As one of the world's oldest civilisations, China has an intriguing history that spans thousands of years. The Yellow River is known as the Cradle of Chinese Civilisation as it is thought that what we now know as ‘China’ originated on the banks of this river.
China's early history is dominated by periods of dynastic rule, fragmentation and imperialist expansion, with each dynasty contributing something different to the history books. Construction of the Great Wall of China was thought to have started during the Qin Dynasty, with the Ming Dynasty enhancing the wall at a later stage. The Tang Dynasty is known as a time of prosperity and artistic expression, the Song Dynasty is famed for being a time of scientific and technological discovery, and Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty saw an overall population decline that has been attributed to everything from an administration error to the arrival of the Bubonic Plague.
Once the Yuan Dynasty was overthrown by the Ming Dynasty in 1368, population numbers began to increase again and urbanisation grew quite rapidly. Private enterprise flourished, with small-scale paper, silk and cotton trading providing trade income to the masses. The following period of rule known as the Qing Dynasty stretched from 1644 to 1911. This is generally seen as a time of rebellion and upheaval with the Taiping Rebellion, Nien Rebellion, Panthay Rebellion and Boxer Rebellion all testing the Qing's ability to rule. Thankfully, remnants of most of these periods of history can be found in China today.
The Republic of China was formed in Nanjing in 1912 after a military uprising. Leadership changed hands many times throughout the following years until the People's Liberation Army succeeded in ousting the US-backed Chiang Kai-Shek after a long and bloody battle.
Mao Zedong became Chairman, or leader, of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and China's society was systematically converted to communism. Land reforms and the collectivisation of agriculture significantly altered the structure of society and daily life. Dramatic population, cultural and economic changes led to events that Western societies remember as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Mao's death in 1976 triggered leadership changes and economic reforms, the impact of which has rippled into the future.
More recently, China has seen Hong Kong and Macau returned from foreign rule and enjoyed a period of increased economic growth. The country basked in the international spotlight as the host city of the 2008 Summer Olympics and with a strengthening economy, wide-scale global influence and dominant rule by the Communist Party of China, China is now one of the world’s global superpowers.
For travellers, China’s rich and engaging history, especially through dynastic rule and its cultural philosophies, has created a country so fascinating, so layered and so rewarding to explore. Opening the first chapter of China’s history book begins the moment you arrive.