Chinese History

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Effective family history research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land or military documents that mention your family.

You will better understand the lives of your ancestors if you use histories to learn about the events in which they may have participated. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.

Mainland China[edit | edit source]

Brief History of China[edit | edit source]

Not much is known about the first Chinese dynasty - Xia. Until fairly recently, most historians thought it was a myth. But archeological records have proven its existence. What little is known indicates that the Xia had descended from a wide-spread Yellow River valley Neolithic culture known as the Longshan culture. They were famous for their black-lacquered pottery. Even though no known examples of Xia-era writing survive, they almost certainly had a writing system that was a precursor of the Shang dynasty's "oracle bones."

The second Chinese dynasty is the Shang dynasty. They were the most advanced bronze-working civilization in the world, and they provide the earliest and most complete record of Chinese writing.

The Shang were quite possibly the most blood-thirsty pre-modern civilization and were fond of human sacrifice. The dynasty had an unusual system of succession. Instead of a patrilineal system where power was passed from father to son, the kingship passed from elder brother to younger brother. When there were no more brothers, then the succession went to the oldest maternal nephew.

The Western Zhou dynasty succeeded the Shang. They used a father-to-son succession system and did not continue human sacrifice. The Zhou did not rule all of what was then China, which was made up of a number of quasi-independent principalities at that time. The Zhou were the most powerful principality and were located in the middle of the principalities. This gave rise to the term "The Middle Kingdom," which the Chinese call their country. The Zhou were able to maintain peace and stability through their method of rule. In 771 BC, the capital was sacked by barbarians from the west.

After the capital was sacked, the Zhou moved east and effectively divided the dynasty into eastern and western periods.

China Timeline[edit | edit source]

2200 - 1750 BC
Xia: Earliest existing evidence of a Neolithic culture
1750 - 1040 BC       
Shang: Advanced bronze-working civilization; earliest record of Chinese writing
1100 - 771 BC
Western Zhou: Maintained peace and stability for several hundred years
771 - 156 BC
Eastern Zhou: Followed sacking of the capital
722 - 481 BC
Spring and Autumn Period: Proliferation of new ideas and philosophies (Daoism, Confucianism, and Legalism.
403 - 221 BC
Warring States Period: Massive armies (half a million per army), long battles and sieges
221 - 206 BC
Qin: First Emperor of China; dawn of the iron age and beginning of Great Wall of China
206 BC - 8 AD Earlier Han Dynasty: Developed administrative model for successive dynasties
8 AD - 25 AD
Wang Mang Interregnum: China ruled by a commoner, reform-oriented ideas
25 AD - 220 AD
Later Han Dynasty: Restore of rule by the Han royal family; influx of barbarians in the north
220 AD - 265 AD
Three Kingdoms: Reinforced concept of "one Emperor over China"
317 AD - 589 AD
Dynasties of the North and South: Barbarians in the north assimilated into Chinese society; ethnic Han Chinese moved south; Buddhism introduced into China
589 AD - 618 AD
Sui Dynasty: Although short period, re-unified China
618 AD - 907 AD
Tang Dynasty: Extended boundaries of China through Siberia in the north, Korea in the east, and what is now Vietnam in the south; extended corridor of control into modern-day Afghanistan
960 AD - 1125 AD
Northern Song Dynasty: Re-unified China; remarkable advances in technology, culture, and economics
1127 AD - 1279 AD
Southern Song Dynasty: Political and military advances
1279 AD - 1368 AD
Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty: Occupation by Mongols; preservation of China as it is known today
1368 AD - 1644 AD
Ming Dynasty: Moved capital to Beijing, fortified/completed the Great Wall, built the Forbidden City, and gave Macao to the Portuguese
1644 AD - 1911 AD
Qing (Manchu) Dynasty: Concentrated on arts and culture; period of rebellions
1911 AD - 1949 AD
Republican China: Chinese Communist Party (CCP) opposed by Nationalist Party (KMT) under Chiang Kaishek; Japanese invasion of China. After World War II, Nationalists flee to Taiwan and Mao Zedong proclaims creation of the People's Republic of China
1949 AD - Present
People's Republic of China: Failure of Great Leap Forward; launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; United Kingdom hands Hong Kong over to China

The Chinese do not appear to have a world view for the idea of independent, equal nations. There is the rest of the world, and then there is China. It is not that they reject the idea of a community of nations; it is that they cannot conceive of it.

Online Histories[edit | edit source]

Hong Kong[edit | edit source]

Brief History of Hong Kong[edit | edit source]

Hong Kong (香港; "Fragrant Harbour") is an autonomous region on the southern coast of China and is geographically bounded by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea.

What is now known as Hong Kong was incorporated into China during the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC), and the area was firmly consolidated as part of China under Nanyue (203 BC – 111 BC.) Archaeological evidence suggests that the population started increasing during Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) and has continued to date.

Its harbor, Victoria harbor, is one of the best natural harbors in the world, and was particularly suited to the trading requirements of wind driven vessels.

Following what became known as the Opium Wars, Hong Kong Island and the outlying islands, as well as the Kowloon Peninsula as far north as Boundary Street, were ceded in perpetuity to Great Britain. Later the New Territories from Boundary Street to the Mainland Border were leased to great Britain on a 100 year lease.

Hong Kong's population is 93.6% ethnic Chinese and 6.4% from other groups. These other groups include Indians, and a large group of expatriate Westerners. Hong Kong's Cantonese-speaking majority originated primarily from the neighboring Guangdong province, from which many Mainland Chinese fled to escape wars and communist rule in mainland China from the 1930s to 1960s. At that time, after the cessation of hostilities from WWII, the border between the New Territories and Mainland China was famously porous. Millions fled to Hong Kong for freedom.

As a result of ongoing negotiations between, and the 1984 agreement between China and Britain, Hong Kong was handed over to the People's Republic of China and became China's first Special Administrative Region on 1 July 1997 under the principle of "one country, two systems". However the actual implementation of this principle has been fraught with problems, with the two sides having differing opinions as to what is meant by democratic freedom.

The roots of Hong Kong’s legal system can be traced back to the English legal system and it has evolved over the years. Hong Kong's sources of law are derived from the residual British system, augmented by legislation, subsidiary legislation (e.g. Rules and Regulations etc) and judge-made law.

Hong Kong is one of the major business and banking centers of the world, and acts as a financial bridge between Mainland China and the West. As such, it is also one of the 5 top trans-shipping ports in the world.

Hong Kong Timeline[edit | edit source]

14th century AD Hong Kong remains relatively empty and loses contact with the imperial court.
1557 AD The Portuguese set up a trading base on nearby Macau.
1714 AD The British East India Company establishes offices in Guangzhou. Britain immediately starts to import Opium, causing massive addiction to the drug in China.
1840 AD The First Opium War breaks out. The war is caused by the Chinese seizing an estimated half tonne of British imported opium and burning it.
1841 AD The British rout the Chinese forces, occupying ports along the Yangtze River, including Shanghai. The Chinese sign a peace treaty ceding the island of Hong Kong to Britain.
1841 AD A landing party raises the British flag at Possession Point on Hong Kong Island claiming the island in the name of the Queen.
1843 AD Hong Kong’s first governor, Sir Henry Pottinger is dispatched to take charge of the twenty or so villages on the island and conduct British trade.
1845 AD The Hong Kong Police Force is established.
1850 AD The population of Hong Kong stands at 32,000.
1856 AD The second Opium War breaks out.
1860 AD The Chinese find themselves on the losing side again and are forced to cede the Kowloon peninsula and Stonecutter’s Island to the British.
1864 AD The Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC) is founded in Hong Kong.
1888 AD The Peak Tram starts operation.
1895 AD Dr Sun Yat Sen, basing himself out of Hong Kong attempts to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. He fails and is exiled from the colony.
1898 AD Britain forces more concessions from the failing Qing Dynasty, gaining a 99-year lease of the New Territories. This lease will end in 1997.
1900 AD The city’s population reaches 260,000, this number continues to grow thanks to war and conflict in China proper.
1924 AD Kai Tak Airport is built.
1937 AD Japan invades China resulting in a flood of refuges heading for Hong Kong swelling the population to around 1.5 million
1941 AD After attacking Pearl Harbour, the Japanese army invades Hong Kong. The overstretched colony resists the invasion for two weeks. Western citizens, including the governor, are interned in Stanley, while Chinese citizens are massacred in large numbers.
1945 AD As Japan surrenders to the Allies, they surrender Hong Kong, returning it to British ownership.
1950s AD Many refugees provide the labour for Hong Kong’s rapidly expanding manufacturing industry.
1967 AD As the cultural revolution grips China, Hong Kong is hit by riots and a bombing campaign orchestrated by left wingers. Chinese militia men, believed to have permission from Beijing, cross the Hong Kong border, shooting five police officers before re-crossing back into China. Locals mostly remain loyal to the colonial government.
1973 AD Hong Kong’s first new town at Sha Tin is built in an attempt to help relieve the city’s housing crisis.
1970s AD The British and Chinese government begin to negotiate about Hong Kong’s status after the 99-year lease of the New Territories runs out in 1997.
1980 AD The population of Hong Kong reaches 5 million.
1984 AD Margaret Thatcher announces that the whole of Hong Kong is to be handed back to China at midnight on June 30th 1997. It would have been practically impossible for the British to hold onto Hong Kong Island while handing back the New Territories, with half of the colony’s population living there. Hong Kongers largely welcome the move, although there are major reservations.
1988 AD The details of the Hong Kong Handover emerge, including the Basic Law which will govern the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is largely slated to remain the same for the fifty years that follow the handover. Concern remains on whether China will honour the agreement or impose communist rule directly after 1997.
1989 AD The Tiananmen Square massacre sees fear grip Hong Kong. The stock market plunges 22% in a single day and queues form outside the US, Canadian and Australian embassy as Hong Kongers looked to emigrate to safety ahead of the handover.
1992 AD Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor arrives to take up his post.
1993 AD Patten attempts to expand the direct election of councillors to Hong Kong’s Legco in breach of the Chinese-British agreement on the handover of the city. Beijing would ultimately dismiss a number of the democraticly elected councillors after the handover in 1997.
1996 AD In a limited election orchestrated by Beijing, Tung Chee Hwa is elected Chief Executive of Hong Kong. He is met sceptically by the Hong Kong public.
1997 AD The Hong Kong Handover takes place. Prince Charles and Tony Blair lead the British party, while China is represented by Premier Jiang Zemin. Governor Chris Patten sails for Britain on the royal yacht.
2003 AD Hong Kong suffers a deadly outbreak of the SARS virus, which kills 300 people.
2005 AD Tung Chee Hwa is forced to resign after popular protest. Donald Tsang, a local man who worked in the colonial government, replaces him.
2005 AD Hong Kong Disneyland opens.
2007 AD Hong Kong’s first contested election for Chief Executive takes place between incumbent Donald Tsang and Alan Leong. Tsang was assured victory, thanks to the control of Beijing, but it was a positive signal for Hong Kong’s hopes of democracy.
2008 AD The Hong Kong population reaches 7 million.

Links to Web Resources[edit | edit source]

Taiwan[edit | edit source]

Brief History of Taiwan[edit | edit source]

Taiwan was historically called Formosa until recent times.

The island of Taiwan (formerly known as "Formosa") was mainly inhabited by Taiwanese aborigines until the Dutch and Spanish settlement during the Age of Discovery in the 17th century, when Han Chinese began immigrating to the island.

The Qing dynasty of China later defeated all the local kingdoms and annexed Taiwan. By the time Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895, the majority of Taiwan's inhabitants were Han Chinese either by ancestry or by assimilation.

After Japan's surrender in 1945, the Republic of China (ROC) assumed its control of Taiwan.

Following the defeat of the nationalists on the mainland, the ROC relocated its government to Taiwan, and its jurisdiction became limited to Taiwan and its surrounding islands.

Taiwna - Economy[edit | edit source]

Prior to WWII, Taiwan had a largely agrarian economy. However the war caused major damage to all areas of the country, as far as its ability to sustain itself.

By 1945, hyperinflation was in progress in mainland China and Taiwan as a result of the war with Japan. To isolate Taiwan from it, the Nationalist government created a new currency area for the island, and began a price stabilization program. These efforts significantly slowed inflation.

In 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean War, the United States began an aid program which resulted in fully stabilized prices by 1952.[180] Economic development was encouraged by American economic aid and programs such as the Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction, which turned the agricultural sector into the basis for later growth. Under the combined stimulus of the land reform and the agricultural development programs, agricultural production increased at an average annual rate of 4 per cent from 1952 to 1959, which was greater than the population growth.

In 1962, Taiwan had a (nominal) per-capita gross national product (GNP) of $170, placing its economy on a par with those of Zaire and Congo.

Today Taiwan has a dynamic, capitalist, export-driven economy with gradually decreasing state involvement in investment and foreign trade. In keeping with this trend, some large government-owned banks and industrial firms are being privatized.

Taiwan has had a real growth in GDP of about 8% per year over the last 25 years, making it a truly economic miracle and an example of what a democratic, capital driven economy can achieve.

Macau[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]

The first recorded Chinese inhabitants of the area were people seeking refuge in Macau from invading Mongols during the Southern Song under the Ming dynasty from 1368 until 1644. Macau was formerly a colony of the Portuguese Empire, after Ming China leased the territory as a trading post in 1557. Originally governing under Chinese authority and sovereignty, Portugal was given perpetual occupation rights for Macau in 1887. Macau remained under Portuguese control until 1999, when it was returned to China.

As a special administrative region, Macau maintains a separate political and economic system apart from mainland China. The People's Republic of China's obligation to run Macau as a special administrative region, per the Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau, expires on 20 December 2049.

Macau is the gambling capital of the world. Its economy is heavily dependent on gambling and tourism, and in 2006 it surpassed Las Vegas as the world's largest gambling center by revenue. It has a very high Human Development Index and the fourth-highest life expectancy in the world. Macau is among the world's richest regions and in 2015, Macau was ranked as the fastest growing metropolitan area in the world by the Brookings Institution.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

1557 - The Portuguese established a permanent settlement in Macau
1576 - Pope Gregory XIII established the Roman Catholic Diocese of Macau
1911 - Chinese Revolution was a revolution that overthrew China's last imperial dynasty and established the Republic of China. 1943 - Japanese troops seized the British steamer Sian and the next month they demanded the installation of Japanese advisors under the threat of overt military occupation. The result was that a virtual Japanese protectorate was created over Macau
1999 - The Chinese government assumed formal sovereignty over Macau as a special administrative region after over 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule

Links[edit | edit source]