China has 1.44 billion people and occupies a large part of Asia. Its civilisation – the world’s longest continuing civilisation – has been recorded over the last 5,000 years. It was the centre of the world for many centuries, like the USA is now. The Industrial Revolution in the 1700s made Europe speed past ‘an inward-looking’ China in modernisation. It resulted in China being left behind for 300 years, until now. In 2014, China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy (after the USA). Today, largely benign and peaceful in its global outlook, what it decides to do within China impacts on the world’s economy because it is the ‘factory’ of the world and has the world’s largest population. This blog post describes what has happened in the last 120 years.

  1. In approximately 1,500 words, I will describe major events that affected China from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1900 – China has 400 million people.
  3. 1901 – Boxer Rebellion ends – The Qing dynasty and Eight-Nation Alliance signed an agreement under which the Alliance was granted war reparations and the right to station troops in the capital, Beijing.
  4. 1908 – The Guangxu Emperor dies of arsenic poisoning. His young nephew Henry Puyi at two years and 10 months becomes Emperor of the Qing dynasty.
  5. 1908 – The power behind the throne for decades, Empress Dowager Cixi dies. Some historians including Jung Chang record Cixi as a heroine, but Cixi made many mistakes, leaving China powerless.
  6. 1912 – Fuelled by western-educated revolutionary Dr Sun Yat-Sen, the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 culminated in 15 provinces declaring independence from the Qing Dynasty. Sun took control, announcing the Republic of China. A few months later, due to lack of support, he resigned in favour of more powerful Yuan Shikai.
  7. 1915 – Japan, more modern than China, and adopting a ‘Western colonialism posture’, issued demands on China including for territory in Shangdong, Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.
  8. 1919 – After the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, and among its provisions was the transfer of German territories in Shandong to Japan.
  9. 1919 – May Fourth Movement demonstration by students took place protesting the Chinese government for ceding Shandong to Japan.
  10. 1921 – With its roots in the May Fourth Movement of 1919, the Communist Party of China was officially formed.
  11. 1927 – Around 70,000 executions took place in Shanghai when the Nationalist Party leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (Sun Yat-Sen’s successor) orders the massacre of Communists, which caused the creation of the opposing Communist Red Army.
  12. 1928 – Elevated to head of the government, Chiang succeeded in reunifying China by seizing areas under the control of warlords.
  13. 1931 – Fighting between the Communist Red Army and the Nationalist Party escalates into an 18-year-long Civil War.
  14. 1931 – The Mukden Incident – In a false flag operation against the Republic of China, Japanese agents set off a dynamite explosion near a South Manchuria Railway line.
  15. 1931 – Japan invades Manchuria.
  16. 1932 – Japanese aircraft carriers began bombing Shanghai in a series of raids which killed some 4,000 Chinese soldiers and as many as 20,000 Chinese civilians.
  17. 1934 – The Long March – Chinese Red Army broke through the Chiang’s Kuomintang lines attempting to encircle them. This March brought the Communists to the forefront.
  18. 1937 – Marco Polo Bridge Incident – About 100 Chinese soldiers were killed defending the Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing from a Japanese attack.
  19. 1937 – The Nanjing Massacre – Japan launched a full-scale assault on Nanjing. A six-week massacre took place in which tens of thousands of women were raped and as many as 300,000 civilians were killed.
  20. 1938 – The Japanese army and naval air services began a bombing campaign against civilian targets in Chongqing which killed some 10,000 people.
  21. 1939 – Nationalists and the Communists work together to fight the Japanese.
  22. 1945 – After two atomic bombs were dropped by the USA on Japan, Japanese forces in China formally surrendered to Chiang Kai-shek.
  23. 1945 – Following Japanese surrender in World War II, Taiwan was returned to Chinese control.
  24. 1945 – Not able to reconcile, civil war restarted between the Nationalists and the Communists.
  25. 1949 – After a violent civil war, the Communist Party under Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China. Two months later, two million soldiers followed Chiang Kai-shek into exile to Taiwan where he set up a provisional government claiming to be the legitimate ruling body of China.
  26. 1950 – Communist North Korea tried to take control of ‘Democratic’ South Korea. The USA supported South Korea, and China did not want the USA to thrash North Korea and then go into China, so China supported North Korea in this Korean War (to 1953). About 200,000 Chinese died in this war that ended up with no winner.
  27. 1958 – The Great Leap Forward – Chairman Mao attempted to overhaul the Chinese economy and society with collective farming and the use of backyard furnaces to transform the agricultural base of China’s society into an industrial one. It forbade private farming. The plan failed to produce the necessary yield, and famine followed, leading to between 40 and 56 million deaths, including three million by suicide.
  28. 1960 – Sino-Soviet split – A Communist Party of China newspaper accused the Soviet leadership of “revisionism.”
  29. 1962 – Sino-India War – The People’s Liberation Army attacked Indian forces across the Line of Actual Control.
  30. 1964 – The Chinese government detonated its first nuclear weapon.
  31. 1966 – The Cultural Revolution – This campaign was initiated by Chairman Mao to erase Capitalist and traditional Chinese influences of the People’s Republic and introduce the philosophy of Maoism to fill the ideological gaps. Schools were closed and Chinese youth directed to take the lead in change, resulting in youth gangs known as the Red Guards attacking undesirable citizens. Chaos led to martial law, Communist Party purges, and 1.5 million deaths.
  32. 1970 – China launched its first space satellite.
  33. 1971 – People’s Republic of China is admitted to the United Nations, replacing the Republic of China.
  34. 1972 – Richard Nixon, American president, visits China.  
  35. 1976 – Premier Zhou Enlai, a popular Communist leader who curbed many of Mao’s excesses, dies.
  36. 1976 – Mao dies – Mao’s death effectively ends the Cultural Revolution. By the end of his reign, Mao would oversee the slaughter of some 40 to 70 million people.
  37. 1978 – Deng Xiaoping becomes Paramount Leader. An extraordinary leader, he opened up China.
  38. 1978 – Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore and met Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who told him not to support the Communist insurgencies in South East Asia. Deng heeded that advice and communism later became erased in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
  39. 1979 – Deng who was very impressed with Singapore’s economic development, greenery and housing, sent 22,000 Chinese to Singapore to learn from their experiences and bring back to China their knowledge.
  40. 1979 – Sino-Vietnam War – Chinese troops were sent into Vietnam by Deng Xiaoping, to stop Vietnam attacking Cambodia (the Communist government of Cambodia was supported by China). No winner in this war.
  41. 1980 – The one-child policy, under which Chinese couples are heavily fined for additional children after their first, with some exceptions, came into force.
  42. 1989 – Tiananmen Square protests – These student-led protests demanded freedom of speech, freedom of the press and more. After months of negotiation leading nowhere, the government cracked down on the protesters. At least 300 died in the protests.
  43. 1992 – Deng Xiaoping travelled to the south of China to reassert his open economy policy – leaving the ‘more leftists’ in the Communist Party behind.
  44. 1993 – Three Gorges Dam Project –The construction of the world’s largest hydroelectric dam began. Proposed as early as 1920, the project required flooding 1,500 cities and villages, displacing as many as 1.9 million people and destroying 1,200 archaeological and historical sites. The dam began operation in 2015.
  45. 1997 – Deng Xiaoping dies. Jiang Zemin and later Hu Jintao became China’s leader.
  46. 1997 – Hong Kong handover – Sovereignty over Hong Kong was transferred to China from the United Kingdom under the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
  47. 1999 – Transfer of Macau – Sovereignty over Macau was transferred from Portugal to China.
  48. 2000 – Bomb explosion kills up to 60 in Urumqi, Xinjiang.
  49. 2001 – China joined the World Trade Organization, subjecting it to that body’s free trade and dispute resolution agreements.
  50. 2003 – China launched its first manned space mission.
  51. 2003 – China and Hong Kong are hit by the pneumonia-like Sars virus. Strict quarantine measures are enforced to stop the disease spreading.
  52. 2004 – China signs a landmark trade agreement with 10 South-East Asian countries; the accord could eventually unite 25% of the world’s population in a free-trade zone.
  53. 2006 – African heads of state gather for a China-Africa summit in Beijing. Business deals worth nearly $2bn are signed and China promises billions of dollars in loans and credits.
  54. 2007 – China’s food and drug agency chief is executed for taking bribes.
  55. 2008 – Summer Olympic Games are held in Beijing.
  56. 2008 – The government announces a US$586 billion stimulus package to avoid the economy slowing. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says the effect of the global financial crisis on China is worse than expected.
  57. 2009 – Thousands of Uyghurs rioted in Xinjiang which involved ethnic violence against the Han. Scores of people are killed and hundreds injured.
  58. 2009 – Russia and China sign US$25 billion deal to supply China with oil for next 20 years in exchange for loans.
  59. 2012 – Wang Lijun incident – Wang Lijun, a deputy of Bo Xilai, the Party Committee Secretary of Chongqing, sought refuge at a United States consulate. Bo was once touted to be China’s next leader, but this incident led to his downfall.
  60. 2013 – Bo Xilai is sentenced to life in prison for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.
  61. 2013 – Xi Jinping takes over from Hu Jintao as president. He launches an efficiency and anti-corruption drive. Xi suffered during the Cultural Revolution. A son of a Communist veteran, he made his mark as Governor of Fujian province. He distanced himself from any accusation of corruption by telling his relatives not to work with him.
  62. 2013 – Two ethnic Uighur men are sentenced to death over clashes in Xinjiang that left 21 people dead.
  63. 2013 – One Belt, One Road (Belt and Road Initiative) (BRI) was proposed to connect and cooperate among countries primarily between China and Eurasia.
  64. 2014 – China became the world’s second largest economy, surpassing Japan.
  65. 2014 – A terrorist attack took place in Kunming, killing 31 civilians and injuring more than 140 others.
  66. 2015 – The Communist Party ends the one-child policy. Many young couples still prefer to have one child.
  67. 2018 – National People’s Congress meeting votes to remove a two-term limit on the presidency from the constitution, allowing Xi Jinping to remain in office for more than 10 years.
  68. 2019 – Outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
  69. 2020 – Hong Kong national security law passed.
  70. 2020 – China has 1.44 billion people.

© Comasters November 2020.

  • Albert Lee
    Posted at 09:38h, 17 November

    Another great article that captures the highlights of China’s history since 1900. It’s difficult to fully appreciate the tumultuous period of this period of China’s history within the constraints of 1500 words but it is gratifying to note that China today has once again achieved its glorious past of the various dynasties (Han, Ming, Yuan, Tang, Qing etc) through sheer hard work and determination of its people and good governance of the present government. China’s rise is not accidental but through its constant reforms and experimentation of economic policies it has become #2 economic power in the world and soon will become #1. In the process it has elevated 700 – 800 million people out of poverty. China’s rapid rise has caused US to launch a propaganda war using issues of human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong to demonise CCP which is regrettable and I hope to see China continue to march on and bring more economic and technological advancement to its people and to the world.

    • comasters1
      Posted at 12:18h, 20 November

      Albert, Thanks for your nice comment. The last 30 years have been the best 30 years in China’s long recorded history. Like you said, half of China’s population have been lifted from poverty due to good economic policies and appropriate governance. CCP today means Chinese Culture Party, not Chinese Communist Party. One good aspect of the China government is, the top people are chosen to lead. I am more confident that in the next four years under the new US administration, the ‘world order’ would be put in place. Both the US and China would need to change how they treat each other and the world. Jeff

    Posted at 16:15h, 23 November

    Not sure about the introduction. The longest surviving culture seems to be that of the Australian aboriginals. We all hope China will be benign and peaceful in its global outlook and will do much better than America judging by the misdeeds of America’s leadership as outlined in the book Play by the Rules ( the short story of America’s leadership : from Hiroshima to Covid-19 ) by Michael Pembroke. One test will be how China asserts its economic dominance.

    • comasters1
      Posted at 20:37h, 25 November

      Richard, Yes – The history of Indigenous Australians began 65,000 years ago. The material that I read informs me that China is a nation with 5,000 years of unbroken civilization (recorded somewhat), and is the longest in the world. From your recommendation, I downloaded Michael Pembroke’s book ‘Play by the Rules’ via Apple Books on my iPhone – I will read it to get another perspective on the rise of China vis-a-vis USA. Of late, I liked reading ‘A Promised Land’ by Barack Obama; and ‘China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s future in the new global order’ by Geoff Raby. I gather there is optimism in the air rather than pessimism. The loss by the ‘president with personality flaws’ to Biden makes me overjoyed about China and the world! Jeff