China is one of the world’s four ancient civilizations with a time-honored, recorded history. The history of China reaches back over 5,000 years. China covers an area of 9.6 million square kilometers and its continental coastline is 18,000 kilometers. Its population is over 1.3 billion people. China has created a culture rich in art and philosophy. China is the home of the inventions of amazing products and technologies such as silk, papermaking, movable-type printing, gunpowder, and calligraphy.
Over the eras, China has fought hundreds of wars. It has conquered its neighboring countries, and it has also been conquered by them in return. Because of its 5,000 year recorded history, China can trace her culture back to a blend of small original tribes which have expanded till they became the great country we have today. The first non-mythical dynasty to rule China was the Xia Dynasty in the 21st century B.C. (2200-1700 B.C.), founded by Emperor Yu. This dynasty marked a change from a primitive society to a slave society. The Xia Dynasty was succeeded by the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.).
The Shang Dynasty is the first civilization in China for which there is a written record. The Shang Dynasty is characterized by its writing system, agriculture and bronze technology, and urban development. In 221 B.C., Ying Zheng took the throne as the first emperor. He called himself ‘Qin Shi Huang’, which means the first emperor. Zheng established the first centralized, unified, multi-ethnic state in Chinese history. He founded the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.).
During his reign, he began the reconstruction of the Great Wall of China. Ying Zheng is best known for building a large palace/ tomb complex which houses the Terracotta Army. The Qin Dynasty came to an end when Liu Bang, a peasant leader, overthrew it. Liu then founded the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). During the Han Dynasty era, China expanded west as far as India, where it opened trade along the Silk Road. The Han Dynasty was followed by the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265).
During this era, China was thrown into a period of anarchy and turmoil. Over the next four centuries, dozens of kingdoms competed for power. It was followed by the Jin (265-420), the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), and the Sui Dynasty (581-618). In 618, the Tang Dynasty (618-907) was founded by a general called Li Yuan. He had the Sui emperor assassinated. During this period, Chinese art and culture flourished. This period was the height of Buddhist influence in China until its repression in 845.
At the end of the Tang Dynasty, China descended into chaos again in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-960). In 960, a palace guard and general named Zhao Kuangyin took power and founded the Song Dynasty (960-1279). This was an era of significant economic and social changes. It was known for its intricate bureaucracy, urban expansion, technological innovations, and Confucian learning. In the 800s the Chinese invented gunpowder. They used gunpowder to propel rockets, and to produce incendiary and explosive missiles. In 1206, Genghis Khan unified all the tribes in Mongolia and founded the Mongol Khanate.
In 1271, his grandson, Kublai Khan, conquered the Central Plain. He then founded the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and also made Dadu, which is Beijing today, the capital of China. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, the handicraft industry and domestic foreign trade roared. Many merchants and travelers came from abroad. Great inventions of the Chinese people in ancient times were further developed throughout these dynasties. These inventions were papermaking, printing, the compass, and gunpowder. China flowered again under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), creating great art and exploring as far as Africa. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was the last Chinese dynasty. The Opium Wars took place during the Qing Dynasty.
The First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-1842), also known as the First Opium War, was fought between Great Britain and Ireland, and the Qing Dynasty of China. Its goal was to secure economic benefits from trade in China. In the early 19th century, British merchants began smuggling opium into China in order to balance their purchases of tea for export to Britain. In 1839, China enforced its prohibitions on the importation of opium by destroying a large quantity of it that they seized from British merchants. Great Britain, which had been looking to end China’s restrictions on foreign trade, had responded by sending gunboats to attack several Chinese coastal cities.
China was defeated and was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. This treaty provided that certain Chinese ports should be open to British trade and residence. The Second Opium War broke out in 1856, because the Chinese illegally searched a British registered ship, the Arrow. British and French troops forced the Chinese to accept the treaties of Tianjin (1858). China agreed to open eleven more ports, permit foreign legations in Beijing, sanction Christian missionary activity, and legalize the import of opium. The Qing Dynasty was eventually overthrown by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, who led the Revolution of 1911.
The Revolution of 1911 ended the Qing Dynasty, and led to the founding of the Republic of China (1911-1949). This revolution started off the Chinese Civil War. Although the war was interrupted for a decade by the Japanese invasion and World War II, it started up again when Japan was defeated. Mao Zedong and the Communist Peoples Liberation Army won the Chinese Civil War. In 1949, China becomes a Communist nation after a twenty year civil war. The Revolution of 1911 led to Communist Party rule and ended centuries of dynastic rule. China then officially established the People’s Republic of China.
During the early years of communist rule in China, mass starvation, disease, and malnutrition were common. Leader Mao Zedong tried to jump-start China’s industrialization and political change by founding the “Great Leap Forward” initiative in 1958. Mao’s idea had failed, and as a result famine and disease began to spread throughout China again. On October 16, 1964, China exploded its first A-bomb, and on June 17, 1967, China exploded its first H-bomb. On April 24, 1970, China had launched its first satellite. These dates represent important achievements in China’s construction and progression.
Between 1966 and 1976, the young people of China rose up in an effort to purge the nation of its old customs and culture. In 1966, leader Mao Zedong began China’s “Cultural Revolution” in order to put a stop to these young people. Zedong punished any person who showed bourgeois tendencies. The Cultural Revolution made a large impact on most of the people in China, and it also had an impact on a lot of people around the world. The Cultural Revolution was a ten year campaign that threatened China and changed its economic, political, and social systems.
The downfall of the revolution marked a new development stage for China. In 1976, Mao died and Deng Xiaoping became China’s leader. This led to economic liberalization but also a policy of government controlled capitalism. Although Xiaoping was communist, he was one of the few rulers of China that believed that some capitalistic programs could help. Xiaoping was a strong and powerful leader. He made an effort to modernize China as much as possible. The Tiananmen Square protests were a set of national protests in the People’s Republic of China centered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.
These protests occurred between April 15, 1989 and June 4, 1989. These protests were part of a conflict between the Chinese democracy movement and the Communist Party of China. They started because of the death of the former General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Hu Yaobang. Violent suppression of these protests put a dent in the hopes for further political reform and ruined China’s international image. After the Tiananmen Square protests, Jiang Zemin becomes leader. In 1997, Hong Kong returns to China after decades of British rule. This represented a big step forward toward the country’s complete reunification. In October 1999, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China was celebrated, by the people who appreciated it, that is.
On October 15, 2003 China successfully launched its first spacecraft with people on board. After Russia and the United States, China became the third country to have the ability to carry out manned space flights. At the beginning of the 21st century, China has become a major global force, booming economically. China’s transformation has been blinding, with worldwide impact since it has taken place during globalization. Maintained by cheap labor and capital, China has become one of the world’s fastest growing major economies. China’s economy continues to grow at an average annual rate around 10% a year. Some economists expect China’s economy to overtake the United States economy by the year 2020.