These twenty four letters are an excellent window to China. They give a glimpse of the remarkable history and culture of China from 1200 AD to 1949—the year the communists came to power.
Starting with a description of the land and the people, the book first gives a brief account of Ancient China from 2000 BC – 12000 AD. It then takes the reader to the start of the Yuan dynasty under Genghis Khan and not only talks about his conquests and the expansion of this empire to Europe under his grandson Kublai Khan, but also gives an insight about the art, literature science and religion that flourished in this period. The rule of the Ming and Qing dynasties is well covered along with several important incidents which occurred in this period like the Tumu crisis, the activities of Japanese pirates, the opium, the Sino-French and the Sino-Japanese wars.
The arrival of Europeans in China in the mid nineteenth century changed the entire insular character of Chinese polity and brought it face to face with world reality. Being ill equipped to face this western threat, China, which had hitherto followed a policy of isolation, became a subservient nation to it’s European masters.
This led to the growth of Chinese nationalism under Sun Yat-sen and the formation of a short lived Republic in the early twentieth century. Subsequently two important events happened in China: the founding of the Communist and the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang). The two began a war which forced the former to undertake the ‘Long Marcfh’ in 1936 which became an epic.
The war between Kuomintang and the Communists ended in the defeat of the former and the formation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 under Mao Zedong.
The book traces all these fascinating events with a precision and insight which is remarkable. An Epilogue has been added to give the reader an idea about China from 1949-2000 AD.
The book is extensively illustrated. Written lucidly, the book gives the reader a comprehensive view of China.
Genghis Khan and the Yuan Dynasty
The death of Zhu Yuanzhang led to a war of succession among his descendants. In order to perpetuate the rule of the Zhu family, Zhu Yuanzhang had appointed his twenty four sons and grandsons as vessals across the country. Upon his death he was successes by his grandson, Zhu Yunwen, because the crown prince Zhu Biao died young. Fearful of the powerful vassalgages, Zhu Yunwen (who gave himself the title Jianwen), decided to reduce the vassal states.
This was resented by most vassals and in 1399, the Prince of Yan, whose name was Zhu Di, revolted, He began a campaign ‘to restore order, and in 1402 captured Nanjing. Emperor Jianwen fled without a trace and next year Zhu Di proclaimed himself the Emperor and changed the reign title to Yongle. The reign of Zhu Di is universally viewed as a “second founding” of the Ming Dynasty since reversed many of his father’s policies.
Yongle demoted Nanjing to a secondary capital and in 1403 announced the new capital of China as Beijing. Construction of a new city lasted from 1407 to 1420, employing hundreds of thousands of daily workers. At the center was the Imperial City and at the center of this was the Forbidden City, the palatial residence of the Emperor and his family. In his time, Beijing became a architectural wonder and also a great centre of learning.
Interestingly, the site of the Ming Dynasty tombs, located 50 km north of Beijing, was chosen by Yongle. After lying dormant and dilapidated for decades, the grand canal was dredged and restored under Yongle. The impetus for restoring the canal was to solve the perennial problem of shipping grain to the north of Beijing. Shipping was made difficult with an inefficient system of shipping grain through the East China Sea or by several different types of barge. The development of the grand canal was an answer to these problems.
One of the most remarkable events in Yongle’s regime was the building of a huge ocean fleet and the voyages abroad. Beginning in 1405, Emperor Yongle Emperor appointed his favored eunuch Zheng He (1371-1433) as the naval admiral for a gigantic new fleet of ships designated for international tributary missions. The Chinese had sent diplomatic missions over land to the west since the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) and had been engaged in private overseas trade upto East Africa for centuries; but no government-sponsored tributary mission of this grandeur and size had ever been assembled before. To service seven different tributary missions abroad, the Nanjing shipyards constructed two thousand vessels from 1403 to 1419, which included the large treasure ships that measured 112 m (370 ft) to 134 m (440 ft) in length and 45 m (150 ft) to 54 m (180 ft) in width. The first voyage from 1405 to 1407 contained 317 vessels with a staff of 70 eunuchs, 180 medical personnel, 5 astrologers, and 300 military officers, commanding a total estimated force of 26,800 men.
The enormous tributary missions were discontinued after the death of Zheng He. However, there were other factors too which contributed to the ending of these voyages. Yongle had conquered Vietnan in 1407 but Ming troops were pushed out in 1428 with significant costs to the Ming treasury. In 1431, the new Le Dynasty of Vienam was recognized as an independent tribute state. There was also the threat and revival of Mongol power on the northern steppe. Inorder to face this threat, massive funds were used to build the Great Wall after 1474. Indeed, Yongle’s moving of the capital from Nanjing to Beijing was largely in response to the court’s need of keeping a closer eye on the Mongol threat in the north.
All these factors combined with the death of Zheng He, ended the great saga of these ocean voyages.
THE GLORY OF YONGLE
Althought Yongle ordered many bloody purges, he had a different attitude about the scholar-officials He had a selection of texts complied on Neo-Confucianism in order to assist those who studied for the civil service examinations. Yongle commissioned two thousand scholars to create a 50-million word (22,938 chapters) long encyclopedia, the Yongle Encyclopedia, from seven thousand books. This surpassed all previous encyclopedias in scope and size, including the 11th century compilation of the Four Great Books of Song.
Yongle was diligent in state affairs. He personally led his troops to the frontier five times on punitive expenditions against the Mongols and established good diplomatic relations with most countries in his neighbourhood. In his times the Ming Dynasty was at its glorious best.
In 1424, in his fifth expedition, Yongle died at the age of 65 and was buried at the site of the Ming Dynasty tombs near Beijing. His tomb is known as Chang Mausoleum and he has been given the posthumous title of Emperor Wen.
The Glorious Years of Qing Dynasty
Now let us get back to the rule of the Qing’s. Two very important Emperors of this Dynasty were Kang Xi (1654-1722) and Qian Long (1722-1799). Their rule which lasted over hundred years is called the ‘Glorious Hundred Years of Qing reign.’
Emperor Kang Xi treated the Manchus and the Hans as equal. He recruited Han scholars in senior government positions and made many Han’s governors of his provinces. An imperial academy for studies in Confucianism was set up and the society was again taught the ethics and morality of Confucianism. Agriculture land, seized by the prince’s of the Ming dynasty, was returned to the tillers, and Kang Xi started rewarding people who reclaimed wastelands. He also carried out a policy of remitting taxes. Competent people were appointed to harness the Yellow River so that navigation becomes hassle free.
In the initial years of Emperor Kang Xi, the country was in turmoil. Some chieftains who had helped Qings in capturing power had become very powerful in their regions. Kang Xi slowly eliminated their power in the name of ‘national unification.’ He then eliminated Zheng’s regime in Taiwan and thus unified the whole nation. In the north west, Galdan, an aristocrat of the Jungar tribe, started maintaining close relations with Tzarist Russia and started a rebellion. Emperor Kang Xi personally led his troops and put down the rebellion. In 1989 he concluded a treaty with Russia which was known as the ‘Sino-Russian treaty of Nerchinsk.’ It fixed th eastern section of the Sino-Russian border and curbed Tzarist Russia’s aggression on China
Emperor Kang Xi was on the throne for sixty-one years. He died in 1722 and was succeeded by his fourth son Yong Zheng. The rule of Emperor Yong Zheng lasted thirteen years—till 1735. He too carried out-people policies including taking firm action against corrupt officials. He brought aboriginal chieftains in southwest ethinic areas such as Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan under the jurisdiction of the central government by giving them regular official titles. He concluded another treaty with Tzarist Russia which demarcated the central section of the Sino-Russian border.
In 1735, he was succeeded by his fourth son known as Emperor Qian Long. His reign is famous for management of China’s frontier areas in the northwest. He put down all revolts in these areas and sent a competent soldier, General of Yili, to manage all military and civil affairs in this area. Emperor Qian Long also strengthened his administration in Tibet by abolishing the hereditary system and creating a local government. He appointed three officials, one layman and two clergymen to handle political affairs. Besides, he promulgated the Imperial Tibetan Constitution, in which the respective authorities as well as the positions of the ministers in residence in Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama were explicitly stated.
Towards the end of Emperor Qian Long’s reign, Chinese people accounted for one third of the world population and its economic power was the greatest in the world. It’s balance of trade in exports was very high. Infact, the Qing Dynasty was at its zenith in the hundred years from Emperor Kang Xi reign to that of Emperor Qian Long. It was a time of great prosperity.
However, in his later years Emperor Long lost his zeal for good governance and became a pawn in the hands of some of his favourities. One of these favourities was He Shen. Official posts began to be sold and corruption became dormant. The Qing Dynasty was now on the wane.
The Decline of Qing and the Opium War
Although the reign of the Qing Dynasty saw great prosperity of the people, there was also a darker side to this picture. In the reign of Kang Xi, Yong Zheng and Qian Long, imperial authority was unprecedently strengthened. Systems under which the Manchu aristocracy discussed state affairs jointly were discontinued. Confucian literature which promoted acceptance of state supremacy and virtuous conduct was given prominence; and books bragging about the achievements of the Emperor’s made compulsory for study in academics. Infact, for entry in state civil service, extolling the virtues of the rulers became a important yardstick for success.
In order to strengthen the cultural as well as their ideological control, the Qing government adopted various measures, the most merciless of which was literary inquisition. Books critical of the Manchus were banned and in one case, all the booksellers and printers who published one such book, were executed. In Emperor Qian Long’s reign, this expression of thought was curbed still more strictly. For instance, a famous poet Hu Zhongzao was executed because he differentiated between ‘good from evil’ in his poem which was interpreted as ‘on the corrupted Qing Dynasty’.
Along with this cultural intolerance, the Qing rulers also closed custom houses and carried out a closed door policy. They did not allow foreign merchant ships to come in any city of China, except Macao and Guangzhou, for trade. The view was that foreign merchants with their heretical ideas will corrupt the society. This ‘closed door’ policy obstructed the proper growth of China resulting in China not keeping pace with Europe, where important changes were taking place as a result of the industrial revolution. Whereas Europe had walked out of the Middle Ages, China’s literati was still indulging in Neo-Confucianism, textual research, arts and writing.
During Emperor Kang Xi’s reign, some Jesuit priests brought with them western science and technology. However, they were not allowed to mingle with the ordinary Chinese people and so their knowledge was confined to the court.
Catholicism was banned and so Chinese culture and western culture did not inter mingle. Request of the British Government to establish diplomatic relations were rejected which showed the Qing’s ignorance of world situation as well as their own arrogance and self importance. By 1840, the per head grain yield in China was only 200 kilograms while in America it was 1,000 kilograms. China’s annual iron output was 20,000 tons, less than 1/40 of England.
THE OPIUM WAR
In this scenario of China having a closed door policy, and European nations wishing to expand their trade and influence in other parts of the world, opium trade became a bone of contention between England and China. Opium, commonly known in China as dayan, is a kind of drug. In the early period of the Qing dynasty, no more than 200 chests of opium were imported every year as medicine. Before the 19th century, China always had a favourable balance of exports in Sino-Western trade. In order to put an end to the unfavourable balance in Sino-British trade, Britain began selling large quantities of opium to China in the late 18th century at exhorbitant profit. The importing of opium created many social problems in China like widespread opium addiction, corruption among officials, smuggling, a rapid drain of silver from China, soaring prices and financial difficulties.
In 1838, the Chinese Emperor Don Guang appointed Lin Zexu as commander of the navy with directions to ban the drug in the port of Guangdong. Accordingly, opium was publicly burned on a beach and this infuriated the British. In 1840, the British fleet under the command of George Elliot reached the seacoast of Guangdong and blocked the estuary of Zhujiang river. This started the Opium War.
After failure to capture Guangdong, the British fleet sailed northwards and captured the cities of Dighai, Baihekou and Tianjin. Pressure was then put on the Qing government for negotiations. In January 1841, the British army occupied Hong Kong by force. The Chinese Emperoro Dao Guang sent a punitive force against the British captured Guangzhou, the Qing government was forced to sign the Convention of Guangzhou under which they paid an indemnity and agreed to withdraw from Guangzhou.
Thereupon, the British forces captured the three strategic cities of Xiamen, Dighai and Ningbo. This put the Chinese forces in disarray and some of their top commanders either died fighting or committed suicide. Continuing their successful foray into China, the British occupied Wusong and Shanghai.
The British then sailed for Nanjing where the Chinese, accepting all the condition of the British, signed the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. This treaty gave the British, and indemnity of 21 million silver dollars, cessation of Hong Kong, opening of five trading ports Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo and Shanghai, and no interference by the Qing government on opium trade.
In the following years another Supplmentary Treaty of Hoomun Chai was signed by the two countries which gave the British the privilege of consular jurisdiction, unilateral most favoured nation status, and the right of buying and renting land in five ports. This was the first time such great concessions had been given to a foreign country.
The American and the French rushed to China on hearing about the success of British troops. Threatened by force, China signed similar treaties with the Americans and the French.
Under these treaties, the United States and France both gained all the privileges that were enjoyed by Britain. Moreover, they were permitted to carry out freely missionary activities at the trading ports. Eventually, the Qing government was forced to lift the ban on Catholism, which was imposed more than 100 years ago.
However, the western powers were not satisfied with these gains. In 1856, the Chinese searched a vessel near Guangzhou port suspecting that it harboured some pirates. This annoyed the British who attacked Guangzhou and then withdrew.
In 1857, Britain and France jointly attacked Guangzhou on different pretexts. This was the second Opium War. The Anglo-French forces captured Guangzhou and Tianjin and then marched to Beijing. With the Chinese troops treaty called the Convention of Peking with Britain, France, America and Russia respectively.
From then onwards, the western powers expanded their territorial gains in all directions of China. They also brought with them their culture, religion, economics and merchandise. China thus walked into the chasm of colonization.
The Formation of Republic under Sun Yat-sen
In a previous letter (chapter 16) you have read a lot about the Empress Dowager Ci Xi. Who was she?
She was a concubine of Emperor Xian Feng and the actual ruler in the reign of Tong Zhi and Guang Xi. This was towards the end of the Qing dynasty.
In 1860, when the Angle-French forces entered Beijing, she fled to Chengde, Hebei alonwith the Emperor Xian Feng. The next year the Emperor died and was succeeded by his six year son Zai Chun. As such, she was respectfully called Goddess Empress Dowager, with the glorious title of Ci Xi. As she had a strong desire for authority, she staged a coup and began to take charge of state affairs ‘[behind the screen.’ Since she had no son, she designated Prince Zai Chun as Emperor. In 1877, Emperoro Guang Xu assumed the reigns but the real power still remained with Ci Xi.
When the foreign powers were at the gates of Beijing, she escaped westwards and published two edicts of ‘self reproach’ and ‘reform’. Under these edicts, the Qing court declared its intention to establish a National Consultative Assembly in Beijing and Consultative Councils in local areas. Officials were drafted to prepare a constitution at the earliest. They operated publicly and thus aroused hopes among the people that a new order was about to descend.
However, all this was a ploy to gain time. Empress Ci Xi and the Manchu nobility had no desire for reform, and wished to re-introduce the military supremacy. They kept issuing orders to say that reform and constitutional changes were on their way but nothing happened. IN 1906, Empress Xi Ci and Emperor Guang Xi died within a space of a few months. As no reforms were forthcoming, the pro-reformists joined the ranks of the anti Qing ranks.
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was born in Guangdong province and later schooled in Honolulu (USA). He returned to China to graduate in medicine from Hong Kong and began practicing in Guangzhou and Macao. In 1894, he went to Honolulu to restablish the Xing Zhong Hui (Society for the revival of China) whose objective was to ‘drive out the Manchus, restore China and establish a united government.’ Shortly, thereafter, the headquarters of this society was established in Hong Kong.
He thereupon organized an uprising which was crushed and he fled abroad. In 1900, he tried to organize another uprising in Haizhou where the insurgents grew to 20,000. However, this uprising too was crushed. Hereafter, Sun Yat-sen generally became known as a ‘revolutionary leader.’
Thereafter, Sun Yat-sen began writing viciously against the Qing rulers and their henchmen. A large number of people became his followers including many army men and senior officials. In 1905, Sun Yat-sen amalgamated his followers to form the Zhonggou Tong Meng Hui (Chinese Revolutionary League). It adopted the programme ‘drive out the Manchus, restore China, establish a Republic and equalize landownership.’ In his writings he emphasized nationalism, the principle of democracy and a republic, the necessity of equality and called upon the people to overthrow the Qing rule. With its head quarters in Tokyo, Tong Meng Hui established branches in many cities of China including Shanghai, Hankou and Hong. Branches were also established in Europe, America and Honolulu.
Meanwhile, Tong Meng Hui organized many armed up-risings in China and looked for any opportunity for political assassination. This made many important officials of the court feel unsafe and endangered. By his writings and speeches, Sun-Yat-sen roused the masses of China, and local uprisings started in many parts on one pretext or the other. Sometimes the cause was high taxes, sometimes to restore the land which the British and French acquired to build railways, sometimes injustice by court officials and so on. All these uprisings were suppressed by the Qing court through the military. This further angered the people.
In 1911, a combination of factors led to uprisings in various provinces of China leading to the establishment of a military government in Hubei in October 1911. Shortly, thereafter, many other provinces like Hunan, Shaanxi, Yunnan, Jianxi and Guizhou also joined this military government and declared independence. As this was the year of Xinhai, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, this revolution was called the Revolution of Xinhai.
In December 1911, Sun Yat-sen returned to China from abroad. Within a month the provincial delegates convened in Nanjing, proclaimed the establishment of a Republic and elected Sun Yat-sen the Provisional President in January 1912. In February, Emperor Puyi of the Qing Dynasty abdicated thus ending the Qing rule. This ended the monarchy rule in China which had lasted for more than two thousand years.
Northern Expenditure War The Long March
In 1919, Sun Yat-sen reformed the Chinese Revolutionary Party into Kuomintang (the National People’s Party). Meanwhile, the warloards in China wee becoming very important and Kuomintang decided to take them on militarily.
A big army was raised by the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek became its commander-in chief. With the death of Sun Yeat-sen in 1924, Chiang Kai-shek became a very important man in Kuomintang. It is interesting to note that at this point of history the Communists in China were with the Kuomintang.
In 1926, the Kuomintang National Army under Chiang Kaishek led a three pronged attack on the northern areas. This was called the Northern Expedition. The expedition metn with early successes but soon differences began within Kuomintang. Chiang kai-shek carried out a coup in Shanghai and became the supreme commander of Kuomintang. This also led to the breakdown of its relations with the Communist Party.
Thereupon, a government was set up in Nanjing with Chiang Kai-shek as the Chairman. What followed were a series of battles between the various warlords and the Kuomintang army. Ultimately, the Kuomintang triumphed and not only captured Beijing from the warlord Zhang Zuolin but also established its sway over most of China.
While all this was happening, the Communists Party did not remain a silent spectator, They themselves were raising their militia to fight the Kuomintang with the ultimate aim of capturing power in China. In May 1928, the combined armies of the communists led by Zhu De, Chen Yi and Mao Zedong formed the fourth corps of the Chinese Workers and Peasants Red Army. They together with other troops of the communists from other troops of the communists from other regions established based in the provinces of Jiangxi, Fujian, Hunan and Hubei. The Red Army now numbered t0,000, divided into 13 corps.
In 19231, the first China-Russian Congress was held at Ruijin, Jiangxi province and it proclaimed the establishment of the Chinese-Soviet Republic. From then on China got divided into two parts—one part under the control of the Soviets and the other part under the control of the Kuomintang. The Soviet areas were called ‘Red Areas’ and the Kuomintang controlled areas were called ‘White Areas.’
THE LONG MARCH
The Nanjing Government or Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek, after defeating the warlords, launched various military expeditions against the Communists. Between 1930 and 1931, they launched four expeditions to encircle the Communist armies in Jiangxin but they metn with failure. However, due to internal mistakes committed by their fifth army, the Red Army was forced to retreat from Ziangxi for strategic reasons. This shift which began in October 1934, is called the ‘Long March.’
More than 80,000 people took part in the Long March. It was led by various Geneals including Liu Bocheng, Lin Biao, Peng Dehuai, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. During this March, Mao Zedong showed his strategic skills when he gave up the earlier plans of the Army to march to Hunan-Hubei and instead marched towards Guizhou. Had they gone to Hunan-\Hubei, the Red Army would have been destroyed completely, This brilliant decision and other qualities of leadership established Mao Zedong as the undisputed leader of the Red Army. The long march ended triumphantly in 1935 in the province of Sichuan and Gansu.
The Long March was a epic. The main forces crossed more than ten provinces within two years and covered 25,000 kilometers. The Long March propagated the theories and policies of the Communist Party of China and sowed the seeds of fire amongst the common people. It helped rouse the people from their apathy and fatalism. The Long March became a great instrument in the eventual takeover of China by the Communist Party.
The Japanese Invasion
While all this turmoil was going on the China, Japan was making incursions into northeast China. In 1931, Japan occupied many northeast provinces and formed a local puppet government called the Country of Manchu. The Kuomintang or KMT government acquiesced to this occupation and signed the Tanggu Agreement in 1933. In March,1934, the Japanese renamed their occupied territory as Manchu Empire and Pu Yi, a puppet, was made its Emperor.
Interestingly, this occupation brought the Kuomintang and the Communist Party together. Forced by the pressure of nationalism and the student movement in Beijing and many other towns in China, the KMT and the Communist Party came to an agreement in Xian to reorganize the national government, fight the Japanese jointly, release all communist leaders from jail and safeguard the democratic rights of the people. Zhou Enlai of the Communist Partyh and Chaing kai shek of KMT met personally in Xian to ensure that this agreement was implemented in letter and spirit.
In July 1937, using a small incident as a precedent, Japan invaded China and occupied Bejing and Tianjing. They then captured Shanghai. The armies of KMT and the Communist Party gave the Japanese a tough fight and in these battles over 2,00,000 Japanese and 4,00, 000 Chinese were killed. However, the superior equipment and training of the Japanese gave them an edge and within a short time they had occupied more than half of China. The Chinese army retreated everywhere and the National Government moved southwest.
In this war the Japanese launched a cruel san guang policy (to kill all people, burn all villages and rob all property), all over China. This brought great misery to the people but at the same time developed them a firm desire to stay united and resist the Japanese.
This War of Resistance led many industries to shift westwards so that they can support their armies in the south east. This temporal economic prosperity in the rear supported the war considerably. Culture became another battlefront of the ‘Resist Japan and Save the Nation Movement.” Literature, arts, drama, film, and journalism came together to unite the people and attack the enemy. The “resist the Enemy Movement’ of the ‘Shanghai Literature and Arts Circle’ and the ‘Political Bureau of Kuomintang Military Committee,’ led by Zhou Enhlai and Gou Morou respectively, were in the forefront of this resistance. This movement generated a great national fervor and aroused the sympathies of the whole world towards China.
In India too great sympathies were roused for the Chinese. A five member Indian delegation went to China in 1938 to help the Chinese. This included Dwarkanath Kotnis, a young doctor. They all rendered great service to the Chinese forces. All returned back to India except Dr. Kotnis, who married a Chinese and settled down in China. He died of epilepsy in1942. He is even today remembered by the Chinese with love and respect.
During this War of Resistance, the Communist Party of China which had established its own government in the Shanxi-Gangxu region, with Yan’an ias its capital, established various democratic assemblies, introduced tax reforms and set up various academies to teach Marxism-Leninism to the people. All this made Yan’an a model of Chinese anti-Japan resistance movement, and the rear headquarters of the War of Resistance against Japan.
In December 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour leading to the outbreak of the Pacific War. Britain and America declared war against Japan. China joined the Allies in this war against Japan and in March 1942, sent an Expedition Army to Burma to support the Allied forces. By late 1944, the Japanese armies were in difficulties because of insufficient economic supplies from home. In April 1945, the Chinese armies launched a violent counter attack and recaptured many areas including Guizhou, Hunan, Henan, Fujian and Guangdong.
In August 1945, America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Soon thereafter Japan announced an unconditional surrender. On 19th September 1945, the surrender ceremony of the Chinese War Zone was held in Nanjing. This marked the end of China’s eight years war against Japan.
Birth of the People’s Republic of China
After the defeat of Japan, Kuomintang under Chiang Kai shek attempted to government to govern China. But there were fundamental differences between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. President Truman of American appointed General George Catlett Marshal as his special representative to meditate between the two parties. In the spring of 1946, the two parties reached an agreement to prevent internal military conflicts and appointed a three member committee (one from each side including America) to sort out other differences.
However, in June 1946, a fierce civil war broke out between the Kuomintang and the Communists whose army was now called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). After eight month of fighting, the National Government suffered grave losses in Zhejiang. Anhui, Shandong and Shanxi.
Meanwhile, the economy in the Kuomintang ruled areas collapsed totally. As a result of the colossal military expenditure and the financial deficit of the government, the commodity prices sky rocketed. The prices rose by 60,000 times in 1947 and by the end of the same year, by 1,45,000 times. It was said that a cup of tea which costed 10,000 yuan in the morning would cost 20,000 yuan in the evening. Currency was valued not by the amount but by its weight. It was obvious that this rule by the Kuomintang was difficult to sustain.
By the second half of 1948, the civil war had reached a decisive stage. In the next few months the PLA inflicted decisive defeats on the KMT forces in various parts of China. In January 1949, the PLA entered Beijing and in April of the same year they captured Nanjing, the head quarters of the Kuomintang.
Thereupon the PLA marched towards the southeast, northwest, south and west. Everywhere they inflicted decisive defeats on the Kuomintang. In the end the National Government fled to Taiwan.
With this came the end of the KMT and the start of a new era in China.
On October 1, 1949, the communist Party of China met in Beijing and appointed Lin Boqu secretary of the central council, Zhou Enlai, the Prime Minister, Mao Zeong the Chariman of the Revolutionary Commission and Zhu De as the Commander in Chief of the PLA. On the same day, at a ceremony at Tian’anmen square, attended by 3,00, 000 people, Mao Zedong proclaimed to the world the birth of the People’s Republic of China.
Two months later in December 1949, the main body of the Communist Party of China met in Beijing. It elected Mao Zedong as its chairman and a 56 member committee with Zhu De, Liu Shaoqi, Soong Ching Ling, Li Jishen and some others as the Vice Chairmen. They chose Beijing as the capital, chose the Christiain ear as the chronological system of the People’s Republic of China, March of the Volunteers as the national anthem, and a flag with five starts on a field of red as the national flag.
At the time of the birth of the Republic, Chaing Kai-Shek’s army still controlled large areas of Guangdong, Guangxi, Sichuan, Yunan, Shaanxi, Hunan and Hubei, At the end of 1949, the PLA occupied all the areas except Tibet.
In October 1951, PLA also took over Tibet. Thus except for Taiwan, the rest of the mainland came under the control of the Communist Party of China.
Dear Riya, this is the story of China from 1200-1949 and also the end of the book. But to keep you update, I will briefly tell you what happened in China after 1949 and upto 2000.
In August 1945, when Japan declared unconditional surrender, America and Russia divided Korea into two halves North (which was communist) and South (which was pro-America) at the 38th parallel. In June 1950, war broke out between the two Koreas and America sent troops to help South Korea. This led China to enter the war to support North Korea. This was the first time the Chinese armies fought the American armies. After a protracted struggle neither side was victorious, and Korean Armistic Agreement was signed in July 1953, recognizing the 38th parallel as the common border between North and South Korea.
However, what this war did for China was to immensely boost its self esteem and pride. It had taken on the mighty America at war, and come out undefeated. This pride became the corner stone of its policy for the future.
Unfortunately, this pride also led to arrogance. It is this arrogance which led it to attack India in 1962 and later Viet Nam. Both attacks ended in failures but it adversely affected its relations with both the countries. The arrogance also affected its relations with Communist Russia. There was a time when both the countries were on the brink of war.
Meanwhile, the National Government embarked on an ambitious plan for economic development with socialism as its base. In June 1950, all ownership of land was abolished and land was disturbed to 30 million peasants. Simultaneously, the government through its five plans launched a big programmed for infrastructure development which included roads, irrigation works, production of power, coal and steel. The Wu Fan movement was directed at the five evils of bribery, tax evasion, cheating in government contracts, theft of economic intelligence and stealing of state assets. Thousands of bandits, corrupt beauracrats and unscrupulous businessmen were executed under this programme.
In 1956, Chairman Mao Zedong suggested the ‘blooming of hundred flowers’ in art and literary circles; and the ‘development of a hundred schools of thought’ in the academician. This was widely welcomed by the intelligentsia of the country. Sometimes thereafter, blind pride in their nation and the feeling that through their socialist system that can catch up with Britain and surpass America in 15 years , the Communist Party under Mao’s suggestions adopted the policy of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ which required economic development at a feverish peace. This resulted in disaster. For example the CPC Central Committee decided that 10.57 million tons of steel should be produced in 1958 which was double of 1957. A mass movement was accordingly launched by diverting manpower, material and financial resources to build converters and blast furnaces all over China which was a failure. As output was rewarded without checking facts, local regions started giving out inflated statistics of grain production in order to be glorified. This Great Leap Forward Movement led to a serious aftermath with the national economy suffering enormously.
In 1958, the CPC Central Committee under suggestion from Mao Zedong started the ‘People’s Commune’ in the agriculture sector. I this system, a group of people under instructions from their communist masters, were to jointly undertake the production of grain. With individual initiative out in the commune system, this movement also failed leading to disastrous grain shortages in China.
Frustrated by these failures, Mao Zedong launched the ‘Cultural Revolution’ in 1966. In this Cultural Revolution, all old schools of thought were changed and a handful of people under Mao Zedong took command. The Central Culture Revolutionary Group headed by Lin Biao and Jing Qing put a lot of effort in developing the personality cult of Mao Zedong. A force of thirteen million Red Guards was formed which idolized Mao. This obviously led to a counter reaction and the Communist Party circles were ridden by confusion. The ‘Cultural Revolution’ too ended in failure.
In September 1976 Mao died and with this ended the Cultural Revolution. This ten year period of Cultural Revolution was a great disaster for China.
After Mao’s death, power in China gradually passed into the hands of Deng Xiaoping (1900-1996). He was a reformist who realized that blind following of socialism will lead China nowhere. He opened China’s economy to private enterprise and foreign investments. His view was that socialism meant development of productive forces for common affluence. Under his guidance, the CPC National Committee in 1992 adopted the policy of a socialist market economy, thus ending a closed socialist economy.
Since then China has leapt to the world stage as a great industrial nation, and is today the fourth largest economic power in the world.
Chronological Table of Chinese History
Primitive Society - Around 5,0000 over 4,000 years ago
.Slave Society - Around 21st century – 475 B.C.
Xia - Around 21st-16th centuries B.C.
Shang - .Around 16th -11th centuries B.C.
Western Zhou - Around 11th century – 770 B.C.
Eastern Zhou - 770-475 B.C.
Warring States Period - 475-221 B.C.
Qin - 221-207 B.C.
Western Han - 206B.C.-8 AD
Eastern Han - 8-220
Three Kingdoms - 220-280
Wei - 220-265
Shu - 221-263
Wu - 221-280
Western Xin - 266-316
.Eastern Xin - 317-420
Southern and Northern Dynasties - 420-589
Southern Dynasties - 420-589
Song - 420-479
Chi - 479-50
Liang - 502-557
Chen - 557-589
Northern Dynasty - 386-581
Northern Wei - 386-534
Eastern Wei - 534-550
Western Wei - 535-557
.Northern Chi - 550-577
Northern Chou - 557-581
Sui - 581-618
Tang - 618-907
Five Dynasties & Ten Kingdoms - 907-979
Southern Song - 960-1279
Liao - 916-1125
Western Xia - 1038-1227
Jin - 115-1234
Yuan - 1206-1311
Ming - 1368-1644
Qing - 1643-1912
Formation of Republic under Sun Yat-sen - 1912
Establishment of Kuomintang (National People’s Party) - 1912
Founding of Chinese Communist Party - 1921
Long March - 1935-36
Invasion by Japan - 1937
Founding of People’s Republic of China - 1949