China in the Twentieth Century
Click here to view a timeline of Chinese history.
The Decline of the Qing Dynasty
The Boxer Rebellion
Occurring in 1900, the Boxer Rebellion was staged by a group of people known as the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. They traveled the countryside killing Christian Chinese and foreign missionaries. Most boxers were discontented peasants. It is generally considered an anti-western movement.
The Beginning of Constitutionalism
In 1906 the Qing court decided to adopt a constitution in an attempt to modernize their central government. This reorganized their six traditional boards into eleven ministries. However, the policy would not be implemented for at least a decade.
Constitutionalism was supported by the gentry and wealthy merchants while peasants were experiencing a decline in standard of living.
The Chinese Revolution (1911-1912)
After troops in Hubei captured Wuchang, a series of smaller uprisings followed in central and southern China. The imperial system was replaced with the Republic of China, lead initially by Sun Yat-sen, who resigned in March of 1912 and was replaced by Yuan Shih-kai. Yuan Shih-kai started one of China’s first political parties, The Nationalist party or, Kuomintang (KMT). China’s new parliament struggled to produce a permanent constitution. Yuan Shih-kai wanted full control of China’s new government and dissolved a revolt lead by Sun Yat-sen as well as dissolving parliament on Jan. 10, 1914 to form a new body of government under his own specifications.
China in WWI
On January 18th, 1925 the Japanese government presented the Twenty-one Demands to Yuan secretly which essentially aimed to make China a Japanese dependency. On May 7th Japan gave Yuan a 48-hour ultimatum and Japan gained extensive special privileges and concessions in Manchuria and confirmed its gains in Shandong from Germany.
Many revolts were in the works against Yuan, including those influenced by Sun Yat-sen, still in exile, which culminated in a military revolt in Yunnan. Yuan’s direct subordinates, Generals Duan Qirui and Feng Guozhang refused aid. Yuan abolished the new empire on March 22nd.
Yuan’s rule had many negative affects and the country was fractured into battling military provinces. General Li Yuanhong who had been the vice president succeeded to the presidency while Duan Qirui continued as premier. The two became split on the issue of entering WWI. Li opposed entering while Duan fiercly supported entering the war. On May 23 Li dismissed Duan and replaced him with Gen. Zhang Xun who required that Li dissolve parliament. Zhang was attempting to reinstate the Qing dynasty so Li called upon Duan to march to the capital to reinstate the republic on July 14th. China declared war on Germany on August 14th, 1917, on the side of the allies. Though they did not participate in combat, they provided resources.
China's Party Split
On May 4th, 1919 students demonstrated in protest of the Treaty of Versailles which lead to the formation of the Communist Party of China (CCP).
Throughout the 1920s, China was split between two parties vying for power: the Communist Party of China (CCP) and the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT). The CCP had a stronger hold in rural communities while the KMT controlled most of China with strong control within the urban areas.
A two-party coalition was put in place, yet encountered many problems. Chiang Kai-shek was appointed leader of the National Revolutionary Army and began to push out communists from the coalition. The CCP went into revolt but KMT forces executed many CCP members. From 1927 to 1937 The Nationalist Party retained power, mainly Chiang using the front of a representative governing system to keep all decision making in his hands, backed by a military dominated government.
The Long March
Throughout Chiang’s rule, the CCP made efforts to regroup, creating fifteen rural bases in central China. In late 1934, however, Nationalists forced CCP armies to retreat from their bases. Many prominent communist leaders marched across western China in what is known as the Long March, during which Mao ZeDong rose to distinction among CCP leaders. In January of 1935, the CCP Political Bureau confirmed Mao as chairman of the CCP.
The Sian Incident
The Sian Incident occurred on December 12, 1936 when Chiang was detained in Xi’an (Sian) by Zhang Xueliang, the leader of the Manchurian army. Many in the army had sympathies aligning with the CCP slogan “Chinese Don’t Fight Chinese” and preferred to fight the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. Both Soviet forces and the CCP fought for Chiang’s release under the terms that it would limit Japanese presence in China and he was released on December 25th.
The Sino-Japanese War
1937 marked the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War as a result of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, a small clashing between Japanese and Chinese forces at Beiping (the Nationalist regime’s name for Beijing). The incident fueled a surge of patriotism from the people of China who would not allow Japan to settle the incident locally.
The Nanjing Massacre
The year before war was declared by the two countries, the Nanjing Massacre occurred during December of 1937 to January of 1938 where Japanese troops killed anywhere from 100,000 to more than 300,000 Chinese people. China found aid from the Soviet Union and on Aug. 21, 1937, the Soviet Union and China signed a nonaggression pact. As the Sino-Japanese War continued, China experienced economic strife for the government did not have the means to implement price control and rationing. The Nationalist Party was weakened from the war while the CCP, used the years of civil war, maintained from experience in guerilla warfare and mobilizing rural populations. The nationalist and communist alliance to fight Japan got more and more tense as the war waged on, and fear of another civil war arose.
China Receives Aid
In the early 1940s the United States came to the aid of China. Chiang hoped for an alliance with the US and Great Britain as equals, but the US saw the defeat of Germany as a priority. In November of 1943, Chiang met with Churchill and Roosevelt at the Cairo Conference. This produced the Cairo Declaration which said that after the war Manchuria, Taiwan, and the Pescadores Islands would be returned to China.
Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945. After Japanese surrender another civil war took place from 1945 until 1949 when the CCP’s military forces, known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), conquered mainland China on October 1 and established the People’s Republic of China with Beijing as the capital. This came about because after China’s victory, the CCP and the KMT both vied for the previously Japanese-held territories. By the years of 1947 and the beginning of 1948, the communists gained the upperhand and continued their domination through the rest of 1948. Nationalists fled to Taiwan.
People's Republic of China
In 1949, Chairman Mao declared the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. Until 1956, land was redistributed to Chinese peasants and the economy grew. This time period is frequently referred to as the good years of Chinese socialism.
Hundred Flowers Campaign
The “good years” dwindled with the Hundred Flowers Campaign in 1956. The campaign asked citizens to give their opinion of the Chinese government, but those that held opinions against the government were arrested.
Great Leap Forward
Mao launched the Great Leap forward in 1957. This movement was an attempt to make China a leader in economic development. In order to accomplish this, Mao had steel plants built across the country and told his workers that if they worked hard enough, China would pass Britain in steel production in 15 years. However, according to firsthand accounts seen in the video below, the majority of the steel was only used to make pots. Since the steel was made by hand rather than by machine, it was not durable, and the pots collapsed after being used. A year after Mao’s 15 year prediction, he said that China would accomplish his goal in one more year (Harms).
Skepticism of this fantasy-seeming goal began to emerge. If people expressed these views, they were executed. By 1958, the government had executed 550,000 people. While inadequate steel was being produced in the city, rural fields were taken from landowners. Agricultural cooperatives developed on this land where peasants were forced to work. Mao pushed the production of wheat more than other crops. If a certain area produced their quota, the government told them they would reach heaven. Eager to please the government, many workers in charge of a field would lie about how much wheat was actually produced. The government took this reported figure and subtracted the amount of wheat the workers on the field would need to survive. The remaining amount of wheat was taken by the government. Since the majority of the fields reported false numbers, they were left with very little to eat. The wheat the government took was either stored in warehouses where it rotted or was sold abroad to pay for the steel plants.
Mao expected these cooperatives to harvest enough crops to supply communal mess halls; however, by 1959, the food reserves were diminished. Below is an image of a family eating a meal at a communal mess hall.
Scholars predict that between 16.5 million and 40 million people died during the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward. Below is a chart detailing what the calorie intake should have been during the Great Leap Forward, based on the intense manual labor, and what the actual calorie intake was.
Chaos erupted in the rural areas during the famine. Farmers ran away from the communes and planted their own secret gardens. According to reports, rural armies stole grain, beat male workers, and raped female workers.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
As an attempt to regain order and control after The Great Leap Forward, Mao launched The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. He believed that the upper class was gaining power at his expense. He planned to eliminate Western influence from China. He implemented a Gang of Four which led the Communist party and carried out Mao’s orders. He also established armies of Red Guards made up of college students.
As Mao’s philosophy was taught in schools, young children became indoctrinated and were recruited into the armies. These child armies (which Mao called young intellectuals) were put to work in the rural fields, and many never returned to school. The economy continued to fall, and the education system collapsed as schools shut down.
In Mao’s attempt to rid China of Western influence, he also destroyed much of Chinese culture and its heritage. Below is a video detailing the Cultural Revolution.
Below is an image of anti Mao propaganda. (Children's Crusade Against Communism)
Post Mao China & Into the Twenty First Century
During the late 1960s and 1970s tensions and even border clashes between China and Russia began to develop. China also felt threatened by long time enemies of India and Japan. Collectively, these nations were labeled the “Near Barbarians.” The United States held a mutual interest in improved Chinese relations in an effort to isolate the USSR, during the Cold War, from its traditional Communist ally, the PRC. (Schaller) Mao Ze Dong publicly met with Richard Nixon in February of 1972. The two men began diplomatic actions that would eventually normalize relations that allowed for an economic relationship to develop.
Post Mao China
The death of Moa Ze Dong in September of 1976 marked the end of the beginning of an Isolated China. In many ways, the story of post Mao China is a story of wealth creation. Beginning in the 1970s, the communist leadership began to relax its strict communist ideology concerning its economic policies. Mao’s immediate successor, Hua Guofeng, keep China moving in a modern direction by expanding private property rights. Hua also oversaw the inaction of China’s one child policy in 1979. This act has always been controversial but was effective in slowing china’s population growth significantly. However, beginning in the early 1980s, under the leadership of Primer Deng Xiaoping, China saw international investment begin to spur truly astonishing economic growth by encouraging private firms to sell part ownership to foreign businessmen.
The Tiananmen Square Massacre
China began to modernize so fast that many in China, particularly student bodies, saw a chance for political reforms. Students, Intellectuals and many in the urban populations began to build a pro democracy movement that ultimately failed and culminated in the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre in June of 1989 in Beijing. After weeks of student led protests in central Beijing and erecting a statue named “The Goddess of Democracy” (In homage to the Statue of Liberty) Deng Xiaoping sent in military units that ended up killing an estimated 3,000 democratic activist.
Into the Twenty First Century
The aftermath of Tienanmen Square massacre and subsequent crackdown did not slow China’s economic progress. By the 1990’s China economy began to grow by almost 10% a year. (Jacques) There are two main reasons why the PRC was able to make this the incredibly quick shift from agrarian communalism to large population of urban industrialization. The first being, China's immense size and the natural resources (such as agriculture) allowed for new innovative technologies to be applied in a more effective way. Second was china’s large population that would man the unskilled labor of mass industrial production. Both of these factors have lead to increased standards of living and a rise in per-capita income. In 1992, China became the world’s third largest economy. Today China is one of America’s largest trade import provider. In contemporary China many look to Mao Zedong who was the man behind modern china’s prosperity. While many in America look to Premiere Deng as the modernizing force that makes our economic relations possible. Today, many in America look with a certain amount of unease and concern at China’s rise to power. Most economists predict that by the year 2030, China will overtake America as the world’s largest economy.
The Wealth & Health of China
The Link Below is one of the best visualizations of china's economic history. When you open the GapMinder-World Link, pay close attention to the sudden drop in life expectancy during of early 1960's. Due in no small part to Mao's policies. Also, notice during starting in the late 70's right up to 2009 look toward the steady rise in per-capita income.
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