The history of China is told in historical records that refer as far back as 5,000 years ago, making it one of the world's oldest civilizations. It originated with city-states in the Yellow River valley. Traditionally, the first dynasty is named Xia; the second dynasty, the loosely feudal Shang, settled along the Yellow River in Eastern China from the 18th to the 12th century B.C. They were invaded from the west by the Zhou, who ruled from the 12th to the 5th century B.C., until the centralized authority of the Zhou was slowly eroded by warlords. In 221 B.C., China was unified into a large empire under the leadership of Qin Shi Huang. Successive dynasties developed bureaucratic systems that enabled the Emperor of China to control this large territory.
The subsequent Han Dynasty ruled China between 206 B.C. and 220 A.D. They expanded China's territory considerably with military campaigns reaching into Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia and Central Asia, and also helped establish the Silk Road in Central Asia.
Another period of disunion succeeded the Han's collapse, including the highly chivalric period of the Three Kingdoms. During this time, independent Chinese states opened diplomatic relations with Japan, introducing their writing system there. In 580 A.D., China was reunited under the Sui. However, this dynasty was short-lived after a failure in the Goguryeo-Sui Wars (598-614 A.D.) weakened it.
Under the succeeding Tang and Song dynasties, Chinese technology and culture reached its zenith. The Song dynasty became the first government in world history to issue paper money and the first Chinese polity to establish a permanent standing navy. Between the 10th and 11th centuries, the population of China doubled in size. This growth came about through expanded rice cultivation in central and southern China, along with the production of abundant food surpluses. Within its borders, the Northern Song Dynasty had a population of some 100 million people. This was a culturally rich period in China for the arts, philosophy, as well as social life. Landscape art and portrait paintings were brought to the most mature and complex levels since the Tang Dynasty, and social elites gathered to view, share, and exchange precious works of art. Philosophers such as Cheng Yi and Chu Hsi reinvigorated Confucianism with new commentary, infused Buddhist ideals, and emphasis on new organization of classic texts that brought about the core doctrines of Neo-Confucianism.
In 1271, Mongol leader Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty; the last remnant of the Song Dynasty fell to the Yuan in 1279. A peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew the Mongols in 1368 and founded the Ming Dynasty. Ming Dynasty thinkers such as Wang Yangming would further critique and expand Neo-Confucianism, infusing it with ideas of individualism and innate morality that would have a tremendous impact on later Japanese thought. The Ming fell to the Manchus in 1644, who then established the Qing Dynasty.
The Qing Dynasty, which lasted until 1912, was the last dynasty in China. In the 19th century the Qing Dynasty adopted a defensive posture towards European imperialism, even though it engaged in imperialistic expansion into Central Asia itself. At this time China awoke to the significance of the rest of the world, in particular the West.
One result of this was the Taiping Civil War, which lasted from 1851 to 1862. Although the Qing forces were eventually victorious, this civil war was one of the bloodiest in human history.
While China was torn by continuous war, Meiji Japan succeeded in rapidly modernizing its military, setting its sights on Korea and Manchuria. Maneuvered by Japan, Korea declared independence from Qing China's suzerainty in 1894, leading to the First Sino-Japanese War; this resulted in China's humiliating secession of both Korea and Taiwan to Japan. Following these series of defeats, a reform plan for Qing China to become a modern Meiji-style constitutional monarchy was drafted by the Emperor Guangxu in 1898, but the plan was opposed and stopped by the Empress Dowager Cixi, who placed Emperor Guangxu under house arrest in a coup d'état. Further destruction followed the ill-fated 1900 Boxer Rebellion against westerners in Beijing. By the early 20th century, mass civil disorder had begun, and calls for reform and revolution were heard across the country. The 38 year old Emperor Guangxu suspiciously died under house arrest on November 14, 1908, only a day before Cixi also died. With the throne empty, he was succeeded by Cixi's handpicked heir, his two year old nephew Puyi, who became the Xuantong Emperor, the last Chinese emperor. Guangxu's consort, who became the Empress Dowager Longyu, signed the abdication decree as regent in 1912, ending two thousand years of imperial rule in China.
On January 1, 1912, the Republic of China (ROC) was established, heralding the end of the Qing Dynasty. Sun Yat-sen of the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party), was proclaimed provisional president of the republic. However, Yuan Shikai, a former Qing general who had defected to the revolutionary cause, soon usurped the presidency by forcing Sun to step aside. Yuan then attempted to make himself emperor of a new dynasty, but died before securing power over all of the empire. After Yuan Shikai's death, China was politically fragmented, with an internationally-recognized, but virtually powerless, national government seated in Beijing.
The Sino-Japanese War (part of WWII) of 1937-1945 forced an uneasy alliance between the Nationalists and the Communists. With the surrender of Japan in 1945, China emerged victorious but financially drained. The continued distrust between the Nationalists and the Communists led to the resumption of the Chinese Civil War. In 1947, constitutional rule was established, but because of the ongoing Civil War many provisions of the ROC constitution were never implemented on the mainland.
After its victory in the Chinese Civil War, the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong, controlled most of mainland China. On October 1, 1949, they established the People's Republic of China, laying claim as the successor state of the ROC. The central government of the ROC was forced to retreat to the island of Taiwan. Major armed hostilities ceased in 1950 but both sides are technically still at war.
Post-1978 reforms on the mainland have led to some relaxation of control over many areas of society. However, the Chinese government still has absolute control over politics, and it continually seeks to eradicate threats to the stability of the country.
Today, the Republic of China continues to exist on Taiwan, while the People's Republic of China controls the Chinese mainland. The PRC continues to be dominated by the Communist Party, but the ROC has shifted towards democracy. Both states are still officially claiming to be the sole legitimate ruler of all of China. The ROC had more international support immediately after 1949, but most international diplomatic recognitions have shifted to the PRC. The ROC representative to the United Nations was replaced by the PRC representative in 1971.
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