Chinese Empire Leaders: Qin Shi Huang
, Mao Zedong Starting technologies: Agriculture Mining Unique unit: Cho-Ko-Nu Unique building: Pavillion
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Despite political and social upheavals that frequently ravaged the country, China is unique for its longevity and resilience as a politico-cultural entity. Most of China`s cultural progress has been accomplished with relatively little outside influence even when the country was ruled by such "barbarian" peoples as the Chin or Mongols, these were soon absorbed into the fabric of Chinese culture. The casting of bronze and the development of an alphabet date from the period of the Shang dynasty - China`s first, believed to have dominated north China from the mid-16th to mid-11th century BC. The overthrow of the Shang dynasty by the Chou (1111-255 BC) spanned three generations although the vibrant Chou culture produced some of history`s greatest philosophers and artists, among them Confucius and Lao-zi, the final two centuries of the dynasty saw China engulfed by a series of civil wars known as the "Warring States" period (403-221 BC).
The fighting came to an end when Qin Shi Huang managed to conquer all of his rivals and establish the Ch`in Dynasty (221-206 BC). He became the first Chinese Emperor, and was the first man to unite all of China under a single ruler, but the Ch`in Dynasty was unable to outlive his death. The subsequent Han dynasty was founded by Liu Pang, who also assumed the title of emperor in 202 BC. The four centuries of the Han were ones of considerable changes in imperial, political, cultural, and social development. The Han undertook massive engineering projects (including the Great Wall), and established a Chinese identity that would survive until the advent of Communism. The Cho-ko-nu, a type of repeating crossbow, was developed during the Han period and remained in use by the Chinese for almost two thousand years.
By the end of the 2nd century AD the Han Empire had virtually ceased to exist, and was followed by a lengthy period of rival kingdoms that did not end until 618 AD, when the T`ang dynasty came to power. The T`ang were followed by the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD), which collapsed in the face of the Mongol invasions. By securing the allegiance of the Hsi Hsia in Tibet (1209), Genghis Khan disposed of a potential enemy and prepared the ground for an invasion of China. For several years Mongol armies pillaged the country finally, in 1214 Genghis overwhelmed the capital of the northern Chin (modern Beijing). During the next decades there was an uneasy truce between the Mongols in the north and the Sung state in the south. The Mongols resumed their advance in 1250 under Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis.
From 1267 onward, the Mongols, this time assisted by the armored horsemen and auxiliary troops of north China, attacked on several fronts. When organized resistance ceased soon afterward, foreign invaders controlled the whole of China for the only time in history. The Mongols occupied China for a century, but ineptitude on the throne, factionalism at court, and rivalries among generals weakened their rule. Out of this turmoil emerged a new native dynasty, the Ming (1368-1644), known for patronage of the arts. Before turning inward and reverting to an isolationist policy in 1424, the Ming period saw extensive trade with India and Arabia, and Ming navigators may have reached the Americas before Columbus. The Ming were followed by the Manchus (1644-1911), the last imperial dynasty of China, marked by continuous warfare, Western imperialism, rampant corruption, and bureaucratic ineptitude.
In the wake of the disastrous Boxer Rebellion, the imperial court could no longer maintain support among the peasantry and army revolution (1911-1912) followed. The first half of the 20th century saw the disintegration of the old order in China and the foundations of a new society, begun by the short-lived democratic Republic (1912-1920), which quickly degenerated into the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek. A new revolution, led by the Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), erupted. Although they had been united against the Japanese invasion, by the end of World War II civil war raged in China. Nationalists and Communists raced to take over Japanese-held territories, built up their forces, and fought limited engagements while still conducting negotiations during 1947-1948, after initial Nationalist victories, the strategic balance shifted in favor of the Communists. Four years after Japan`s surrender, a profound and popularly based revolution had swept China, and, in October 1949 Mao Zedong proclaimed the People`s Republic of China. In 1966, the Communists at the instigation of Mao launched the disastrous "Cultural Revolution," a ten-year assault on "traditional values" and "bourgeois thinking" which ultimately left the country in disarray. After Mao`s death in 1976, his rival Deng Xiaopeng assumed power and began social and economic reforms that would see China return to world prominence. China today is one of the world`s rising powers, but exactly what course its leaders will chart next remains uncertain.