China History  

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CHINA

China, an ancient civilization, was largely indifferent to the ebb and flow of European concerns until the late 18th century when social and other pressures led to the country acceding to the establishment of foreign enclaves in Chinese territory. In the decades between 1850 and 1870, more than 20 million Chinese died as a result of multiple uprisings including the Taiping Rebellion. The country's movement towards a non-imperial political system began with the fall of the last dynasty in 1911 and the rise of Sun Yat-sen's Nationalist Party in 1919 and Mao Zedong's Chinese Communist Party in 1921. Though the two briefly collaborated in 1922, they eventually parted company when Chiang Kai-shek took over the Nationalist party after the death of Sun Yat-sen in 1925. The fierceness of their rivalry led to civil war following World War II. The Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan and the Communists declared a People's Republic in 1949. During much of the early Cold War, the Soviet Union and China were cooperative partners but Chinese fears about Soviet intentions in the nuclear arena led Mao to expel Soviet advisors in 1958 and break with the USSR. At that time, Mao instituted the so-called Great Leap Forward, a policy of progress to be achieved without the help of other countries. This policy failed to such an extent that Mao temporarily ceded power to a group led by Liu Shaoqi in the early 1960s. The 1965 launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution provided Mao with a means for his political comeback. The next 6 years were marked by internal turmoil as Mao attempted to secure his position by eliminating possible rivals through exile and house arrest. The aging leader allowed his wife, Jiang Qing, to hold most of the effective power. With the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, China began to perceive the USSR as a potentially more worrisome threat than the US and steps were taken to open a dialogue with the Americans, which culminated with the visit to China of President Richard Nixon in 1972. (Formal diplomatic relations would not be a reality until 1979.) Deng Xiaoping took center stage with the death of Mao in 1976 and proceeded to arrest Mao's widow and her associates, known collectively as the "Gang of Four". All the ills of the Cultural Revolution were placed on the heads of this group; they were tried and convicted in 1981. China's notable growth on the economic front was countered by its dismal human rights record, a record which took center stage in 1989 with the government's brutal crack-down on demonstrators in Tienanmen Square. The pro-democracy forces suffered losses in the hundreds both in the Square and afterward; the world responded with sanctions and outrage. In the wake of Tienanmen Square, China found itself on the receiving end of world cynosure and a year later, released several hundred dissidents who had been imprisoned. Sanctions were lifted and the economic advances made in the 1990s were, by all accounts, nothing short of spectacular: China's economy was ranked as fourth in the world in 1992-93. Deng died in 1997, and was replaced with Jiang Zemin. The country saw Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty that year, albeit on the condition that the former crown colony's special status as a world commercial center be preserved. But the country's handling of dissidents continued to elicit criticism from the US and other countries as the government crushed the nascent China Democracy Party in 1998 and the sentencing of some of its leaders to prison terms. And old rivalries reared their heads in 1999 when China turned its missile attention to Taiwan and China was accused by the US of engaging in nuclear spying.

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