China is an East Asian country with a large territory, a huge population and an ancient history. With written records dating back 4,000 years, it is recognized as one of the four great ancient civilizations of the world, together with ancient Egypt, Babylon and Greece. Moreover, it is the only ancient civilization that has continued to this very day.
China was one of the cradles of the human race. The Chinese nation is not only the most populous but also one of the oldest in the world. Fossils that have been found in Chinese territory include those ofYuanmou Man, the first Homo erectus, who lived 1.7 million years ago, those of Lantian Man, who lived 750,000 years ago, and those of the Peking Man, who lived at Zhoukoudian in today's suburban Beijing 600,000 years ago. The fossils of Shu Ape, a primate that lived 45 million years ago, which is known as the "first anthropoid", were discovered in China in 1994.
The first light of Chinese civilization revealed itself 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, as indicated by the ruins of the Daxi Culture in Sichuan and Hubei provinces, the Majiapang Culture in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, the Hemudu Culture in eastern Zhejiang and theYangshou Culture along the middle reaches of the Yellow River and its main tributaries.
According to legend, the primitive tribes that inhabited the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River were unified into two powerful tribes under the Yellow Emperor and Fiery Emperor, and began their push southward 5,000 years ago. After years of warfare, they conquered the Sanmiao and Jiuli tribes active in south China under the leadership of Chi You. Part of the defeated tribe was incorporated into the tribes under the Yellow and Fiery emperors to become a component part of the Han people, which marked the beginning of the Chinese nation. This history has also given rise to the term "descendants of the Yellow and Fiery emperors" that Chinese often use to refer to themselves.
Archaeological studies have revealed that around 5,000 years ago the Chinese entered the stage of patriarchal society. Not only did villages begin to appear but also the initial forms of cities began to become evident. Extensive communities indicated that the population at the time had already reached a fairly large size and agriculture had made great headway. The earliest discoveries took place during this period. Shen Nong tried and tasted various kinds of wild plants to select crops appropriate to be cultivated for food and herbal medicine to cure disease. The Yellow Emperor invented the compass, which helped him defeat Chi You. More importantly, the appearance of chariots greatly reduced labor intensity. Lei Su, wife of the Yellow Emperor, discovered silk making by raising silkworms, and produced the first garments, which allowed the ancient people to bid goodbye to the period when they wore animal skins and tree leaves. The tribe under Chi You in the south learned how to make weapons with copper, creating the conditions for making bronze vessels, metallurgy and alchemy of later times.
During the Xia Dynasty, 4,000 years ago, China entered the period of slave society. The Shang Dynasty (16-11th centuries BC), which replaced the Xia, saw the height of bronze culture, when superb smelting and casting techniques brought forth beautiful wares made of bronze. Pottery making also developed very rapidly with the appearance of primitive pottery wares. Sericulture and silk weaving reached maturity at this time.
From 475 BC to the end of the 19th century, China went through a long feudal period. Before the 15th century, China was one of the most powerful countries in the world, occupying a leading position in the development of productivity and technology. Ancient China enjoyed a developed agriculture and advanced irrigation system, an independent tradition of medicine and advanced botanical knowledge. China's four great inventions, namely, the compass, gunpowder, movable type printing and papermaking, not only changed the world but also accelerated the evolution of world history. Besides, China was rich in ceramics and silk textiles which were great inventions that exerted a great impact worldwide. China also kept the world's most detailed and earliest astronomical records. The first people to take note of such astronomical phenomena as comets, sunspots and new stars were all Chinese. It was also the Chinese who produced the most advanced astronomical observatory apparatus of the time. In metallurgy, China long held a leading position. When Europeans still could not turn out a single piece of cast iron in the 14th century, Chinese people had already produced cast iron on an industrial scale four centuries earlier.
In the field of thought, Confucius, founder of Confucianism, not only had far-reaching significance for China, but for the whole of East and Southeast Asia. The warfare strategies introduced by the noted military strategist Sun Zi are still studied and referred to today. Taoism was an important school of thought, and is known for its simple dialectical elements. Its position of "quietude and inaction" has many identical views with the thoughts of modern man. Taoism, based on the Taoist doctrines, is an independent religion established in China.
When commenting on the relationship between China's civilization and that of the rest of the world, the late Joseph Needham, historian of China's science and technology and professor at Cambridge University, once said that people must remember that China was way ahead of the West in almost every discipline of science and technology, from chart making to gunpowder, in early times and into the Middle Ages. Western civilization, he went on to say, did not begin until the era of Columbus, and China had left the Europeans far behind in science and technology before that time.
Unfortunately, the country's feudal bureaucratic system held back science and inventions from making further progress, and prevented Chinese society from developing modern science, resulting in China staying long in the experimental stage in science and technology.
Modern China is experiencing a completely new era in which respect for science and inventions and encourage creativity have become the guiding principles of society. Looking back at the contributions China's civilization has made to the world, we have reason to believe that a more prosperous and stronger China will surely make new contributions to the civilization of mankind.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Remote Antiquity to Slave Society (1.7 million years ago-476 B.C.)
- 1.2 Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.) and His Empire
- 1.3 Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and the Silk Road
- 1.4 Tang Dynasty (618-907)
- 1.5 Modern Period (1840-1919)
- 1.6 New-Democratic Revolution (1919-1949)
- 1.7 People's Republic of China (1949- )
- 2 Geography
- 3 People
- 4 Religion
Remote Antiquity to Slave Society (1.7 million years ago-476 B.C.)
China, one of the world's most ancient civilizations, has a recorded history of nearly 4,000 years.
A fossil anthropoid unearthed in Yuanmou in Yunnan Province, "Yuanmou Man," who lived approximately 1.7 million years ago, is China's earliest primitive man known so far. "Peking Man," who lived in the Zhoukoudian area near Beijing 600,000 years ago, was able to walk upright, make and use simple tools, and knew how to make fire. The Neolithic Age started in China about 10,000 years ago, and relics from this period can be found all over the country. Artificially grown rice and millet as well as farming tools have been found in the remains of Hemudu in Yuyao, Zhejiang Province, and Banpo, near Xi'an City, Shaanxi Province, respectively. These relics date back some 6,000-7,000 years.
The Xia Dynasty was founded in 2070 B.C. The center of its activities was the western section of modern Henan Province and the southern section of modern Shanxi Province, and its sphere of influence reached the northern and southern areas of the Yellow River. With the Xia Dynasty, China entered slave society. The following Shang (1600-1046 B.C.) and Western Zhou (1046-771 B.C.) dynasties saw further development of slave society. This era was followed by the Spring and Autumn (770-476 B.C.) and Warring States (475-221 B.C.) periods, characterized by the decline in power of the ruling house and struggles for power among regional powers, marking the transition from slave society to feudal society.
Chinese had mastered the technology of smelting bronze approximately 5,000 years ago and iron tools came into use during the Shang Dynasty, 3,000 years ago. White pottery and glazed pottery were produced. Silk production was considerably developed and the world's first figured inlaid silk weaving technique appeared. During the Spring and Autumn Period steel production technologies made their debut. During the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, there was a great upsurge of intellectual activity, producing many famous philosophers, such as Lao Zi, Confucius, Mencius and Mo Zi, and the well-known military scientist Sun Wu.
Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.) and His Empire
In 221 B.C., Ying Zheng, ruler of the State of Qin and a man of great talent and bold vision, ended the 250-odd years of rivalry among the independent principalities during the Warring States Period, establishing the first centralized, unified, multi-ethnic feudal state in Chinese history—the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.). He called himself Qin Shi Huang or "First Emperor of Qin." He standardized the written script, weights and measures, and currencies, and established the system of prefectures and counties. The sovereigns of the next 2,000-odd years followed the feudal governmental structure established by him. He mobilized more than 300,000 people over a period of a dozen years to build the Great Wall, which stretches for 5,000 km in northern China. Qin Shi Huang had work on his enormous mausoleum started early in his reign. The terracotta warriors of the "underground army" guarding the mausoleum, unearthed in 1974, amazed the world. The 8,000 vivid, life-size pottery figures, horses and chariots have been called the "eighth wonder of the world."
Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and the Silk Road
Liu Bang established the powerful Han Dynasty in 206 B.C. During the Han Dynasty, agriculture, handicrafts and commerce flourished, and the population reached 50 million. During his reign (140-87 B.C.), the most prosperous period of the Han Dynasty, Liu Che, Emperor Wudi, expanded the territory of the empire from the Central Plain to the Western Regions (present-day Xinjiang and Central Asia). He dispatched Zhang Qian twice as his envoy to the Western Regions, and in the process pioneered the route known as the "Silk Road" from Chang'an (today's Xi'an, Shaanxi Province), through Xinjiang and Central Asia, and on to the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Chinese silk goods were traded to the West along the Silk Road. As contacts between the East and West increased, Buddhism spread to China in the first century. In 105, an official named Cai Lun invented a technique for making fine paper, which is considered to have been a revolution in communication and learning.
Tang Dynasty (618-907)
After the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265), the Jin Dynasty (265-420), the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589) and the Sui Dynasty (581-618) were succeeded by the Tang Dynasty, established by Li Yuan in 618. Li Shimin, or Emperor Taizong (r. 626-649), son of Li Yuan, adopted a series of liberal policies, pushing the prosperity of China’s feudal society to its peak: Agriculture, handicrafts and commerce flourished; technologies for textile manufacturing and dyeing, pottery and porcelain production, smelting and shipbuilding were further developed; and land and water transportation greatly improved. By the 660s, China’s influence had firmly taken root in the Tarim and Junggar basins and the Ili River valley, and even extended to many city-states in Central Asia. During this period, extensive economic and cultural relations were established with many countries, including Japan, Korea, India, Persia and Arabia.
Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties (960-1911) The period of the Five Dynasties and Ten States, which succeeded the Tang Dynasty, was one of almost continual warfare. In 960, Zhao Kuangyin, a general of the State of Later Zhou, established the Song Dynasty (960-1279), historically known as the Northern Song Dynasty. When the Song Dynasty moved its capital to the south, historically called the Southern Song Dynasty, it brought advanced economy and culture to the south, giving a great impetus to economic development there China in the Song Dynasty was in the front rank of the world in astronomy, science and technology and printing technology as evidenced, for example, by Bi Sheng’s inventing movable type printing, a great revolution in printing history.
In 1271, Kublai, a grandson of Genghis Khan, conquered the Central Plain, founded the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and made Dadu (today’s Beijing) the capital. Kublai wrote finis to the centuries-long situation in which many independent regimes existed side by side, and formed a united country that brought Xinjiang, Tibet and Yunnan under its sway. During the Song-Yuan period, the “four great inventions” in science and technology of the Chinese people in ancient times—papermaking, printing, the compass and gunpowder—were further developed, and introduced to foreign countries, making great contributions to world civilization.
In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Nanjing, reigning as Emperor Taizu. When his son and successor Zhu Di (r. 1360-1424) ascended the throne, in 1360, he built and expanded the palaces, temples, city walls and moat in Beijing on a large scale. In 1421, he officially moved the capital to Beijing. During his reign, he dispatched a eunuch named Zheng He to lead a fleet of many ships to make seven far-ranging voyages. Passing the Southeast Asian countries, the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Maldives Islands, Zheng He explored as far as Somalia and Kenya on the eastern coast of Africa. These were the largest-scale and longest voyages in the world before the age of Columbus.
The Manchus of northeast China established the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in 1644, under the leadership of Nurhachi. Kangxi (r. 1661-1722) was the most famous emperor of the Qing Dynasty. He brought Taiwan under Qing rule, and resisted invasions by tsarist Russia. To reinforce the administration of Tibet, he also formulated the rules and regulations on the confirmation of the Tibetan local leaders by the Central Government. He effectively administered over 11 million sq km of Chinese territory.
Modern Period (1840-1919)
During the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty declined rapidly. Britain smuggled large quantities of opium into China, making the Qing government impose a ban on the drug. In an effort to protect its opium trade, Britain launched a war of aggression against China in 1840. The Qing government finally signed the Treaty of Nanking, a treaty of national betrayal and humiliation, with the British government. Many countries, including Britain, the United States, France, Russia and Japan, forced the Qing government to sign various unequal treaties following the Opium War. China was gradually relegated to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country.
The Revolution of 1911 led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen was one of the greatest events in modern Chinese history, as it overthrew the 200-odd-year-old Qing Dynasty, ending over 2,000 years of feudal monarchy, and established the Republic of China.
New-Democratic Revolution (1919-1949)
The May 4th Movement of 1919 is regarded as the ideological origin of many important events in modern Chinese history. Its direct cause was the unequal treaties imposed on China after the First World War. Out of strong patriotism, students initiated the movement, and it further developed into a national protest movement of people from all walks of life. It also marked the introduction into China of various new ideologies, among which the spread of Marxism-Leninism was worthy of special mention. Under the influence of Russia’s October Revolution of 1917, 12 delegates, including Mao Zedong, representing communist groups in different places throughout the nation, held the First National Congress in Shanghai in 1921 to found the Communist Party of China (CPC).
The Chinese people led by the CPC underwent successively the Northern Expeditionary War (1924-27), War of Agrarian Revolution (1927-37), War of Resistance Against Japan (1937-45) and War of Liberation (1946-49). Owing to the cooperation and joint resistance of the CPC and Kuomintang the Japanese aggressors were defeated. But shortly after the anti-Japanese war, the Kuomintang launched a civil war again. After the three-year War of Liberation led by the CPC, the Kuomintang government was finally overthrown in 1949
People's Republic of China (1949- )
On October 1, 1949 a grand ceremony was witnessed by 300,000 people in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, and Mao Zedong, chairman of the Central People's Government, solemnly proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC).
During the initial post-Liberation period, the Chinese government successfully carried out land reform in areas accounting for over 90 percent of the total national agricultural population, and 300 million farmers were granted approximately 47 million ha of land. Amazing achievements were made during the First Five-Year Plan period, from 1953 to 1957. The average annual increase rate of the national income reached over 8.9 percent. China established basic industries necessary for full industrialization hitherto non-existent domestically, producing airplanes, automobiles, heavy machinery, precision machinery, power-generating equipment, metallurgical and mining equipment, high-grade alloy steels and non-ferrous metals.
The ten years from 1957 to 1966 was the period in which China started large-scale socialist construction. Though China suffered from the mistakes in its policies during the period, it also accomplished a great deal. The nation's total industrial fixed assets quadrupled between 1956 and 1966 and the national income increased by 58 percent in constant prices. The output of essential industrial products increased by several or even a dozen times. Large-scale agricultural capital construction and technical transformation got underway. Unfortunately, the "cultural revolution," which lasted for ten years (May 1966-October 1976), made the state and its people suffer the most serious setbacks and losses since its founding.
The Jiang Qing counter-revolutionary clique was smashed in October 1976, marking the end of the "cultural revolution," and the beginning of a new era in Chinese history. The CPC reinstated Deng Xiaoping, previously general secretary of the CPC, in all the Party and governmental posts he had been dismissed from during the "cultural revolution." In 1979, China instituted a guiding policy of "reform and opening to the outside world" under Deng's leadership, and the focus was shifted to modernization. Major efforts were made to reform the economic and political systems. China was step by step establishing a road with Chinese characteristics, a road that would lead to socialist modernization. Profound changes have come about in China since the country embarked on the policy of reform and opening-up. The situation in the country is the best ever, characterized by a swiftly and vigorously advancing economy and markedly improved living standard.
Jiang Zemin, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and president of the state, is leading China's third-generation leaders to uphold and carry on the policy of reform and opening-up initiated by Deng Xiaoping, and as a result, China enjoys a stable political situation, burgeoning economy and active diplomacy, winning the support of the broad masses of the people.
With a landmass of 9,600,000 sq km, China is the third largest country in the world.
Located in the east of the Asian continent, on the western shore of the Pacific Ocean, the People's Republic of China has a land area of about 9.6 million sq km, and is the third-largest country in the world, next only to Russia and Canada.
From north to south, the territory of China stretches from the center of the Heilong River north of the town of Mohe to the Zengmu Reef at the southernmost tip of the Nansha Islands, covering a distance of 5,500 km. From east to west, the nation extends from the confluence of the Heilong and Wusuli rivers to the Pamirs, covering a distance of 5,200 km.
With a land boundary of some 22,800 km, China is bordered by Korea to the east; Mongolia to the north; Russia to the northeast; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the northwest; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan to the west and southwest; and Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the south. Across the seas to the east and southeast are the Republic of Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.
China's mainland coastline measures approximately 18,000 km, with a flat topography, and many excellent docks and harbors, most of which are ice-free all year round. The Chinese mainland is flanked to the east and south by the Bohai, Yellow, East China and South China seas, with a total maritime area of 4.73 million sq km. The Bohai Sea is China's continental sea, while the Yellow, East China and South China seas are marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean.
A total of 5,400 islands dot China's territorial waters. The largest of these, with an area of about 36,000 sq km, is Taiwan, followed by Hainan with an area of 34,000 sq km. The Diaoyu and Chiwei islands, located to the northeast of Taiwan Island, are China's easternmost islands. The many islands, islets, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, known collectively as the South China Sea Islands, are China's southernmost island group. They are called the Dongsha (East Sandbar), Xisha (West Sandbar), Zhongsha (Middle Sandbar) and Nansha (South Sandbar) island groups according to their geographical locations.
China's topography was formed around the emergence of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the most important geological event over the past several million years. Taking a bird's-eye view of China, the terrain gradually descends from west to east like a staircase. Due to the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau rose continuously to become the top of the four-step "staircase," averaging more than 4,000 m above sea level, and called "the roof of the world." Soaring 8,848 m above sea level on the plateau is Mount Qomolangma (Mount Everest), the world's highest peak and the main peak of the Himalayas. The second step includes the gently sloping Inner Mongolia Plateau, the Loess Plateau, the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, the Tarim Basin, the Junggar Basin and the Sichuan Basin, with an average elevation of between 1,000 m and 2,000 m. The third step, dropping to 500-1,000 m in elevation, begins at a line drawn around the Greater Hinggan, Taihang, Wushan and Xuefeng mountain ranges and extends eastward to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Here, from north to south, are the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain and the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain. Interspersed amongst the plains are hills and foothills. To the east, the land extends out into the ocean, in a continental shelf, the fourth step of the staircase. The water here is mostly less than 200 m deep.
China is a unified nation consisting of many different ethnic groups. Fifty-six different ethnic groups make up the great Chinese national family. Because the Han people accounts for more than ninety percent of China's population, the remaining fifty-five groups are generally referred to as "ethnic minorities." Next to the majority Han, the Mongolian, Hui, Tibetan, and Uygur peoples comprise the largest ethnic groups. Although China's ethnic minorities do not account for a large portion of the population, they are distributed over a vast area, residing in every corner of China.
Particularly since the implementation of China's opening and reform policy, the central government has increased investment in minority areas and accelerated their opening to the outside world. This has resulted in an upsurge of economic development in these areas. Each of China's ethnic minority groups possesses a distinctive culture. The Chinese government respects minority customs, and works to preserve, study, and collate the cultural artifacts of China's ethnic minority groups. The government vigorously supports the development of minority culture and the training of minority cultural workers, and fosters the development of traditional minority medicine.
The relation among China's ethnic groups can be described as "overall integration, local concentration, mutual interaction." Concentrations of ethnic minorities reside within predominantly Han areas, and the Han people also reside in minority areas, indicating that there has been extensive exchanges among China's ethnic groups since ancient times. With the development of the market economy, interaction among ethnic groups has become even more active in the areas of government, economics, culture, daily life, and marriage. Linked by interdependence, mutual assistance, and joint development, their common goals and interests creating a deep sense of solidarity, China's ethnic groups resemble a great national family, together building Chinese civilization.
China is a country of great religious diversity and freedom of religious belief. It has over 100 million followers of various faiths, more than 100,000 sites for religious activities, about 300,000 religious personnel and over 3,000 religious associations. These associations run 76 religious schools and colleges to train religious personnel. In China, all regular religious activities - such as worshipping Buddha, chanting scriptures, praying, expounding on scriptures, holding Mass, baptism, initiation into monk- or nun-hood, Ramadan and observance of religious festivals - are all managed by the religious personnel and adherents themselves, are protected under the law and are free from interference. The holy books of each religion are published and distributed by religious associations. Each religion in China has its own national periodical, which is also circulated abroad.
The main religions are Buddhism, Islam, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity, China's indigenous Taoism, Shamanism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Naxi people's Dongba religion. The Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Kirgiz, Tatar, Ozbek, Tajik, Dongxiang, Salar and Bonan peoples adhere to Islam; the Tibetan, Mongolian, Lhoba, Monba, Tu and Uygur, to Tibetan Buddhism (also known as Lamaism), and the Dai, Blang and Deang to Hinayana Buddhism. Large numbers of Miao, Yao and Yi are Catholic or Protestant Christians. Religious Han Chinese tend to practice Buddhism, Christianity, or Taoism.
Buddhism was introduced to China from India around the first century AD, growing increasingly popular to become the most influential religion in China after the fourth century. Tibetan Buddhism, as a branch of Chinese Buddhism, is popular primarily in Tibet and Inner Mongolia. Now China has more than 13,000 Buddhist temples.
It is probable that Islam first reached China around the mid-seventh century. The Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) witnessed the zenith of prosperity of Islam. Now China has more than 30,000 mosques.
Catholic influence reached China in the seventh century, and Protestantism was introduced into China in the early 19th century. Now there are more than 4,600 Catholic and over 12,000 Protestant churches, as well as over 30,000 other types of Christian places of worship in China.
Taoism is based on the philosophy of Lao Zi (traditionally said to be born in 604 BC) and his work, the Dao De Jing (Classic of the Way and Virtue). It probably took shape as a religion during the second century, and China now has more than 1,500 Taoist temples.