History of China

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Chinese History is the story of China over the last 5000+ years. For the contemporary scene, see China

Dynastic Period

China is the oldest continuous major world civilization, with records dating back about 3,500 years. Based on stories and artifacts, secular historians hypothesize that the area was occupied about 5,000 years ago, but there is no verifiable tie-in to the nation now known as China. Also, the secular understanding of Chinese history must be reevaluated in light of the Great Flood.[1] Successive dynasties developed a system of bureaucratic control that gave the agrarian-based Chinese an advantage over neighboring nomadic and hill cultures. Chinese civilization was further strengthened by the development of a Confucian state ideology and a common written language that bridged the gaps among the country's many local languages and dialects. Whenever China was conquered by nomadic tribes, as it was by the Mongols in the 13th century, the conquerors sooner or later adopted the ways of the "higher" Chinese civilization and staffed the bureaucracy with Chinese.

The discovery of silk from the silkworm occurred around 2700 BC. Sericulture, the cultivation of the silkworm to produce silk, spread through China, making silk a highly valued commodity. It was considered to be the domain of women; while men worked in the fields, women reared silkworms and tended mulberry plantations. This is reflected in the modern Chinese character for the English meaning "tired", "累",lei, which is a picture of a field - the work of men - above a picture of a coil of silk - the work of women.

When the Chinese discovered gunpowder they had no intention of using it as a weapon; instead, it was developed in the Tang dynasty as a formula for immortality by religious Daoist (daojiao - 道教) alchemists. It was discovered to be a powerful explosive, and when lit, gunpowder in a bamboo stick made a colorful explosion. This loud explosion was used to chase away evil spirits and to celebrate weddings, victories in battles, and religious ceremonies. However, contrary to popular belief, the first depiction of gunpowder in pictorial form shows it in military use. Similarly, it is also known that before the arrival of Westerners in China, Chinese troops were equipped with firearms.

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China was designed to keep enemies out and protect their country. Construction took centuries, and was begun during the Qin dynasty, 221-206B.C. In 246B.C. the emperor Qin Shi Huang Di, whose original name was Ying Zheng, came to power in the state of Qin. By 221 B.C, he had unified China using the Legalistic philosophy of his state to encourage colonization and to build up the military in what was previously a minor desert state.

The Great Wall winds some 2,400 km (1,500 mi) along the edge of the Mongolian plateau from Gansu (Kansu) province in the west to the Yellow Sea in the east. Its width ranges from 4 to 12 m (12 to 40 ft) and its height from 6 to 15 m (20 to 50 ft). It makes possible much more effective military defense of China from invaders.

It was perhaps the greatest and largest thing ever created by man by that point. Unlike the wall we see today, it was originally an earthen and wooden rampart structure, and had earlier precedents, walls built by the various states of the Warring States period to keep out nomads in the north. There was a huge human cost involved; it is believed over a million people died in the construction. The wall that is visible today dates from the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), begun after the expulsion of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1276 - 1368) and nearly a thousand years of nomad rule in China under various dynastic titles. It did not, however, prevent a final nomadic group from conquering China at the end of the Ming dynasty in 1368 - the Manchus. The Shanhaiguan pass, the main route into and out of Manchuria, was not protected by the wall, and in 1644, Manchus, Buddhist descendants of the Jurchen tribes who had fought the Han Chinese for centuries, invaded the north of China, exploiting the weak late-Ming government and infrastructure. This resulted in the formation of the Qing dynasty, which lasted until the revolution of 1911.

Ming Dynasty: 1368-1644

The Ming period is the only era of later imperial history during which all of China was ruled by a native, or Han dynasty. The success of the Chinese in regaining control over their own government is an important event in history, and the Ming dynasty thus has been regarded, both in Ming times and even more so in the 21st century, as an era of Chinese resurgence.

16th century East Asia.png

All the counties in China had a county government, a Confucian school, and the standard Chinese family system. Typically the dominant local elite comprised high status families comprised of the gentry owners and managers of land and of other forms of wealth, as well as smaller groups that were subject to elite domination and protection. Much attention was paid to genealogy to prove that high status was inherited from generations back. Substantial land holdings were directly managed by the owning families in the early Ming period, but toward the end of the era marketing and ownership were depersonalized by the increased circulation of silver as money, and estate management gravitated into the hands of hired bailiffs. Together with the departure of the most talented youth into the imperial service, the result was direct contacts between the elite and subject groups were disrupted, and romantic images of country life disappeared from the literature. In villages across China elite families participated in the life of the empire by sending their sons into the very high status imperial civil service. Most of the successful sons had a common education in the county and prefecture schools, had been recruited by competitive examination, and were posted to offices that might be anywhere in the empire, including the imperial capital. At first the recommendation of an elite local sponsor was important; increasing the imperial government relied more on merit exams, and thus entry into the national ruling class became more difficult. Downward social mobility into the peasantry was possible for less successful sons; upward mobility from the peasant class was unheard of. [2]

Qing (Manchu) Dynasty: 1644-1911

Chinese had an advanced artistic culture and well-developed science and technology. However, its science and technology stood still after 1700 and in the 21st century very little survives outside museums and remote villages, except in for the ever-popular forms of traditional medicine like acupuncture.

In the late Qing era (19th and early 20th centuries), the country was beset by large-scale civil wars, major famines, military defeats by Britain and Japan, regional control by powerful warlords and foreign intervention such as the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

Reforms 1900-1908: too little, too late

The Boxer Rebellion was a humiliating fiasco for China; the Qing rulers proved visibly incompetent and lost prestige irreparably, while the foreign powers gained greater influence in Chinese affairs. The humiliation stimulated a second reform movement--this time sanctioned by the Empress Dowager Cixi herself. From 1901 to 1908, the dynasty announced a series of educational, military, and administrative reforms, many reminiscent of the "one hundreds days" of 1898. In 1905 the examination system itself was abolished and the entire Confucian tradition of merit entry into the elite collapsed. The abolition of the traditional civil service examination was itself a revolution of immense significance. After many centuries, the scholar's mind began to be liberated from the shackles of classical studies, and social mobility no longer depended chiefly on the writing of stereotyped and flowery prose.

New ministries were created in Beijing and revised law codes were drafted. Work began on a national budget--the national government had no idea how much taxes were collected in its name and spent by regional officials.

New armies were raised and trained in European (and Japanese) fashion and plans for a national army were laid. The creation of the "new army" reflected rising esteem for the military profession and the emergence of a new national elite that dominated China for much of the 20th century. . More officers and men were now literate, while patriotism and better pay served as an inducement for service.

The movement for constitutionalism gathered momentum following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, for Japan's victory signaled the triumph of constitutionalism over absolutism. Under pressure from gentry and student groups, the Qing court in 1908 issued plans for the inauguration of consultative provincial assemblies in 1909, a consultative national assembly in 1910, and both a constitution and a parliament in 1917. The consultative assemblies were to play a pivotal role in the unfolding events, politicizing the provincial gentry and providing them with new leverage with which to protect their interests.

Revolution planned

Ironically, the measures designed to preserve the Qing dynasty hastened its death, for the nationalistic and modernizing impulses generated or nurtured by the reforms brought a greater awareness of the Qing government's extreme backwardness. Modernizing forces emerged as business, students, women, soldiers, and overseas Chinese became mobilized and demanded change. Government-sponsored education in Japan, available to both civilian and military students, exposed Chinese youths to revolutionary ideas produced by political exiles and inspired by the West. Anti-Manchu revolutionary groups were formed in the Yangtze cities by 1903, and those in Tokyo banded together to form the "Revolutionary Alliance" in 1905, led by Sun Yat-sen.

Republic: 1912-1949

Dictatorship of Yuan Shikai 1911-1916

By 1911 China had 400 million people and the beginnings of a modern railroad system. The administrative system remained hopelessly inadequate; for example the central government never knew how much was raised in taxes (only a small part of which it obtained). Unrest with the failures of the Qing dynasty continued to escalate, despite belated efforts at reform. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) created a revolutionary ferment based in the worldwide Chinese diaspora. The old dynasty collapsed in 1911 as soldiers of the modernized army revolted, and the emperor abdicated in early 1912. A republic was proclaimed on January 1, 1912, but power was held by a Yuan Shikai (1859-1916), a soldier. The Nationalist ("Kuomintang" or KMT) party won the first national elections in 1912, but Yuan had the KMT leader assassinated, crushed republican uprisings in 1913 (called the "Second revolution"), shut down parliament, and ruled as dictator. Yuan's foreign policy was subservience to the foreign powers; he accepted Japan's Twenty-One demands, giving Japan control of Manchuria and a voice in internal affairs; it was a humiliation the people rejected. Yuan even tried to proclaim himself emperor, but the spirit of republicanism was too strong and a rising revolt, based in the south, was about to overthrow him when he suddenly died of natural causes in June 1916.[3]

Age of Warloards, 1916-1927

After Yuan's death power devolved to regional warlords, and there was little or no central government until 1928.[4]

KMT government 1927-1937

Under the leadership of the KMT (Kuomintang), headed by Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), the central government finally suppressed the local warlords who effectively controlled many provinces. Japan seized Manchuria in 1931, and in 1937 invaded all of China, defeating the government armies, seizing the coast, the major cities, and setting up a puppet government that controlled most of the population. China's resistance was ineffective.[5]

Communists Party CCP

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded in Shanghai, China's largest city, in 1921. It was allied with the KMT but in classical Marxist style its goal was initially to foment revolution among urban workers. It was controlled by Stalin in Moscow through the Comintern. In 1927, however, a bloody anti-Communist coup by the KMT, destroyed the CCP in the cities. Forced into the countryside, the CCP broke with Russian guidance and developed a new strategy based on agrarian revolution, mobilizing poor peasants by promising to confiscate and redistribute the lands held by landlords. Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) took the lead.[6]

Mao had long engaged in rural party work in his native Hunan province. In 1926 he foresaw China's 400 million peasants "rising like a hurricane" to throw off the "oppressive yoke" of landlord domination. This essay, with its call for the formation of peasant associations and its prediction of dire consequences for all who stood in the peasants' way, provided a blueprint for Mao's revolutionary strategy of "surrounding the cities from the countryside."

To implement his strategy Mao developed a well-trained and highly disciplined "Red Army" capable of withstanding KMT attacks and he organized local governments, or "soviets," where Communist control could be consolidated. A soviet republic was proclaimed in 1931 in Jiangxi, where the Communists controlled a rural mountainous area of about 10,000 square miles (26,000 sq km) with some 15 million inhabitants.

The strength of the red army and the durability of the Jiangxi Soviet Republic were severely tested between 1931 and 1934, as the Kuomintang waged five successive military encirclement campaigns against the Communists. Confronted with a larger and better-equipped enemy, Mao and his chief military strategist, Zhu De (Chu Teh) (1886-1976), refined the tactics of "people's war": enlist the support of local peasants through benevolent treatment of noncombatants; avoid conventional battles with superior enemy forces; isolate the enemy and overextend his supply lines; concentrate superior tactical forces to encircle and annihilate individual enemy units; and attack the enemy only under favorable conditions.

The essential preconditions for a successful people's war were the maintenance of high morale among red army soldiers and the securing of the widest possible base of civilian support. Without the latter, the guerrilla fighter was a "fish out of water." Without the former, a numerically and materially inferior force would be unable to maintain discipline and fighting effectiveness. Underlying both preconditions was the premise that a sense of purpose was vital to the success of the revolution. As Mao put it in 1936, "The contest of forces is [a contest] of the power and morale of men.... In war, it is man, not matériel, that counts." This voluntarism strain in Mao's thought, stressing the need to place "politics in command," is widely regarded as one of Mao's most important--and controversial--innovations in Marxist theory.[7]

The Long March: 1934-36

In 1934-35, the CCP fled the KMT with over 100,000 men and women. They divided into several armies, marched 6000 miles inland through a brutal terrain of frigid mountain passes, freezing rivers and marshes in search of a sanctuary to continue their revolution. Desertion was common, local peasants refused to join, and local landlords raided the marchers. The army traded opium for supplies, and women were forced to leave their newborns behind with peasant families because a crying infant could endanger troops. Critical tactical blunders led to the bloody sacrifice of soldiers in hopeless battles. Only 7000 survived the march. Intra party struggles and betrayal brought repeated rounds of purges, as Mao emerged as chairman of the Politburo and became the unchallenged leader of the CCP[8]

The Long March became the heroic memory of the CCP, and virtually all the Communist leaders of the next 70 years were marchers or their children.[9]

World War II: 1937-1945

China suffered millions of deaths in the long war, even though battles were few. The Japanese killed tens of thousands of civilians in the occupied territories. Tens of thousands more died when Nationalist troops broke the levees of the Yangtze to stop the Japanese advance after the loss of the capital, Nanking. Millions more Chinese died because of famine during the war.

Millions of Chinese moved to the western regions of China to avoid Japanese invasion. Cities like Kunming ballooned with new arrivals. Entire factories and universities were often taken along for the journey. Japan captured major coastal cities like Shanghai early in the war; cutting the rest of China off from its chief source of finance and industry.

The city of Chongqing became the most frequently bombed city in history. [10]

Though China received Lend Lease economic and military aid from the United States, China did not have sufficient infrastructure to properly arm or even feed its military forces. Much of the aid was lost to corruption and extreme inefficiency.

Communist forces led by Mao were generally more successful at getting support or killing opponents than Nationalists. They were based mainly in Northern China, and built up their strength to battle with the Nationalists as soon as the Japanese were gone.

In occupied territories under Japanese control, civilians were treated harshly.

Civil War: 1945-1949

China was allied with the U.S. and Britain against Japan, and at war's end joined the United Nations as a permanent member of the 5-nation Security Council, with a veto. The Americans attempted to force a negotiated settlement between the KMT and the Communists, but failed.

People's Republic of China: 1949 - present

[Image:PRCFounding.jpg|right|thumb|1st Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong declaring the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949.]]

In the face of economic collapse the Communists won the civil war in 1949 under Mao Zedong (1893-1976). Mao established a dictatorship, driving the KMT to Taiwan. Taiwan is recognized as an integral part of China in theory, but in practice has been independent since 1949. Mao liquidated millions of opponents, fought the United States in the bloody Korean War (1950-53), and broke with the Soviet Union over the issue of who best represented the Marxist orthodoxy.

Great Leap Forward

The Great Leap Forward (1958-60) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) were the two worst periods of leftist domination in the history of China.

Mao's grand strategy for Cold War competition inflicted a catastrophic agricultural failure in China and victimized tens of millions of Chinese peasants. After Nikita Khrushchev boasted in 1957 that the Soviet Union would soon surpassing the United States in key economic outputs, Mao decided to launch an even faster industrialization program that would push China past Britain in some production categories within 15 years. Beginning in 1958, Mao imposed unrealistic targets on Chinese grain production to extract funds from agriculture for rapid industrial growth. Maoists placed relentless pressure on Communist cadres for ruthless implementation of the Great Leap Forward. Contrary to Maoist plans, China's grain output in 1959-60 declined sharply from 1957 levels and rural per capita grain retention decreased dramatically. Throughout China, party cadres' mismanagement of agricultural production was responsible for the decline in grain output, and the Communist state's excessive requisition of grain caused food shortages for the peasants. But the key factor determining the famine's uneven impact on the peasantry in the provinces was the degree to which provincial leaders genuinely and energetically embraced Maoist programs.[11]

Although the Great Leap Forward was much more disastrous in both human and economic terms, the Cultural Revolution receives the more negative assessment in China. This harsher review of the Cultural Revolution stems from the facts that it occurred more recently, was much longer in duration, and that many of its victims were cadres and intellectuals.[12]

Cultural Revolution, 1966-75

Mao's regime imposed strict controls over everyday life and cost the lives of tens of millions of people. The Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was inspired by Mao and devastated the intellectual class. Tens of thousands of intellectuals and teachers were educators were insulted, tortured, driven to suicide or executed by their students. Mobilized as members of the Red Guards, a new youth organization, the students attacked the educators as "capitalist intellectuals." From 1967 to 1978, the state "send-down" (rustication) policy 17 million urban youth to live and work in rural areas, with a permanent negative impact on their intellectual development and careers. [13] The upheaval was not limited to the cities. Maoist political ideology and teachings provided the catalyst for village conflicts that brought out traditional grievances and further escalated the conflicts. Some of the catalysts were student activists carrying out Mao's teachings, factional disputes, and the Four Clean-up campaigns that purged village officials and corruption. These conflicts spread to traditional grievances like lineage and hamlet hostilities and disputes over leadership and rights. Often, the conflicts caused by Party politics intersected traditional conflicts to the extent that the root causes of the conflicts were lost. This resulted in further escalation of the conflicts, which became more complex and widespread. In rural China an estimated 750,000 to 1.5 million people were killed, and about as many permanently injured; 36 million who suffered some form of political persecution. The vast majority of these casualties occurred from 1968 to 1971, after the end of the period of popular rebellion and factional conflict and the establishment of provisional organs of local state power.[14] Mao's policies were illustrated in posters that used art for political purposes. The posters glorified Mao, criticized his opponents, urged cooperation among all revolutionary groups, and condemned capitalism and foreign imperialists.[15] Major leadership changes and purges occurred at the top, involving Lin Biao, the Gang of Four, and Deng Xiaoping. In 1976, after the death of Zhou Enlai in January, the replacement of Deng in April, and Mao's death in September, a short, dramatic struggle ended with the arrest of the Gang of Four, the end of the Cultural revolution, and the transition to the post-Mao era.

Nixon and China

Nixon visits Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing, Feb. 1972

In 1972 the world was stunned when American President Richard Nixon visited Beijing, ending the cold war between the two countries and opening an era of détente and friendship that continues into the 21st century.[16]

After 1978, Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping focused on market-oriented economic development, and by 2000 output had quadrupled, population growth ended (by imposing a one-child policy), and good relations were secured with the West. For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically and the room for personal choice has expanded, yet political controls and Internet censorship remain tight.

The "Great Leap Forward" and the Sino-Soviet Split

In 1958, Mao broke with the Soviet model and announced a new economic program, the "Great Leap Forward," aimed at rapidly raising industrial and agricultural production. Giant cooperatives (communes) were formed, and "backyard factories" dotted the Chinese landscape. The results were disastrous. Normal market mechanisms were disrupted, agricultural production fell behind, and China's people exhausted themselves producing what turned out to be shoddy, un-salable goods. Within a year, starvation appeared even in fertile agricultural areas. From 1960 to 1961, the combination of poor planning during the Great Leap Forward and bad weather resulted in one of the deadliest famines in human history.

The already strained Sino-Soviet relationship deteriorated sharply in 1959, when the Soviets started to restrict the flow of scientific and technological information to China. The dispute escalated, and the Soviets withdrew all of their personnel from China in August 1960. In 1960, the Soviets and the Chinese began to have disputes openly in international forums.

The Cultural Revolution

Painting by Yun Xin, born in 1944

In the early 1960s, State President Liu Shaoqi and his protégé, Party General Secretary Deng Xiaoping, took over direction of the party and adopted pragmatic economic policies at odds with Mao's revolutionary vision. Dissatisfied with China's new direction and his own reduced authority, Party Chairman Mao launched a massive political attack on Liu, Deng, and other pragmatists in the spring of 1966. The new movement, the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," was unprecedented in communist history. For the first time, a section of the Chinese communist leadership sought to rally popular opposition against another leadership group. China was set on a course of political and social anarchy that lasted the better part of a decade.

In the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, Mao and his "closest comrade in arms," National Defense Minister Lin Biao, charged Liu, Deng, and other top party leaders with dragging China back toward capitalism. Radical youth organizations, called Red Guards, attacked party and state organizations at all levels, seeking out leaders who would not bend to the radical wind.

Gradually, Red Guard and other radical activity subsided, and the Chinese political situation stabilized along complex factional lines. The leadership conflict came to a head in September 1971, when Party Vice Chairman and Defense Minister Lin Biao reportedly tried to stage a coup against Mao; Lin Biao later died in a plane crash in Mongolia.

In the aftermath of the Lin Biao fiasco, many officials criticized and dismissed during 1966-69 were reinstated. Chief among these was Deng Xiaoping, who reemerged in 1973 and was confirmed in 1975 in the concurrent posts of Politburo Standing Committee member, PLA Chief of Staff, and Vice Premier.

The ideological struggle between more pragmatic, veteran party officials and the radicals re-emerged with a vengeance in late 1975. Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and three close Cultural Revolution associates (later dubbed the "Gang of Four") launched a media campaign against Deng. In January 1976, Premier Zhou Enlai, the #2 leader, died of cancer. On April 5, Beijing citizens staged a spontaneous demonstration in Tiananmen Square in Zhou's memory, with strong political overtones of support for Deng. The authorities forcibly suppressed the demonstration. Deng was blamed for the disorder and stripped of all official positions, although he retained his party membership.

The Post-Mao Era

Mao's death in September 1976 removed a towering figure from Chinese politics and set off a scramble for succession. Former Minister of Public Security Hua Guofeng was quickly confirmed as Party Chairman and Premier. A month after Mao's death, Hua, backed by the PLA, arrested Jiang Qing and other members of the "Gang of Four." After extensive deliberations, the Chinese Communist Party leadership reinstated Deng Xiaoping to all of his previous posts at the 11th Party Congress in August 1977. Deng then led the effort to place government control in the hands of veteran party officials opposed to the radical excesses of the previous two decades.

The new, pragmatic leadership emphasized economic development and renounced mass political movements. At the pivotal December 1978 Third Plenum (of the 11th Party Congress Central Committee), the leadership adopted economic reform policies aimed at expanding rural income and incentives, encouraging experiments in enterprise autonomy, reducing central planning, and attracting foreign direct investment into China. The plenum also decided to accelerate the pace of legal reform, culminating in the passage of several new legal codes by the National People's Congress in June 1979.

After 1979, the Chinese leadership moved toward more pragmatic positions in almost all fields. The party encouraged artists, writers, and journalists to adopt more critical approaches, although open attacks on party authority were not permitted. In late 1980, Mao's Cultural Revolution was officially proclaimed a catastrophe. Hua Guofeng, a protégé of Mao, was replaced as premier in 1980 by reformist Sichuan party chief Zhao Ziyang and as party General Secretary in 1981 by the even more reformist Communist Youth League chairman Hu Yaobang.

Reform policies brought great improvements in the standard of living, especially for urban workers and for farmers who took advantage of opportunities to diversify crops and establish village industries. Literature and the arts blossomed, and Chinese intellectuals established extensive links with scholars in other countries.

At the same time, however, political dissent as well as social problems such as inflation, urban migration, and prostitution emerged. Although students and intellectuals urged greater reforms, some party elders increasingly questioned the pace and the ultimate goals of the reform program. In December 1986, student demonstrators, taking advantage of the loosening political atmosphere, staged protests against the slow pace of reform, confirming party elders' fear that the current reform program was leading to social instability. Hu Yaobang, a protégé of Deng and a leading advocate of reform, was blamed for the protests and forced to resign as CCP General Secretary in January 1987. Premier Zhao Ziyang was made General Secretary and Li Peng, former Vice Premier and Minister of Electric Power and Water Conservancy, was made Premier.

1989 Student Movement and Tiananmen Square

After Zhao became the party General Secretary, the economic and political reforms he had championed came under increasing attack. His proposal in May 1988 to accelerate price reform led to widespread popular complaints about rampant inflation and gave opponents of rapid reform the opening to call for greater centralization of economic controls and stricter prohibitions against Western influence. This precipitated a political debate, which grew more heated through the winter of 1988-89.

The death of Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, coupled with growing economic hardship caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for a large-scale protest movement by students, intellectuals, and other parts of a disaffected urban population. University students and other citizens camped out in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu's death and to protest against those who would slow reform. Their protests, which grew despite government efforts to contain them, called for an end to official corruption and for defense of freedoms guaranteed by the Chinese constitution. Protests also spread to many other cities, including Shanghai, Chengdu, and Guangzhou.

Martial law was declared on May 20, 1989. Late on June 3 and early on the morning of June 4, military units were brought into Beijing. They used armed force to clear demonstrators from the streets. There are no official estimates of deaths in Beijing, but most observers believe that casualties numbered in the hundreds.

After June 4, while foreign governments expressed horror at the brutal suppression of the demonstrators, the central government eliminated remaining sources of organized opposition, detained large numbers of protesters, and required political reeducation not only for students but also for large numbers of party cadre and government officials.

Following the resurgence of conservatives in the aftermath of June 4, economic reform slowed until given new impetus by Deng Xiaoping's dramatic visit to southern China in early 1992. Deng's renewed push for a market-oriented economy received official sanction at the 14th Party Congress later in the year as a number of younger, reform-minded leaders began their rise to top positions. Deng and his supporters argued that managing the economy in a way that increased living standards should be China's primary policy objective, even if "capitalist" measures were adopted. Subsequent to the visit, the Communist Party Politburo publicly issued an endorsement of Deng's policies of economic openness. Though not completely eschewing political reform, China has consistently placed overwhelming priority on the opening of its economy.

Third Generation of Leaders

Deng's health deteriorated in the years prior to his death in 1997. During that time, President Jiang Zemin and other members of his generation gradually assumed control of the day-to-day functions of government. This "third generation" leadership governed collectively with President Jiang at the center.

In March 1998, Jiang was re-elected President during the 9th National People's Congress. Premier Li Peng was constitutionally required to step down from that post. He was elected to the chairmanship of the National People's Congress. Zhu Rongji was selected to replace Li as Premier.

Fourth Generation of Leaders

Tiananmen gate of the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City used to be the palace of the emperor of China, it is now a tourist attraction.

In November 2002, the 16th Communist Party Congress elected Hu Jintao, who in 1992 was designated by Deng Xiaoping as the "core" of the fourth generation leaders, the new General Secretary. A new Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee was also elected in November.

In March 2003, General Secretary Hu Jintao was elected President at the 10th National People's Congress. Jiang Zemin retained the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission. At the Fourth Party Plenum in September 2004, Jiang Zemin retired from the Central Military Commission, passing the Chairmanship and control of the People's Liberation Army to President Hu Jintao.

China is firmly committed to economic reform and opening to the outside world. The Chinese leadership has identified reform of state industries and the establishment of a social safety net as government priorities. Government strategies for achieving these goals include large-scale privatization of unprofitable state-owned enterprises and development of a pension system for workers. The leadership has also downsized the government bureaucracy.


  1. [http://www.creationism.org/csshs/v06n2p04.htm Roy L. Hales, "Archaeology, The Bible and The Post-Flood Origins of Chinese History," from www.creationism.org]
  2. Dardess, A Ming Society (1996)
  3. Hsü, (1999) ch 20
  4. Hsü, (1999) ch 20
  5. Spence, Search for Modern China (1990) ch 14-16
  6. Spence, Search for Modern China (1990) ch 14
  7. Spence, Search for Modern China (1990) ch 15-16; Spence, Mao Zedong (2006); quote in Baum (1964)
  8. John M. Glionna, "China's reality check on Long March," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 16, 2008
  9. Sun Shuyun, The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth (2007)
  10. Chóngqìng.
  11. Yixin Chen, "Cold War Competition and Food Production in China, 1957-1962," Agricultural History 2009 83(1): 51-78,
  12. William A. Joseph, "A Tragedy of Good Intentions: Post-mao Views of the Great Leap Forward." Modern China 1986 12(4): 419-457. Issn: 0097-7004 in Jstor
  13. Xueguang Zhou and Liren Hou, "Children of the Cultural Revolution: the State and the Life Course in the People's Republic of China." American Sociological Review 1999 64(1): 12-36. Issn: 0003-1224 in Jstor
  14. Jonathan Unger, "Cultural Revolution Conflict in the Villages.} China Quarterly 1998 (153): 82-106. Issn: 0305-7410 in Jstor ; Andrew G. Walder, and Yang Su, "The Cultural Revolution in the Countryside: Scope, Timing and Human Impact." China Quarterly 2003 (173): 74-99. Issn: 0305-7410
  15. Patricia Powell, and Joseph Wong, "Propaganda Posters from the Chinese Cultural Revolution." Historian 1997 59(4): 776-793. Issn: 0018-2370 in EBSCO
  16. For primary sources and details see "Record of Historic Richard Nixon-Zhou Enlai Talks in February 1972 Now Declassified"

External links

Further reading

For a more detailed guide go to the Bibliography below

Detailed Bibliography

For a long scholarly bibliography through 2001 see "Modern Chinese History: A Basic Bibliography".


  • Eberharad, Wolfram. A History of China (2005), 380 pages' full text online free
  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, and Kwang-ching Liu. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China (1999) 352 pages excerpt and text search
  • Fairbank, John King and Goldman, Merle. China: A New History. 2nd ed. Harvard U. Press, (2006). 640 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Gernet, Jacques, J. R. Foster, and Charles Hartman. A History of Chinese Civilization (1996), called the best one-volume survey; excerpt and text search
  • Hsü, Immanuel Chung-yueh. The Rise of Modern China, 6th ed. (Oxford University Press, 1999), highly detailed coverage of 1644-1999, in 1136pp. excerpt and text search
  • Huang, Ray. China, a Macro History (1997) 335pp, an idiosyncratic approach, not for beginners; online edition from Questia
  • Latourette, Kenneth Scott. The Development of China (1917) 273 pages; full text online
  • Michael, Franz. China through the Ages: History of a Civilization. (1986). 278pp; online edition from Questia
  • Mote, Frederick W. Imperial China, 900–1800 Harvard University Press, 1999, 1,136 pages, the authoritative treatment of the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties; excerpt and text search
  • Perkins, Dorothy. Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture. Facts on File, 1999. 662 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Roberts, J. A. G. A Concise History of China. Harvard U. Press, 1999. 341 pp.
  • Schoppa, R. Keith. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. Columbia U. Press, 2000. 356 pp. online edition from Questia
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China (1991), 876pp; well written survey from 1644 to 1980s excerpt and text search; complete edition online at Questia
  • Ven, Hans van de, ed. Warfare in Chinese History. E. J. Brill, 2000. 456 pp. online edition
  • Wang, Ke-wen, ed. Modern China: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Nationalism. Garland, 1998. 442 pp.
  • Wright, David Curtis. History of China (2001) 257pp; online edition
  • full text of older histories (pre 1923)

Prehistory and early history

  • Chang, Kwang-chih. The Archaeology of Ancient China, Yale University Press, 1986.

Sung Dynasty

  • Hymes, Robert, and Conrad Schirokauer, eds. Ordering the World: Approaches to State and Society in Sung Dynasty China, U of California Press, 1993; complete text online free


  • Brook, Timothy. The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. U. of California Press, 1998. excerpt and text search
  • Dardess, John W. A Ming Society: T'ai-ho County, Kiangsi, Fourteenth to Seventeenth Centuries. U. of California Press, 1983; uses advanced "new social history" complete text online free
  • Farmer, Edward. Zhu Yuanzhang and Early Ming Legislation: The Reordering of Chinese Society Following the Era of Mongol Rule. E.J. Brill, 1995.
  • Goodrich, L. Carrington, and Chaoying Fang. Dictionary of Ming Biography. (1976).
  • Huang, Ray. 1587, A Year of No Significance: The Ming Dynasty in Decline. (1981). excerpt and text search
  • Mote, Frederick W. and Twitchett, Denis, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 7: The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, Part 1. (1988). 976 pp.
  • Schneewind, Sarah. A Tale of Two Melons: Emperor and Subject in Ming China. (2006). excerpt and text search
  • Tsai, Shih-shan Henry. Perpetual Happiness: The Ming Emperor Yongle. (2001). excerpt and text search
  • Mote, Frederick W., and Denis Twitchett, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 7, part 1: The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644 (1988). 1008 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Twitchett, Denis and Frederick W. Mote, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 8: The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, Part 2. (1998). 1203 pp.; Twitchett, Denis and Frederick W. Mote, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 8: The Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, Part 1.


  • Fairbank, John K. and Liu, Kwang-Ching, ed. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 2: Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911, Part 2. Cambridge U. Press, 1980. 754 pp.
  • Peterson, Willard J., ed. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 9, Part 1: The Ch'ing Dynasty to 1800. Cambridge U. Press, 2002. 753 pp.
  • Rawski, Evelyn S. The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions (2001) complete text online free
  • Struve, Lynn A., ed. The Qing Formation in World-Historical Time. (2004). 412 pp.
  • Struve, Lynn A., ed. Voices from the Ming-Qing Cataclysm: China in Tigers' Jaws (1998) excerpt and text search

Republican Era

  • Bergere, Marie-Claire. Sun Yat-Sen (1998), 480pp, the standard biography, based on rigorous modern scholarship
  • Boorman, Howard L., ed. Biographical Dictionary of Republican China. (Vol. I-IV and Index. 1967-1979). 600 valuable short scholarly biographies excerpt and text search
    • Boorman, Howard L. "Sun Yat-sen" in Boorman, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Republican China (1970) 3: 170-89, excellent starting place. complete text online
  • Dreyer, Edward L. China at War, 1901-1949. (1995). 422 pp.
  • Eastman Lloyd. Seeds of Destruction: Nationalist China in War and Revolution, 1937- 1945. (1984)
  • Eastman Lloyd et al. The Nationalist Era in China, 1927-1949 (1991) excerpt and text search
  • Fairbank, John K., ed. The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 12, Republican China 1912-1949. Part 1. (1983). 1001 pp.
  • Fairbank, John K. and Feuerwerker, Albert, eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 13: Republican China, 1912-1949, Part 2. (1986). 1092 pp.
  • Gordon, David M. The China-Japan War, 1931–1945. The Journal of Military History v70#1 (2006) 137-182; major historiographical overview of all important books and interpretations; in Project Muse
  • Hsiung, James C. and Steven I. Levine, eds. China's Bitter Victory: The War with Japan, 1937-1945 (1992), essays by scholars; online from Questia; also excerpt and text search
  • Hsi-sheng, Ch'i. Nationalist China at War: Military Defeats and Political Collapse, 1937–1945 (1982)
  • Hung, Chang-tai. War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937-1945 (1994) complete text online free
  • Rubinstein, Murray A., ed. Taiwan: A New History (2006), 560pp
  • Shiroyama, Tomoko. China during the Great Depression: Market, State, and the World Economy, 1929-1937 (2008)
  • Westad, Odd Arne. Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950. (2003). 413 pp. the standard history

Communist era, 1949- present

  • Barnouin, Barbara, and Yu Changgen. Zhou Enlai: A Political Life (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Baum, Richard D. "'Red and Expert': The Politico-Ideological Foundations of China's Great Leap Forward," Asian Survey, Vol. 4, No. 9 (Sep., 1964), pp. 1048-1057 in JSTOR
  • Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine (1996), on the "Great Leap Forward" of 1950s
  • Chang, Jung and Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story, (2005), 814 pages, ISBN 0-679-42271-4
  • Dittmer, Lowell. China's Continuous Revolution: The Post-Liberation Epoch, 1949-1981 (1989) online free
  • Dietrich, Craig. People's China: A Brief History, 3d ed. (1997), 398pp excerpt and text search
  • Kirby, William C., ed. Realms of Freedom in Modern China. (2004). 416 pp.
  • Kirby, William C.; Ross, Robert S.; and Gong, Li, eds. Normalization of U.S.-China Relations: An International History. (2005). 376 pp.
  • Li, Xiaobing. A History of the Modern Chinese Army (2007) excerpt and text search
  • MacFarquhar, Roderick and Fairbank, John K., eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 15: The People's Republic, Part 2: Revolutions within the Chinese Revolution, 1966-1982. Cambridge U. Press, 1992. 1108 pp.
  • Meisner, Maurice. Mao's China and After: A History of the People’s Republic, 3rd ed. (Free Press, 1999), dense book with theoretical and political science approach. excerpt and text search
  • Spence, Jonatham. Mao Zedong (1999) excerpt and text search
  • Shuyun, Sun. The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth (2007)
  • Wang, Jing. High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng's China (1996) complete text online free
  • Wenqian, Gao. Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary (2007) excerpt and text search

Cultural Revolution, 1966-76

  • Clark, Paul. The Chinese Cultural Revolution: A History (2008), a favorable look at artistic production excerpt and text search
  • Esherick, Joseph W.; Pickowicz, Paul G.; and Walder, Andrew G., eds. The Chinese Cultural Revolution as History. (2006). 382 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Jian, Guo; Song, Yongyi; and Zhou, Yuan. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. (2006). 433 pp.
  • MacFarquhar, Roderick and Fairbank, John K., eds. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 15: The People's Republic, Part 2: Revolutions within the Chinese Revolution, 1966-1982. Cambridge U. Press, 1992. 1108 pp.
  • MacFarquhar, Roderick and Michael Schoenhals. Mao's Last Revolution. (2006).
  • MacFarquhar, Roderick. The Origins of the Cultural Revolution. Vol. 3: The Coming of the Cataclysm, 1961-1966. (1998). 733 pp.
  • Yan, Jiaqi and Gao, Gao. Turbulent Decade: A History of the Cultural Revolution. (1996). 736 pp.

Economy and environment

  • Chow, Gregory C. China's Economic Transformation (2nd ed. 2007) excerpt and text search
  • Elvin, Mark. Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China. (2004). 564 pp.
  • Elvin, Mark and Liu, Ts'ui-jung, eds. Sediments of Time: Environment and Society in Chinese History. (1998). 820 pp.
  • Ji, Zhaojin. A History of Modern Shanghai Banking: The Rise and Decline of China's Finance Capitalism. (2003. 325) pp.
  • Naughton, Barry. The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth (2007)
  • Rawski, Thomas G. and Lillian M. Li, eds. Chinese History in Economic Perspective, University of California Press, 1992 complete text online free
  • Sheehan, Jackie. Chinese Workers: A New History. Routledge, 1998. 269 pp.
  • Stuart-Fox, Martin. A Short History of China and Southeast Asia: Tribute, Trade and Influence. (2003). 278 pp.

Intellectual, social and cultural history

  • de Bary, William Theodore, et al., Sources of Chinese Tradition (1960), primary sources
  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. Women and the Family in Chinese History (2002) online edition from Questia
  • Fung, Yu-lan. A History of Chinese Philosophy, (2d ed. 2 vol., University Press, 1963)
  • Goldman, Merle and Lee, Leo Ou-fan, ed. An Intellectual History of Modern China. Cambridge U. Press, 2002. 607 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Mair, Victor H., ed. The Columbia History of Chinese Literature. Columbia U. Press, 2001. 800 pp. online edition from Questia
  • Mote, Frederick W. Intellectual Foundations of China, (2d ed. 1989)
  • Needham, Joseph; Robinson, Kenneth Girdwood; and Huang, Ray. Science and Civilisation in China: V. 7, Part 2: General Conclusions and Reflections. (2004). 283 pp. the last volume of a monumental series
  • Schwartz, Benjamin. The World of Thought in Ancient China (1985)
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution (1982), 560pp' intellectual history of politics, 1895-1930s excerpt and text search
  • Temple, Robert, and Joseph Needham. The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention, (2007), summarizes Needham's massive multivolume history
  • Watson, William. The Arts of China, 900-1620. (2000). 304 pp.
  • Watson, William. The Arts of China to A.D. 900 2000. excerpt and text search
  • Xinian, Fu, Guo Daiheng, Liu Xujie, and Pan Guxi. Chinese Architecture (2002) excerpt and text search
  • Xu, Guoqi, and William C. Kirby. Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008 (2008)


  • Charbonnier, Jean, David Notley, and M. N. L. Couve de Murville. Christians in China: A.D. 600 to 2000 (2007) excerpt and text search
  • Seiwert, Hubert. Popular Religious Movements and Heterodox Sects in Chinese History. Brill, 2003. 548 pp.


  • Braester, Yomi. Witness against History: Literature, Film, and Public Discourse in Twentieth-Century China. Stanford U. Press, 2003. 264 pp.
  • Crossley, Pamela Kyle. A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (2002) complete text online free
  • Duara, Prasenjit. Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China. U. of Chicago Press, 1995. 275 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Huang, Ray. Broadening the Horizons of Chinese History: Discourses, Syntheses and Comparisons. M. E. Sharpe, 1999. 274 pp. online edition from Questia
  • Huters, Theodore; Wong, R. Bin; and Yu, Pauline, eds. Culture and State in Chinese History: Convention, Accommodations, and Critiques. Stanford U. Press, 1997. 500 pp.
  • Johnston, Alastair Iain. Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History. Princeton U. Press, 1995. 307 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Lach, Donald F. "China in Western Thought and Culture," in Philip P. Wiener, ed. The Dictionary of the History of Ideas (1974) online edition
  • Ng, On-Cho and Wang, Q. Edward. Mirroring the Past: The Writing and Use of History in Imperial China. U. of Hawai`i Press, 2005. 306 pp.
  • Van Kley, Edwin J. "Europe's 'Discovery' of China and the Writing of World History," The American Historical Review, 76 (1971), 358-85. in JSTOR
  • Wang, Ben. Illuminations from the Past: Trauma, Memory, and History in Modern China. Stanford U. Press, 2004. 311 pp.
  • Wang, David Der-wei. The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China. U. of California Press, 2004. 402 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Wang, Q. Edward. Inventing China Through History: The May Fourth Approach to Historiography. State U. of New York Press, 2001. 304 pp.
  • Wilkinson, Endymion. Chinese History, A Manual, Revised and Enlarged. Harvard U. Asia Center, 2000. 1181 pp. Standard research guide to 4300 books and sources (most in Chinese) covering all major topics; for advanced users only
  • Xia, Yafeng. "The Study of Cold War International History in China: A Review of the Last Twenty Years," Journal of Cold War Studies10#1 Winter 2008, pp. 81-115 in Project Muse
  • Studies of Modern Chinese History: Reviews and Historiographical Essays