One of the world’s major powers, occupying a vast area of central and eastern Asia. Civilization is traditionally thought to have arisen here c. 2000 b.c. when the legendary Xia dynasty ruled an area that apparently included parts of Shanxi and Henan, though archaeological confirmation for this is lacking. By 1500 b.c. the Xia were supplanted by the Shang Empire, which extended its rule over a major area of present N central China. The Shang ruled a seminomadic country where hunting was a major food source and farming was of the primitive slash-and burn type. Chinese artistic skill was already impressive, however, as Shang bronzes attest. A rival to the Shang developed as the Zhou dynasty grew in the western valleys of the Wei and Huang Ho. By 1000 b.c. the Shang were conquered and the Zhou had started to develop a complex feudal society centered around the development of major irrigation projects, which transformed agriculture and led to the rise of permanent settlements.
In 771 b.c. the Zhou lost much of their power to strong feudal states after a barbarian raid killed the king and forced their capital’s relocation E to Luoyang. Although Chinese political unity was lost, philosophy became a powerful force as Taoism, Mohism, and other schools gained wide followings. Confucius lived around the turn of the sixth century b.c., and his teachings would later become the main ideological pillars of imperial China. In 221 b.c. the state of Qin unified the present extent of the country for the first time, signalling the beginning of Imperial China. The Qin created the Great Wall by linking former structures as a protection against northwestern barbarians, but their rule was short-lived.
The succeeding Han Empire (206 b.c.–a.d. 220) established a nation comparable by the first century b.c. to the Roman Empire, with which it was a frequent trading partner. The Han Empire was briefly controlled by a usurper from a.d. 8 to 23, but flourished upon its resumption. Buddhism, imported from India, became an important force and Chinese scholarship gained world renown during this period.
In a.d. 220 a weakened Han dynasty fell, and the empire split into a host of contending states. This fragmentation lasted until 581 when the Sui dynasty gained overall control. The Sui built the Grand Canal and sought to solidify their hold, but a series of disastrous wars of territorial expansion led to their downfall. Power passed to the Tang Empire in 618, which soon became recognized as the leading power in the world, noted for its accomplishments in art, philosophy, and science. The capital of Ch’ang-An (Xi’an) attracted a vast array of visitors from across Asia, including embassies from Nepal, Magadha, Constantinople, and Persia. Tang receptiveness extended to foreign philosophy and belief. Nestorian Christianity flourished alongside Buddhism and Persian religions during their rule. In addition the emperor favorably received an embassy from Muhammed, the prophet.
Although after the end of the Tang dynasty in 907, Annam and parts of the southwestern empire had broken away from imperial rule, Song rulers, taking over in 960, could find some solace in China’s continuing scientific prowess. Movable type for printing, the magnetic compass, and gunpowder were invented during their rule.
Kublai Khan, the Mongol, annexed China and inaugurated the Yuan dynasty in 1260. The Mongol Empire regained all of China’s lost territory and also brought Nan-chao (Laos) and Tibet under Chinese sway. Beijing was made the capital, and foreign trade was greatly expand ed. Marco Polo benefited from this new climate during his Chinese travels from 1275 to 1292 in a land he knew as Cathay.
The Mongols were driven from China in the 14th century and the Ming dynasty ruled over a revitalized empire. China was placed under a ruthless totalitarian despotism that had little regard for the lives of its individual subjects. Under active Ming emperors, China’s international influence was substantial; even Japan was compelled to pay tribute. Foreign commerce was pressed as never before, and Chinese traders sailed as far as the African coast. In the 16th century however, court politics in the Ming palaces turned China inward. The ships were burned and China declined as a world power.
In 1644, Manchu invaders from the northeastern frontier conquered China. The early Manchu Empire was stable and extensive, successfully incorporating Chinese ideology and bureaucratic system. By the mid-18th century it became suspicious of relentlessly growing Western imperial ambitions and closed its borders, except for the port of Guangzhou. During the 19th century China’s increasing weakness became apparent as Great Britain easily won the Opium War of 1839 and demand ed the first of several unequal treaties that opened China to Western commercial exploitation and forced the annexation of various territories. The Manchus were also tested by many internal revolts, such as the Taiping rebellion of 1850–64. In 1900 the Manchu-approved, anti-Western Boxer Rebellion erupted. It was crushed by an international army of Western troops and gunboats. The United States then demand ed the Open Door policy guaranteeing Chinese independence and open trade, because it feared European imperial aims.
Imperial China ended in 1912 when the Manchu dynasty was overthrown and a republic headed by Sun Yat-sen was founded. The situation remained volatile, however, and Nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-shek fought Mao Zedong’s Communists for control. In 1931 Japan seized Manchuria and by 1939 had conquered most of eastern China. During World War II China fought with the Allies and in 1945 signed a treaty with Great Britain and the United States establishing its position as a major postwar power.
Civil war raged in China after the Japanese defeat, and in 1949 the Communists took power, forcing the Nationalists to flee to Taiwan. Chinese armies fought U.N. forces in Korea in 1950 and aided the Vietnamese during the first Indochinese War. Mao Zedong broke China’s close ties with the Soviet Union in 1956, and China became a major independent world power, stressing its kinship to the developing countries. Mao initiated the massive purges and dislocation of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. After his death in 1976, power passed to a group of leaders who attempted to move away from Mao’s legacy and resume a more moderate course. From 1976 through 1978, China was ruled by a committee of which Hua Guofeng was the most powerful, but by 1979, supreme power was taken by Deng Xiaopeng, who shifted China’s course toward economic modernization, some political reform, and opening of trade and relations to the West. In 1979 a short border war with Vietnam occurred, and in 1980 the “Gang of Four” trial helped to repudiate the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and consolidate Deng’s power in the government as his proteges Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang took leading roles. The 1980s saw accelerated economic growth in China. In 1987 many of the older leaders stepped down as Zhao Ziyang was elevated to Chairman of the Communist Party. Progress in economic reforms was not matched by the speed and breadth of political reform. In 1987 the spread of the democracy movement came to a head in the Tiananmen Square protests where government troops fired on protesters with estimates of 2,600 dead and 7,000 to 10,000 injured. Jiang Zemin took over as head of the Communist Party in 1989 and was appointed president in 1993. China continued to grow at a high rate during the 1990s. In 1997, Deng died, ending almost 20 years as the ruler or power behind the rulers in China. In 1997 Hong Kong was transferred from British to Chinese rule as a Special Administrative Area under the “One Country and Two Systems” policy. In 1999, Macao was transferred from Portuguese to Chinese rule. In the 21st century, China has become recognized again as a legitimate world power and economic powerhouse. The beginning of the 21st century has seen China’s first manned spaceflight in 2003 and China is looking forward to hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are big cities and are melting pots with people from all over the world arriving in these cities to work, study and do business. You will find a mix of old and new in any one of these places. Depending on what you want you can find it here - everything from modern supermarkets to tiny local hole in the wall shops and restaurants, nightclubs to outdoor dancing and chinese opera.
Xi’an is high on the list of must sees along with the Great Wall. The terracotta warriors are a sight to behold but the Xi’an itself can keep you occupied for as long as you need. It is full of ancient history that the locals are proud to tell you about.
For panda lovers Sichuan is the place to be. They have three panda reserves that are well worth a visit and the entry prices are very easy on the wallet. The food in Sichuan is legendary making it a foodies paradise. Everything from hotpot to noodles from a stall on the side of the road is well worth trying.
Yunnan is where you will find some of the finest scenery anywhere in the world while at the same time experiencing the many different minority cultures. See the Yuanyang rice terraces and beautiful mountainous Lijiang.
Zhangjiajie is definitely for the adventurous amongst us. This is the area where you will find the glass sky walk and Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge. Not for the faint of heart but worth a trip if you are good with heights. This area is full of caves, beautiful limpid streams and thick forests.
A visit to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) with it’s reputation as the destination with the most beautiful mountains in China is a must do. Go to one of the hot springs at the foot of Huangshan to thoroughly relax and unwind.