National name: Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo
Languages: Standard Chinese (Mandarin/Putonghua), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, minority languages
Ethnicity/race: Han Chinese 91.9%, Zhuang, Uygur, Hui, Yi, Tibetan, Miao, Manchu, Mongol, Buyi, Korean, and other nationalities 8.1%
National Holiday: Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China, October 1
Religions: Officially atheist; Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, Christian 3%–4%, Muslim 1%–2% (2002 est.)
Literacy rate: 90.9% (2006 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2009 est.): $8.8 trillion; per capita $6,600. Real growth rate: 8.7% (official data). Inflation: –0.8%. Unemployment: 4.3% official registered unemployment in urban areas; substantial unemployment and underemployment in rural areas. Arable land: 15%. Agriculture: rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, peanuts, tea, millet, barley, apples, cotton, oilseed; pork; fish. Labor force: 798 million (2006); agriculture 45%, industry 24%, services 31% (2006 est.). Industries: mining and ore processing, iron, steel, aluminum, and other metals, coal; machine building; armaments; textiles and apparel; petroleum; cement; chemicals; fertilizers; consumer products, including footwear, toys, and electronics; food processing; transportation equipment, including automobiles, rail cars and locomotives, ships, and aircraft; telecommunications equipment, commercial space launch vehicles, satellites. Natural resources: coal, iron ore, petroleum, natural gas, mercury, tin, tungsten, antimony, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, magnetite, aluminum, lead, zinc, uranium, hydropower potential (world’s largest). Exports: $1.2 trillion (2009 est.): machinery and equipment, plastics, optical and medical equipment, iron and steel. Imports: $921.5 billion (2009 est.): machinery and equipment, oil and mineral fuels, plastics, optical and medical equipment, organic chemicals, iron and steel. Major trading partners: U.S., Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Taiwan (2004).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 350.43 million (2005); mobile cellular: 437.48 million (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 369, FM 259, shortwave 45 (1998). Television broadcast stations: 3,240 (of which 209 are operated by China Central Television, 31 are provincial TV stations and nearly 3,000 are local city stations) (1997). Internet hosts: 232,780 (2006). Internet users: 123 million (2006).
Transportation: Railways: total: 71,898 (2002). Highways: total: 1,870,661 km; paved: 1,515,797 km (with at least 34,288 km of expressways) ; unpaved: 354,864 km (2004). Waterways: 123,964 km (2003). Ports and harbors: Dalian, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Ningbo, Qingdao, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai. Airports: 486 (2006 est.).
International disputes: in 2005, China and India initiate drafting principles to resolve all aspects of their extensive boundary and territorial disputes together with a security and foreign policy dialogue to consolidate discussions related to the boundary, regional nuclear proliferation, and other matters; recent talks and confidence-building measures have begun to defuse tensions over Kashmir, site of the world’s largest and most militarized territorial dispute with portions under the de facto administration of China (Aksai Chin), India (Jammu and Kashmir), and Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas); India does not recognize Pakistan’s ceding historic Kashmir lands to China in 1964; about 90,000 ethnic Tibetan exiles reside primarily in India as well as Nepal and Bhutan; China asserts sovereignty over the Spratly Islands together with Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei; the 2002 “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” has eased tensions in the Spratlys but is not the legally binding “code of conduct” sought by some parties; in March 2005, the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and Vietnam signed a joint accord on marine seismic activities in the Spratly Islands; China occupies some of the Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan; China and Taiwan have become more vocal in rejecting both Japan’s claims to the uninhabited islands of Senkaku-shoto (Diaoyu Tai) and Japan’s unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea, the site of intensive hydrocarbon prospecting; certain islands in the Yalu and Tumen rivers are in an uncontested dispute with North Korea and a section of boundary around Mount Paektu is considered indefinite; China seeks to stem illegal migration of tens of thousands of North Koreans; in 2004, China and Russia divided up the islands in the Amur, Ussuri, and Argun Rivers, ending a century-old border dispute; demarcation of the China-Vietnam boundary proceeds slowly and although the maritime boundary delimitation and fisheries agreements were ratified in June 2004, implementation has been delayed; environmentalists in Burma and Thailand remain concerned about China’s construction of hydroelectric dams upstream on the Nujiang/Salween River in Yunnan Province.
War Losses Cause China to Sign Away Sovereignty
China remained largely isolated from the rest of the world’s civilizations, closely restricting foreign activities. By the end of the 18th century only Canton (location of modern-day Hong Kong) and the Portuguese port of Macao were open to European merchants. But with the first Anglo-Chinese War in 1839–1842, a long period of instability and concessions to Western colonial powers began. Following the war, several ports were opened up for trading, and Hong Kong was ceded to Britain. Treaties signed after further hostilities (1856–1860) weakened Chinese sovereignty and gave foreigners immunity from Chinese jurisdiction. European powers took advantage of the disastrous Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 to gain further trading concessions from China. Peking’s response, the Boxer Rebellion (1900), was suppressed by an international force.
The death of Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi in 1908 and the accession of the infant emperor Hsüan T’ung (Pu-Yi) were followed by a nationwide rebellion led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who overthrew the Manchus and became the first president of the Provisional Chinese Republic in 1911. Dr. Sun resigned in favor of Yuan Shih-k’ai, who suppressed the Republicans in a bid to consolidate his power. Yuan’s death in June 1916 was followed by years of civil war between rival militarists and Dr. Sun’s Republicans. Nationalist forces, led by General Chiang Kai-shek and with the advice of Communist experts, soon occupied most of China, setting up the Kuomintang regime in 1928. Internal strife continued, however, and Chiang eventually broke with the Communists.
On Sept. 18, 1931, Japan launched an invasion of Manchuria, capturing the province. Tokyo set up a puppet state dubbed Manchukuo and installed the last Manchu emperor, Henry Pu-Yi (Hsüan T’ung), as its nominal leader. Japanese troops moved to seize China’s northern provinces in July 1937 but were resisted by Chiang, who had been able to use the Japanese invasion to unite most of China behind him. Within two years, however, Japan had seized most of the nation’s eastern ports and railways. The Kuomintang government retreated first to Hankow and then to Chungking, while the Japanese set up a puppet government at Nanking, headed by Wang Jingwei.
People’s Republic of China Is Established
Japan’s surrender to the Western Allies in 1945 touched off civil war between the Kuomintang forces under Chiang and Communists led by Mao Zedong, who had been battling since the 1930s for control of China. Despite U.S. aid, the Kuomintang were overcome by the Soviet-supported Communists, and Chiang and his followers were forced to flee the mainland, establishing a government-in-exile on the island of Formosa (Taiwan). The Mao regime proclaimed the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949, with Beijing as the new capital and Zhou Enlai as premier.
After the Korean War began in June 1950, China led the Communist bloc in supporting North Korea, and on Nov. 26, 1950, the Mao regime sent troops to assist the North in its efforts to capture the South.
In an attempt to restructure China’s primarily agrarian economy, Mao undertook the “Great Leap Forward” campaign in 1958, a disastrous program that aimed to combine the establishment of rural communes with a crash program of village industrialization. The Great Leap forced the abandonment of farming activities, leading to widespread famine in which more than 20 million people died of malnutrition.
China Is Condemned for Poor Treatment of Tibetans
In 1959, a failed uprising against China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet forced Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and 100,000 of his followers to flee to India. The invasion of Tibet and a perceived rivalry for the leadership of the world Communist movement caused a serious souring of relations between China and the USSR, former allies. In 1965 Tibet was formally made an autonomous region of China. China’s harsh religious and cultural persecution of Tibetans, which continues to this day, has spawned growing international protest.
The failure of the Great Leap Forward touched off a power struggle within the Chinese Communist Party between Mao and his supporters and a reformist faction including future premier Deng Xiaoping. Mao moved to Shanghai, and from that base he and his supporters waged what they called the Cultural Revolution. Beginning in the spring of 1966, Mao ordered the closing of schools and the formation of ideologically pure Red Guard units, dominated by youths and students. The Red Guards campaigned against “old ideas, old culture, old habits, and old customs.” Millions died in a series of violent purges. By early 1967, the Cultural Revolution had succeeded in bolstering Mao’s position as China’s paramount leader.
President Nixon’s Visit to China Establishes New Relations
Anxious to exploit the Sino-Soviet rift, the Nixon administration made a dramatic announcement in July 1971 that National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had secretly visited Beijing and reached an agreement whereby Nixon would visit China. The movement toward reconciliation, which signaled the end of the U.S. containment policy toward China, provided momentum for China’s admission to the UN. Despite U.S. opposition to expelling Taiwan (Nationalist China), the world body overwhelmingly voted to oust Taiwan in favor of Beijing’s Communist government.
President Nixon went to Beijing for a week early in 1972, meeting Mao as well as Zhou. The summit ended with a historic communiqué on Feb. 28, in which both nations promised to work toward improved relations. Full diplomatic relations were barred by China as long as the U.S. continued to recognize the legitimacy of Nationalist China.
Following Zhou’s death on Jan. 8, 1976, his successor, Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, was supplanted within a month by Hua Guofeng, former minister of public security. Hua became permanent premier in April. In Oct. he was named successor to Mao as chairman of the Communist Party. But Mao’s death on Sept. 10 unleashed the bitter intraparty rivalries that had been suppressed since the Cultural Revolution. Old opponents of Mao launched a campaign against his widow, Jiang Qing, and three of her “radical” colleagues. The so-called Gang of Four was denounced for having undermined the party, the government, and the economy. They were tried and convicted in 1981. Meanwhile, in 1977, Deng Xiaoping was reinstated as deputy premier, chief of staff of the army, and member of the Central Committee of the Politburo.
Beijing and Washington announced full diplomatic relations on Jan. 1, 1979, and the Carter administration abrogated the Taiwan defense treaty. Deputy Premier Deng sealed the agreement with a visit to the U.S. that coincided with the opening of embassies in both capitals on March 1. On Deng’s return from the U.S., Chinese troops invaded and briefly occupied an area along Vietnam’s northern border. The action was seen as a response to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and ouster of the Khmer Rouge government, which China had supported.
In 1981, Deng protégé Hu Yaobang replaced Hua Guofeng as party chairman. Deng became chairman of the Central Committee’s military commission, giving him control over the army. The body’s 215 members concluded the session with a statement holding Mao Zedong responsible for the “grave blunder” of the Cultural Revolution.
Under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, meanwhile, China’s Communist ideology went through a massive reinterpretation, and sweeping economic changes were set in motion in the early 1980s. The Chinese scrapped the personality cult that idolized Mao Zedong, muted Mao’s old call for class struggle and exportation of the Communist revolution, and imported Western technology and management techniques to replace the Marxist tenets that had slowed modernization.
Student Demonstrators Are Killed at Tiananmen Square
The removal of Hu Yaobang as party chairman in Jan. 1987 signaled a hard-line resurgence within the party. Hu—who had become a hero to many reform-minded Chinese—was replaced by former premier Zhao Ziyang. With the death of Hu in April 1989, the ideological struggle spilled into the streets of the capital, as student demonstrators occupied Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in May, calling for democratic reforms. Less than a month later, the demonstrations were crushed in a bloody crackdown as troops and tanks moved into the square and fired on protesters, killing several hundred.
In annual sessions of the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress in 1992 and 1993, the government called for accelerating the drive for economic reform, but the sessions were widely seen as an effort to maintain China’s moves toward a market economy while retaining political authoritarianism. At the session in 1993, Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin was elected president, while hard-liner Li Peng was reelected to another five-year term as prime minister. Since 1993, the Chinese economy has continued to grow rapidly.
China Becomes an Economic Power, but Continues to Suppress Personal Liberties
Deng Xiaoping’s death in Feb. 1997 left a younger generation in charge of managing the enormous country. In 1998, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji introduced a sweeping program to privatize state-run businesses and further liberalize the nation’s economy, a move lauded by Western economists.
On July 1, 1997, when Britain’s lease on the New Territories expired, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty, and in 1999, the Portuguese colony of Macao also was returned to Chinese rule.
In Aug. 1999, China rounded up thousands of members of the Falun Gong sect, a highly popular religious movement. The government considers the apolitical spiritual group threatening because its numbers exceeded the membership of the Chinese Communist Party. China severely restricts its citizens’ civil, religious, and political rights. The use of torture has been widely documented, and for many years it has executed more people than any other country in the world, carrying out more than three-quarters of the world’s executions.
China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in Nov. 2001. Its entry ended a 15-year debate over whether China is entitled to the full trading rights of capitalist countries.
In Nov. 2002, Vice President Hu Jintao became general secretary of the Communist Party at the 16th Party Congress, succeeding President Jiang. Hu Jintao also assumed the presidency in March 2003.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a worldwide health threat, hit China in March 2003. After coming under fire by the World Health Organization for underreporting the number of its SARS cases, China finally revealed the alarming extent of its epidemic.
Beijing officials angered democracy advocates in Hong Kong in April 2004, when they banned popular elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive, scheduled for 2007.
Tension between China and Taiwan intensified in March 2005, when China passed an antisecession law that said the country could use force if Taiwan moved toward achieving independence. “The state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the legislation said. Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian called the bill a “law of aggression.”
In June 2005, the China National Oil Corporation (Cnoc) bid $18.5 billion to take over the U.S. oil company Unocal. The Chinese firm withdrew the bid in August amid strong resistance from U.S. officials.
After months of pressure from the Bush administration, China announced in July 2005 that it will no longer peg the yuan to the dollar. Instead, the yuan is linked to a fluctuating group of foreign currencies.
The police shot and killed about 20 people who were protesting the construction of a power plant in the southern city of Dongzhou in December. Chinese officials blocked the spread of information about the event.
Government officials announced in December that China’s economy had grown by 9% in 2005. China is poised to have the world’s fourth-largest economy, after the United States, Japan, and Germany.
In May 2006, China completed construction on the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. More than a million people will be displaced when the area is flooded. In July 2006, China opened a $4.2-billion, 710-mile-long railway from Qinghai Province to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The highest railway in the world, it ascends as high as 16,500 ft, requiring all compartments to have regulated oxygen levels. The railway will increase ethnic Chinese migration into Tibet, which many see as a deliberate attempt to dilute Tibetan culture.
China tested its first antisatellite weapon in January 2007, successfully destroying one of its own weather satellites. Analysts deemed the move a provocative challenge to the United States’ supremacy in space-based technology. Others speculated that China is seeking to push the U.S. toward signing a treaty to ban space-based weapons.
In the spring and summer of 2007, dog food and toothpaste products that originated in China were recalled due to the presence of poisonous ingredients, leading many to question the safety of Chinese products and the reliability of its regulatory system. In July, China’s former head of the State Food and Drug Administration was executed for accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for favors.
China Hosts a Successful Olympics
The 2008 Summer Olympic Games kicked off on Aug. 8, 2008, with a spectacular opening ceremony that many observers called unparalleled. In the lead-up to the games, however, China was dogged by its abysmal human-rights record, crackdown on the Buddhist monks, nearly intolerable air quality, attempts to censor some journalists reporting on the Games, and continued ties to the Sudanese government. In addition, four days before the opening of the Games, two members of the Turkestan Independence Movement, which is also called the Turkestan Islamic Party, a Muslim group based in western China, drove a truck into a group of police officers and then threw explosives and stabbed them. Sixteen police officers died and another 16 were wounded in the attack. Days later, another 12 people were killed in a wave of bombings attributed to the group. As host of the Olympics, China exceeded expectations, despite its moves to stifle protests and dissent, proving that the country is an economic powerhouse. China also won a record 51 gold medals, and a total of 100 medals.
The good will and enthusiasm that followed the Olympic Games was tarnished in September amid reports that three children died and more than 53,000 became sick after drinking milk-based formula that was tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical that’s made from coal and used to produce plastic and fertilizer. Officials reportedly knew of the scandal months before it was publicly disclosed.
Space Exploration, Government Reforms, and Military Crackdowns
On Sept. 27, 2008, astronaut Zhai Zhigang stepped out of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft and made the first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut. The achievement was an important step in China’s quest to build a space station by 2020 and someday land on the Moon.
The government announced a land reform policy in Oct. 2008 that will allow farmers to “subcontract, lease, exchange, or swap” rights to the plots of land assigned to them by the government. The government said it hopes the policy change, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of land reforms under Deng Xiaoping, will lead to increased output and greater efficiency.
With countries all over the world facing a financial crisis, China’s State Council announced in November that it will spend about $586 billion, or about 7% of China’s GDP, on a stimulus package that will include building new airports, subways, low-income housing, and rail systems.
Although China was generally praised for its handling of 2008’s earthquake in Sichuan, by the quake’s one-year anniversary in 2009, some of the international goodwill had evaporated. China restricted access to the area by journalists and artists; parents of children who where killed in the quake had their complaints ignored and suppressed; and the government’s official investigation into the schools and hospitals that collapsed in the quake claimed that none had been improperly constructed. The government did implement new regulations for the construction of schools and hospitals, but that was little comfort to bereaved parents and international organizations demanding accountability.
On the 20th anniversary of the violent military crackdown in Tiananmen Square that left hundreds of democratic activists dead, China tried to deter remembrance of the event. Police officers stood guard around the square, barring foreign journalists from entering. In response, tens of thousands of people held a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of the brutal killings.
Rioting in Urumqi, China between two ethnic groups—Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese—led to the deaths of at least 156 people at the hands of the police on July 6, 2009. Riot police locked down the Uighur portion of the city to try and stop the protests. It was the worst ethnic violence in decades.
Taiwan and China signed a landmark free-trade agreement in June 2010 that lifts or reduces hundreds of tariffs for both sides. Officials from both Taiwan and China described the deal as the most important achievement since the 1949 civil war. Taiwan seems poised to benefit more economically from the deal than China, and China sees a political benefit as the agreement brings the two closer together.