dismantled.
The failure of the Boxer Rebellion to eject the West and the
humiliation of the Chinese by the terms of the Peace of Peking
generated more support for nationalist revolutionaries. In
1911 the Qing Dynasty collapsed. Revolutionaries led by Dr.
Sun Yat-sen then took over the Chinese government, ending
more than 2,000 years of monarchy.
14. The Republic of China (1912-1949)
The Revolution of 1911
In the industrial city of Wuhan, a soldiers' group with only
a loose connection to Sun's alliance rose in rebellion in
the early morning of Oct. 10, 1911 (since celebrated as Double
Ten, the tenth day of the tenth month). The Manchu governor
and his commander fled, and a Chinese commander, Li Yuan-hung,
was pressured into taking over the leadership. By early December
all of the central, southern, and northwestern provinces had
declared independence. Sun Yat-sen, who was in the United
States during the revolution, returned and was chosen head
of the provisional government of the Republic of China in
The Manchu court quickly summoned Yuan Shih-kai, the former
commander of the reformed Northern Army. Personally ambitious
and politically shrewd, Yuan carried out negotiations with
both the Manchu court and the revolutionaries. Yuan was able
to persuade the Manchus to abdicate peacefully in return for
the safety of the imperial family. On Feb. 12, 1912, the regent
of the 6-year-old emperor formally announced the abdication.
The Manchu rule in China ended after 267 years, and with it
the 2,000-year-old imperial system.
Early in March 1912, Sun Yat-sen resigned from the presidency
and, as promised, Yuan Shih-kai was elected his successor
at Nanjing. Inaugurated in March 1912 in Beijing, the base
of his power, Yuan established a republican system of government
with a premier, a cabinet, a draft constitution, and a plan
for parliamentary elections early in 1913. The Kuomintang
(KMT, National People's party), the successor to Sun Yat-sen's
organization, was formed in order to prepare for the election.
Despite his earlier pledges to support the republic, Yuan
schemed to assassinate his opponents and weaken the constitution
and the parliament. By the end of 1914 he had made himself
president for life and even planned to establish an imperial
dynasty with himself as the first emperor. His dream was thwarted
by the serious crisis of the Twenty-one Demands for special
privileges presented by the Japanese in January 1915 and by
vociferous opposition from many sectors of Chinese society.
He died in June 1916 a broken man. After Yuan's death, a number
of his protégés took positions of power in the
Beijing government or ruled as warlords in outlying regions.
In August 1917 the Beijing government joined the Allies and
declared war on Germany. At the peace conference in Versailles,
France, the Chinese demand to end foreign concessions in China
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925)
Known as the father of modern China, Sun Yat-sen worked to
achieve his lofty goals for modern China. These included the
overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty, the unification of China,
and the establishment of a republic.
Sun Yat-sen was born on Nov. 12, 1866, in Guangdong Province
and attended several schools, including one in Honolulu, Hawaii,
before transferring to a college of medicine in Hong Kong.
Graduating in 1892, Sun almost immediately abandoned medicine
for politics. His role in an unsuccessful uprising in Canton
in 1895 prompted Sun to begin an exile that lasted for 16
years. Sun used this time to travel widely in Japan, Europe,
and the United States, enlisting sympathy and raising money
for his republican cause. Sun returned to China in 1911 after
a successful rebellion in Wuhan inspired uprisings in other
provinces. As leader of the Kuomintang, or Nationalist party,
Sun was elected provisional president of the newly declared
republic but was forced to resign in 1912.
In 1913 his disagreements with government policies led Sun
to organize a second revolution. Failing to regain power,
Sun left once again for Japan, where he organized a separate
government. Sun returned to China and attempted to set up
a new government in 1917 and 1921 before successfully installing
himself as generalissimo of a new regime in 1923.
Sun increasingly relied on aid from the Soviet Union, and
in 1924 he reorganized the Kuomintang on the model of the
Soviet Communist party. Sun also founded the Whampoa Military
Academy and appointed Chiang Kai-shek as its president. Sun
summarized his policies in the Three Principles of the People--nationalism,
democracy, and socialism. He died of cancer in Peking on March
12, 1925. Sun's tomb in Nanking is now a national shrine.
The May Fourth Movement
After World War I The Chinese felt betrayed. Anger and frustration
erupted in demonstrations on May 4, 1919, in Beijing. Joined
by workers and merchants, the movement spread to major cities.
The Chinese representative at Versailles refused to endorse
the peace treaty, but its provisions remained unchanged. Disillusioned
with the West, many Chinese looked elsewhere for help.
The May Fourth Movement, which grew out of the student uprising,
attacked Confucianism, initiated a vernacular style of writing,
and promoted science. Scholars of international stature, such
as John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, were invited to lecture.
Numerous magazines were published to stimulate new thoughts.
Toward the end of the movement's existence, a split occurred
among its leaders. Some, like Ch'en Tu-hsiu and Li Ta-chao,
were beginning to be influenced by the success of the Russian
Revolution of 1917, which contrasted sharply with the failure
of the 1911 Revolution in China to change the social order
and improve conditions. By 1920, people associated with the
Comintern (Communist International) were disseminating literature
in China and helping to start Communist groups, including
one led by Mao Zedong. A meeting at Shanghai in 1921 was actually
the first party congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP).
The CCP was so small that the Soviet Union looked elsewhere
for a viable political ally. A Comintern agent, Adolph Joffe,
was sent to China to approach Sun Yat-sen, who had failed
to obtain assistance from Great Britain or the United States.
The period of Sino-Soviet collaboration began with the Sun-Joffe
Declaration of Jan. 26, 1923. The KMT was recognized by the
Soviet Union, and the Communists were admitted as members.
With Soviet aid, the KMT army was built up. A young officer,
Chiang Kai-shek, was sent to Moscow for training. Upon returning,
he was put in charge of the Whampoa Military Academy, established
to train soldiers to fight the warlords, who controlled much
of China S(See Chiang Kai-shek). Zhou Enlai (also Chou En-lai)
of the CCP was deputy director of the academy's political
Sun Yat-sen, whose power base was in the south, had planned
to send an expedition against the northern warlords, but he
died before it could get under way. Chiang Kai-shek, who succeeded
him in the KMT leadership, began the northern expedition in
July 1926. The Nationalist army met little resistance and
by April 1927 had reached the lower Yangtze. Meanwhile, Chiang,
claiming to be a sincere follower of Sun Yat-sen, had broken
with the left-wing elements of the KMT. After the Nationalist
forces had taken Shanghai, a Communist-led general strike
was suppressed with bloodshed. Following suppressions in other
cities, Chiang set up his own government at Nanjing on April
18, 1927. He professed friendship with the Soviet Union, but
by July 1927 he was expelling Communists from the KMT. Some
left-wingers left for the Soviet Union.
The northern expedition was resumed, and in 1928 Chiang took
Peking. China was formally unified. Nationalist China was
recognized by the Western powers and supported by loans from
The Nationalist Era (1928-1937)
16. Post-Mao China
The Nationalist period began with high hopes and much promise.
More could have been accomplished had it not been for the
problems of Comintern corruption and Japanese aggression.
In his efforts to combat them both, Chiang neglected the land
reform needed to improve the lives of the peasants. Driven
from the cities, the Communists concentrated on organizing
the peasants in the countryside. On Nov. 1, 1931, they proclaimed
the establishment of the Chinese Soviet Republic in the southeastern
province of Jiangxi, with Mao Zedong as chairman. Here the
first units of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army
were formed. While conducting guerrilla warfare in these regions,
the soldiers carried out an agrarian revolution that was based
on Mao's premise that the best way to win the conflict was
to isolate the cities by gaining control of the countryside
and the food supply.
A military man by temperament and training, Chiang sought
to eliminate the Communists by force. He defined his anti-Communist
drive as "internal pacification before resistance to
external attack," and he gave it more importance than
opposition to the increasingly aggressive Japanese. With arms
and military advisers from Nazi Germany, Chiang carried out
a series of "extermination campaigns" that killed
about a million people between 1930 to 1934. Chiang's fifth
campaign, involving over half a million troops, almost annihilated
the Communists. Faced with the dilemma of being totally destroyed
in Jiangxi or attempting an almost impossible escape, the
Communists decided to risk the escape. On Oct. 15, 1934, they
broke through the tight KMT siege. Over 100,000 men and women
set out on the Long March of about 6,000 miles (9,600 kilometers)
through China's most rugged terrain to find a new base in
In the meantime, the Japanese had made steady inroads into
China. The Mukden Incident of 1931, through which Mukden was
occupied by the Japanese, was initiated by Japanese officers
stationed along the South Manchurian Railway. This was followed
by the occupation of Manchuria and the creation of the puppet
state of Manchukuo in 1932. By the mid-1930s the Japanese
had seized Inner Mongolia and parts of northeastern China
and had created the North China Autonomous Region with no
resistance from the Nationalists. Anti-Japanese sentiment
mounted in China, but Chiang ignored it and in 1936 launched
yet another extermination campaign against the Communists
in Shaanxi. Chiang was forced to give up the anti-Communist
drive when his troops mutinied and arrested him as he arrived
in Xian in December 1936 to plan strategy. He was released
after he agreed to form a united front with the CCP against
the Japanese, who were making steady inroads into China.
In China, World War II broke out on July 7, 1937, with a seemingly
insignificant little battle between Chinese and Japanese troops
near Peking, called the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. Within
a few days, the Japanese had occupied Peking, and the fighting
spread rapidly. The war in China fell into three stages. The
first (1937-1939) was characterized by the phenomenally rapid
Japanese occupation of most of China's east coast, including
such major cities as Shanghai, Nanjing, and Canton. The Nationalist
government moved to the interior, ultimately to Chongqing
in Sichuan, and the Japanese established puppet governments
in Peking in 1937 and in Nanjing in 1940. The second stage
(1939-1943) was a period of waiting, as Chiang blockaded the
Communists in the northwest (despite the united front) and
waited for help from the United States, which had declared
war on Japan in 1941.
In the final stage (1944-1945), the United States provided
massive assistance to Nationalist China, but the Chongqing
government, weakened by inflation, impoverishment of the middle
class, and low troop morale was unable to take full advantage
of it. Feuds among the KMT generals and between Chiang and
his United States military adviser, General Joseph Stilwell,
further hampered the KMT.
When Japanese defeat became a certainty in the spring of 1945,
the Communists seemed in a better position to take over from
the Japanese garrisons than the KMT, which was far away in
the rear of the formation. A United States airlift of KMT
troops enabled them to occupy many cities, but the countryside
stayed with the Communists.
After the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, the Allied
war effort moved to the east. The Soviet Union joined the
war against Japan at the end of July. On August 6 and 9 the
United States dropped the world's first atomic bombs on the
Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Aug. 14, 1945,
the Japanese surrendered. In China, however, civil war raged
over who should take charge of the Japanese arms and equipment.
At the end of August an agreement was reached in Chongqing
between a CCP delegation and the KMT, but the truce was brief.
In January 1946 a cease-fire was negotiated by United States
General George C. Marshall. The Nationalist government returned
to Nanjing, and China was recognized by the new United Nations
as one of the five great powers. The United States supplied
the Chiang government with an additional $2 billion ($1.5
billion had been spent for the war). Although the KMT's dominance
in weapons and supplies was enormous, it was kept under guard
in the cities, while the Communists held the surrounding countryside.
As inflation soared, both civilians and the military became
demoralized. The CCP, sensing the national mood, proposed
a coalition government. The KMT refused, and fighting erupted
The short and decisive civil war that followed was resolved
in two main places: Manchuria and the Huai River area. Despite
a massive airlift of KMT forces by the United States, Manchuria
was lost in October 1948 after 300,000 KMT forces surrendered
to the CCP. By the end of 1948 the KMT had lost over half
a million men, more than two thirds of whom had defected.
In April 1949 the Communists moved south of the Yangtze.
After the fall of Nanjing and Shanghai, KMT resistance evaporated.
By the autumn, the Communists had taken all mainland territories
except Tibet. Chiang Kai-shek and a number of his associates
fled to the island of Taiwan, where they set up what they
claimed was the rightful government of China.
15. The People's Republic of China
On Oct. 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of
the People's Republic of China. The CCP hailed its takeover
of China as a people's victory over and liberation from imperial
domination (especially that of the United States) and the
oppressive KMT regime. The Red Army was renamed the People's
One of the first tasks of the Communist government was land
reform, redistributing land from landlords to the peasants.
The Agrarian Law of 1950 began the nationwide land reform,
which was almost completed by the beginning of 1953.
Land reform erased the social distinction between landlord
and peasant. The new marriage law of 1950 and the campaigns
of the early 1950s removed distinctions within the family.
Women were given full equality with men in matters of marriage,
divorce, and property ownership.
Believing that the revolution could not be carried on without
reform of people, the CCP launched a massive campaign to change
China's entire psychology. The Four Olds campaign was launched
to eradicate old ideas, habits, customs, and culture. The
Three Anti's movement was directed at officials, with the
aim of eliminating corruption, waste, and "bureaucratism."
The Five Anti's campaign, directed at the remaining businessmen
and bourgeoisie, opposed bribery, tax fraud, cheating, and
stealing state property and economic information. For Chinese
Christians, The Three Selfs movement stressed self-government,
self-support, and self-propagation, the object being to separate
the churches in China from their parent denominations abroad.
The idea of cultural imperialism was extended to art and literature,
which henceforth were to serve the people, the class struggle,
and the revolution.
Along with the reforms of land tenure, society, family, and
even thought, the CCP announced the first five-year plan in
1953 to speed up the socialization of China through a planned
economy. The plan's aim was to produce maximum returns from
agriculture in order to pay for industrialization and Soviet
aid. The means chosen was the collectivization of agriculture.
Land and farm implements were pooled into cooperatives and
later into collective farms, which controlled the production,
price, and distribution of products. By May 1956, 90 percent
of the farmers were members of cooperatives.
Similarly, 80 percent of heavy industry and 40 percent of
light industry were in government hands by October 1952. The
government also controlled all the railways and most steamship
operations. To speed China's development even more, Mao Zedong,
Liu Shaoqi, and others, after overcoming some opposition within
the leadership, launched the Great Leap Forward in 1958.
Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward was designed to overcome the backwardness
of China's economy, industry, and technology. It was to be
achieved through use of the vast manpower and indomitable
spirit of the Chinese. Steel production was to be increased
by setting up small-scale "backyard furnaces," andagricultural
output was to be raised by combining the collective farms
into communes. About 26,000 communes were created by the Communist
government, each composed of approximately 5,000 households.
After a year, the leaders admitted that the success of the
program had been exaggerated. The steel produced by the backyard
furnaces was of low quality, and the quantity fell short of
the projected goal. The people's reluctance to join communes
was stronger than expected, and the size of the communes had
to be reduced. Domestic life in homes, as well as private
plots for family use, had to be restored. The effect of the
Great Leap Forward on the people and the economy was devastating.
Coupled with three straight years of poor harvests, it resulted
in a severe food shortage and industrial decline. For the
next several years, while lip service was paid to Mao's thought
and to Great Leap-type activism, the real power was in more
Photo to the right - circa 1958: During the "Great Leap
Forward" period local officials exaggerated the harvest
stating that peanuts grew so large that local farmers could
use them "as a boat to cross the Yellow River".
The Cultural Revolution
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was a radical movement
that closed schools, slowed production, and virtually severed
China's relations with the outside world. It was proletarian
because it was a revolution of the workers against party officials.
It was cultural because it meant to alter the values of society
in the Communist sense. It was great, because it was on a
mammoth scale. It lasted for two years in its intense form,
lingered on for another year and a half, and was not officially
declared over until 1977.
The Cultural Revolution had its roots in a power struggle
between Mao and his supporters, including his wife, Jiang
Qing, and Lin Biao--who believed that the initial fervor of
the revolution was being lost--and more conservative, bureaucratic
elements within the leadership. One point at issue was the
educational system, and particularly the fact that urban youth
(especially the children of privileged officials) appeared
to have a better chance of getting a university education
than the children of rural peasants. Mao feared that Chinese
society was becoming rigid, and to prevent this he relied
for support on the military and on youth.
In the summer of 1966, a group of Beijing high school girls
protested against the system of college entrance examinations.
The Central Committee acceded to the students' demand by promising
a reform and postponing the 1966 enrollment for half a year.
Freed from their studies, students demonstrated in Beijing
in August, touching off demonstrations of young people in
general. Obviously inspired by Mao, youths wearing red armbands
and flashing copies of the "little red book" containing
Mao's thought (`Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong'), marched
through the streets shouting the slogan, "To bypass the
Communist party apparatus and force the hierarchy's political
foes into submission." These Red Guards, as they were
called, were given free railway passes, and they poured into
Beijing and other cities in great numbers throughout 1967.
In early 1967 some of the highest ranking leaders, former
close revolutionary associates of Mao himself, were criticized
and dismissed. Liu Shaoqi, who had been president of the republic,
Zhu De, and Deng Xiaoping were among the better known victims.
Even Confucius was attacked as having been a hypocritical
supporter of the bourgeoisie. Throughout the country, revolutionary
committees sprang up, seized power from the local government
and party authorities, and harassed--and in some cases attacked--those
suspected of being disloyal to Mao's thought.
The disorders reached a climax in July 1967 in the city of
Wuhan, when the local military commander tried to rally the
people against the radicals and troops had to be sent in to
restore order. From that time on, steps were taken to quiet
the more disruptive portions of the Cultural Revolution, though
it was not until 1968 that society returned to something resembling
normality. In March 1969 the government issued a directive
to open all schools. The situation was so chaotic, however,
that the universities were not reopened until September 1970.
The Cultural Revolution greatly affected the CCP leadership.
When the long-postponed ninth congress of the CCP was finally
convened in April 1969, two thirds of the old members of the
Central Committee were missing. Mao's attempt to maintain
a state of permanent revolution had been immensely costly.
Years of work and progress were sacrificed: A whole generation
of youth went without education; factories and farms lay idle.
China fell even further behind the industrialized powers of
the world. As the Cultural Revolution died down, Zhou Enlai,
who had been premier since the founding of the People's Republic,
quietly took control. Deng Xiaoping and other "pragmatic"
leaders were reestablished. The party and government relaxed
their control over the people and granted certain civil rights
in a new constitution adopted in 1975.
Mao was born on Dec. 26, 1893, in Shaoshan, Hunan Province.
His father was a peasant who had become successful as a grain
dealer. Mao's schooling was intermittent. During the Revolution
of 1911-12 he served in the army for six months. After that
he drifted for a while without goals, but he managed to graduate
from the First Provincial Normal School in Changsha in 1918.
He then sent to Peking University, where he became embroiled
in the revolutionary May Fourth Movement. This movement marked
the decisive turn in Chinese revolutionary thought in favor
of Marxist Communism as a solution to China's problems.
In 1921 Mao helped found the Chinese Communist party. He was
at that time a school principal in Hunan. Two years later,
when the Communists forged an alliance with Sun Yat-sen's
Nationalist party (the Kuomintang), he left work to become
a full-time revolutionary. It was at this time that Mao discovered
the great potential of the peasant class for making revolution.
This realization led him to the brilliant strategy he used
to win control of China: gain control of the countryside and
encircle the cities.
The Communists and the Nationalists coexisted in an uneasy
relationship until the end of World War II. The Nationalist
leader after 1925 was Chiang Kai-shek, who was determined
to rule China. He never trusted the Communists, and at times
he persecuted them. Mao's first wife was executed by the Nationalists
The Chinese Soviet Republic was founded in November 1931 in
Jiangxi Province. In 1934 Mao and his forces were driven out,
and they went northward in what is known as the Long March.
By 1935, however, the Communists and Nationalists forged a
united front against the Japanese. Rivalry persisted, but
the front held until 1945. The revolution that then began
ended in 1949 with the Communists victorious.
In addition to his problems with the Nationalists, Mao's dealings
with the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin were always uneasy.
Stalin grew wary of a competing Communist power of China's
size on the Soviet borders. Mao eventually came to regard
the Soviets as revisionists and felt they were traitors to
the cause of world revolution.
Mao's title as ruler of China was chairman of the People's
Republic. For the first five years he rarely appeared in public
and seemed to be only a ceremonial figure. He never achieved
the total control in China that Stalin did in the Soviet Union.
Many of his comrades were influential in directing policy,
often in ways with which Mao disagreed. In 1955 he emerged
from isolation determined to play the decisive role in economic
policy and political restructuring.
Failing to gain the allegiance of the intellectuals, he turned
to the masses with a program called the Great Leap Forward.
While not a complete economic disaster, it had severe consequences.
After it disrupted both city and countryside, he was forced
to retreat from his policies in favor of his opponents. To
counter opposition he launched the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution, urged on by his radical wife, Jiang Qing. This
vast upheaval wrecked the Communist party bureaucracy, paralyzed
education and research, and left the economy almost a shambles.
Only slowly did China begin to recover. By then Mao was old
and ill. Other, more moderate hands guided policy. Zhou Enlai
seemed to emerge as the nation's real leader when relations
were reestablished with the United States.
Mao's personality cult remained strong until his death on
Sept. 9, 1976. Shortly afterward, however, a power struggle
was under way. Members of the party who had been purged by
the Cultural Revolution returned to govern China. Chief among
them was Deng Xiaoping.
The year 1976 marked the end of an era. Zhou Enlai died in
January. Zhu De, who as chairman of the Standing Committee
of the National People's Congress had been serving as nominal
head of state, died in July. Finally, Mao himself, the chairman
of the party and the embodiment of the revolution, died in
September. Although many elderly leaders remained in positions
of power, the old guard--the veterans of the Long March and
the civil war--was clearly passing from the scene.
There were no provisions for automatic succession. At one time,
Lin Biao had been Mao's designated successor, but Lin had died
under mysterious circumstances in 1971. The stage was set for
a power struggle, with the initial advantage going to the radical
faction. Zhou's death left the moderate pragmatists in a weakened
position, and Deng Xiaoping, as their most visible leader, came
under immediate attack.
In April the people staged an unusual demonstration to protest
the removal, by the police, of memorial wreaths honoring Zhou
from Beijing's Tiananmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace leading
to the old Forbidden City). With this as an excuse, the radicals
blamed Deng for the disorders and dismissed him from office.
But the radicals, in turn, lost their protector when Mao died.
Within a month, the "Gang of Four" radical leaders,
including Jiang Qing, Mao's widow, were arrested, and Deng was
reinstated once again. The Gang of Four were subsequently tried
and convicted of various crimes against the state. They became
a convenient scapegoat for the new leadership, which did not
wish to blame China's ills on Mao directly.
In the following years, the pragmatists consolidated their
position. Although he did not take any of the main party or
government positions, Deng emerged as the outstanding figure
within the leadership. An elderly man himself, he brought
in younger men who shared his views. The new policies were
confirmed in the party and state constitutions adopted in
1982. These included accelerating China's economic development
by the best possible means; for example, by rewarding good
work, even if this resulted in some inequalities in society.
Steps were also taken to prevent the concentration of power
that had marked Mao's time. Thus, the new state constitution
limited state leaders to two consecutive terms.