History of China
Old China is one of the earliest civilizations that arose on the banks of the Yellow River, and later developed on some other large rivers towards the south and east of these areas. Prehistory of China covers the period of time from the appearance of the first hominids to the emergence of literacy, that is, until the beginning of the first historical period and the reign of the first historically confirmed Shang Dynasty, whose reign began in about 1600 BC. When it comes to the „first settlers“, it is essential to mention the Renzidong Man whose remains were found in the southeast of China and Yuanmoua Man who was found at various locations in China, being old for 1.7 million years. Peking Man (Homo Erectus Pekinensis) is still the most important when it comes to the development of Chinese civilization. The remains of the man were found in the area of Central and Southeast China. They certainly represent one of the most important discoveries that testify the development of the human species, since Homo Erectus is ancestor of Homo sapiens, or modern man.
The fact that the civilization developed on the river banks allowed the people to be successfully engaged in agriculture. Until the period of 2500 BC, rice cultivation in the southern parts of the Chinese empire around the Yangtze River developed and started being of a huge importance. Establishing the center of Yangshao culture on the banks of the Yellow River contributed to the emergence of the first villages among which the Banpo village Xi’an was highly significant.
Recorded history of the ancient China begins in the 21st century BC, when the first Chinese dynasty named Xia Dynasty (c. 2100 – c. 1600 BC) appeared. This dynasty is considered to be the first dynasty of kings. During this period irrigation canals were built, and soldiers used chariots and weapons made of bronze. Chinese kings were seen as the link between humans and the gods. It is believed that the end of this dynasty came with the Battle of Mingtiao, after which Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC) came to rule. The period of the reign of this dynasty is a period of rapid development of slave owning society. During this period, agriculture, manufacturing and melting and casting bronze highly developed. The first historical sources actually date from this era. During their reign, they changed several capital cities and eventually came to Jin, the current area of Anyang in the province Henan. The found excavations prove that even in the early years of the empire Shang, Chinese civilization reached a relatively high level. The main evidence for that are inscriptions on the bones and bronze culture. Shang Dynasty as well ends defeated from the next dynasty, the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC), whose first king was King Wu. The period of the reign of this dynasty is the peak period of slave society, especially in the beginning. The rulers implemented a system of noble estates and the system of wells and fields. Later on, there is a gradual decline of slave society. During this period, the position of the royal family weakened, but the position of the nobility became stronger. Due to the use of iron and the development of cattle breeding, agricultural production and the number of private holdings of the country increased, leading to the dissolution of the slavery system, coming to the point where it was completely rejected. That period was known as the Spring and Autumn (722–476 BC) is a period of the significant development of Chinese culture and thought. It was characterized by the fall of the central Zhou power, where the Eastern Zhou became stronger and more influential. The most important thing is the transition to feudal society, which brought many changes and paved the way for many crucial things that were yet to happen. Numerous wars during the Spring and Autumn period affected the number of states in the territory of ancient China. By the time of the Warring States (476-221 BC) there were only seven of them: Qi, Chu, Yen, Han, Zhao, Wei and Qin. These seven states were later called the seven forces of the Warring States period. This was the crucial period for the king named Ying Zheng, who unified the other six powers, with some additional annexations in 214 BC, which secured him the place of the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huang).
The period of the Imperial China starts with the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and with the aforementioned thirteen year old emperor who inherited the throne from his father. Qin Shi Huang’s unification of China made a great contribution to Chinese history. He conducted the system of the region and district, dividing the whole country in 36 districts. He also appointed all officials of the central and local government. Another major event that occurred during this period is the first building of the Chinese Wall which is one of the most important parts of China even today. The formation of the Qin dynasty ended the separation of the Chinese history, and established a powerful feudal empire with more nationalities, thus opening a new chapter of Chinese history. The next dynasty called Han dynasty (202 BC–AD 220) brought to some of the most important changes in imperial, political, cultural and social development. It helped establishing a Chinese identity that would survive for centuries. The period of the Three Kingdoms and Western Jin (AD 265–316) brought to some disturbances and new orders, bringing to the point of decentralizing the state. Many things that were established during the previous two dynasties fell apart, and though the country was again unified in 280, it was not long lasting. The Sixteen Kingdoms and Eastern Jin (AD 304–439) period brought some even more turbulences, separating China into several independent kingdoms, eventually bringing to some of the mass migration of Han Chinese in the history. Even with the Northern and Southern dynasties (AD 420–589) the situation was not getting any better, since the country was divided into the south and north, with the two ruling parallel regimes. However, the division of China that lasted for so long was ended with the next dynasty known as the Sui dynasty (AD 589–618). The dynansty managed to unify the country due to the economic development of the south and the integration of the population of the north. They created a stable social order, where agriculture, manufacturing and trade progressed, and feudal economy flourished. During the uprising against the Sui Dynasty, Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) was established. This period was characterized by peace and prosperity, and is known as the Golden Age of Chinese history. The economy significantly developed, and the promotion of multiculturalism and connecting different nations within China as well. Also, the cultural and economic cooperation with other Asian countries was of a huge importance.
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907–960) was the period that lasted just a half century, but it was a sort of a political disagreement between the Tang and the Song dynasty. After that, there came a period that was marked by the rule of Song, Liao, Jin, and Western Xia dynasties (AD 960–1234). These dynasties established the position of China as the most developed country in the world. During the Song Dynasty, the paper money was first introduced in the world, a permanent navy who first in the world using gunpowder was established, and the use compass was noted. Despite all this, China did not have a strong army and soon paid a high price. The leader of the Mongol people Temujin, Genghis Khan, united all the Mongol tribes and founded the Mongol regime. He and his successors set out a major war. His grandson – Kublai Khan founded the Yuan dynasty (AD 1271–1368) and managed to unite all of China. This dynasty implemented a system of provinces and achieved jurisdiction over the whole territory of China. Though this period was characteristic for its economic prosperity, it was also marked by epidemics of plague in the 14th century, estimated to have around 30% of the population of China.
This dynasty was overthrown by the Ming dynasty (AD 1368–1644). From the beginning of the reign of this dynasty, it established the absolutist and centralist government. In order to increase the defensive power of the army, it made Beijing and declared it to be its capital. For the sake of strengthening the northern border of the country, it also continued to build the Great Wall in the north. Thanks to the development of commodity production, first characteristics of the capitalism emerged in Southern China. At the end of the epoch of the dynasty, the government was corrupt and despotic minded, antagonisms in society were growing, bringing to the uprising which helped in overthrowing the dynasty. The Ming Dynasty was eventually replaced by the Manchu, a people who lived in the northeast of the country, being a combination of Chinese, Mongolians and Koreans. They created the state of Manchuriain 1625, the army in 1635, and moved into the eastern China in 1644, creating the Qing dynasty (AD 1644–1911), the last imperial dynasty in China. The time of Manchus ruling China was characterized by a constant warfare, interference of Western imperialism and Christianity in the soil of China, large scale corruption and a huge bureaucratic apparatus that was not capable of running a large state. The most influential event during this period in China were Opium Wars. Ban on import of opium was a serious blow to the treacherous English aggressor who, in 1840, begins the first Opium War. During the war, Chinese patriots of all social classes fought heroically against the English. However, since the Qing government implemented a policy of compromise, China ended up losing this war in 1842. The second Opium War occurred in 1856 and lasted until 1860. To increase their profits, the English and the French again attacked China, helped by America and Russia. These four countries forced the Qing government to sign the Treaty of Tientsin, where China lost more of its territory and sovereignty, while the power of the aggressors spread. The next important and crucial event was the wake of the disastrous Boxer Rebellion against foreign imperialism and Christianity in China (1898-1901), when imperial power began to lose control of the peasants and the army, and was followed by the revolution which eventually broke the imperial authority. The end of this dynasty was also the end of the two millennium long imperial period of Chinese history. On New Year’s Eve in 1912, Sun Zhongshan proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of China of which he became the first president.
The first half of the twentieth century was mainly based on the abolition of the old order in China, trying to establish the grounds for a new society and a democratic state, which did not last for long, given that it survived only eight years (1912 – 1920). Soon, the democratic system grew into a dictatorship of Yuan Shikai who declared himself the Great Emperor of China in 1928. By 1931, intolerance and turbulence could be felt, eventually bringing to the revolution in which Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and the Communist Party led by Mao Zedong had a clash. Japanese invasion of China that occurred in 1937 was also a very critical period in the history of China, where all sides were belligerent and against each other. At the end, the founders of the two parties united to fight together against the Japanese forces. However, the unification turned into a mutual fight for every meter of released territory. These conflicts continued even after the end of the World War II, until 1949, when Yuan Shikai began to lose the support of the peasants and the working class. He fled back to the island of Taiwan, where he continued to rule the Republic of China, when Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China.
The People’s Republic of China was officially established on October 1, 1949, with the capital city settled at Beijing. Mao’s ideas were simple from the very beginning. He declared that the country would be led by people’s democratic dictatorship. All of them were divided into four different classes: the peasants, the workers, the national-capitalists and the petite bourgeoisie. The party at the time had 4.5 million members, out of which there were nearly 90 % of peasants. Mao was the chairman, and the leader of the government was Zhou Enlai. Mao Zedong resigned his position of a president of China in 1959 after many economic failures. Liu Shaoqi replaced him, but Mao still had a huge impact and remained a General Secretary of Communist Party of China. For a while, China was managed by a moderate leadership of Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and others who started the economic reforms. Mao Zedong and his allies launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966. According to many historians it was an attempt to cleanse the leadership of moderate elements. Mao’s followers regarded it as an experiment of direct democracy and the first attempt to fight against corruption and other negative influence on Chinese society. Mao’s cult was soon developed, and the economy of the country during this period degenerated. There was a big mess during the Cultural Revolution, and the Prime Minister Zhou Enlai intervened to reduce the destructiveness. Chou Enlai initiated the normalization of relations with the United States and China became a member of the UN Security Council in 1971 instead of Taiwan, that previously represented China. After Mao’s death in 1976 Gang of Four from the Cultural Revolution was arrested, and Deng Xiaoping was able to take the full power. He never became the head of the party or the country, but his influence on the party led the country through economic reforms. The Communist Party reduced its overall control.
China present days
Today, People’s Republic of China has sovereignty over twenty-two provinces, and Taiwan is considered to be its twenty-third. It also has five autonomous territories, four regions and two special administrative regions that enjoy considerable autonomy. Continental China also includes twenty-two provinces, five autonomies and four regions, excluding Hong Kong and Macao. The modern history of China was affected by the events that occured in 1989, known as Tiananmen Square protests, which participants were mostly students, and it lasted for several months. The major point that was addressed during the protests was corruption, and they wanted to achieve some political reforms, such as democracy and freedom of speech. Unfortunatelly, it ended on 4th of June with many victims. The economic growth of the country is one of the most rapid in the world, and according to some recent data, it is in the second place regarding the economic development, right after the USA. This was especially noted when in 2001 China became a member of World Trade Organization. Universities and education are also a highly important aspect, especially in technical sciences, which contributes to the whole development of the country as well. Regarding tourism, it is one of the mostly visited countries in the world, and many of its sites are on the UNESCO’s Word Heritage list.