The History of Chinese Bronze is correlated with its politico-social History. To understand the bronzes found in China, it is significant to locate them in their politico-historical context.

The people of Chinese language and culture were installed on the territory of current China by stages. With the Neolithic era, the rice culture and the domestication of the buffalo were acquired. In north, in the province of Henan (central China), exists then an agrarian community, called the culture of Peiligang (6500-5000 B.C.). In the south, the excavations of Xianrendong (Province of Jiangxi) and of Zengpiyan (Guangxi) revealed the presence of bones, ceramics and tools dating from the Neolithic era.

Five centuries later, some agricultural societies have been developed in the basin of Huang He (Yellow River). Two among are characterized by their importance and quality from their ceramics :

  • Culture of Yanhshao (4500-2500 B.C.) established in the West of China (Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, and Henan provinces) and in the East (Henan, Hebei, Shandong, and Jiangsu provinces).
  • Culture of Longshan (2500-1800 B.C.) in Shandong province founded the first known urban sites.

After a period of transition, the Chinese tradition evokes the reign of legendary sovereigns like Pangu, Fuxi or Huangdi. Those would have then left room to semi-mythical dynasties, like that of Xia (1989-1558 B.C.), in Shanxi province, founded by Yu “the Large”. But the first dynasty proven by history is that of Shang, under which the Chinese writing develops.

Shang Dynasty (Sixteenth-twelve century B.C.)

The Shang/Yin Dynasty reigned on the north and the center of China. From 1384 B.C., the capitole was established in Yin (close to Anyang). The economy is primarily agricultural (millet, corn, barley, rice, breeding). Weapons, tools and crockery of bronze found at the time of archaeological excavations revealed the existence of sophisticated metallurgy.

China of Shang is a feudal society strongly hierarchical in classes (aristocracy, monk, farming community). The warlike lords, who received their stronghold of the sovereign, committed themselves assisting this one in its military battles. The monks, who are also well-read men, dealed with the administration, took part in the government and practised divinations on bones or scales of tortoises.

Kings of Shang returned worships to their royal ancestors and to a multitude of Gods, whose main thing is Shangdi (the Lord of Above). The Chinese writing was then composed of 3000 signs. In eleventh century, Shang are reversed by the attacks of a vassal city which melted the Zhou Dynasty.

Zhou Dynasty (Tenth century-221 B.C.)

Originating in the valley of Weihe, the Zhou dynasty established its capitole in Hao, close to Xi'an (Shaanxi province). There is initially :

  • Western Zhou (1027-771 B.C.) who reigned on the northern half of China and the valley of Yangtse River (Changjiang). But the vastness of the kingdom and the primitive state of the communications prevented Western Zhou from exerting and centralizing their power. Towards tenth century B.C., changes of social and political nature took shape. The royal capacity did not play soon any more but a role of referee between principalities kept in the hands of hereditary nobility. The Zhou society remained deeply rural (breeding, rice, sorghum, beans, fruits, etc). The lands were divided into square pieces in nine equal parts. The eight external pieces are given to eight country families which associate their efforts and their resources to cultivate the central piece, whose harvest is intended for the nobility. This system was considered by the following dynasties as the fairest distribution mode of the arable lands.
  • Eastern Zhou (770-221 B.C.): Zhou people kept the effective control of their territory until 771 B.C. On this date, risings and riots bursted, supporting the invasion of tribes coming from the west. Driven out, Zhou people established a new capitole in the east, in Luoyang (Henan province). It was the time of Zhou known as "Eastern". From now on, with the shelter of the cruel attacks, the sovereigns could not exert political or military authority any more on their vassal States, of which much increased at the point to become more powerful than them. Nevertheless, they remained holders of a "mandate of the Sky". Thus legitimated in their political authority, they continued to invest the lords of the capacity to control their lands. The dynasty could be thus maintained until third century B.C.

The end of the Zhou Period is subdivided in two periods: that of "Springs and Autumns" or Chunqiu (722-481 B.C.) and that of the "Fighting Kingdoms" or Zhanguo (475-221 B.C.).

From eightieth to third century B.C., a rapid economic development was accompanied by social transformations, in a context of extreme political instability and ceaseless wars.

It is at that time that China entered the age of iron, in 513 B.C. The share plough of iron drawn by an ox and the improvement from irrigation techniques authorized better agricultural outputs, and thus an increase in population.

The demographic growth was accompanied by an increased production of richnesses and gives rise to a new class of traders and tradesmen. The scientific discoveries multiplied (multiplication tables, astronomy). This economic development made it possible to the local sovereigns to gradually control greater extents of territory. The vassal States extended at the expense of the non Chinese citizens areas. This expansion enabled them to enrich and diversify their own culture. They learned, in particular, in contact with people of the North-West, to form units of cavalry. On the other hand, for the vassal States of the Central China, the expansion could be done only by encroaching on other of same civilization States, and this uniformity generated a cultural stagnation. Thus, from sixtieth century B.C., seven powerful kingdoms surrounded the smaller and weaker kingdoms of the Northern Large Plain.

With the decline of the political authority of Zhou and the emergence of new States to the periphery of the territory, the relations between them worsened. At the end of fifth century B.C., China troubled a period of ceaseless feudal fights between various States (Qin, Han, Zhao, Chu, Yan, IQ, Wei) known under the name of "Fighting Kingdoms".

During this long period of instability, were born the large schools of thought from Chinese philosophy, which exerted a major influence on the development of civilization and the Chinese State during the next two millenias. The first one, and by far most influential of the philosophers of this time, was Confucius (Kongfuzi). Son of Lu State governor (current province of Shandong), and member of the minor nobility, he represented the growing class of managers and advisers of the Imperial court from whom reigning aristocracy needed to manage interior administration and inter-States relationships. Confucius proposed a restoration of the social and political institutions of first Zhou Kings, estimating that these wise sovereigns sought to establish an ideal society by their personal virtue. This is why he wanted to create a class of gentlemen virtuous and cultivated, able to deal with the highest functions of the government and to direct the people, while being given in example. He is based on a morals according to which a right thought leaded to an right attitude, prerogative of the junzi or "to well born man", at the same time right, beautiful and good being. Thereafter, Mencius and Xunzi (298-238 B.C.) took again and developed the theories of Confucius.

Another political school of thought flowered and weighed durably on Chinese civilization: that of the "legists". Partisans of a centralization led to the extreme, these legists intended to substitute for the habits and the rights inherited from the past, uniform penal regulation for each aspect of the human activity. In order to be able to apply this system, they wished the establishment of a rich and powerful State, where the authority of the sovereign would be uncontested. They claimed the socialization of the capital, the creation of monopolies of State and other economic measures intended to enrich the State, to reinforce its military power and to centralize the administrative capacity. The main representatives of this thought trend were Shang Yang, Li Si, reformer of the State of Qin, and the writer Han Fei.

Contrary to the Confucian moralists and the legists, the Taoists were at the origin of an always long-lived current of thought in China. According to their philosophy, each technical progress can be only one stage further in the loss of the natural virtues of the Mankind, and any institution, a progress of human being’s control. The two original texts were “Daodejing” or "Classic of the Way and of its virtue", due to Lao-Tseu, and “Zhuangzi”, written by Zhuangzi.

During the fourth century B.C, the kingdom of Qin, one of the North-West States, undertook a program of administrative, economic and military reforms inspired by one of the main theorists of the legism, Li Si. In 256 B.C, he absorbed the kingdom of Zhou. From 230 B.C, he subjected, one by one, other Chinese kingdoms (Han, Zhao, Chu, Yan, Qi, Wei) under the impulse of young king, Qin Ying Zheng.

Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C)

In 221 B.C, Ying Zheng proclaimed himself “Qin Shi Huangdi” or "First Sovereign of the Qin dynasty". This dynasty will give its name to China.

During his reign (221-210 B.C), the first emperor transformed a heteroclite set of quasi-feudal States into an administratively centralized and culturally unified empire, whose capitole is located at Xianyang, near to the current Xi'An city (Province of Shaanxi). The hereditary aristocracies are abolished and their strongholds divided into provinces, whose administration is entrusted to governors directly named by the emperor.

The writing is standardized and its use has been made compulsory in all the country. To support the domestic trade and economic integration, Shi Huangdi unified the weights and measures, the currency and the length of the axles (which determines the distance between the ruts on the roads).

Their search of a cultural uniformity pushed the leaders to banish all the schools of thought which flowered at the end of Zhou. Only the legism, which has an official statute, was authorized. In 213 B.C, Confucius partisans were buried alive, while their books and those of the other prohibited philosophical schools are burnt, except for volumes of the imperial library. Shi Huangdi also sought to extend its kingdom. In the south, his armies reached the delta of Sông Hông (Red River), in Vietnam. To south-west, the empire extended to most of the current provinces from Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan. In the North-West, it advanced until Lanzhou, in the province of Gansu. To the North-East, part of Korea must lend submission to the Empire. However, the centre of civilization remains in the basin of Huang He (Yellow River). In addition to the unification and the territorial expansion of China, Shi Huangdi made complete the construction of the Great Wall against the barbarian invasions. With its death in 210 B.C, he was buried in a vast mausoleum close to Lintong city (to 35 km of Xi'An). This site, put at the day since 1974 (the tumulus where is put Shi Huangdi tomb itself has not yet to date been explored), contained an Terra-cotta Army of more than 6000 soldiers (original size), with their horses and their tanks.

But the military conquests, the construction of roads and ports, the Great Wall and other great achivements had a considerable financial and human cost. An increasingly heavy taxation, the obligatory conscription and the forced labour inspired a major resentment in the population against the Qin authority, in particular in the conquered kingdoms, like the Chu kingdom in the south. Moreover, the emperor alienated the well-read men by a totalitarian policy of control of the thought, symbolized by the autos-da-fe. After his death, his younger son Ying Huhai succeeded to him. He took the title of Ershi Huangdi, but fell quickly under the influence of a Palace’s eunuque. A fight for the power followed, which paralysed the central administration and made the population indignant. Revolts bursted. Ershi Huangdi, constrained with suicide (207 B.C), could not avoid the collapse of the Empire.

Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C-9 A.C)

The last three years of the Qin dynasty, illustrated by disorders and the civil war, saw the emergence of a rebellious leader of modest origin, Liu Bang. After having eliminated the applicants to the throne, Liu Bang proclaimed himself emperor of China in 206 B.C and founded the Western Han Dynasty (Xihan), or former Han (Qianhan). The capitole is established in Chang'An city (actual Xi'An). Han people built their empire on the unit bases established by Shi Huangdi, but they repealed the most constraining laws and reduced the most unpopular taxes. The emperor Liu Bang (202-195 B.C) started by granting kingdoms to some of his old allies and members of his family. However, in the middle of second century B.C, the majority of these kingdoms were taken again by his son, Wendi (180-157 B.C) and the whole empire was directly subjected to the imperial authority.

Han people supported the rebirth of the Taoism and adopted the Confucianism as an official ideology. Nevertheless, eager to make it universal, Han people incorporated in it ideas borrowed from other schools of thought, in order to complete the teaching left by Confucius and its disciples. The administration, inherited from Qin, was very hierarchical but they rather appointed the officials on the basis of merit than of the birth, following a Confucian principle. The selection and the qualification rested on written examinations. At the end of second century B.C, an imperial university was created to teach the five traditional classics of Confucius to the future civil servants.

Western Han Dynasty knew its apogee under the reign of Wudi (140-87 B.C). Nearly the whole current China territory was subjected to the imperial order. The Chinese authority was established in the south of Mandchourie and the north of Korea. In the West, the Han armies fight the wandering tribes Xiongnu and Xianbei (related to the Hans). They advanced to the valley of the Iaxarte river (current Syr-Daria in Kazakhstan), thus opening the famous "Silk road". In the south, they conquered the island of Hainan and founded colonies around the delta of Xijiang like in Annam and Korea.

But the expansionism of Wudi exhausted the financial reserves left by its predecessors and required a return to the Legism to re-inflate the Treasury. Taxes were raised, monopolies of State restored and the currency devaluated. The sufferings endured by the peasants were worsened by the demographic growth which reduced the surface of the exploitations, whereas the taxes increased. The families of main landlords acquired a kind of tax exoneration. As the number of these "not-imposed" increased, the taxability of the empire decreased. The burden supported by the rural people subjected to the tax increased heavily. Rebellions multiplied and the banditism developed.

Xin Dynasty (9-23 A.C)

During this period of troubles and disorders, an ambitious courtier, Wang Mang, deposited the emperor, then child, of which it assumed regency. He created the transitory Xin dynasty and tried to restore the power of the imperial government and to reduce the burden of the peasants. He fights against the powerful tax-exempted properties. Those ones were confiscated to the benefit of the imperial domain and redistributed with the peasants who cultivated them. Slavery is abolished, the imperial monopolies on salt, iron and currency reinforced, and new monopolies were established. But the resistance of the owners is so strong that Wang Mang was constrained to cancel its reform of the landlord system. The agrarian crisis intensified. The peasants rebelled and took over Chang'An city, and managed to kill Wang Mang. Han Dynasty was restored.

Eastern Han Dynasty (23-220)

Prince Liu Xiu (23-55 A.C), which will become Guang Wudi, founded the Eastern Han dynasty (Houhan or Donghan). Their capitole was Luoyang, in Henan province. In first century B.C, China continued its extension towards the west. The Chinese people, who controlled the Silk Road, developed an active trade with the Barbarians of Occident. It is by them that Buddhism was introduced in China. After their accession to power, Eastern Han people suffered from the weakness and the inefficiency of the imperial administration. As under Western Han, the government was mined by the existence of emperors still children and by the nepotism of the imperial families. The emperors ended up freeing themselves thanks to Palace’s eunuques which gained thus in authority and influence. The Government was then torn by internal quarrels between rival factions and power struggles. Between 168 and 170, civil servants and eunuques clashed, the first reproaching the seconds for having usurped their legitimate function. In 184, two revolts bursted, carried out by Taoist sects.

The Division (220-581)

The Han Empire started to fall when the landlords families constituted their own armies, taking advantage of the Government brittleness. The country split up in three States and entered during the time known as of the "Three Kingdoms". In 220, Cao Pi, the son of Cao Cao (General which subdued one of the two revolts of 184) instituted the Wei Dynasty (220-265) in the basin of the Yellow river, with Luoyang as capitole. The Shu-Han Dynasty (221-263) reigned in the south (Chengdu is their capitole) and the Wu Dynasty (222-280) in south-east (Nanjing as their capitole). These three kingdoms delivered between themselves ceaseless wars.

In 263, the Wei Kingdom seized its neighbour, Shu Kingdom. Two years later, Sima Yan (265-289), powerful General of the Wei kingdom, usurped the throne and founded, in north, the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316). In 280, he joined together under his authority the North and the South. But little after his death, in 290, the unity of the country broke down again. The wandering and barbarian tribes benefited from the opportunity to extend their zones of pasture to the Large Plain of North. The invasions began in 304. Northern China was quickly submerged and, in 316, the wandering tribes drove out Jin people which settled in Nanjing where they founded a new dynasty (known as Easter Jin Dynasty). During about three centuries, the north of the country was subjected to one or more non Chinese dynasties.

In the fourth century, China was thus separated into two parts. In North, it was the time of the "Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarian ethnies” (Shiliu guo). The territory, very parcelled out, was invaded by several barbarian people (Xianbei, Di, Jie, Qiang), before passing under the partial domination of Xiongnu in 304. None of these foreign dynasties managed to dominate the totality of the Large Plain of North before 420, date on which the whole area passed under the domination of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), rested by the Tuoba tribes, of enthusiastic Buddhists.

During the second half of fifth century, Northern Wei people, whose capitole was Pingcheng (today Datong, in Shanxi), adopted a policy of sinicization. The rural population was subjected to a bureaucratic administration on the model of the preceding Chinese dynasties. The Chinese habits and clothing were adopted, and Chinese becomes official language of the court. This policy of sinicization encountered a sharp resistance of the wandering tribes chiefs. Their rebellion (revolt of the Six Garrisons, towards 525) caused the fall of the Northern Wei Dynasty in 534. During the following fifty years, the North fell down to the hands of non Chinese dynasties.

Southern China, where took refuge Western Jin people, saw five successive Chinese dynasties, forming with the Wu Dynasty (222-280) the Six Dynasties of the South: Eastern Jin (317-420), Liu-Song or Song (420-479), Qi (479-502), Liang (502-557), Chen (557-589). The capitole, which is in JianKang or Jianye (Nanjing), became a significant cultural crossroads.

Sui Dynasty (581-618)

China found its unity with the Sui Dynasty which succeeded in 581 to the heirs of Tuobas in North. Its founder, the General Yang Jian, conquered the south of China and established his capitole in Chang'An (Xi'An). Sui people restored the centralized administrative system of Han people and the official contests for the recruitment of the civil servants. Confucianism is the official doctrine, but Taoism and Buddhism were also recognized. Buddhism was spread quickly and supplanted Confucianism gradually.

Sui Dynasty was short but knew a great activity. The Great Wall was restored at the price of many human lives.

Tang Dynasty (618-907)

It constituted one period of power and cultural prosperity without precedent in the history of Chinese civilization. The imperial and local governments were restructured in order to form a centralized administration. An elaborate code of administrative and penal law was applied. The capitole, Chang'An, became a cosmopolitan, cultural and religious centre for all the kingdom. Many religions and currents of thought were practised (Nestorian Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Manicheism). New commercial relationships were developed with Central Asia and the Occident along the roads borrowed by the caravans. With Canton, many merchants coming from the Middle East practised the maritime trade. Under Tang authority, the Chinese influence extended in Korea, in the south of Mandchourie and the north of Vietnam.

The Five Dynasties (907-960)

The fall of Tang Dynasty involved a dispersion of the political and economic power. China then knew a short period of division, known as period of the Five Dynasties. These Five transitory Dynasties spread on the north of China, and ten independent States were created, the majority of them in the South. During this period, the Liao Dynasty (907-1125) of Mongolian Khitans (Toungouse wandering people), established in Mandchourie and in Mongolia, extended its influence on the areas located at the north of Hebei, Shanxi and Shaanxi. Beijing became the southern capitole of their sino-khitan Empire.

Song Dynasty (960-1279)

In 978, Song leaders controlled most of China, except for the septentrional areas held by the Khitan Mongols. One generally distinguishes the period from Northern Song (960-1127) whose capitole is Kaifeng, of that of Southern Song (1127-1279) whose capitole is Hangzhou, and during which the dynasty controlled nothing any more but the south of the country. Song leaders reorganized the imperial power and reinforced centralization on the capitole. The local administrative structure was almost the same as Tang Dynasty. Literature, Arts (fine porcelain) and Philosophy continued to develop on the traced ways at the end of Tang Dynasty. Significant discoveries took place, like compass, printing based on mobile characters or the gunpowder.

The intellectual boiling of China under the Southern Song Dynasty gave rise to a new system of Confucian thought, inspired of Taoist and Buddhist elements, known under the name of neo-Confucianism and whose most famous representative was Zhu Xi. This new school is primarily centred on the human being, although its metaphysics doctrines of Buddhism enabled it to present more balanced and long-term vision of the Universe.

Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)

In China, Gengis Khan, supreme Emperor of the Mongolian tribes, seized initially Beijing, the capitole of Jin people, in 1215, before going to put of all Northern China after the rendering of Kaifeng in 1233. The conquest of the territory of Southern Song was completed only in 1279, with the victory of Kubilaï Khan, grandson of Gengis Khan, which succeeded to him to the head of the Mongolian Empire.

Kubilaï Khan transfered the Mongolian capitole from Karakorom in Beijing which it named Khanbalik (Cambaluc). In 1279, he founded the Yuan Dynasty. He ruled over an immense empire which extended from Eastern Europe in Korea, and of the north of Siberia to the septentrional edge of India. He borrowed from Song Dynasty the essence of their administrative system, and its successors imitated him. Originately Lamaïc Buddhists, they however ddid not seek to sinicize themselves.

The reign of Kubilaï Khan constituted the apogee of the Mongolian power. The communications were improved considerably and trade routes of Central Asia, entirely under Mongolian control, surer than ever. For this reason, the exchanges between the east and the west intensified, in particular with the foreign Missionaries (Franciscans) and tradesmen (Florence, Genoa, Venice), in intellectual, cultural and technical fields. Most known of the European travellers was undoubtedly the Venetian trader, Marco Polo, who remained in Cambaluc (Beijing) and the court of Kubilaï Khan from 1275 to 1292. In “the Book of the wonders of the world”, he described in an alive way the splendour of the Mongolian Empire.

In 1357, the South escaped from the Mongols. Thereafter, a former Buddhist monk, Zhu Yuanzhang, combined with the nationalists, succeeded in re-conquering all the basin of Yang-tseu-kiang, proclaimed himself emperor under the name of Hongwu and founded the Ming Dynasty. In 1371, whereas the Mongolian military heads are divided by internal competitions, he attacked the north of China and took Beijing. The Mongols fold up themselves on their basis of Mongolia from where they continued to badger the Chinese people.

Two great dynasties dominated the history of China after the take-over of Zhu Yuanzhang in fourteenth century: the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty (Mandchou).

Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

Ming people started by establishing their capitole with Nanjing and restored the Chinese civilization of Tang and Song Dynasties. The Chinese power was reaffirmed in China and in all Eastern Asia. A civil Government was restored, Literature encouraged, schools were founded and the Justice administration reformed. The Empire was divided into 15 provinces, whose majority still bear their initial name.

Under the emperor Yongle (1403-1424), the Great Wall was consolidated and increased. The tribes of Mongolia having been definitively overcome, the capitole of the Empire was transferred in 1421 to Beijing, where the construction of the Forbidden City started. Yongle also restored the system of the tribute, by which the non Chinese States of Eastern Asia recognized the cultural and moral supremacy of China. Thanks to the development of the irrigation, the famine moved back, agriculture thrived and the population increased. About 1600, China counted nearly 150 million inhabitants.

By the way, maritime relations were established with the Western world. Arrived the first in 1514, the Portuguese installed a commercial counter with Macao in 1557. After 1570, the trade developed between China and the Spanish colonies of the Philippines.

In 1619, the Dutchmen settled in Taiwan and took possession of the Pescadores islands (Penghu). Jesuit Missionaries -- whose Matteo Ricci --, arrived of Europe in second half of sixteenth century, spread Western knowledge and Christianity. Their wisdom and their culture were worth to them quickly a position respected at the court of Ming. However, they did not succeed in establishing Christianity durably nor the Western scientific thought.

Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)

It was under the Mandchoue Dynasty that the power of the Chinese Empire knew the apogee of its two thousand years of history, until its collapse, at the beginning of the twentieth century, ascribable at the same time with an interior decline and with the external pressures exerted by the Occident. Masters of China, Mandchous sought to sinicize thelselves, while persecuting the Chinese, constrained, for example, to carry the plait, signs of their submission.

The political organization was largely founded on that of Ming Dynasty, although more centralized. The Central Administration depended on a new governmental body, the Great Council, which treated the military and political affairs of the State, under the direct orders of the emperor. In Beijing, an Chinese and an Mandchou managed each administrative direction. The traditional bureaucracy and the system of the imperial examinations, resting mainly on the knowledge of Confucian classics, were maintained. At the end of the seventeenth century, Qing people eliminated any opposition favorable to the return from Ming.

The eighteenth century was a period of peace and prosperity without precedent. The interior order reigned in all the Empire. The dynasty reached its apogee under Kangxi (1662-1722), and especially under Qianlong (1736-1796). The Chinese are treated better. China established a solid influence on Mandchourie, Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet. Nepal underwent in its turn the Chinese yoke. Burma must pay a tribute, just like the Ryukyu islands. Korea and the north of Vietnam recognized the suzerainty of China, while Taiwan was incorporated in the Empire. The population knew a strong demographic growth (313 million inhabitants in 1794), that could not manage to follow the production.

At the end of the reign of Qianlong, the situation of the peasants worsened, while the financial resources of the government were cut down by territorial expansion and increasing corruption of the civil servants. The Mandchou troops, in garrison in all China, contributed to ruin the economy, and were shown not very ready to ensure an effective defense after generations of peace.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Mandchous remained reticent with the development of trade. The foreign trade was then confined with the Port of Guangzhou (Canton), and the traders were constrained to pass by the intermediary of a limited number of Chinese tradesmen, grouped in associations, called Cohong (gonghang). The most present nations were then the United Kingdom (by far most significant), France and the United States. At the beginning, the exchanges supported the economy of China, because Great Britain bought tea and paid out of metallic money. During 1780’s, the British merchants developed the trade of Indian opium in China, whereas this product was prohibited since 1731. In 1800, this market being largely developed, trade became surplus for Great Britain. The Chinese metal-money haemorrhage, caused by the flourishing trade of opium, worsened the budgetary problems which already the government of Qing had.

The nineteenth century was marked by a fast deterioration of the imperial system and by an increase in the Western pressure, then Japanese. Trade relationships between China and Great Britain worsened. The British were eager to extend at all costs their exchanges beyond Canton and of the limits imposed by China. To arrive to their ends, they tried to establish with the Chinese authorities diplomatic relationships, similar to those which they maintained with the Western States. But China, which lived for a long time in economic autarky, was hardly interested by the development of its trade. In addition, the Chinese wished to put an end to the illegal imports of opium by the British traders, who ruined the fiscal and moral bases of the Empire and dug the external deficit of the country. In 1839, civil servants confiscated and destroyed great quantities of opium seized on boats at Canton. Great Britain, refusing to put a term at this lucrative trade, started the hostilities at the end of 1839 with the sending of a task force: it was the opium war.

China underwent a severe defeat. Its military weakness, ascribable to some extent with the resentment of Han against Mandchou, bursted at the great day. The first war of Opium was completed in 1842 with the signature of the Nankin Treaty which offered to Great Britain all the commercial privileges that it sought. During the next two years, France and the United States obtained same concessions. But the Western powers found quickly the clauses insufficient. Great Britain, allied in France, was not long in finding the opportunity to take again the hostilities.

During the second war of Opium (1856-1860), their armies threatened north of China. New treaties signed at Tianjin, in 1858, increased the commercial advantages granted to the Westerners. But when Beijing refused to ratify them, the conflict began again. In 1860, a Franco-British task force, under the command of Lord Algin and of the General Cousin-Montauban, entered Beijing. The Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) was set on fire, in reprisals against the atrocities made with regard to Western prisoners. China signed conventions of Beijing and ratified the clauses of the treaties of Tianjin.

These treaties, that the Chinese called "unequal treaties", governed the relations of China with the Occident until 1943. They modified the course of the social and economic development of the country and threw discredit upon the Mandchou dynasty. The Chinese ports were opened to trade and to foreign residents, and Hong Kong was given on a permanent basis to Great Britain with the contiguous peninsula of Kowloon. The citizens of the signatories nations profited from the extraterritoriality, which enabled them to be judged by their own magistrates or in their consulates, according to their country laws. These treaties comprised moreover the clause of the most favoured nation, by which any privilege granted by China to a nation is automatically extended to all the other countries signatories. The whole Chinese economy was soon controlled by a network of foreign economic exploitation. The customs duties on the imported products into China were reached a maximum to 5%, in order to prevent the arbitrary imposition of excessive rights. This policy prevented China from establishing sufficiently high taxes of importation to protect its industry and to allow a modernization of its economy.

During the 1850’s, the foundations of the Empire were shaken by the revolutionary movement Taiping (1851-1864), a religious, social and economic popular rebellion. Its head, Hong Xiuquan, which failed the imperial examinations, then studied Christianity with an American Protestant Missionary, regarded himself as the second son of God, and thus the brother of Jesus-Christ, charged of the divine mission removing China from the mandchou domination and with establishing a Christian dynasty, resting on an equitable division of richnesses and equality of sexes. In 1847, he founded the Association of “the admirers of God” and brought together many partisans, often poor, hostile to Mandchous.

The rebellion burst in the province of Guangxi in 1851. In 1853, the movement progressed towards north and Hong Xiuquan established its capitole with Nanjing where he created the "Heavenly Kingdom of the Great Peace" (Taiping Tianguo). In spite of their failure to enter Beijing, Taiping people, in 1860, were firmly cut off in the basin from Yang-tseu-kiang and threatened Shanghai.

The mandchou power, constrained to maintain the relations with more powerful Westerners and devastated by an interior rebellion of an unprecedented dimension, understood that the Empire can survive only by a change of policy. Under the reign of the Empress Cixi, between 1861 and 1895, Mandchous tried to restore the Confucian "benevolent" Government of the beautiful days of the dynasty, to solve the social and economic domestic problems, and to adopt Western technology so as to reinforce the State Power. Incompetent to direct themselves such programs, they addressed to the Chinese provinces leaders. Invested by the imperial power of unequalled financial, administrative and military rights, some of them achieved their mission with a remarkable success.

Between 1860 and 1880, due to the efforts of the governors Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang and Zuo Zongtang, all significant rebellions were subdued: Taiping (1864), Nian (1868), Miao (1872) and Hui (1878). These wars made between 20 to 30 million deaths. However, peace was restored, arsenals and shipyards were created, and several mines opened. But the objectives to preserve a Confucian government and to develop a modern military power were incompatible. The management of the modernization program was entrusted to the only elite available, the Neo-Confucian bureaucracy, badly equipped or little motivated in implementing necessary measurements to the reinforcement of the State power. So that the efforts tried by China to increase its power between 1860 and 1895 did not succeed.

The Western powers first of all tried to rather consolidate the commercial advantages acquired by the "unequal treaties" than to seek additional privileges. But, in 1875, they started, with Japan, to attack Chinese protectorate on South-east Asia. After 1875, the Ryukyu islands were placed under the Japanese domination. The war, which opposed France to China in 1884 and 1885, inserted Vietnam in the French colonial Empire. The following year, Great Britain annexed Burma. In 1860, Russia obtained the provinces of the Northern Mandchouria. In 1894, the Japanese attempted to withdraw Korea from Chinese suzerainty lead to the Sino-Japanese war. China underwent a decisive defeat in 1895. By the treaty of Shimonoseki, it recognized the independence of Korea, under Japanese influence, paid a considerable war indemnity and yielded to Japan the island of Taiwan and the peninsula of Liaodong, in the south of Mandchouria.

Russia, France and Germany reacted immediately to the transfer of Liaodong, which they regarded as a seizure of Japan on one of the China richest areas. They intervened so that Japan reassigned this area in exchange of an additional allowance. Japan having accepted, the European powers drove back China with new concessions. In 1898, incompetent to resist the Western pressures, China was parcelled out in zones of foreign influence. Russia obtained a concession for the construction of a Trans-Siberian railway line connecting Moscow to Vladivostok, while passing by Mandchourie, as well as a railroad south-mandchou until the end of the Liaodong peninsula. It also had exclusive economic rights on all Mandchourie. Other exclusive rights on the development of the railroads and the mines were granted to Germany (Shandong), to France (frontier provinces of the South), to Great Britain (bordering provinces of Yang-tseu-kiang) and to Japan (south-Eastern coast). The United States, which sought to preserve their assets without entering territorial competitions, launched the open-door policy (1899-1900) which obtained the approval of the other foreign powers. According to this policy, the privileges obtained in China by a country should not call into question the clause of the most favoured nation. The United States also undertook to guarantee the territorial and administrative integrity of China, even if, until 1941, they were reticent to use the force to make respect this guarantee.

In 1898, a group of enlightened reformers succeeded in approaching the young emperor, Guangxu. During the summer, in reaction to the creation of new influence zones, they set up a program of radical reforms intended to transform China into a constitutional monarchy and to modernize the economy and the education system. But this program ran up against the power of Mandchou dignitaries, traditionalists and anti-Westerners, that Empress Cixi placed at the head of the Government before being withdrawn. With the complicity of Yuan Shikai, she sequestered the emperor, took again the reins of the power and, with the loyal assistance of military leaders, put an end to the reforming movement. The country was then swept by a powerful wave of nationalist reaction, which reached its paroxysm in 1900 with the revolt of the Boxers. Although officially denounced by the Chinese power, this secret society actually profited from the support of Cixi and many mandchou dignitaries. The Boxers besieged foreign legations in Beijing during nearly two months (June 18th-August 14th, 1900), until the intervention of the military detachments sent by various foreign powers.

The Beijing Protocol (September 17, 1901) completed to place China under Western supervision. The Chinese people were constrained to pay significant allowances, spread over forty years period, and to grant new commercial concessions to the Western nations. The Mandchou government then understood the futility of its reactionary policy. In 1902, the Government adopted its own program of reforms and worked out a project of constitutional mode, based on the Japanese model. In 1905, the old system of imperial examinations was abandoned. Russia benefited from the revolt of the Boxers to extend its influence on all Mandchourie. This interference was at the origin of the 1904-0905 Russo-Japanese war, the consequence was that the whole south-Mandchou railroad and the Russian privileges in Mandchourie returned to Japan.

The death of Empress Cixi in 1908 accelerated the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Little after the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895), a doctor educated with Western methods, Sun Yat-Sen, launched Tongmenghui ("society of the conspiracy"), movement intended to establish a republican government. In the first decade of the twentieth century, the revolutionists formed a vast coalition bringing together the students and the overseas tradesmen, as well as the mainland Chinese, dissatisfied with the actual power. In the middle of the year 1911, risings occured, in protest against a railroad nationalization plan. In October, the revolt burst in Hankou, in Central China. It extended quickly to other provinces and Sun Yat-Sen seized the power. The mandchou armies, reorganized by the General Yuan Shikai, were definitely higher than the rebellious forces. But, neglecting the combat, Yuan prefered to negotiate with the rebels to become president of the new republican Government. February 12, 1912, Sun Yat-Sen resigned in favour of Yuan, and Mandchous withdrew themselves. February 14, a joined together revolutionary assembly in Nanjing elected Yuan Shikai first President of the Republic of China. The same year, Puyi, last Emperor of China, abdicated at the age of 6.

The Republic of China (1912-1949)

A Constitution was adopted and a Parliament convened in 1912. But Yuan Shikai never let these institutions block its seizure on the power and established a dictatorship (1912-1916). When Guomindang, nationalist party founded in 1911 by Sun Yat-Sen, tried to limit its power, initially by parliamentary tactics, then by the 1913 revolution lacked, Yuan reacted. He imposed the dissolution of the Parliament, prohibited Guomindang and used his personal influence near the provincial military leaders to run the country. Sun Yat-Sen took refuge in Japan. The popular opposition constrained nevertheless Yuan Shikai to give up his ambitions to restore the Empire and to become Emperor. With his death in 1916, several governors proclaimed the independence of their province. During more than ten years, the political power passed to the hands of these “lords of the war” (dujun), who reigned locally. The central government preserved a precarious and sometimes fictitious existence until 1927.

During the First World War, Japan tried to establish its colonial supremacy. In 1915, it presented to China the "21 requests" aiming at doing China a true Japanese protectorate. Beijing accepted some of them, like the transfer of the German possessions of Shandong to Japan. While entering in war at the sides of Allies in 1917, China thought of obtaining a seat on the peace negotiations table, and thus slowing down the Japanese ambitions. It also hoped that the United States, in accordance with the open-door policy, will offer their support to him. But at the time of the Versailles tamks, President Thomas Woodrow Wilson disunited himself of China and the old German possessions returned finally to Japan. However, since ten years, the Chinese young people and intellectuals had been increasingly numerous to seek in Occident for models and ideals to reform China. They, consequently, were shocked by what they judged like a treason of Wilson. When the news reached the country, a vast movement of anti-japanese protests burst, on May 4, 1919, at Beijing University and was propagated in all the country.

During the time of observation which followed, two objectives appeared clearly: to remove China from the Western imperialism and to restore the national unity. Disappointed by the cynical selfishness of the Westerners, Chinese people turned more and more to the Soviet Union and the Marxism-Leninism. The Chinese Communist Party was created in Shanghai in 1921. Among its founders, Mao Zedong appeared. In 1923, Sun Yat-Sen resorted to the Soviet assistance to reorganize the disaggregated and militarily weak Guomindang, and agreed, in exchange, to admit the Chinese Communists there.

The "Three Principles of the People" (nationalism, democracy and socialism), which constituted the Guomindang ideology, were strongly impressed of anti-imperialism and the desire of national unification. In spite of Sun Yat-Sen death in 1925, Guomindang regenerated, under the command of the young General, Jiang Jieshi (Tchang Kaï-chek), launched a military campaign since its base of Canton in 1926 and re-conquered part of China. Jiang Jieshi then sought to reunify China under the sovereignty of Guomindang and to get rid of the imperialists and the Lords of the war. In 1927, he proceeded, within Guomindang, a bloody purging of the Communists. April 12, he crushed the proletarian insurrection of Shanghai. He got help from the land owners and the imperialist powers.

The new established nationalist government in Nanjing in 1928 was confronted with three difficult problems: The first is the still limited range of the unification. Only five provinces were really under its authority, the others remaining with the hands of local Lords of the war. The second related to the communist rebellion. The driven out Communists of Guomindang separated in two clandestine factions. The first tended to foment urban risings, the second, directed by Mao Zedong, was folded up in a moved back area of the Central China, where he mobilized and formed a country army, and created several Soviets. The third problem, finally, was the Japanese aggression in Mandchourie and Northern China.

During 1920’s, Japan adopted a more moderated policy with regard to China. With the Washington conference in 1922, it even agreed to restore the old German possessions of Shandong to him. But, since 1928, Guomindang ran up against the Japanese interests concerning the control of the south-Mandchou railroad by Japan. September 18, 1931, this one pretexted an alleged bombardment of the railroad by Chinese nationalists to extend his military control on all Mandchourie. Next spring, Japan joined together the three provinces of Mandchourie in a new State, Mandchoukouo, then placed at its head Puyi, the last emperor of the Mandchou dynasty. At the beginning of the year 1933, the east of Inner Mongolia was integrated into Mandchoukouo. A few months later, Japan obliged China to sign an agreement of demilitarization of the North-East of Hebei.

In the years 1930, the policy of Jiang Jieshi consisted in negotiating with the Lords of the war, temporizing with the Japanese, and concentrating its efforts on the fight against the Communists. Crushed in the working cities, the communist movement did not remain any more but clandestinely. Mao Zedong innovated, by moving the action of the Party towards the campaigns.

Paradoxically, the Chinese revolution is the fact of peasants and not of workmen. From 1927 to 1934, Mao creates bases in Southern and Central China. He rejoined with him Lords of the war like Zhu De and communist officers of the regular army, such as Liu Shaoqi. In 1934, the Guomindang armies succeeded in asphyxiating the country Soviets. The few 100 000 survivors must leave their base, established in Jiangxi, and cut through a path through China, initially towards the west, then towards north. It was the Long Walk (October 1934-October 1936). In 1936, after two years of combat and exhausting progression, only 8 000 survivors managed to rejoin the town of Yanan (Shaanxi), where they established their headquarters. This forced retirement, which sounded like a moral victory, will prove to be prejudicial to Guomindang.

In addition, as the Japanese aggression intensified, the popular pressure was increasingly strong so that the Chinese leaders linked their efforts against Japan. But Jiang Jieshi refused any alliance. In December 1936, one of its Generals, Zhang Xueliang, dissatisfied with its wait-and-see policy with respect to Japan, organized its kidnapping at Xi'An. The intervention of Communist Zhou Enlai made it possible to arrive at a compromise. Released, Jiang Jieshi agreed, in 1937, to form a unified national party, the Communist Guomindang Party, against Japan. In July 1937, the Japanese army attacked China.

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