A brief history of China

China is one of the world’s most ancient civilizations and has a recorded history going back almost 4,000 years. It was also one of the first countries to develop forms of economic activity. Over 3,000 years ago (during the Shang Dynasty) silk production was established, iron tools were utilised, bronze was smelted and both white and glazed pottery came into use.

By the Spring and Autumn period (which spanned the years 779-476 BC) steel working technology had begun to appear. The following two hundred years were known as the Warring States Period and during this time the Dujiang Dam was constructed under the supervision of Li Bing and his son. The Dujiang Dam represented incredible steps forward in water conservancy as the structure made it possible to divert flooding and ration the irrigation supply. It was also during this era that branches of philosophical scholarship thrived like never before.

As indicated by the name, the Warring States period also featured continual conflicts between the area’s independent principalities. The rivalry ended in 221 BC with the founding of a single unified Chinese state under Ying Zheng and the Qin Dynasty. Ying Zheng called himself Shi Huang Di, meaning First Emperor.

It was during the reign of the First Emperor (from 221 BC to 207 BC) that weights, measures, currencies and script became standardised. Construction on the Great Wall of China also began along with the building of several palaces.

The Qin Dynasty was overthrown by the combined force of peasant leader Liu Bang and aristocratic general Xiang Yu. In 206 B.C. Liu Bang established the Han Dynasty and repelled Xiang Yu.

During this era commercial and agricultural enterprises and handicrafts were significantly developed. With Emperor Wudi at the helm from from 140 BC to 87 BC the Xiongnu nomads were conquered and the route known as the ‘Silk Road’ was created. The Silk Road ran from the Han capital Chang’an to the Mediterranean Sea and was the primary method of transporting Chinese-made silk products to the West.

The strong and prosperous Han regime came to a close after 426 years and the Three Kingdoms Period of Wei, Shu and Wu began. This was then followed in 265 AD by the Jin period.

In 420 AD the Southern and Northern Dynasties began. The Sui Dynasty took over in 581 AD and was in turn replaced by the Tang Dynasty in 618 AD.

It was during the Tang Dynasty (which lasted until 907 AD) that one of the greatest Emperors in Chinese history lived and ruled.

Under Emperor Taizong the Zhenguan period reforms were implemented and China was brought to a more prosperous state than ever before. Huge progress was made in technologies relating to porcelain manufacturing, metal casting, ship building and textile production whilst land and water transportation methods improved and economic relations with nations like Japan were solidified.

The Tang Dynasty was followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, a period which ended in mutiny and the formation of the Song Dynasty which was to last until 1279.

It was during the Song Dynasty in 1206 that Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Khanate after unifying all of the tribes in Mongolia. Sixty-five years later his grandson began the Yuan Dynasty after conquering the Central Plain. Kublai Khan made Dadu (which is now know as Beijing) the capital. Domestic and foreign trade experienced a massive increase during this time and travellers like Marco Polo visited the nation.

Important Chinese inventions including gunpowder, paper, printing and the compass underwent further development before being introduced to foreign countries.

The Ming Dynasty, which spanned almost three hundred years, began with Zhu Yuanzhang in 1368. By 1421 Zhu Yuanzhang’s son Zhu Di had ascended the throne and made Beijing the capital. Towards the close of the Ming Dynasty the beginnings of capitalism had started to appear, and links were forged with other Asian and African countries.

After several invasions on the part of the Manchus in Northeast China the Qing Dynasty usurped the Ming Dynasty in 1644 and lasted until 1911.

A real turning point in modern Chinese history was the Opium War of 1840.

From the offset of the 19th century significant amounts of opium were being smuggled into China by the British. This caused the eastern nation extreme economic disruption and a large overflow of Chinese silver. In response the Qing government sent Commissioner Lin Zexu to Guangdong in 1839 with the purpose of prohibiting the trafficking of opium.

Britain was determined to protect its opium trade and instigated the First Opium War in 1840. Although the Chinese people rose up against the British the corrupt government continued to yield to the invaders, eventually signing the Treaty of Nanjing with Britain. From that point onwards China was restricted to being a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country.

Following the Opium War China was divided into ‘spheres of influence’ by Britain, France, the United States, Russia and Japan. This led to many peasant uprisings, including the famous Revolution of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in 1851.

In 1911 a bourgeois-democratic revolution was mounted by Dr. Sun Yat-sen and the Quing Dynasty was overthrown and replaced by the provisional government of the Republic of China. The monarchical system which had dominated the country for more than 2,000 years was abandoned and this period became blighted by the domination of Northern Warlords led by Yuan Shikai.

The contemporary period of Chinese history is considered to have begun in 1949 when the First Plenum of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was held in Beijing. The CPPCC included representatives from various popular organizations and political parties and drew up a Common Program to serve provisionally as a constitution.

The CPPCC went on to elect a Central People’s Government Council, appointing Mao Zedong as Chairman and Zhou Enlai as both Minister of Foreign Affairs and Premier of the Government Administration Council. On October 1st the People’s Republic of China was formally established and the country entered a period of economic recovery. Production methods were developed with the means of production gradually coming under socialist public ownership.

From 1953 the national economy went through large-scale socialist transformation and industries expanded at a phenomenal rate.

Widespread socialist construction dominated the ten year period to the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and new and developing industries were formed. There were also considerable strides made in the fields of science and technology.

However, despite all the positives brought about by the government mistakes were also made and harm was done to the national economy. The chairman of the CPC Central Committee Mao Zedong initiated the ten year long Cultural Revolution, but the country began to suffer serious setbacks because of the actions of the Lin Biao and Jiang Qing counter-revolutionary cliques.

With mass public support the Jiang Qing clique was suppressed by the CPC in 1976 and this heralded a new era of Chinese development.

Towards the end of 1978 the Third Plenary Session of the CPC 11th Central Committee made some significant decisions. Since that time the focus of China has been directed at modernisation, inclusiveness and reform. Over the past few decades economic structures and political systems have been remodelled and China has become a dominant world power.