China Becomes a Modern World Power
Nothing definite is known of the origins of the Chinese. In the oldest authentic records they already appear as a more or less civilized agricultural people settled in the valley of the Yellow River and surrounded by savage tribes.
The authentic history of China begins with the inauguration of the Chou Dynasty in 1122 B.C. At this time the boundaries of the kingdom extended to the sea, and the principles of Chinese civilization, which continued to function until the advent of the present century, already existed. The feudal system, which had previously obtained to some extent, was now greatly extended by the creation of five orders of nobility, among whom the whole country was divided, except for a domain reserved for the king.
The land was cut up into allotments, a central square being cultivated in common, and its products made over to the government. In the urban districts, an income tax was in force. The furnishing of soldiers and military equipment by the peasantry was also a feature of the system; each state maintained a standing army which proved a fruitful source of war and disorder.
It was to the second ruler of the Dynasty, the Duke of Chou, a younger brother of the founder Wu Wang, and outstanding as a general, statesman, and philosopher, that the reorganization and resettlement of the Empire were mainly due. Other states, only partially Chinese, were ultimately absorbed by Chou.
In the midst of this turbulence Confucius was born in Lu, one of the smaller states, now part of Shantung. A philosopher of great stature and the founder of Confucianism, which was to become one of the great ethical forces of the Orient, Confucius embarked upon a political career and rose to high office, but his principles were too strict to find favour with a dissolute prince and he was forced to retire. After many years spent in exile, he was allowed to return to Lu, where his teaching attracted a number of disciples. In 221 B.C., after the last remnant of Chou rule had disappeared, the Prince of Ch’in was able to declare himself the first Emperor of China. The country was now divided into thirty-six provinces, administered by officials directly responsible to the Emperor. This form of government existed to the twentieth century.
Under Ch’in internal peace was gradually established, and China was able to turn her attention to the Huns who were threatening her northern borders. To keep them at bay Ch’in linked up into a continuous barrier a number of defensive walls which had been erected from time to time by the border states. This Great Wall served its purpose well, and the Huns never succeeded in overrunning any significant part of Chinese territory.
Before the end of Ch’in’s reign the empire had almost reached its limits. Despite his outstanding achievements, Ch’in has been regarded always with a particular detestation by the Chinese on account of his cruelty. After his death in 210 B.C. everything seemed about to lapse once more into chaos, but after a decisive battle fought in 202, Liu Pang became the first Emperor of the Han Dynasty, which was to last for four hundred years. At roughly the central point of this Dynasty the Chinese successfully invaded Central Asia and conquered Korea. By a.d. 22 Turkistan had been annexed, and it was only by an accident that direct political communication with the Roman Empire was not established. But trade, particularly in silk, was carried on through Parthia, and in a.d. 166 Roman merchants reached China by sea.
During the last century of the Han Dynasty, a rebellion broke out due to misgovernment. This resulted in the empire being dismembered and each great chief fighting for his own land. In 280, however, the whole of China was once more united, though only for a short time. In the north and north-western provinces there were large barbarian settlements, which now took advantage of the prevailing Chinese exhaustion to shake off their yoke. Some Tartar chieftains began by setting up a kingdom in Shansi, and finally succeeded in subduing the whole of northern China, which afterwards split up into a number of small kingdoms.
Meanwhile four dynasties succeeded one another at Nanking and indulged in intermittent warfare. These were the truly Dark Ages of Chinese history, but during them Buddhism took root all over the country. In 581 the last of these dynasties was overthrown and China was ruled again by one man. The Sui Dynasty was, however, short-lived, for the extravagances of the second emperor proved such a great burden on the country that rebellion broke out on all sides. After many years of fighting, the T’ang Dynasty took over, the Turks were crushed, Tibet opened up and central India invaded. The Chinese empire again stretched to the Aral Sea, and its civilization penetrated into Indo-China, the Southern Seas and Japan.
In 874 a terrible rebellion broke out which lasted for ten years, and was only crushed with the help of a Turkoman tribe, and the partition of the empire followed shortly after. An era of military despotism now set in. Within little more than fifty years five dynasties arose, one of which was of Turkish origin, while another existed only by the support of the Khitans, who by degrees established themselves as far south as the Yellow River. To the Khitans and another tribe, the Tangut, which had risen to power on the western borders, China had to pay tribute, but in 1120 she made an alliance with another Tartar tribe, the Chins, who succeeded in dislodging the Khitans, only to take their place. Gradually the Chins occupied the whole of northern China.
Genghis Khan began his career of conquest in 1206, but it was left to his son Ogotai to drive out the Chins completely, and Genghis’s grandson, Kublai Khan, to subjugate the country south of the Yangtse to the Mongols. Kublai built himself a capital at Peking, and from there governed over a Chinese empire larger than any other of which there are records. After his death, however, a rapid degeneration set in and by 1355 a rebellion in the provinces south of the Yangtse was in full swing, led by a Buddhist monk named Chu Yuan-chang. Chu eventually became the founder of the Ming Dynasty, removed the capital to Nanking and reigned under the title of Hung-wu.
Once more China was in the hands of the Chinese, and the prestige of the Mings was high. War was successfully waged against Mongolia, Korea became a vassal state and Burma was compelled to pay tribute.
Meanwhile a new power had been growing in the southern parts of the region now known as Manchuria, which presently began to make war on the Mings. By 1626 they were firmly established with their capital at Mukden; by 1664 all China had submitted to them. They were to remain in power until 1911.
This very sketchy account of nearly four thousand years of Chinese history can only show that the war-like nature of the Chinese people was responsible for alternating periods of progressive unity with absolute chaos, which prevented the empire, great though it was, from ever being a world power, in the accepted sense of that term. What opportunities were lost can best be hinted at by pointing out that despite all these costly wars, by the accession of the Manchus the finances of the country were never in a better state, that agriculture had made great progress, and that the population had increased by leaps and bounds.
By the nineteenth century other problems arose with the arrival of British and other traders at Canton. By placing irksome restrictions on trade, the Chinese authorities created dangerous friction, which resulted in the Opium War of 1840-2, which was ostensibly fought by the British to stop the smuggling of the drug. The result was the cession of Hong Kong to the British and the opening of five treaty ports.
A variety of causes led to the outbreak of another war, and this time not only was Canton taken, but British and French troops occupied Peking. At this time the T’aiping Rebellion, which had broken out ten years before, was still raging in the Yangtse valley. The rebels were finally overcome in 1864 by the efforts of the Viceroy Tseng, ably assisted by General Gordon at the head of a small foreign contingent. Millions of people perished in this frightful upheaval, and nine provinces were devastated.
Until the 1890s, China had shown few signs of adapting herself to the conditions of modern civilization, in striking contrast with the Japanese, but the disastrous war of 1894 with the Japanese, and aggression by other foreign invaders, seemed to arouse them from their apathy. The Emperor prepared to introduce reforms, but these were nipped in the bud by his aunt, the formidable Empress-dowager. This spelled the doom of the Manchus.
In October, 1911, revolution broke out, and at the end of the following year the first Chinese republic was inaugurated. The first president, Yuan Shih-k’ai, governed with an iron hand, but this was not enough to prevent the country being split into north and south, who engaged one another in war for the supremacy.
From 1920 to 1926 China was torn apart by this conflict, during which the central government steadily lost authority, and a number of war-lords gradually obtained control of one or more provinces. In 1926, however, the process of disintegration was ended by the rise of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), first under Dr Sun Yat-sen, and then under his successor General Chiang Kai-shek. Complete reunification of China was delayed by a split in the Kuomintang, who became alarmed by the growing influence of Soviet advisers. All declared Communists were expelled from the Kuomintang, whereupon they withdrew to Wuhan and established a separate government there.
Chiang organized campaign after campaign against the Communists to destroy them, but led by such men as Mao Tse-tung and Chu Teh they successfully resisted extinction by vastly superior forces. The Japanese invasion of China in [933 distracted Chiang from his pursuit of the Communists; indeed, he sought their co-operation in opposition to the common enemy. A kind of co-operation was established in that they agreed to stop fighting one another and concentrate their forces against the invader, maintaining their separate armies and exercising independent control over the areas under their influence.
This breathing space gave the Communists time to gather strength and to -(organize themselves on a sound basis. As the war progressed, relations between them and the Kuomintang gradually began to deteriorate, and when Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, and Chiang once more turned his full attention to overcoming the Communists, he found the balance between his own forces and those of Mao greatly changed. At the end of two years, despite continued American help, Chiang was compelled to leave the mainland of China and withdraw to Formosa. The Communist leaders moved to Peking and there set up the first Communist government, with Mao as ruler of the most populous country in the world.
For the first time for many centuries China was once again under strong central government which from the beginning kept a firm grip on the whole vast territory. The two decades since 1947 have been devoted mostly to internal reorganization, but despite the concentration on this great task, and despite her exclusion from the United Nations, China has already made a contact with the outside world which she never made at any other period of her history.
Currently she is contesting the leadership of the Communist world with Russia, and it is quite clear that she is determined to acquire this leadership. In the meantime she is making her influence felt in practically every area of the world where emergent nations are seeking assistance from their more powerful and richer colleagues. Already her influence in South-west Asia, in Indonesia and in Africa is formidable. Her development of her own nuclear weapon must finally place her in the front rank of the great powers. Even now she can no longer be ignored; then she will have to be admitted to world councils. But the question is, will she then be prepared to co-operate with those who so far have cold-shouldered her; or will she single-handed set out to achieve world hegemony, which is clearly her ultimate goal?
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