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China is the world's oldest continuous major civilization, with written records dating back about 3,500 years and with 5,000 years being commonly used by Chinese as the age of the civilization. Successive dynasties developed systems of bureaucratic control[?], which gave the agrarian-based Chinese an advantage over neighboring nomadic and mountain dwelling cultures. The development of a state ideology based on Confucianism (100 BC) and a common system of writing (200 BC) both strengthened Chinese civilisation. Politically, China alternated between periods of political union and disunion, and was often conquered by external enthicities, which often eventually were assimilated into the Chinese identity.
Prehistoric Times China was inhabited more than a million years ago by Homo erectus: the excavations at Yuanmou and later Lantian show early habitation, however any connection between these people and modern Chinese is tentative. The Homo sapiens or modern human might had reached China about 6-50,000 years ago from Africa. Early evidence for proto-Chinese rice paddy agriculture dates back to about 6000 BC and the Peiligang[?] culture of Xinzheng county, Henan. With agriculture came increased population, the ability to store and redistribute crops, and to support specialist craftsmen and administrators: in short, civilization as we know it. In late Neolithic times, the Huanghe valley began to establish itself as a cultural center, where the first villages were founded, the most archaeologically significant of those was found at Banpo[?], Xian.
Ancient Chinese History Sima Qian, a renowned Chinese historiographer from the 2nd century BC, began his account of Chinese history with the Three Periods (三代, pinyin san1dai4; sometimes erroneously translated as the 'Three Dynasties'), the Xia, the Shang and the Zhou.
Sima Qian's account, Records of the Great Historian, dates the founding of the Xia to some 4,000 years ago, however this date has not yet been corroborated. Some archaeologists connect the Xia to excavations at Erlitou[?] in central Henan province, where a bronze smelter from around 2000 BC was unearthed. Early markings from this period, found on pottery and shells, are alleged to be ancestors of modern Chinese language, however these claims are unsupported. With no clear, written records such as the Shang's oracle bones[?] or the Zhou bronze vessel writings, the Xia remains poorly understood.
At present, archaeological findings provide evidence for the existence of at least the Shang (1600-1046 BC). Shang archaeological evidence is divided into two sets. The first, from the earlier Shang (circa 1600 to 1300) comes from sources at Erligang, Zhengzhou and Shangcheng. The second set, from the later Shang or Yin period consists of a large body of oracle bone writings. Anyang[?], Henan (1300-1046 BC), has been confirmed as the last of the six capitals of the Shang.
Historians living in the Imperial Chinese period were accustomed to the notion of one dynasty succeeding each other, while the actual political situation in early China is known to be much more complicated. Hence, as some scholars of China suggest the Xia and the Shang can possibly refer to political entities that existed at the same time just as the later Zhou (successor state of the Shang), is known to have existed at the same time as the Shang.
By the end of 2nd millennium BC, the Zhou began to emerge in the Huanghe valley, overrunning the Shang. The Zhou appear to have begun their rule under a semi-feudal system. Nevertheless, power became decentralized during the Spring and Autumn Period when larger states assimilated smaller states. The so called 'hundred schools' of Chinese philosophy bloomed during this period, which saw the foundation of Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism and Mohism. As the political consolidation continued, there remained seven prominent states by the end of 5th century BC, and the period in which these few states battled each other is known as the period of the Warring States. Though there a nominal Zhou king remained until 256 BC, his position was largely one of title, and he held little power.
Meanwhile neighboring territories of these warring states were gradually annexed, including areas of modern Sichuan and Liaoning, and governed under the new local administrative system of commandry and prefecture (郡縣), which had been in use since the Spring and Autumn Period and was very loosely a primitive prototype of modern system of Sheng Xian (province and county). A further expansion began during the reign of Ying Zheng, the king of Qin managed to conquer the other states and proclaimed himself the First emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang Di) after his unification and annexations in modern regions of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi in 214 BC, thereby the Chinese empire was formed under the Qin Dynasty.
The Chinese Empire The word China was probably derived from "Chin" (Qin), whereas could be "Sin" from Old Chinese, the engendered of tonal bifurcation and voicing distinction of Middle Chinese still remains in many dialects like Cantonese as well as Japanese and Korean.
Though unified reign of Qin Dynasty lasted only 12 years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of Han Chinese residence and to unite them under a tightly centralized government seated in Xian. His sons, however, weren't as successful; soon the Qin ended, the Qin imperial structure collapsed. Zhao Tuo[?] (趙佗) took over Guangdong along with Guangxi, while the aboriginal leader Wuzhu (無諸) have Fujian and Zhejiang, the Xiongnu emanated in Qin prefectures in the Ordos[?].
The Han Dynasty emerged in 202 BC - it was the first dynasty to embrace Confucianism, which became the ideological underpinning of all regimes until the end of imperial China. Under the Han dynasty, the Chinese civilization experienced a giant leap on historiography, arts and sciece. Emperor Wu of Han China[?] (Han Wudi) consolidated and extended the Chinese empire by pushing back the Xiongnu (sometimes identified with the Huns) into the steppes of modern Inner Mongolia and wrested modern areas of Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai from Xiongnu, which in turn facilitated the first time ever opening of the Silk Road — trading connections between China and the occident.
Nevertheless land acquisitions by elite families had gradually drained the tax base. In AD 9 the usurper Wang Mang founded the short-lived Xin Dynasty[?] and zealously redistributed land to peasants and put groundbreaking monetery and economical reforms into effect; however his reformations were never supported by land-holding families and, though aided the peasant and lesser gentry, was too vigorous and constantly modified such that chaos and upraisings broke loose. Emperor Guangwu of Han China[?] reinstated the Han dynasty with the support of land-holding and merchant families at Luoyang, which located east of Xian and hence coined the new era Eastern Han Dynasty. Han power declined again in the midst of land acquisitions, invasions and struggles of consort clans and eunuches. Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in AD 184, ushering in an era of warlords. In the ensuing turmoil, three states tried to gain predominance in the Period of the Three Kingdoms.
Though these three kingdoms were reunited temporarily in AD 280 (Western) Jin by the (Western) Jin dynasty, the contemporary non-Han Chinese (Wu Hu) ethnicities ravaged the country since early 4th century and provoked largescale Han Chinese migrations to south of the Chang Jiang. In 303, Di[?] ethnicity rebelled and later captured Chengdu. Xiongnu under Liu Yuan[?] rebelled near Linfen and took the last two Western Jin emperors as prisoners. More than Sixteen states were established by these ethnic groups. The chaotic north was temporarily unified by Fu Jian[?] and later by Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei[?] after the former was defeated at the Battle of Feishui. The later started off a sesquence of local regimes, all ruled over regions north of Chang Jiang and hence coined the Northern Dynasties.
Along with the immigrants and residents of the south, Emperor Yuan of Jin China[?] reinstated the Jin regime at Nanjing which later developed into the sequence of Southern dynasties of Song, Qi, Liang and Chen that all seated at Jiangkang (near today Nanjing). China was ruled by two independent dynasties, one in the south and the other in the north, and hence coined the era of Southern and Northern Dynasties. The short-lived Sui Dynasty managed to reunite the country in 589 A.D. after almost 300 years of disjunction.
In AD 618, the Tang dynasty was established and a new age of flourishing began. Buddhism, which had slowly seeped into China in the first century, became the prominent religion and widely adopted by the royal family. Xian, the national capital, was supposedly the world's biggest city. Finally, however, the Tang dynasty declined as well and another time of political chaos followed, the Five dynasties and the Ten kingdoms. The Tang and Han are often referenced as the prosperous ages of China; the Tang, similar to the Han, also established jurisdiction on trade routes.
In AD 960, the Song Dynasty (960-1279) gained power over most of China and established its capital in Kaifeng whereas the Khitan Liao Dynasty ruled over modern Manchuria and eastern Mongolia. In AD 1115 the Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) emerged to prominence. Not only did it annihilate the Liao Dynasty in 10 years, the Song also lost power over northern China and Kaifeng to the Jin Dynasty and moved its capital to Hangzhou. The Southern Song Dynasty also suffered the humiliation of having to acknowledge the Jin Dynasty as formal overlords. In the ensuing years China was divided between the Song Dynasty, the Jin Dynasty, and the Tangut Western Xia. Southern Song was a period of great technological development which can be explained in part by the military pressure that it felt from the north.
Mongols The Jin Dynasty was defeated by the Mongols who then proceeded to defeat the Southern Song in a long and bloody war, which was the first war ever in which firearms played an important role, a period of peace began for nearly all of Asia. This era, so-called Pax Mongolica, made it possible for adventurous Westerners, like Marco Polo, to travel all the way to China and to bring the first reports of its wonders to their unbelieving compatriots. In China, the Mongol were divided between those who wanted to remain focused on the steppes and those who wanted to adopt the customs of those they conquered. Kublai Khan was one of the latter group and therefore announced the established Yuan Dynasty (meaning "first"), the first dynasty both ruling the whole country and making Beijing its capital. Note that Beijing was ceded to Liao in AD 938 with the 16 Prefectures of Yan Yun[?] (燕雲十六州) and once the capital of the Jin.
Revival of Civilization Among the populace, however, there were strong feelings against the rule of the "foreigner" (known as Da Zi), which finally led to peasant revolts that pushed the Mongolian back to the steppes and established the Ming dynasty in 1368. This dynasty started out as a time of renewed cultural blossom: Arts, especially the porcelain industry, reached an unprecedented height; Chinese merchants explored all of the Indian Ocean, reaching East Africa with the voyages of Zheng He (original name Ma Sanbao 馬三保). A vast navy was built, including 4 masted ships displacing 1,500 tons; there was a standing army of 1 million troops. Over 100,000 tons of iron per year were produced. Many books were printed using movable type. Some would argue that Ming was the most advanced nation on Earth.
Zhu Yuanzhang (Hongwu Emperor of China or Hong-wu) the founder of the dynasty, laid the foundations for a state disinterested in commerce and more interested in extracting revenues from the agricultural sector. Perhaps because of his background as a peasant, the Ming economic system emphasized agriculture, unlike that of Song, which had preceded the Mongolian and relied on traders and merchant for revenues. Neo-feudal land-tenure developments of Song and Mongol period were expropriated with the establishment of the Ming. Great landed estates were confiscated by the government, fragmented, and rented out; and private slavery was forbidden. Consequently, after the death of Yongle Emperor of China, independent peasant landholders predominated in Chinese agriculture. These laws might have paved the way to social harmony and removed the worst of the poverty during the previous regimes. The laws against the merchants and the restrictions under which the craftsmen worked, remained essentially as they had been under the Song, but now the remaining foreign merchants before Ming era also fell under these new laws, and their influence quickly dwindled.
The emperor's role became even more autocratic, although Zhu Yuanzhang necessarily continued to use what he called the Grand Secretaries to assist with the immense paperwork of the bureaucracy, which included memorials (petitions and recommendations to the throne), imperial edicts in reply, reports of various kinds, and tax records.
During the Mongol rule, the population had dropped 40 percent, to an estimated 60 million. Two centuries later it had doubled. Urbanization thus progressed as population grew and as the division of labor grew more intricate. Large urban centers, such as Nanjing and Beijing contributed to the growth of private industry as well. In particular, small-scale industries grew specialized often in paper, silk, cotton and porcelain goods. For the most part, however, relatively small urban centers with markets proliferated around the country rather than the growth of a few large cities. Town markets mainly traded food with some necessary manufactures such as pins or oil.
Ming exploration to isolation: Xenophobia and intellectual introspection characteristic of the early Ming Dynasty's increasingly popular new school of neo-Confucianism did not lead to the physical isolation of China. Contacts with the outside world, particularly with Japan, and foreign trade increased considerably. Yung-lo strenuously tried to extend China's influence beyond her borders by encouraging other rulers to send ambassadors to China to present tribute. The Chinese armies conquered Annam while the Chinese fleet sailed the China seas and the Indian Ocean, cruising as far as the east coast of Africa. The Chinese gained a certain influence over Turkestan. The maritime Asian nations sent envoys with tribute for the Chinese emperor. Internally, the Grand Canal was expanded to its farthest limits and proved to be a stimulus to domestic trade.
The most extraordinary venture, however, during this stage was the dispatch Cheng-ho's seven naval expeditions, which traversed the Indian Ocean and the Southeast Asian archipelago. An ambitious Muslim eunuch of Mongol descent and a quintessential outsider in the establishment of Confucian scholar elites, Cheng-ho led seven maritime expeditions from 1405 to 1433 with six of them under the auspices of Yung-lo, probing down into the South Seas, across the Indian Ocean and traversing perhaps as the Cape of Good Hope. His appointment in 1403 to lead a sea-faring task force was a triumph the commercial lobbies seeking to stimulate conventional trade, not mercantilism. The interests of the commercial lobbies and those of the religious lobbies were also linked. Both offensive of the neo-Confucian sensibilities of the scholarly elite, religious lobbies encouraged commercialism and exploration to divert state funds from the anti-clerical efforts of the Confucian scholar gentry. The first expedition in 1405 consisted of 62 ships and 28,000 men—then the largest naval expedition in history. Cheng Ho's multi-decked ships carried up to 500 troops but also cargoes of export goods, mainly silks and porcelains, and brought back foreign luxuries such as spices and tropical woods.
By the end of the 15th century, Chinese imperial subjects were forbidden from either building oceangoing ships or leaving the country. The consensus among historians of the early 21st century is that this measure was taken in response to piracy and in any case restrictions on emigration and ship building were largely lifted by the mid-17th century.
The Manchu Dynasty The last dynasty was established in 1644, when the Manchus overthrew the native Ming dynasty and established the Qing (Ch'ing) dynasty with Beijing as its capital. The Manchus over the next half century consolidated control of many areas originally under Ming, including Yunnan, and further stretched their sphere of influence over Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia at great expense in blood and treasure. The success of the early Qing period was based on the combination of Manchu martial prowess and traditional Chinese bureaucratic skills.
Some historians have viewed the Qing as continuing the decline started in the Ming, while others have argued that the early and mid-Qing were periods of growth rather than decline. Kangxi Emperor commanded the most complete dictionary of Chinese characters ever put together at the time, and under Qianlong Emperor[?], the compilation of a catalogue of all important works on Chinese culture was made. The Qing Dynasty also continued the growth of popular literature such as the Dream of the Red Mansions[?] and agricultural advances such as triple cropping of rice[?] which caused the population of China to more than double from between 180 million in 1700 to 400 million in 1800.
During the 19th century, Qing control weakened, and prosperity diminished. China suffered massive social strife, economic stagnation, explosive population growth, and Western penetration and influence. Britain's desire to continue its illegal opium trade with China collided with imperial edicts prohibiting the addictive drug, and the First Opium War erupted in 1840. China lost the war; subsequently, Britain and other Western powers, including the United States, forcibly occupied "concessions" and gained special commercial privileges. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanjing. In addition, the Taiping rebellion and Nian rebellions[?], along with a Russian-supported Muslim separatist movements in Mongolia and Muslim Xinjiang, drained Chinese resources and almost toppled the dynasty.
China was not a backward country unable to secure the prerequisite stability and security for western-style commerce, but a highly advanced empire unwilling to admit western and often drug-pushing commerce, which may explain the West's contentment with informal "Spheres of Influences". China, unlike tropical Africa, was a securable market without formal control. Following the First Opium War, British commerce, and later capital invested by other newly industrializing powers, was securable with a smaller degree of formal control than in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and the Pacific. In many respects, China was a colony and a large-scale receptacle of Western capital investments. Western powers did intervene military there to quell domestic chaos, such as the horrific Taiping Rebellion and the anti-imperialist Boxer Rebellion. For instance, General Gordon, later the imperialist 'martyr' in the Sudan, was often accredited as having saved the Manchu dynasty from the Taiping insurrection.
By the 1860s, the Qing dynasty had put down the rebellions with the help of militia organized by the Chinese gentry. The Qing dynasty then proceeded to deal with problem of modernization, which it attempted with the Self-Strengthening Movement[?]. In the Sino-French War (1883-1885) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the New Armies created by the Qing were defeated, which produced calls for greater and more extensive reform.
After the start of the 20th century, the Qing Dynasty was in a dilemma. It could proceed with reform and thereby discontented the conservative gentry or it could stall reform and thereby irritated the revolutionaries. The Qing Dynasty tried to follow a middle path, but proceed to alienate everyone.
Frustrated by the Qing court's resistance to reform, young officials, military officers, and students -- inspired by the revolutionary ideas of Sun Yat-Sen -- began to advocate the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and creation of a republic. A revolutionary military uprising, Wuchang Uprising, on October 10, 1911 in Wuhan, led to the abdication of the last Qing monarch. A provisional government in Nanjing was formed on March 12, 1912 with Sun Yat-Sen as President, but Sun was forced to turn over power to Yuan Shi-Kai who commanded the New Army. Yuan Shi-Kai proceeded in the next few years to abolish the national and provincial assemblies and declared himself emperor. Yuan's imperial ambitions were fiercely opposed by his subordinates and faced with the prospect of rebellion. Yuan broke down and died shortly after in 1916, leaving a power vacuum in China. His death left the republican government all but shattered, ushering in the era of the "warlords" during which China was ruled and ravaged by shifting coalitions of competing provincial military leaders.
In the 1920s, Sun Yat-Sen established a revolutionary base in south China and set out to unite the fragmented nation. With Soviet assistance, he entered into an alliance with the fledgling Communist Party of China (CCP). After Sun's death in 1925, one of his protégés, Chiang Kai-shek, seized control of the Koumintang (National Peoples' Party or KMT) and succeeded in bringing most of south and central China under its rule in a military campaign known as the Northern Expedition. Having defeated the warlords in south and central China by military force, Chiang was able to secured the nominal allegiance of the warlords in the North. In 1927, Chiang turned on the CCP and relentlessly chased the CCP armies and its leaders out of heir based in southern and eastern China. In 1934, driven out of their mountain bases (as the Chinese Soviet Republic), the CCP forces embarked on a Long March across China's most desolate terrain to the northwest, where they established a guerrilla base at Yan'an[?] in Shaanxi Province.
During the Long March, the communists reorganized under a new leader, Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). The bitter struggle between the KMT and the CCP continued openly or clandestinely through the 14-year long Japanese invasion (1931-45), even though the two parties nominally formed a united front to oppose the Japanese invaders during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) portion of World War II in 1937. The war between the two parties resumed after the Japanese defeat in 1945. By 1949, the CCP occupied most of the country.
Chiang Kai-shek fled with the remnants of his ROC government and KMT military forces to Taiwan, where he proclaimed Taipei to be the Republic of China's "provisional capital" and vowed to reconquer the Chinese mainland.
With the proclamation of the People's Republic of China on October 1st, 1949. China was divided yet again, into the PRC on the mainland and the ROC on the island of Taiwan, with two governments that each regarded themselves as the one true Chinese government and denouncing each other as illegitimate. This remained true until the early 1990s when political changes on Taiwan led it to no longer actively portray itself as the sole Chinese government.