Brief History of China

From Prehistoric Age to Ancient Times

From archaeological findings we know that about 500,000-1,000,000 years ago, there were primitive human beings such as Yuanmou Man, Lantian Man and Peking Man in the wide expanse known today as China. After the long period of primitive existence, the Xia Dynasty, the first in Chinese history, was established in the 21st century B.C., heralding the beginning of a slave society in China. The following Shang and Western Zhou dynasties saw further development of the slave society. Then came the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (i.e., the Eastern Zhou Dynasty), periods of transition from slave to feudal society. In 221 B.C., Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, ended the rivalry among the independent principalities in the Warring States Period and established the first centralized, unified, multinational state in Chinese history--the Qin Dynasty. Subsequently, one dynasty replaced

another. They included the Han, Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, Sui, Tang, Five Dynasties, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing. China remained a feudal society until the Opium War in 1840.

Chinese Dynasties Timeline

ca.21-16th century B.C.                         Xia                               

ca.16-11th century B.C.                         Shang                

ca.11th century B.C.-770 B.C.              Western Zhou   

770-221 B.C.                                           Eastern Zhou Qin 221-207B.C.

206B.C.-A.D. 24                                      Western Han

25-220                                                      Eastern Han

 220-265                                                  Three Kingdoms(Wei, Shu and Wu)

265-316                                                   Western Jin

317-420                                                   Eastern Jin

420-589                                                   Southern and Northern Dynasties

581-618                                                  Sui

618-907                                                  Tang

907-960                                                  Five Dynasties

960-1127                                               Northern Song

1127-1279                                            Southern Song

1271-1368                                            Yuan 

1368-1644                                            Ming

1644-1911                                            Qing 

Brief Indroduction about Ancient Chinese Civilization

Ancient China was fairly well developed in both economy and culture. During the apex of the Chinese feudal society--the Han and Tang dynasties--agriculture, handicrafts, weaving and shipbuilding were advanced. Transportation both by land and water was convenient; extensive economic and cultural relations were established with Japan, Korea, India, Persia, and Arabia. Papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass, four major creations of ancient Chinese science and technology, are embodiments of the wisdom and power of the Chinese people which have exerted an enormously profound influence on the history of mankind. Meanwhile, famous

thinkers in ancient China such as Lao Zi and Confucius were influencing the traditional Chinese culture and even the world civilizations. Sun Zi's Art of War remains an invaluable reference for people of the military and economic circles; Cao Xueqin's Dream of Red Mansions is considered the representative work of Chinese classical literature and continues to inspire research and study both at home and abroad. Great achievements were also made in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, geography and medicine. The Gan Shi Xing Jing (Gan Shi Catalogue of Stars) of the Warring States Period is the earliest catalogue of fixed stars in the world. Zhang Heng of the Han Dynasty invented the armillary sphere and seismograph. During the Southern and Northern Dynasties Zu Chongzhi calculated the value of PI to be between 3.1415926 and 3.1415927. He was the first person in the world to have accurately calculated the value of PI to seven decimal places. The Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica) by Li Shizhen of the 16th century, records more than 1,800 kinds of herbal medicines and over 10,000 prescriptions.

Modern Period (1840-1919)

The Opium War, which started in 1840, was a turning point in Chinese history. In the 17th and 18th centuries the major countries of Europe were looking around for markets for their merchandise and colonies. To protect its opium trade, Britain launched the war of aggression against China in 1840. In 1842 the corrupt Qing court signed the humiliating Treaty of Nanking with Britain, bartering away China's national sovereignty. This marked the reduction of China to a semicolonial, semifeudal country.

The Revolution of 1911, a bourgeois democratic revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, ended the rule of the Qing Dynasty. Thus, the monarchy that had existed in China for 2000 years came to an end, and the provisional government of the Republic of China was founded.

New Democratic Revolution (1919-1949)

In 1919 the May 4th Movement against imperialism and feudalism took place. In this movement, the Chinese working class for the first time appeared on the political scene. In 1921, at its first National Congress, delegates representing Communist groups from all parts of China including Mao Zedong, Dong Biwu, Chen Tanqiu, He Shuheng, Wang Jinmei, Deng Enming and Li Da, met in Shanghai and rounded the Communist Party of China. The Chinese people led by the Communist Party participated in a bitter struggle for many years, which included four periods: the Northern Expedition (1924-27), Agrarian Revolutionary War (1927-37), War of Resistanc

Against Japan (1937-45), and the National Liberation War (1945-49). In 1949 the Chinese people finally ended the rule of the Kuomintang headed by Chiang Kai-shek, achieving the victory of the New Democratic Revolution.

The People's Republic of China (1949-present)

On October 1, 1949, 300,000 people gathered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing for the ceremony formally declaring the new state. Mao Zedong, chairman of the Central People's Government, solemnly proclaimed the rounding of the People's Republic of China.

After a period of economic recovery in the first three years (1950-1952) following the rounding of the People's Republic, and then the basic realization of the socialist transformation of agriculture, the handicrafts industry, and capitalist industry and commerce between 1953 and 1956, the leading role of public ownership of the means of production had been defined, and the transition from new

democracy to socialism realised. During the ten years from 1957 to 1966 China began large-scale socialist construction. Overall, great achievements were made in the national economy during this decade in spite of some serious mistakes in the economic construction. The nation's total industrial fixed assets quadrupled between 1956 and 1966, and the national income increased by 58 percent

in constant prices. The output of essential industrial products, such as steel, coal, crude oil, generated electricity and metal-cutting machine tools increased by several or, in some cases, even a dozen times, and some new and developing industries such as electronics and petrochemicals were established; work in science and technology, particularly in atomic energy, jet technology,

computers, semiconductors and automatic control, progressed rapidly. The "cultural revolution,"which lasted for ten years from May 1966 to October 1976, brought great calamity to the country and the people, causing the most serious setbacks and most damaging losses to both since the rounding of the People's Republic of China.

Drawing on the support of the broad masses of the Chinese people, the Communist Party of China smashed the Jiang Qing counter-revolutionary clique in October 1976. The end of the disastrous"cultural revolution" marked the beginning of a new era in Chinese history. Since the Third Plenary Session of the CPC Eleventh Central Committee at the end of 1978, China has instituted a policy of reform and opening to the outside world. The errors of the "cultural revolution" and the earlier "Leftist" deviations were rectified. The focus was shifted to modernization centred around the economy; a socialist modernization road with Chinese characteristics was defined.

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