ORIENTAL WOMEN TALK
A BRIEF ON THE OPENING UP OF CHINA TO
THE WEST  
by Hani Law   2009
China’s civilization has a history of about  4000 years.
After Qin Shi Huang had defeated the various states, he
established the Qin Dynasty and became the first
Emperor in China  Before  Qin’s rule, China was ruled
by small kingdoms and their warlords, and it was Qin
who brought the country together in 221 BCE.

Qin Shi Huang standardized the written language,
weights and measures, and currency. He was the
driving force behind the construction of the Great Wall
in the northern part of China by joining up and
reinforcing the walls that had been built to protect
central China from invasion by its northern neighbours.
He developed the imperial governance system in China
that lasted for more than 2000 years.  Along the way,
China made incredible advances in science, medicine,
agriculture, defence and many other areas beneficial to
the people, making China one of the most advanced
civilizations in the world for a long time. After his death,
Qin Shi Huang was buried together with thousands of
marvellous Terracotta Army soldiers in Xian.

The Qin Dynasty was followed by the HAN, JIN,
NORTH AND SOUTH DYNASTIES, SUI, TANG, FIVE
DYNASTIES AND TEN STATES, SONG, YUAN, MING
and QING, the last dynasty.  There was little handing
down of power from generation to generation.
Invariably, old dynasties were overthrown in rebellions
led by people dissatisfied with the ruling emperors.

In the mid 19th century when China was ruled by Qing
Dynasty, everyone in the West seemed to want a
piece of China and its markets. The British insisted on
selling opium to China, even though using the drug was
illegal in both countries. This dispute led to two opium
wars, and the eventual peace treaties forced China to
open ports to foreign trade, set low tariffs on imported
goods, pay war reparations, allow foreign missionaries
and embassies to operate in China and hand over
Hong Kong to the United Kingdom. Other nations,
including Japan, Germany, France and Russia, also
forced China to enter into unequal treaties and the
Qing government was forced to relinquish its
sovereignty in some what were called extra-territorial
areas, resulting in some Chinese being governed by
foreign laws in part of their own soil.  Civil unrest was
on the rise. Anti-foreign sentiment came to a head in
the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), when Chinese
peasants began attacking foreign railroads, embassies,
and missions. Western powers joined forces and
suppressed the uprising. The Chinese people lost faith
in their government which was brought down by a
revolution in 1911 led by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen who was
later known as the founder of modern China. Dr. Sun’s
hope was to introduce democracy in China and to
replace the imperial rule with a republican government
in China. He was elected Provisional President of the
Republic of China in 1912. Two months after the
establishment of the Republic, he resigned from the
post of Provisional President to enable YUAN Shikai,
who rebelled against the Qing government in the
revolution, to assume power.  

In the early periods of the Republic, China was
fragmented as warlords virtually disregarded the
existence of the central government and administered
the areas under their respective control.  

Although he had resigned from the Presidency, Dr. Sun
remained a unifying figure until his death in 1925.
Lacking a convincing leader, China was divided
between two movements, the Communist Party led by
Mao Ze-dong formed in 1921 and the Nationalist Party
led by Chiang Kai-shek. Soon the two forces were
involved in a Chinese civil war. In 1926, Chiang
defeated the Communist army and forced it to make
the famous Long March to Shensi in North West
China.

When Japan invaded China in 1937, Chiang
collaborated with Mao to fight the Japanese. After the
bombing of Pearl Harbour, Chiang received
considerable financial support from the United States.
No sooner had the Japanese surrendered than the
Communists and the Kuomintang resumed the civil war
in China.

The Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) government was
corrupt and was eventually defeated by Mao’s
communist revolution after a long 20 years of civil war.
Chiang fled to Taiwan and set up a military government
there. Mao announced the establishment of the
People’s Republic of China in 1949. The United States
sent a whole navy fleet to patrol the Taiwan Straits so
as to guarantee the separation of Taiwan from the
Mainland.

Mao’s goal was to make China a great socialist state.
In 1952, Mao called for China to industrialize with the
help of Russia. In 1958, Mao was pushing for the
construction of steel plants across the country. Rural
communal mess halls were encouraged to supply food
to all the people for free. But by the spring of 1959,
the grain reserves were exhausted and a famine had
begun.  During the struggle for survival, farmers took
matters into their own hands by reinstating private land
ownership for farming, and abandoning the people’s
commune. Mao bore the chief responsibility for the
failure of the Great Leap Forward movement which
brought economic disaster to China and stepped down
from his position as Chairman of the People’s Republic
of China, but remained as the chairman of the Chinese
Communist Party.

After the Great Leap Movement, some Communist
leader, such as Deng Xiaoping, sought to implement
gradual changes to the economic and social systems
in 1960.

In 1966,  Mao attempted to re-impose his authority by
creating a cult for himself and to purge the Communist
Party of anyone who did not support him.  He was
trying to create a classless society in a movement he
called Cultural Revolution, causing tremendous chaos
in the whole country from 1966 to 1976. This resulted
in economical isolation and stagnation. During the
Cultural Revolution, many valuable cultural artefacts,
ancient books and old buildings were destroyed,
causing untold damage to China’s heritage. By 1976,
Mao had removed most of his potential rivals including
Deng Xiaoping  in the party. The Cultural Revolution
ended in 1976.

In 1974 Deng had been ‘rehabilitated’ and returned to
power. After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng created an
open door policy and led a socialist market economy
reform. In 1978, he opened China to foreign investment.
His famous quotation was ‘Black cat or white cat, either
will do as long as it catches mice’. He called the
system socialism with Chinese characteristics. Deng
had helped the people of China to raise the standard
of living. China has become one of the fastest growing
economies in the world.

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