From the 20th century BC, imperial dynasties
ruled the Middle Kingdom, which China was called by the
inhabitants. The three hundred-year rule of the Mingke
emperors was followed in the 17th century by the
Manchurian Qing Dynasty, when extensive trade in tea,
silk and china was built with Europe. But the empire was
finally overthrown in 1912, weakened by economic
problems, popular uprisings and defeat in battles
against the Japanese, Russians and Europeans.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of China, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
Chinese civilization is thought to be around 5,000
years old, but the oldest source writings extend "only"
over 3,000 years back. Legends and myths about the
country's origins speak of hunters, fishermen and
farmers, not of migrations or conquests. According to
tradition, the semi-mythical Xia dynasty ruled China's
first state, but no archaeological evidence for the Xia
kingdom's existence has been found.
The following Shang or Yin dynasty (c. 1500–1000 BC)
provided written testimony in the form of bronze
castings and the so-called oracle bones, bone carvings
or turtle shells.
Society during the Zhou dynasties (ca. 1000–221 BC)
is usually compared to Europe's feudalism from the early
Middle Ages. When the last Zhou dynasty broke down in
rebellion and war, Shi Huangdi, the ruler of the Qin
state formation in northwestern China, stepped forward,
subdued his rivals and founded a new dynasty, Qin. His
strong, centrally governed unity state largely covered
what one might call the real China. With its
administrative reforms and its defense works, the first
Chinese wall, Shi Huangdi can be described as China's
true founder. His empire, however, became short-lived
and fell into a peasant uprising in 206 BC.
For a year and a half millennia, then long periods of
fragmentation alternated with quieter stages during the
Han, Tang and Song dynasties. Materially, scientifically
and culturally, China reached a very high level of
development and began to trade with almost the entire
world then known.
In the long run, the Song emperors could not hold
together their vast kingdom. At the end of the 13th
century, the country was conquered by Mongol forces led
by Khubilai khan (the Mongolian ruler Djingis khan's
grandson), who moved the capital from Xian to Beijing.
After the collapse of the Mongols, the last indigenous
emperor dynasty, Ming, took over in 1368. Ming ruled for
nearly three centuries, which coincided largely with the
Renaissance of Europe. Its first stage was a new heyday,
when the country was expanded again. Corruption and
peasant revolts eventually caused the Ming dynasty to
lapse as well.
Another northern invasion, now from Manchuria, placed
China under a new foreign power in 1644, the Qing
Dynasty. It came to exist until the Revolution in 1911.
Its rule also began vigorously to gradually weaken and
erode. Now it was the western country that was in need.
Already during the Ming era, Portuguese, Russians, Dutch
and English had tried to trade with the Chinese. But
China's leaders hesitated before meeting with
"barbarians" and wanted to keep the Middle Kingdom
closed and untouched.
The stagnant Qing dynasty did not have much
resistance to Europeans' increasingly aggressive trade
offensive. The emperor's attempt to prevent foreigners
from paying for Chinese goods with opium, a commodity
forbidden in China, led to the first opium war of
1839-1842 between China and Britain. China was defeated
and forced to resign from Hong Kong to the British and
open five port cities for foreign merchants. China's
opium imports swelled uncontrollably with devastating
social and economic consequences.
The resentment of the Chinese triggered a new great
rise, the so-called Taiping rebellion, which targeted
both the emperor regime and the foreigners and
devastated large parts of southern China. Before the
revolt had been crushed, another war broke out between
China and Britain, which was now supported by France.
Through the victory of the Second Opium War 1856-1860,
Europeans were able to dictate new harsh conditions for
an increasingly degraded and powerless Chinese
On the coast was now a pearl band of forced-open port
cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou (Canton).
Russia seized large areas on China's northern border. In
the war of 1894-1895, Japan, long dismissed as a
barbaric dwarf state, shocked the Chinese from Korea and
entered parts of China.
For the Chinese, accustomed to seeing their country
as the center of civilization, all these forced treaties
created a deep xenophobia and new uncertainty, which
still today causes China's leaders to react sharply to
external pressure. The nationalist boxer uprising of
1899–1901 was the last attempt to resist foreign
influence. Supported by the reactionary widow Empress
Tzü Hsi, so-called boxers, many of them poor peasants,
attacked Chinese and foreign Christians, missionaries
and Europeans who entrenched themselves in part of
Beijing. Only after two months did British, American,
Russian and Australian troops come to the rescue. They
crushed the uprising, plundered Beijing and forced the
government into a new humiliating peace.
The defeat of the nationalists paved the way for
reform-minded Chinese circles who wanted to seize
external impulses to modernize society. When a
revolution broke out in 1911, the empire was weakened
and fell in February the following year.
The Republican uprising in 1911 became the source of
bitter internal contradictions, which divided the
country even more. Since the revolutionary leader Sun
Yat-sen had died in 1925 without having succeeded in
creating a strong central power, his closest husband,
General Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek according to
previous writing), sought to rally China under his
leadership. First, his nationalist party Kuomintang (Guomindang)
collaborated with the 1921 Chinese Communist Party
founded. In 1927, Jiang abruptly turned his troops
against the ally and established himself the Republic of
China based in Nanjing.
The Communists, led by, among others, the peasant son
Mao Zedong, fled into the mountains between the southern
provinces of Hunan and Jiangxi. In the fall of 1934,
they broke out through a year-long bypass maneuver
during constant fighting and tremendous punishments -
the legendary Long March. Nearly 100,000 soldiers, party
members and relatives embarked on the hike, which came
through eleven provinces. After forcing mountains,
rivers, swamps and snow forests - occasionally in the
biting winter cold and constantly chased by Kuomintan
troops - less than a third of the rebel army reached
Yan'an in Shaanxi province in the north. There, the
movement set up its headquarters. During the march, Mao
Zedong also emerged as the undeniable leader of the
In 1936, Jiang and the Communists allied with the
Japanese, who had occupied Manchuria in northern China
and were heading south. When Japan attacked in 1937 near
Beijing, open war broke out. Kuomintang was forced back
into western China, while communists in the north began
guerrilla war against the occupiers.