Chinese people are rightfully proud of their long and intriguing history. Full of power struggles, revolutions, warlords and emperors, it’s a vast and often intimidating topic to even begin to grasp. That’s why we’ve picked out five of the most important and interesting events, so you’ll be able to contribute to the discussion (or just nod sagely) when your Chinese friends start waxing lyrical about those 5,000 years of history.
1) Birth of an Empire
Before 221 BC, China was ruled by seven enemy tribes – the Han, Zhao, Wei, Qi, Yan, Chu and Qin of the Warring States period. Based out of Shaanxi, the Qin kingdom was the strongest, so the leader Ying Zheng decided to wage war on the others with the aim of controlling them all. Starting with the overthrow of the weak Han state in 230 BC, Zheng masterminded a campaign of invasions and takeovers resulting in eventual leadership of the unified nation in 221 BC. He renamed himself Qin Shi Huang (the first emperor) and set up his capital in Xianyang. The Qin Dynasty only lasted for 16 years, but was the start of two millennia of imperial rule in China.
2) A New Messiah
Like many expats, you’ve probably heard of the Taiping Rebellion. But not everyone knows exactly what went down. Between 1850 and 1864, a civil war was waged in the south of China led by Hong Qiuquan, a man who believed he was the brother of Jesus. He set up the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, and attempted to overthrow the Qing government from his capital in Nanjing. Far from being a mere folly, the incident was one of the biggest military campaigns in Chinese history, with over 30 million soldiers marching for Jesus (and his brother…). The Qing eventually saw the Taipings off with help from British and French forces, but Hong was lauded by Sun Yat-sen and Chairman Mao for his revolutionary chutzpah.
3) The Gloves are on
The Boxer Rebellion is another one that most people have heard of, but few actually know much about. Simply put, it was a pro-Nationalist, anti-foreign campaign running from 1899 to 1901. A group of peasant rebels known as the Boxers (or the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) decided to rise up against the colonial powers than had much of coastal China in their grip after the Opium Wars. They also objected to the spread of Christian missionaries and evangelists from the West. The rebellion came at a time when the Qing government was crumbling under the Dowager Empress Cixi, and contributed to the eventual overthrow of the empire.
By the start of the 1900s, the Qing Dynasty had descended into corruption. China’s Han majority were growing tired of being ruled by the Manchu minority, revolutionary fervor began to brew and the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance rose up under Sun Yat-sen. In 1912, the last Emperor Puyi was forced to abdicate, and the Republic of China was established. Things took a turn for the worse when newly appointed president Yuan Shikai tried to reinstate the empire with himself at the helm, leading to several decades of unrest until the civil war forced the Republic to relocate to Taiwan while the Communists took over Mainland China.
5) Red China
Modern China as we know it today was formed on October 1st 1949 when Chairman Mao declared the birth of the People’s Republic from Tian’anmen Square. Four decades later, the square would witness another nation-changing event, and the years in between saw ill-thought schemes like the Great Leap Forward industrialisation attempt and the anti-Rightist Cultural Revolution. The People’s Republic was established after a long and bloody civil war that began in 1927 with the Guomindang’s Northern Expedition to unify China. The struggle was halted during the Sino-Japanese War, and culminated in the three-year War of Liberation between 1947 and 1949 when the Communist Party overthrew the Nationalists.
So now you ought to have a few tricks up your sleeve for next time you’re out with your Chinese friends and the conversation turns to history. Instead of looking at them blankly and mentioning Mike Tyson when they talk about the Boxer Rebellion, you’ll be able to hold your own.
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Keywords: 5 biggest events Chinese history top events in Chinese history most important events in Chinese history
Also, the 100 Flowers Campaign, where people were encouraged to criticize the Communist party, then were summarily persecuted and purged as "counter-revolutionaries". The Great Leap Forward, which brought about a massive famine, killing millions of Chinese. The Karamay Fire, which killed 288 schoolchildren, because "let the leaders go first."
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