History of China

You can endlessly talk about China, which has a history of several millennia. Many interesting books and articles have already been written about the history of China, and a large amount of research has been carried out. In this article, I would only like to outline the main points in the history of this amazing country.

I want to say right away that I will not dwell on Archaic China, because first of all I would like to consider the system of dynasties, which, as you know, became widespread only in Ancient China. By the way, as a basis I took the periodization from the book by M. Kravtsova “History of the Culture of China”.

So, according to the above book, the history of China falls into the following large-scale periods:

  • Archaic China (from the Early Paleolithic to the emergence of statehood)
  • Ancient China (period of early states and period of early empires)
  • Traditional China (from 3rd century to 1912)
  • Modern China (since 1912)

In the historiology of China, the era of the reign of the five perfectly wise sovereigns of antiquity Жел (Yellow Emperor), Zhuan-xu, Gao-hsin, Yao and Shun, which lasted from the end of the 27th century BC to the beginning of the 23rd century BC, as well as the era of the Xia dynasty (beginning of the 23rd century BC to the middle of the 18th century BC) are considered purely mythical.

Ancient China

The exact time of the emergence of the Yin state has not yet been determined. The name Shang-Yin itself should probably be explained. The fact is that the Shang is the name of the people who founded the Yin state (Shants). These terms (Shang and Yin) are often used interchangeably. The Yin era is usually divided into two periods: early Yin (17-14 centuries BC) and late Yin. What was the significance of the Yin era?

First, during this period, the birth of writing takes place. It is to this period that scientists attribute oracular bones – the oldest examples of Chinese written texts found during excavations. (more about the oracle bones).

Secondly, it was in this era that agriculture developed greatly (the transition from hoe to plow-cut agriculture with the use of a plow).

Third, the foundations of the political system are being formed – Late Yin is a centralized state with a hierarchical social structure, consisting of two estates – the aristocracy (headed by rulers) and ordinary people.

Researchers believe that the Yin dynasty perished precisely because of the failure of its ruling regime, which was collapsed by the next dynasty – Zhou. There are two points of view on the origin of the Zhous people. Some believe that the Chzhous were nomads, while others say that long before the overthrow of the Yin dynasty, the Chzhous were sedentary and developed in parallel with the Yins. Both of them agree on one thing: both the Yin and the Zhou people can belong to a single cultural tradition, since the Zhou people have adopted all the achievements of the Yins, including even the state model.

The Zhou era is also divided into two periods: Early (Western) Zhou (11th century – 771 BC) and Late (Eastern) Zhou, which, in turn, breaks up into the period период – Spring and Autumn (771 – 475 BC) and the Warring States period 战国 (475 – 256 BC). A tendency towards decentralization of power is gradually being traced. If the Early Zhou is the heyday of the centralized power laid down in the Yin era, then already in the Spring and Autumn period, specific estates turned into independent state formations. Is it worth talking about their purely nominal dependence on the central government? And already during the period of the Fighting Kingdoms, the disintegration of the Zhou statehood took place and several sovereign states were formed. The most influential of them should be listed: Yan, Zhao, Qi, Chu, Wei, Han, Qin.

Despite the complete fragmentation of the state, the development of agriculture (the use of draft animals), the development of crafts, arts and crafts, the development of new technologies – the smelting of cast iron and steel, the use of oil and natural gas for street lighting and heating of homes is taking place. It is also important to note the further development of writing and the appearance of the book. No less important is the development of the spiritual life of Chinese society – the formation of philosophical thought and the separation of Confucianism and Taoism take place.

Period of early empires

The era of Qin (221 – 206 BC) and Han (206 BC – 220 AD)

China was completely united by the Qin state. We can say that from that moment China switched to a new form of government – the imperial one, since the founder of the state Qin Ying Yizheng took a new title – Qin shi huangdi (translated as “the divine ruler who opens the era of Qin.” Qin shi huangdi became a reformer – under him there was a unification of the systems of measures and weights, writing and the monetary system, the construction of a single network of roads.It is also worth mentioning that two outstanding cultural monuments – the Great Wall of China and the Great Chinese Canal – are also his merit.It can be noted that the Qing era did not last long, but left a notable mark throughout the history and culture of China.

It is customary to subdivide the Han era into Early (Western) Han (206 BC – 9 BC) and Late (Eastern) Han (25 – 220). The time interval between the Early Han and the Late Han is occupied by the Xin dynasty, which lasted only 17 years and was overthrown by the Eastern Han.

If we talk about some transformations of Chinese society, then it is worth noting, first of all, the development of the Shi bureaucracy and, of course, the first episodes of interaction between the Chinese and other peoples – the ethnic community of the Huns (in Chinese – the Huns). Interaction consisted in endless wars, which always ended with the signing of peace treaties and diplomatic agreements, and then again escalated into military conflicts.

This was the case until the middle of the 1st century, when China still managed to crush the Huns. The formation of the Great Silk Road belongs to this period.

Thus, the Han era became a very important stage in the history of China’s development.

Traditional china

In Chinese historiology 3-6 centuries. it is customary to call the era of the six Dynasties (六朝) and subdivided into several periods:

– the era of the Three Kingdoms (三国), when China was divided between three kingdoms: Wei, Shu, and Wu.
– Western Jin (265-316) – a short unification of the country with the restoration of centralized power.
– the era of the Southern and Northern dynasties – 南北朝 (317-589) – here it should be understood that the northern dynasties were formed by the Huns and Tobi, who conquered northern China and founded the state of Northern Wei by the end of the 4th century (386 – 534).

Actually, the Chinese state remained only in the South of China (south of the Yangtze River), hence the name of the Southern Dynasty. Despite the possibility of uniting the Chinese people in the face of the obvious danger of further conquests of the Northern Wei, a total of 5 dynasties have changed in southern China during this time.

It was possible to reunite China during the Sui dynasty (589-618).

If we talk about the culture and spiritual life of China in the era of the Six Dynasties, then it is worth saying that it was at this time that Buddhism in China took shape and turned into one of three ideologies or teachings – 三 教 (together with Confucianism and Taoism).

Also, Chinese literature (poetry), painting (landscape poetry, secular painting), and medicine are developing at a rapid pace. Also, the beginning of the use of tea by the Chinese as an everyday drink belongs to this period (for comparison, in the Han era, tea was used for medicinal purposes).

Tang era (618-907) and Song era (960-1127)

The Tang and Song eras are usually called the classical period in the history of China.

In the Tang era, the further development of the Chinese statehood took place. In the 7th century, China waged wars for control of the Great Silk Road, as well as with the Korean kingdoms and Vietnam. All these wars end with China’s victory. Also, China is expanding trade and diplomatic relations with the states of Central and Southeast Asia, incl. with Japan and with India. As a result, new creeds (non-sterianism, Manichaeism, Islam) and technologies (weaving, cultivation and processing of cotton) penetrated into China.

Literature (Tang classical poetry, Tang classical novella) developed greatly in the Tang era. A system of state examinations for an official bureaucratic rank (academic degree) emerged.

In the 9th century, there is a gradual degradation of the Tang era. In recent years, there have been many uprisings and internecine wars. The period from 907 to 960 in China it is customary to call the era of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms – this is another difficult period in the history of China.

Thus, the Song Empire (960-1127) was surrounded by hostile states, which by that time had formed in the remote regions of China – the Khitan and Tangut kingdoms of Liao (916-1125) and Xi Xia (1032-1227). …

The Tangut kingdom cut off China from many trade routes, including the Great Silk Road, and because of this, China lost many trade and economic ties.

It is worth noting that despite the unfavorable foreign policy situation, the processes that began in the Tang era are further developing in the culture and spiritual life of China. There is a development of painting (Sung classical painting), cities are developing, the theatrical art, which originated in the Tang era, is further developed in the form of street performances. It is impossible not to mention the invention of printing, which led to the emergence of the book business and the creation of libraries.

The Tang and Song eras are certainly some of the most important eras in the history of Chinese culture.

The era of Southern Song (1127-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368)

Until the beginning of the 12th century, the Sung empire managed to contain the threat of an attack from outside. This was done not by military force, but by the conclusion of unprofitable peace treaties and the payment of a huge tribute. The situation changed in the 12th century. In the north-west of China, the state of Jin (the ancestors of the Tungus-Manchu peoples) was formed, which very quickly conquered the Khitan and Tangust kingdoms and invaded China. China was again bounded by the Yangtze River. Everything north of the river belonged to Jin. In the South, the Southern Song Empire was formed. At the same time, the Mongol conquest begins. True, at the very beginning, China acted as an ally of the Mongols and passed on important knowledge to them (for example, the art of taking cities). But China’s hopes were not justified – after the destruction of the Tangut and Jurchen kingdoms, the Mongols decided to attack China.

The Chinese had no choice but to surrender. Thus, the reign of the Yuan dynasty began in 1271. The first emperor was the grandson of Genghis Khan – Khan Kublai.

The Mongol invasion caused enormous damage to China in economic terms, centers of economic activity were destroyed, cities were destroyed. The Mongols were too small to rule the empire they had conquered, and in fact, the power of the central administration was limited to the capital (the city of Dadu instead of Beijing) and the surrounding areas. In other territories, people who entered the service of the Mongols ruled – either foreigners or Chinese. Thus, the Mongol possessions did not represent an integral state, and in the 1st half. In the 14th century, a series of popular uprisings took place across the country, which overthrew the Mongol dynasty.

Despite the fact that China suffered greatly economically from the Mongol invasion, the spiritual and cultural life of the Chinese society practically did not undergo any changes, and in some areas even received further development (painting, theatrical art – the Yuan classical drama).

Age of Ming (1368 – 1644)

The Ming dynasty very quickly managed to restore centralized power in China. The Ming dynasty had a very important task – to restore everything that was broken by the Mongols. The destroyed ones were restored, new cities were built, literary works were restored and republished anew. But the Ming Era cannot be called a period of prosperity – it is a period of conservation of Chinese society, a period of difficult recovery. At the beginning of the 16th century, a series of Sino-Portuguese wars took place, as a result of which the Macau peninsula was withdrawn to Portugal, on which the first European colony, Macau, was founded. In the 17th century, there was a series of military conflicts with the Dutch, who captured the southern part of the island of Taiwan in 1624. All these events undoubtedly affected the formation of a negative attitude towards Europe on the part of the Chinese. Also at the end of the 16th century, relations between China and Japan escalated. In the Korean-Japanese War of the late 16th century, China becomes an ally of Korea, and they defeat Japan.

The death of the Minsk dynasty happened again due to a series of uprisings that swept across the country. The power was destabilized again, which was used by external enemies, this time – the Manchus.

Qing era (1644 – 1911)

The Qing era is the period of Manchu rule. It would be wrong to think that the Manchu invasion took place. At this time, as noted above, uprisings took place throughout the country, and since the Minsk Empire did not have enough strength to suppress the uprisings in the country, it was decided to invite the Manchu army to help. And the Manchus, not meeting any resistance, calmly reached Beijing, simultaneously suppressing popular and peasant uprisings. This was the time of the beginning of the rule of the Manchu Qing dynasty.

The general cultural situation in China with the coming to power of the Manchus was rather contradictory. On the one hand, the Manchus humiliated the Chinese population in every possible way (they forced men to wear braids as a sign of slavish submission to the Manchus), and on the other hand, they recognized the authority of the Chinese spiritual culture.

It is also worth noting that the Manchus fought for their ethnic purity, i.e. prohibited marriages with the Chinese population, adhered to their cultural customs and mores. During this period, it is difficult to talk about any development of Chinese culture. Rather, it can be said that Chinese culture has entered a period of stagnation, and in some areas of decline.

This continued until the second half of the 19th century. Since the mid-19th century, powerful anti-government and anti-Manchu uprisings swept across the country. The most significant were the Taiping Uprising (1850-1863) and the Ihetuan Uprising (1900-1901). In addition, England, Germany, France (occasionally Russia and Japan) waged colonial wars in China (First, Second Opium Wars – 1840-42, 1856-60, Franco-Chinese War – 1884-1885) and the Sino-Japanese War ( 1894-1895).

The Opium War of 1840 also marked a turning point in Chinese history. England, in order to preserve the opium trade, began a war against China. China was forced to sign the Nanking Treaty, which was humiliating for itself.

Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 also did not end well for China. The island of Taiwan passed to Japan, and foreign states divided China into zones of influence. Japan received South Manchuria and Fujian, Germany – the Shandong Peninsula, Great Britain – the Yangtze River basin and Guangdong province, France – southwestern China, and Russia – Manchuria. In 1898, by the way, the city of Harbin was founded in Manchuria.

In the same 1898 in China (if what remained can be called China) a secret society “Yihetuan” (fist for the sake of justice and harmony) was created. The main goal of this society is to expel all foreigners from China.

China in the 20th century

In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion takes place. Here it is worth paying attention to the name of the uprising. The fact is that members of the “ihetuan” actively use the art of fighting without the use of weapons. The Qing authorities provide support to the Ichtuan and declare war on foreign powers. In Beijing, a Russian spiritual mission is being burnt, Orthodox foreigners and Chinese are being killed, diplomatic embassies are besieged. The uprising is suppressed by the forces of a large army, consisting of representatives of eight foreign states.

In 1908, Empress Qi Xi, who has effectively ruled China since 1861, dies. After her, Emperor Pu Yi ascends the throne.

In 1911-1912. the Xinhai Revolution took place in the country, overthrowing the Manchu dynasty and ending the imperial form of government in China. A republican form of government was proclaimed and the Provisional Government of the Republic of China was created, headed by Sun Yatsen. It is worth mentioning here that Sun Yat-sen, back in 1894, created the first revolutionary organization in China called the Chinese Revival Union. ” Its goal was to expel the Manchus and create a democratic state.

In 1912, Pu Yi abdicated the throne, and the commander of the Qing army, Yuan Shikai, was proclaimed interim president of the Republic of China. He establishes a sole dictatorship in the country and dissolves parliament. This continues until 1916 (death of Yuan Shikai). But in fact, until 1949, the country was still plagued by various internecine military-political conflicts.

In the spiritual life of China, the so-called. “Movement for a New Culture”, which insisted on reforming the written language (more details here).

In 1919, the May 4 (五四 运动) movement took place, which contributed to the emergence of the proletariat in China. In 1921, the Chinese Communist Party (中国 共产党) was formed. Since 1924, a series of liberation wars have been taking place in China. Among them are the Northern Expedition of the National Revolutionary Army (1924-1927), the Anti-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the national liberation war (1945-1949).

It is also worth noting that it was in 1924 that the CPC and the National Party (Kuomintang) decided to work together. True, this alliance did not last long, and already in 1927, the commander-in-chief of the government army, Chiang Kai-shek, began persecuting representatives of the CCP. In 1934, the CPC fought to the northwestern regions – this campaign was called the Great March. Their confrontation lasts until 1949.

In the 1930s, the Japanese intervention begins. In 1932, the state of Manchukuo was formed in the northern and northeastern regions of China. Emperor of which was Emperor Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty. This state was completely subordinate to Japan. In the 40s. Japan occupied Nanjing. It all ends only with the end of the anti-Japanese war (1937-1945).
On October 1, 1949, the formation of the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed. Mao Zedong solemnly announced this from the rostrum in Tiananmen Square. Chiang Kai-shek and his supporters move to the island of Taiwan, where the Republic of China continues to be.

Socialism began to be built in China. The leading role in the national economy was played by public ownership of the means of production. Despite the fact that socialist transformations in agriculture, industry, trade and other areas were noticeable, they still did not have the expected effect.

In 1954, the first constitution of the PRC was adopted. Mao Zedong is elected Chairman of the CPC Central Committee.

The Great Leap Forward policy (the goal is to catch up with England in pig iron production per capita) leads the Chinese people to starvation.

From 1966 to 1976, China was rocked by the Cultural Revolution. It was led by Mao Zedong himself and the Gang of Four (his associates). There are persecutions against the intelligentsia, cultural workers are sent to “re-education” in villages and remote areas. This period went down in the history of the country as one of the most difficult and caused irreparable damage to the culture of China as a whole. In 1976, Mao Zedong dies. All the people who led the Cultural Revolution are arrested.

In 1978-1979. Deng Xiaoping announces a policy of reform and opening up. China began to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. Reforms in China began in the countryside and gradually spread to cities. Foreign investments are attracted to the country, special economic zones are created, various technologies are borrowed in every possible way, advanced equipment is imported and qualified personnel are attracted.

The next major event is 1989, when a student demonstration takes place in Tiananmen Square, the participants of which demand urgent democratic reforms in China. The demonstrators are dispersed with the help of armored vehicles, as a result of which more than 2,000 people die.

In 1997 and 1999, Hong Kong and Macau (Macau) returned to the PRC by England and Portugal.

In March 2003, Hu Jintao was elected President of the PRC at the 1st session of the 10th NPC.

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