China is one of the world’s most technologically advanced civilizations, and a dominant cultural influence in East Asia. The earliest written record of China’s past, dates from the Shang Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty emerged around the end of the 2nd millennium. Ying Zheng formed the first Chinese empire under the Qin Dynasty. The Han Dynasty brought in an era of prosperity. After this, China came to be ruled by two independent dynasties, called the era of Southern and Northern Dynasties. The Sui Dynasty reunited the country in 589. The Tang Dynasty opened a new age of prosperity and innovations in arts and technology. Buddhism became the predominant religion In late 880, another time of political chaos followed: the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. In the ensuing years China was divided between the Song Dynasty, the Jin Dynasty. These dynasties were replaced by the Mongols after a long and bloody war. Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty. This was the first dynasty to rule the whole of China with Beijing as the capital. The European explorer Marco Polo visited China around this time in the 13th century. Mongolian rule was replaced by the Ming Dynasty in 1368. “Ming” means bright in Chinese, and the period was important especially in the arts. Ming was arguably the most advanced nation on Earth. Another accomplishment of the Ming was the final and lasting construction of the Great Wall. The Ming economic system emphasized agriculture and is best known for its strong and complex central government, which unified and controlled the empire. The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) was founded after the defeat of the Ming by the Manchus, who invaded from the north in the late seventeenth century.
Qing’s hold loosened during the 19th century and China suffered massive social strife, economic stagnation, explosive population growth, and Western penetration and influence. China lost the Opium Wars fought against Britain. Western powers, including the United States, forcibly gained special commercial privileges. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking. In addition, the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) and the Nian Rebellion cost the Chinese heavily. The Taipings who had led the largest Chinese rebellion, were destroyed in the Third Battle of Nanking in 1864. In total between twenty million and fifty million lives had been lost, making it the second deadliest war in human history, only surpassed by the Second World War. The Qing’s “New Armies” were soundly defeated in the Sino-French War (1883-1885) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). The Wuchang Uprising in 1911 led to the forming of a provisional government of the Republic of China. The May Fourth Movement planted the seeds for the irreconcilable conflict between the left and right in China. Sun Yat-Sen, the first President of China, entered into an alliance with the Communist Party of China (CPC) but after his death, Chiang Kai-shek, one of his proteges, seized control of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party or KMT) and brought most of south and central China under its rule in a military campaign known as the Northern Expedition. During the Long March, the communists reorganized under a new leader, Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). The bitter struggle between the KMT and the CPC continued through the 14-year long Japanese invasion (1931-1945). By 1949, the CPC occupied most of the country. With the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China was divided into the PRC on the mainland and the ROC on Taiwan. This remained true until the early 1990s when political changes on Taiwan led the ROC to understand that they would never reoccupy China again. The PRC has also assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau in 1989. Since the end of World War II, ROC has maintained control over Taiwan and the Pescadores and some islands in the South China Sea.