Revival and Collapse





Ming Dynasty : 1368 - 1644

The rebel leader Hung-Wu, also called Chu Yuan-chang, established the Ming Dynasty after throwing out the Mongols in 1368 A.D., but his power was still fairly weak after the Mongol invasion. His rule extended only from the Great Wall to the east of Tibet - smaller borders than modern China or than in T’ang Dynasty China, on which he  modelled his government by trying to keep as power centralised, and especially in his own hands. This gave him  more responsibilities, so he set up a council of advisers to assist him and reintroduced examinations as a method to select governors and judges.
In 1451 AD, after a civil war, the emperor Yung-Lo moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, where he began work on the imperial palace, which still stands today.
Dr Literature became more important, schools were created, and the justice system was reformed. The Great Wall and the Grand Canal were also improved. The dynasty was divided into 15 provinces and three commisioners were assigned to each province: one for finances, one for military, and one for judicial matters. The financial commisioner was over-ruled by a governor in the later years of the dynasty.
The Ming's power was great. They started to re-establish a tribute among the non-Chinese states of East Asia. This tribute required that these states acknowledge the moral and cultural supremecy of the Chinese. In the first quarter of the 15th century, the Ming had decisively defeated the the mongol tribes. In addition to the superior land troops, the Chinese navy was strong. Their power was felt throughout Southeast Asia, India, and even Madagascar.
The Ming's power started to decline from the middle of the 15th century. The quality of the imperial leadership deteriorated and eunuchs started to exercise control over the emperors, which angered the bureaucrats and caused factionalism in the government.
In addition, war was depleting the imperial treasuries. Much money was spent on defending against the mongol tribes to the north and Japanese pirates along the coast. The royal treasuries were eventually exhausted trying to defend Korea in a seven-year war against the Japanese pirates. In the final years of the Ming dynasty, maritime relations with Western countries were opened. Among the countries that had trading posts or settlements in China were: The Portuguese in Macao (1514), the Dutch in (Formosa)Taiwan (1619) and the near by Pescadres islands. At the same time, Jesuit missionaries came to spread the Christian faith and western scientific knowledge. The Jesuits soon won favor in the Ming court and the neo-Confucian scholars were pre-occupied with individual merit and social order. The Jesuits were unable to implant either Chiristian thought or western scientific knowledge in the Chinese court.
The Ming dynasty was brought down by rebellion when the government was unable to feed the people in time of famine. When the rebels attacked, elite Ming troops were deployed along the Great Wall to protect against a Manchurian tribe. Other Manchurians offered to help drive out the rebels, which they did, but afterwards, these Manuchurians refused to leave and they eventually forced the Ming to withdraw to the south.

Art in the Ming Dynasty: After the Mongols were thrown out of China, and the Chinese emperors took over again, sculpture stagnated.  Ming dynasty sculptors just repeated what had been done in the past. Ming Dynasty paintings of birds and flowers and people, however, are among the best detail paintings. Ming Dynasty pottery is also famous for its excellence, and in this period, Chinese lacquer became much more creative and beautiful.



Qing or Manchu Dynasty : 1644 - 1911

The Manchus took over China, and under their rule, culture and arts flourished. China’s greatest novel known variously as The Dream of the Red Chamber, A Dream of Red Mansions and The Story of the Stone was written during this dynasty.  But the Manchus were even  more conservative and inflexible than the Ming, and they expected everyone to treat the Emperor like the Son of Heaven and did not consider any other country to be China’s equal.  Late in this era, from 1840 onwards, there was corruption, rebellion, decentralisation of power and internal fighting among reformers who wanted to stem the chaos. What in China are known as the ‘Unequal Treaties’ were sign with foreign powers, which gave foreign navies the right to sail up Chinese rivers and granted extra-territoriality.  The ailing Qing, however, were strong enough to crush the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, led primarily by the US Marines.  But keeping China united proved impossible with the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, followed shortly by the outbreak of WWI.

Under Manchu rule, China reached a high point in its 2000-year history but collapsed from internal pressure as well as external pressure by the West. As with previous invaders of China, the Manchus started to absorb the Chinese culture. The government was based on that of the Ming and was more centralized. The central administration was regulated by a new institution called the Grand Council, which regulated the military and political affairs guided by the emperor. The chief bureaus in the capital had both a Chinese and a Manchu leader. The traditional bureaucracy and civil service examination was generally the same as with previous Chinese dynasties.
By the end of 17th century, the Manchus had effectively eliminated all of the Ming opposition and put down a rebellion led by Chinese generals that had helped the Manchus. The Manchu dynasty eventually controlled Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. Even Nepalm Burma, Korea, and Vietnam recognized China as a major power.
Even though the Manchu dynasty had over-powered it enemies, the 18th century was a time of unprecedented peace. However, as in the past, the population growth surpassed economic growth and life for the Chinese peasant became harder. The government's funds were depleted due to foreign expansion, so the Manchus had to grudgingly accept trade with the West.

The most active trading partners were the British, French, and the Americans. The British, in an effort to gain a larger foothold in the Chinese market, introduced Indian opium. This opium trade depleted the Chinese silver reserves and gave the British a large advantage over all of China’s other trading partners.


Republican China: 1911 - 1949

The Wuchang Uprising broke out on October 10,1911. On the night of October 10, the first shots in the revolution rang out and the uprising had begun. Wuchang was occupied after one night's ighting. On the 12th, the revolutionary army also occupied Hanyang and Hankou, the other two towns, which with Wuchang make up the city of Wuhan.

After the victory of the Wuchang Uprising, the revolutionary immediately began preparations to set up a government. On January 1, 1912, Sun Yat-sen took the oath of office and proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of China.

The Provisional Government at Nanjing headed by Sun Yat-sen was the product of a bourgeois democratic revolution.

The Provisional Government at Nanjing issued many laws relating to political, social and economic reform. But because the government did not touch the basis of the semi-colonial, semi-feudal society, it would not resolve the immediate concerns of the people, especially the peasants' demand for land, and so its mass base was very weak.

The imperialist powers both feared and hated the Chinese revolution, and after the Wuchang Uprising they went to great lengths to support the Qing and smash the revolution. With the rapid disintegration of the Qing the imperialist powers then sought a new flunkey. Their choice fell upon Yuan Shikai, a representative of landlord and comprador forces, and they put pressure on the Qing court to appoint him to an important position.

Under pressure from reactionary forces inside and outside, the revolutionists compromised and on January 15 agreed, on condition that the Qing emperor abdicated and Yuan Shikai supported the republic, to hand over political power to Yuan. On March 10, Yuan Shikai formally assumed office in Beijing and established an anti-revolutionary regime representing the big landlords and comprador class. The fruits of victory of the revolution had been usurped by Yuan Shikai, an agent of the imperialist powers, and thus began the rule of China by Beiyang warlords.

As a bourgeois democratic republic, the Republic of China made only a brief appearance in history. It only overthrew a feudal emperor, but did not overthrow the exploitation and oppression by imperialism and feudalism. China was still a semi-colonial , semi-feudal society. Imperialist and feudal forces continued to rule China, and the Chinese people's anti-imperialist, anti-feudal democratic revolution was still far from being completed.

People's Republic of China: 1949 – present

The People’s Republic of China was formally established on October 1, 1949, with Mao declaring the creation of a “people’s democratic dictatorship”. The Soviet Union recognised the People’s Republic on October 2, 1949 and in the following February, China and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance, valid until 1980. In the beginning, the new government was met with peace  and the new leadership was very disciplined and embarked on a program of national integration and reform.  Moderate social and economic policies were implemented and results were impressive.  Involvement in the Korean War, however, slowed this progress and in 1951 the UN declared China to be an aggressor and sanctioned a global embargo on the shipment of arms and war material to China, which ended hopes that People’s Republic might replace Nationalist China as a member of the UN.  Soon the government launched a massive campaign against the ‘enemies of the state’, including foreigners, missionaries and later artists and writers. 

Millions of people were punished or otherwise effected by this campaign which stipulated that culture and literature must reflect the class interest of the working people.

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