The Ancient Chinese history includes a period of time starting from a million and seven thousand years ago. The beginning of the ancient history of China was marked by the man Yuanmou and the end of it by the First Opium War that began in 1840. In its history China has gone through the periods of the primitive, slave and feudal societies.
The history of modern China starts in 1840 and ends by founding the People’s Republic of China, on October 1, 1949. During this period, China had a half-colonial and half-feudal system. The history of modern China can be divided into the period of the old (1840– 1919) and new democratic revolution (1919 – 1949). With the foundation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, a period of the socialist revolution and building of the country begins.
The period of Chinese primitive society lasts between 1,700,000 BC and 22nd century BC, when the Xia dynasty was founded. The primitive society is divided into the period of primitive hordes and period of tribal communities. The period of tribal communities includes matriarchy and patriarchy.
As legend has it, the Yellow Emperor (黄帝– Huángdì) was a tribal leader of the group of tribes on the bank of the Yellow River more than 4,600 years ago. He started to grow cereals and domestic animals, which made the community stronger. The Yellow Emperor led the tribes into the war against the tribes of the God of Fire and tribes headed by Chi You, and he defeated them all. After this victory, the tribes of the Yellow Emperor and the God of Fire unite and live together for a long time on the bank of the Yellow River. These tribes will make up the Chinese nation later on, and the Yellow Emperor is regarded the founder of the Chinese nation. After him, three tribal leaders were recorded in history as significant rulers of the united tribes in the Yellow River Valley:
Yao (尧), Shun (舜) and Yu (禹).
The Yellow Emperor, the God of Fire, Yao, Shun and Yu represent the five legendary emperors in the Chinese history.
The slave society: Xia, Shang, Western Zhou dynasties and the Period of Spring and Autumn
The Chinese slavery lasts between the 22nd century BC and 476 BC. In the 22nd century BC, YU’s son Qi (启) founds the Xia dynasty and the oldest slavery state in China. In the 16th century BC, king Jie (桀) of the Xia dynasty is defeated by king Tang (汤) of the Shang (商) dynasty and the rule of the Shang dynasty begins. The Shang dynasty period between the 16th century BC and the 11the century BC is a period of a tumultuous development of the slave society.
The rule of the Shang (16th century BC- 11th century BC) is a period of a tumultuous development of the slave society. Agriculture and crafts develop, as well as bronze melting and casting. The first historical data date back to this period. The Shang dynasty also ends up defeated by the next dynasty, which is the Zhou dynasty, whose first king is Wu (周武王).
The rule of the Western Zhou lasts between the 11th century and 771 BC, and represents the peak of the slave society. Rulers of the Western Zhou apply the system of noble estates, the system of wells and fields. During the reign of king Li (厉), a national uprising happened. Li fled the country and the two dukes, Zhou (and Shoo (召), took over the power. In 771 BC, the Western Zhou was defeated by the Quanrong (犬戎) people.
The period between 770 BC and 476 BC is the period of gradual decline of the slave society. In this period, the position and status of the Zhou royal family weaken, simultaneously strengthening the status and position of the aristocracy. Thanks to the use of iron and increase in cattle keeping, agricultural production develops, as well as private land ownership, which leads to a breakdown in slavery of state land ownership and the system of wells and fields. Soon afterwards, the slavery system is totally rejected.
The period of Spring and Autumn is a period of significant growth of the Chinese culture and thought.
Huo Ding, ritual bronze from the Period of Spring and Autumn, the Museum in Taiyuan
Foundation and development of the feudal society- the period of warring states, Qin and Han
The period of early feudalism in China lasts between 475 BC and 220 AC. During the period of the warring states, the newly created class of land owners starts political reforms in feudal states. Tumultuous political changes happen in the Qin state, which consequently make the Qin state (秦) the most powerful feudal state. During this period, a significant improvement in the society, economy, science and technique is achieved, as well as the development of Chinese thought. This period is famous for the so-called Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought (“百家争鸣“), which are important for further growth of Chinese philosophy and science.
Seven states at war before unification of China: Qin, Wei, Chu, Qi, Yan, Zhao, Han
The state of Qin is the first Chinese absolutistic and centralised feudal state that managed to unite a few different nations. The first Qin emperor (秦始皇 – Qínshǐhuáng) is an exceptionally important personality in Chinese history. In order to prevent the intrusion of the Huns from the north, he uses the existing wall in the north of the states of Qin, Zhao and Yan as the basis and makes it longer eastward towards to the region of the modern province of Liaoning and westward to today’s Lanzhou. That is how the well-known Chinese Wall was made. The Chinese call it the “10,000 Li-long wall”. Besides its great importance for the Chinese history in general, the Qin dynasty, did not have sympathy of the people, because of its tyrannical practices, so they were destroyed by people’s uprisings.
The Western Han represents a very powerful feudal dynasty. At the beginning of the Western Han, the politics of building the society was under implementation, and it led to a significant recovery and development, so during the reign of the emperor Wu(汉武帝, 140 BC– 87BC), the Chinese Empire became stronger than ever. The Western Han is famous for even bigger centralisation of power, for the acceptance of the Confucius thought as the foundation of the society, for more and more repeated wars with the Huns, but also for the opening of the silk road, which served well for the trade of silk and other goods between China and Mediterranean, as well as for the establishing cultural cooperation. The Western Han was destroyed by national uprisings.
And it 25 AC the Guang emperor founds the Eastern Han dynasty. The Eastern Han dynasty lasts until 220 AC, when it disappears from the stage of history, as national uprisings and rebellions break out against the tyranny and darkness of the ruling class. The Yellow Turban Rebellion is historically recorded as particularly destructive for this dynasty.
Division of feudal states and big integration of the people- three kingdoms, Western and Eastern Jin, Southern and Northern dynasty
As the consequence of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the regime of the Eastern Han weakens and it only formally continues to exist. A new military formation is formed after crushing the rebellion and it creates a separatist regime. In Guand, Cao Cao defeats Yuan Shao, despite having three times fewer soldiers and he unites the northern territories. However, in the battle at Red Cliffs, Cao Cao is terribly defeated and he comes back to the north. The positions of Sun Quan and Liu Bei are very stable.
In 220 AC, Cao Cao’s son called Cao Pi founds the state of Wei and proclaims him an emperor. In 221 AC Liu Bei founds the state of Shu and also proclaims himself an emperor, and in 222 AC Sun Quan also founds the state and proclaims himself its king. Thus the three kingdoms are created. In the final stage of the Three Kingdoms period, the state of Wei becomes very powerful.
In 263 Wei conquers the state of Shu. In 265 Sima Yan (司马炎) seizes the power over in the Wei country and founds the Western Jin dynasty. In 280 the Western Jin conquers the country of Wu, which finally ends the period of the Three Kingdoms.
The union of the Western Jin is short-lived. Due to sharper class and national antagonism and resistance against the regime, the Western Jin breaks apart in 316. After the breakup and fall of the Western Jin, the heir to the royal family, Sima Rui (司马睿) founds the East Jin dynasty in the south part of the lower course of the Yangtze River.
In the north of China leaders of different clans found 16 states.
In 383 the Front Qin, which unified the territories along the flow of the Hoangho river, confronts the Eastern Jin on the Fei river. The Eastern Jin wins. Soon afterwards the Front Qin disintegrated, leaving the south and north in a situation of total confrontation.
In the south, besides the Eastern Jin, 4 more dynasties are created: Song (宋), Qi (齐), Liang (梁) and Chen (陈), which were collectively known as the Southern dynasties. In the north, 5 dynasties are created, the Northern Wei (北魏), the Eastern Wei (东魏), the Western Wei (西魏), the Northern Qi (北齐) and the Northern Zhou (北周), which were known as Northern dynasties. During the era of Southern and Northern dynasties (420 – 589), the southern part of the lower flow of the Yangtze river develops very intensively economically, while in the North an intensive integration of different groups of people is carried out.
Rise of feudalism-Su and Tang dynasties
The foundation of the Sui dynasty and the end of the Tag dynasty in 907 is regarded as the period of the rise of feudalism. Thanks to the economic development in the south and integration of the people in the north, the Sui dynasty manages to unite the whole Chinese territory. They create a stable social hierarchy. Agriculture, crafts and trade are booming, so the feudal economy is flourishing. The bureaucratic system is reformed in this period, and the system of the emperor’s examination is made. Digging the Great Canal between Beijing and Hangzhou is of exceptional importance for the economy of the south.
During the people’s uprising against the Sui dynasty, a rebel called Li Yuan (李渊) militarily defeats Chang’an (today’s Xi’an) and in 618 founds the Tang dynasty. He advocates for honesty and justice in politics, so this period in history is characterised by peace and prosperity and is called the Golden Century of Chinese History. Economy, diversity of cultures and bonding of different nations within China are significantly stronger, as well as cultural and economic cooperation with other Asian countries.
Bronze money from the Sui and Tang dynasties, the Museum of the Capital
The unexpected uprising of the Anshi that took place in 755 leads to total destruction of the Tang dynasty in the following 8 years, as it causes armed conflicts and break-up of territories, which consequently weaken the economic growth. The end of the Tang dynasty rule is marked by an unpopular measure of annexing land and property by the regime, which leads to a peasants’ rebellion and results in the final fall of the dynasty.
Further integration of the people and the rise of feudal economy of the five dynasties: Liao (辽), Song (宋), Xia (夏), Jin (金) and Yuan (元)
It is the period between 907 and 1368. During the reign of 5 dynasties and 10 kingdoms, the south was pretty stable, so the economy flourished. After the Northern Song was founded and certain decentralisation measures were undertaken, the political conflict among 5 dynasties and 10 kingdoms ended, which was suitable for the economic development. In the middle period of the Northern Song, a politician and poet Wang Anshi (王安石) started significant political reforms, in order to calm down the political crisis. In the final stage of the Northern Song reign, corruption flourishes and defence power is very weak, so the neighbouring dynasty Jin undertakes a military attack on the Northern Song and defeats it. In 1127 the rule of the Southern Song begins.
During the rule of the Northern Song dynasty, there are simultaneously neighbouring dynasties of different Mongol people, such as: the Liao dynasty of the Khitan (契丹族) people, the Jin dynasty of the Georgy (女真族) people, as well as the Xia dynasty of the Tanguta (党项族) people. These dynasties were constantly in wars against each other, but they also did economic and cultural exchanges.
The leader of the Mongols, Temujin (铁木真) known as Genghis Khan (忽必烈), united all Mongolian tribes and established a Mongolian regime. With his heirs, he started the Great War. His grandson, Kublai Khan, founds the Yuan dynasty and succeeds in uniting the whole of China. In their reign in China, the Yuan dynasty applies the system of regions and undertakes jurisdiction over the whole territory of China. In this period an efficient economic exchange among many nations living in China, trade and urban economy flourish and the relationship with Asia, Europe and Africa strengthens, and culture, science and technology develop more significantly.
Gradual decline of feudalism – Ming and Qing (until the Opium War)
The period between 1368, when the Ming dynasty was founded, and 1839, when the Opium War begins, is time of the consolidation of different groups of people living on the Chinese territory, as well as the time of the gradual decline of the feudal system.
In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋) founds the Ming dynasty. In the beginning of their reign, the Ming rulers strengthen their absolute and centralised power. In order to strengthen their army’s defence power, the Ming government builds Beijing and proclaims it its capital. In order to strengthen the northern border of the country, the Ming government continues to build up the Chinese Wall in the north. In order to improve their relations with foreign countries, the Ming government sends the admiral Zhend He into naval expeditions. Thanks to the growth of commodity economy, first signs of capitalism start to emerge in southern China. In the final period of the Ming rule, the government was in the hands of few and was corrupt, too. Antagonism became more obvious in the society, which finally led to the peasant rebellion headed by Li Zicheng (李自成), who managed to overthrow the Ming dynasty off the throne.
Sky Pallace in Beijing, built during the reign of the Ming dynasty
In 1616, Nurhaci (努尔哈赤) founds the Late Jin, the dynasty of the Jurchen people. His son, Hong Taiji (皇太极) renamed the territory inhabited by the Jurchen people into Manchuria, proclaimed he emperor in 1636 and renamed the Jin (金) dynasty into Qing (清). In the beginning of the Qing reign, rulers additionally strengthen hegemony and centralised power, found the cabinet, with six ministries and the department for military affairs. To control the thought, Qing authorities ruthlessly expel intellectuals fighting them.
During the reign of the Mings and Qings, the multinational China achieves stability. Zheng Chenggong (郑成功) manages to free Taiwan from the Dutch, the Qing dynasty founds the government in Taiwan 台湾 , managing to reject Russia in its attacks on the Heilongjiang (黑龙江) river, intensifies its jurisdiction over Tibet (西藏), which then contributed to stronger sovereignty of the territorial integrity of the Qing state.
Before the Opium War, China was an independent feudal state. Considering the fact that China at the time had mainly natural economy, trading with England made China have a constant surplus. In order to avoid trade deficit, England smuggled opium into China, which dramatically endangered the health of Chinese people and the stability of the empire. Citizens insisted on forbidding opium import into China, so the Qing government delegated its general Lin Zexu (林则) to go to Guangzhou and settle the situation down. Prohibition on opium import was a serious attack for the cunning English aggressor. That was a reason for England to start the Opium War in 1840. During the war, Chinese patriots of all classes heroically stood up to the English. However, as the Qing government undertook the policy of compromises, China lost the war in the end. In 1842, England forced the Qing government to sign the Chinese-English Nanjing Pact, which made China start to lose its independence and territorial integrity. In that moment China becomes a half-colonial and half- feudal society. The good side of it was that a number of intellectual people realised that more attention should be paid on researching the West in order to be protected from it more easily.
The Second Opium War lasts between 1856 and 1860. In order to increase their income, the English and the French attack China again, whereas America and Russia join them. These four states forced the Qing government to sign an Tienjin pact and Beijing Pact, which made China lose more territories and sovereignty, and the power of the aggressor expanded to all seaside provinces, as well as the lower and middle part of the flow of the Yangtze river. China moves deeper into a half-colonial position.
After the Opium Wars, confrontations in China among different social classes intensify, so rebellions happen more frequently. In 1851, Hong Xiuquan (洪秀全) starts an uprising in Jintian (金田), and founds the Heavenly Kingdom of Peace (太平天国). In 1853 Hong Xiuquan founds the capital of the Heavenly Kingdom in Nanjing, changing its name into the Heavenly Kingdom – Tianjing (天京). In 1856 the Heavenly Kingdom reaches the peak of its military power. Divide among the leaders of the rebellion causes the conflict in Tianjing, which results into a decline of the powers of the Heavenly Kingdom, so the rebellion is finally defeated in 1864. The importance of the Taping Rebellion is huge in the spiritual sense, as the leaders of this rebellion fight for the truth, independence and prosperity of China, and they oppose the feudal system and foreign aggression in China. The Taping Rebellion represents the peak of peasant war in China.
Founding capitalism and deepening the national crisis
In the second half of the 19th century, the ruling classes of Qing become increasingly close to the West. Between 1860 and 1890, the movement of westernisation becomes popular, with their maxim “learn from foreigners in order to become stronger“(“师夷长技以自强“).Although the movement of westernisation did not result in the economic boom in China, it did cause the beginning of capitalism in China. Between 1860 and 1870, the first types of capitalist production appear and the national bourgeoisie is created. Chinese national bourgeoisie has a contradictory attitude towards the aggressive capitalism of the west: from one point of view, it hopes for the revolution, and on the other hand, it is very lenient with the west. The Chinese proletariat is created even before bourgeoisie, around 1840. It has the power to become the pillar of the revolution. At the end of the 19th century, during the transition process from western capitalism into imperialism, aggressors attack China even more fervently. A series of wars follows: The Sino-French War (1883) and the first Sino-Japanese War (1894 –甲午中日战争;). In these wars China loses its territorial integrity .Imperial powers aspiring to get hold of the Chinese territory wilfully take concessions, defining the spheres of influence, wantonly fragmenting China.
Reform movement and the Boxer Rebellion
After the First Sino-Japanese War, national bourgeois becomes a new political power. Reformists like Kang Youwei-a (康有为) and Liang Qichao-a (梁启超), trying to stop further decline of China and to develop capitalism, started the so-called 100 days reforms (in 1898).The response of the emperor-mother Ci Xi (慈禧), who represented the old feudal current, was starting the military coup, which led the reform movement to its fall. Despite the failure, this movement was significant in the ideological sense of the word, as it started intellectual and national awakening of the Chinese.
The Boxer Rebellion was aimed at confronting imperialism and encouraging patriotic feeling at the Chinese. This rebellion was an obstacle for the arrogant plans of imperialists, who wanted to fragment China and severely hit the reactionary government of the Qing dynasty and accelerate its downfall. As the response to the Boxer Rebellion, in summer 1900, the military alliance consisting of eight countries-England, Russia, Japan, France, Germany, America, Italy and Austro-Hungary, attacked China in 1901. The Qin government had to sign a humiliating pact with all eight countries, as well as Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, which made it even more colonised and it was compelled to pay a large amount of money in silver to all these countries as the compensation for the Boxer Rebellion.
Fragmentation of China by imperialists
Xinhai Revolution and breakdown of the Qing dynasty
In 1894, Sun Zhongshan (Sun Jatsen – 孙中山) founds the first Chinese bourgeois revolutionary group called The Society for Chinese Restoration (兴中会). At the beginning of the 20th century, bourgeoisie approves more and more ideas of the democratic revolution: Zhang Binglin (章炳麟), Zou Rong (邹容), Chen Tianhua (陈天华) and others. Spreading these ideas leads to foundation of revolutionary groups. In 1905, the Chinese League was founded (中国同盟会), which suggests that the democratic revolution of the Chinese bourgeoisie enters a new stage.
The revolutionary mood spreads around; there were blazing rebellions all over the country. In October 1911, the uprising in Wuchang-u (武昌) was successful; the Qing dynasty was overthrown from the throne, which marks the end of two-millennium imperial period of the Chinese history. On New Year’s Eve in 1912, Sun Zhongshan proclaims the foundation of the Republic of China (中华民国) and himself the first president. The Xinhai (辛亥革命) Revolution has a great historical importance. It is the first bourgeois democratic revolution in China which is imbued by the anti-imperialistic and anti-feudalism struggle, and the first successful step in that struggle.