Hugh Cantlie: China Talk



Early History

China has been a nation for almost 5,000 years.  The most famous of the early Emperors,Qin Shi, is the one who is buried in Xian with his Terracotta Army and was responsible for building the Great Wall in 211 BC.  It was also during this early period that the casting of bronze objects and weapons reached a point of efficiency which has never been equalled. 

In 1368 the Ming Dynasty became rulers of China and it was under their fresh impetus that the surrounding countries were subjugated and became members of the Celestial Empire either as vassal or as tributary states.  For example, Burma paid tribute every ten years whereas Korea paid tribute annually.  In 1421 the Emperor Zhu Di, the Son of Heaven, equipped seven treasure fleets to explore and report on the remainder of the world.  The fleets, some of the ships being twice the length and three times the beam of HMS Victory, reached all the unknown territories in the world, with the exception of Europe which was already known.  On their return in 1423, the Admirals reported to the Emperor that the rest of the world was peopled by barbarians who lived in primitive conditions and had nothing of value to trade with the Chinese.  It was decided that the Celestial Empire would remain within its existing boundaries without contact or interference from the world beyond.  The treasure fleets were broken up and all records destroyed with the exception of the very accurate charts made of all the discovered regions.  Copies of these were later used by Vasco de Gama, Christopher Columbus and Captain Cook on their later voyages of discovery. 

The status quo of the Celestial Empire was to remain for the next 400 years with an Imperial form of Government exercised through Viceroys but a poorly paid Civil Service. Thus although the cost of running the Civil Service was cheap the amount of revenue which reached Beijing was only a third of what it should have been.  It was also considered that the Emperors ruled by a Mandate of Heaven and should they not perform their duties, there would be signs of displeasure such as famine, flood or pestilence which was to signify that the Dynasty should cease.


19th Century

Up until 1834 there had been little trade or contact  with China, with the exception of the Portuguese who were granted settlement rights in Macao by the Emperor in 1560.  In 1660 a shipment of tea arrived in England which became so popular that twenty years later, the British sought and were given  rights by the Emperor to trade from Guanzhou for the purchase of tea and silk but only against payments in silver.  In 1793 Lord Macartney led a trade delegation sent by King George III.  He was kindly received by the Emperor but was told that there was nothing which the Chinese would wish to buy.

In 1834 the East India Company had lost its monopoly to trade in Guanzhou. This could have been due to the fact that they were beginning to pay for goods not in silver but in opium.  The import of opium was banned by the Emperor and his Viceroy, Tse Di,  burnt all the opium stocks held in Guanzhou.   Palmerston who was then Prime Minister ordered that trade should be resumed by force in exchange for opium.  By 1842 Shanghai had been occupied by the British, Hong Kong had been seized and the Chinese were made to sign the Treaty of Nanjing which forced the Imperial Government to open five treaty ports for trade.

After the Indian Mutiny had been subdued in 1857 the British decided that trade should be increased with China.  Guanzhou was occupied; the following year the Taku Forts, which guarded the access to Beijing from the sea, were stormed and the Treaty of Tientsin was signed, which ceded eleven more Treaty Ports to be opened for trade.  Two years later when the Chinese were late in augmenting the Treaty terms, the Summer Palaces in Beijing were burnt to the ground by British and French troops and British and French Embassies were established in the capital.  In that year Russia seized Vladivostock and a year later the French occupied present day Indo China. 

Until the end of the 19th century, the Western Powers continued to expand their trading and commercial enterprises such as building railways  and occupying  more territory.  However, there were also internal rebellions against the Imperial Government, such as the Taiping Rebellion from 1850 to1864; a Muslim Rebellion in Northwest China in 1870 as well as a further Muslim uprising in Yunnan.

In 1894 Japan, having modernised itself on Western lines from 1860, felt itself strong enough to invade the Chinese territories of Korea and Manchuria.  The Chinese had no option but to declare war, in which they were ignominiously and rapidly defeated.  This was followed by humiliating terms under a peace treaty.  This sent a signal to the Western powers that Imperial China as a power had ceased to exist and that it could be taken over by Western interests.  In 1897 for instance when two German missionaries were killed, Germany took over the entire province of Shandong. 

In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion broke out in frustration at the helplessness which the Chinese people felt against the West.  The besieged Legations of the eight Western Powers were eventually liberated by an allied force and  stringent financial obligations were imposed on the Imperial Government. 

In 1904 the Japanese declared war on Russia over the control of Manchuria and Korea which was won decisivelyby the Japanese and led to a humiliating Peace Treaty.  This gave hope to the Chinese that the Western Powers were not after all invincible. 



In the period 1895 to 1908 there were innumerable risings, rebellions, strikes and unrest against the Imperial Government.  In these the party led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen was probably the better organised and financed.  By 1910, there had been several failed rebellions in the South, culminating in the massacre in Guanzhou in April of 1911 before the successful taking of Wuhan on the 10th October of that year and the setting up of a Provisional Democratic Government in that city. 

On the 1st January 1912, Dr. Sun Yat Sent was proclaimed President of the Republic of China with the capital based in Nanjing.  He however had to step   down in favour of General Yuan Shikai who then moved the capital back to Beijing and proclaimed himself Emperor in 1916 before dying shortly afterwards.  Dr. Sun Yat Sen tried to form a stable government but he too died of cancer in 1925.  From then on China descended into three decades of turbulence, in essence ruled by twelve War Lords in separate parts of the country.  The weak central Government of the Kuomintang made what alliances they could with the differing War Lords and at one stage were allied with the Communist Party, which had been formed in 1921, to try and form a stable governance of China.  In 1937 the Japanese declared war against China, but General Chiang Kai Shek thought that the greater threat to a stable China came from the Communist Party rather than from the Japanese whom they would eventually overcome.  Upon the surrender of Japan in 1945, outright hostility broke out between the main parties again, which resulted in the liberation of China in 1949. 


Mao Tse Tung

The leader of the Communist Party, Mao Tse Tung, became Chairman of a united China, whilst General Chiang Kai Shek established himself in Taiwan. 

Chairman Mao introduced a strong centralized Government and at first seemed to favour a united approach to the Chinese problems.  In 1956 he introduced a programme called The Hundred Flowers, whereby people should give their opinions as to everyday problems.  However, those people who expressed any criticism were subjected to interrogation.  This was followed two years later by the famous Great Leap Forward, but this was to prove a disastrous policy ending in the deaths of some 46 million people.  Subsequently, in 1966 he proclaimed the Cultural Revolution, which again was to have serious repercussions on the future of growth of China, which did not cease until his death in 1976.

During his time as Chairman, mistakes were made as he himself admitted, but he is remembered as being the first leader to unite all of China under a strong Government and also to make it into an atomic power.


Modern China

Upon the death of Chairman Mao, Deng Xiaoping, who had been a dedicated Communist since he had worked as a young man in France in the 1920

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