Over China - Geschiedenis van China


China's documented history dates back nearly 5.000 years, beginning with the reign of the legendary Emperor Huangdi in 2698 BC. Since that time, China has been ruled by 396 emperors and 162 kings from 83 dynasties, which were replaced by the Chinese republics in 1911.


Neolithic and the first royal dynasties (9000 – 770 BC)

Around the year 9000 BC, the first tribes in the area around the Yellow River, which is known as the cradle of Chinese civilization. During the following seven millennia, the early Chinese mastered the techniques and technologies of bronze casting, glazed pottery, animal husbandry, agriculture and developed their first musical instruments. However, the first official dynasty, the Xia Dynasty, did not appear for another 7000 years. 

The Xia dynasty was founded around 2000 BC and China entered a period of powerful dynasties that dominated large parts of the Chinese cultural sphere. During that time, the belief arose that the rule of the king was derived from the will of heaven as well as the custom that always the eldest son should be the next in line to the throne. The Chinese developed the basic features of their writing and learned to produce silk. The great era of the first dynasties ends with the King Zhou You, around the year 770 BC. He banned his wife from the royal court to marry his concubine. However, the feudalistic empire of Zhou was held together by complicated family ties, and the acts of the king led to the revolution of the Queen’s family and the de facto independence of the individual principalities sworn to the crown


Spring and Autumn, Warring State Period and Unification (770 – 221 BC)


The years between 770 BC and 221 BC are commonly referred to as the Spring and Autumn Period (named after the Annals of Confucius) and the Warring States Period (named after a book written by Liu Xiang at that time). Although this period was characterized by constant struggles of the individual principalities and later kingdoms for supremacy in China, it is regarded as a golden age of the Chinese culture. Confucius founded a philosophy emphasizing tradition and hierarchy and Lao Tzu, lay the basis of Taoism, which is one of today's world religions. These two are probably the most prominent representatives of the so called hundred schools of thought from that period. In addition, the Chinese learned how to cast iron, developed modular construction with the help of standardized parts, which led to a first form of mass production. They invented the chrome plating, which has not been rediscovered until 1938. Minted coins became the dominant currency.

 These technological innovations enabled the kingdom of Qin, which gave China its present name, to conquer the other kingdoms of China within 9 years, and in 221 BC China has been unified. To express its uniqueness, Qin Ying Zheng adopted the title of Emperor (Huangdi). He has been the first emperor of China and is, until today, a quite controversial figure. On the one hand, he unified the country. He initiated the construction of the first Great Wall, and his grave side, which has been protected by the terracotta army, is world famous. He divided China into 36 prefectures and abolished hereditary administrative and military offices; every free man could reach a position according to his abilities and achievements. He also standardized writing, currency, weights and measurements. On the other hand, he introduced a draconian legal system that regulated the smallest details of daily life known as legalism. All deviating philosophies were banned and their writings were burned. He ordered to burry 460 Confucian scholars alive. Towards the end of his reign, around 10% of China's population has been enslaved to work for his massive construction projects.


The Han Dynasty (210 BC – 220 AD)


In 210 BC a peasant uprising took place that ended the Qin dynasty after only 11 years. For eight years the leaders of the uprising fought a bloody civil war, until 202 BC Liu Bang was victorious. He established the Han Dynasty, after which the majority of the Chinese population is called today, Han. During the over 400-year reign of the Han emperors, Confucianism became state philosophy in China. They laid the foundations for the famous Chinese educational system for officials that would endure until 1911. The Han divided the population into four social classes: The highest class has been the aristocracy followed by the state officials. Craftsmen and farmers made up the third rank in the social hierarchy and the merchants, who themselves produce nothing, represented the lowest class. During this time, Cai Lun discovered papermaking and the Silk Road, as a common trade route between the East and the West, was established.


Division and the rise and fall of the Tang Dynasty (220 - 907 AD)


220 AD  the Yellow Turban Rebellion swept the Han Dynasty away, and for the next 400 years China was almost continuously divided again. This changed when the mighty state official Li Yuan declared himself emperor in 618. Within five years he managed to reunite China again. He founded the Tang Dynasty, one of the most open minded dynasties in Chinese history. Although the Tang emperors were Buddhists themselves, they granted freedom of belief. They allowed foreigners to intermarry with Chinese and even married members of their family to foreign rules and the princes of minorities in order to keep the peace. During this time, the first and only empress who ruled in her own name rose to power, Wu Zetian, who was a former daughter of a merchant. She derived her claim from the pre-Christian dynasty of Zhou. The Tang dynasty initiated the second golden age in Chinese history. Numerous Buddhist scriptures came from India to China, and 492 Buddha cave temples were built out of the rock, of which 232 are still preserved. During this time, the Chinese invented the printing press and Sun Simiao wrote his standard work on medicine, called “Recipes Worth more than a Thousand Pieces of Gold”, which describes more than 800 medicinal plants and over 5,000 applications. Many schools and universities were founded and over 50,000 poems were written.


The second division: Yuan and Ming (907 - 1644 AD)


In the year 907 a military governor disposed the last Tang emperor and introduced again a nearly 400-year-long period of a division. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, completed the conquest of China in 1279. He moved the capital of his empire from the Mongolian Karakorum to Beijing (at that time called Dadu) and founded the Yuan dynasty, which was to endure until 1368. Also at this time, there was lively cultural exchange with the West. Islam and Lamaism, new crops and Western musical instruments were introduced to China. Chinese gunpowder and porcelain got known in the West. Nevertheless, the Yuan emperors were always regarded as conquerors by the Chinese, as they divided the population into four classes, of which the Chinese themselves made up the two lowest classes.


In 1368 the former Buddhist monk Zhu Yuanzhang led a peasant uprising against the Yuan and finally conquered the capital, Dadu, founding the Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty was the first to maintain constant contact with the countries of Europe and in 1557 leased Macao to the Portuguese. The Ming Dynasty is famous mainly because of four things: 1) the construction of the Forbidden City (1406-1420), the largest palace complex in the world, 2) the building of the Ming wall, which we usually refer to as the Great Wall today, 3) the voyages of Zheng He, who explored the Indian Ocean with hundreds of ships 4) and for its porcelain of which 3 millions objects have been exported. After a drought in 1627 peasants, who were no longer able to pay their taxes, started a rebellion against the Ming and reached Beijing in 1644, which had been the capital since Emperor Yongle. Emperor Chongzhen saw no way out and hanged himself with a strand of yellow silk on the hill behind the Forbidden City, and the Ming Dynasty ended.


Qing - the last dynasty in China (1644 - 1911)


After the fall of the last Ming emperor, General Wu Sangai, who held the eastern end of the Great Wall against the Manchu, had the choice to leave the Dragon Throne to the peasant leader Li Zicheng or to open the gates to the foreign invaders. His choice fell on the Manchu, who had reunited the nomadic tribes north of China after the death of the last Great Khan. A month later the Manchu conquered Beijing and their leader, later known as Emperor Shunzhi, founded the Qing Dynasty in 1644. In its early years, the Qing Dynasty had been very successful. The Chinese Empire expanded to the South and West and forced the Russians to withdraw from their borders. Thus, the empire enjoyed almost two centuries of stability. However, its success led to a false sense of security, and during the late 18th century important processes of modernization in technology and administration had been neglected. Qing China technologically fell behind the West, and with the First Opium War in 1841 and a series of following so called Unequal Treaties began the decline of China. The industrialized Western nations and Japan demanded more and more prerogatives from the Qing emperors, and only their own disunity prevented China from becoming a colony of foreign powers. Finally, the perceived humiliations and the economic decline led to the revolution of 1911. On the 1st of January 1912, Sun Ya- Tsen proclaimed the Republic of China.


The Republic of China (1912 - 1949)


The first Chinese Republic inherited many burdens from the old empire. There was no single center of power, and foreign nations and warlords exercised control over large parts of China. Only in 1927 Nationalist leader General succeeded in bringing China under his control. First reforms and extensive building projects to improve the infrastructure introduced a brief period of economical growth and recovery from 1931 to 1936. During that China achieved a similar economic growth rate like today, 9.3% per year. However, Japanese imperial interests kept Chiang Kai- Shek from finally defeating his inner Chinese opposition. In 1936 he had been arrested in Xi'an by his own generals and forced to make peace with the Communists in order to oppose foreign interests. However, all efforts proved futile, as Japan’s attack on Nanjing opened the second Sino-Japanese War in December 1937. Despite significant losses on Chinese side, the Japanese could not be pushed back until the end of the Second World War in 1945. Even after the end of the war, peace did not last long and Chiang Kai-Shek started the Chinese Civil War in 1946. He broke his agreement with the Communists and attacked North China, their center of power. Despite immense support from the U.S., the Nationalists could not defeat the Communists under Mao Zedong as they lacked the support of the rural population. As a result they had to retreat to Taiwan in 1949, which is still officially referred to as Republic of China until today.


The People's Republic of China (since October 1st, 1949)


On the 1st of October in 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China, which still exists until today. Following internal reforms and a redistribution of land ownership, the first years of the PRC began quite promising and between 1952 and 1957 it achieved an economic growth rate of 8.9% per year, similar to the late thirties of that century. However, the initial hopes eventually failed during the socialist large-scale projects of the Great Leap Forward, which led to a terrible famine. After a period of political weakness, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution, which ended in disaster, and between the years 1966 and 1976 paralyzed the whole of Mainland China. Only two years after his death, the Communist Party agreed under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping to change course. Deng stated, "Mao was 70% good and 30 % bad".  From then on socialism was defined as everything which at the same time and strengthens the productive forces of the country, makes the country stronger and raises the living standard of the population. Gradually, the fixed prices were abolished, and in 1980 the first economic development zones were created in the coastal regions, which marked the beginning of China's opening up policies. Since that time, the opening up of China is progressing steadily and has only been interrupted for two years after the protests on Tiananmen Square (1989). Hong Kong (1997) and Macao (1999) again became part of China. In 2001, China entered the WTO and in 2003, China sent its first astronaut into space. The Chinese people are proud to have hosted the Olympic Games in 2008. Today, China is the second largest economy in the world and one of the fastest developing countries on earth.