Yunnan China / The Country and its People



Yunnan China

China / Yunnan / History / Early Chinese History

After Kublai Khan's Mongols conquered the Kingdom of Nanchao, the history of Yunnan became part of overall Chinese history.

In order to understand Yunnan's history as part of Chinese history in general, it is necessary to look at Chinese history right from the beginning.

The Chinese claim that their history started with the Xia Dynasty over a period of roughly 500 years, from 2200 to 1700 BC . It was followed by the Shang Dynasty 1700 to 1100 BC. However, there are no written records, and few archaeological finds, verifying largely mythological claims about these two dynasties.

Much more detail is known about the third Chinese Dynasty, named Zhou, lasting until 221 BC. The Zhou Dynasty gave birth to the two most important Chinese philosophies / religions, Confucianism and Taoism. Confucius lived from 551 to 479 BC, and he set the standards for Chinese social life at least until 1911 when the last Chinese emperor was toppled, and some argue, Confucius' teachings are the most important factor in the Chinese social order until today, despite mainland China being a communist state since 1949.

The founder of Taoism was the Chinese monk Laozi. While Confucianism isn't a religion in the way that it would deal with God or gods, and not even with the supernatural, Taoism is much concerned with mystical affairs.

While the Zhou Dynasty had been split into various regional centers, all the Chinese were, for the first time, united under the Qin Dynasty. The Qin Dynasty, however, lasted only for 14 years, the reign of emperor Qin Shihuang. While Qin Shihuang is on the record as a particularly cruel ruler, he is also credited with introducing an administrative system which remained in place for more than 2000 years. Principle features of this administrative system are a strong central rule and a system of provinces, governed by administrators appointed by the center. Even communist China still follows this model.

After Qin Shihuang's death, his son Liu became emperor. However, emperor Liu was not a capable leader, and soon, an army, commanded by the commoner Liu Bang, marched into the imperial capital and toppled the Qin Dynasty.

Liu Bang declared himself the new emperor and thus founded the Han Dynasty. Liu Bang's offspring had more talent hanging onto power, and the Han Dynasty lasted for more than 400 years, from 206 BC to 220 AD. The Han Dynasty was never as strictly organized as the Qin Dynasty, and furthermore, it fell prone to corruption and general tendencies of disintegration. Consequently, after the last Han emperor abdicated in 220 AD, China first divided into three independent kingdoms, the Wei, the Wu, and Shu Han. The Three Kingdoms Period lasted until 589 AD. It wasn't really a period of just three kingdoms but an era of internal turmoil, with many short-lived dynasties and shifting centers of power.

China became united again, and ruled by a single dynasty, when the Western Wei general Sui conquered much of Southern China, but did so, not for the glory of his Western Wei Dynasty but to establish himself as the new emperor of China.

The Sui Dynasty lasted only until 618 AD but had a profound impact on the development of the Chinese society. Among the major achievements of the Sui Dynasty were a legal reform and the construction of the Grand Canal, providing a north-south waterway through China, while all major rivers flow in east-west direction.

No success at all, however, were the Sui Dynasty's three military excursions into the Korean peninsula, undertaken during the reign of Sui's son, Yangdi. When Yangdi's army was defeated for the third time, the emperor was assassinated by one of his advisors. Yangdi's general Li Yuan, based at the border garrison of Taiyuan, took the opportunity to grab the throne for himself, establishing the Tang Dynasty.

The Tang Dynasty lasted from 618 AD until 907 AD and is widely regarded as one of the most glorious times in Chinese history. Early during the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese administrative system was further developed. The provinces, governed by centrally appointed administrators, were further divided into some 300 prefectures and 1500 counties.

The later Tang Dynasty saw an exceptional blossoming of culture, arts, science and religion, as well as a previously unknown internationalization of China, with foreign merchants bringing in not only goods for trade but also new schools of thought.

Politically, however, the Tang Dynasty declined. In the west, Tibetan armies ransacked Tang garrisons, and in Yunnan, the Thai kingdom of Nanchao attempted expansion into Sichuan. With Tang Dynasty's political and military power eroded, the Chinese heartland became more and more ruled by bandit groups. Finally, in 907 AD, outlaws under the leadership of Huang Zhao stormed the Tang Dynasty's capital and thus brought it to an end.

During the following half century, local warlords fought against each other for dominance over territory, as well as extended political power. Though one would believe a country with a rich and long history would have an elaborate system of legitimization of political power, this matter has actually always been quite simple in China.

In medieval Europe, political power had to be legitimized by elaborate rules of descent, often also by an appointment through the religious hierarchy. To justly claim a throne, one had to be a heir to it. Otherwise, history would judge a ruler as usurper.

In China, as in many other Asian countries, legitimization of political power largely rested in holding it. A farmer, even a bandit, could assemble an army, conquer a capital, install himself as king or emperor, and expect his subjects to accept the fait accompli without discussing whether the new king or emperor had a just claim to sit on the throne.

In traditional Chinese thinking, if a new ruler succeeds to stay in power, this alone already proves that he has a so-called Mandate of Heaven to be the new emperor. If a ruler, or a dynasty, for that matter, is toppled, this proves that a ruler did not have a Mandate of Heaven, or that a dynasty's Mandate of Heaven has run out.

While the Chinese system sounds practical, one of the consequences has always been, that a large pool of individuals have always wanted to give it a try. As generals never had to worry whether the Chinese populace would accept them as legitimate rulers once they were in power, Chinese history is full of examples of generals toppling kings and emperors. Leaders of popular rebellions, too, were often not contented with fighting against social injustice but were, if their rebellions were successful, also tempted to aim for permanent political power, and to establish their own dynasties. Even foreign invaders could take over the Chinese court and establish themselves as emperors. Two of the major Chinese dynasties were not ethnically Chinese, the Mongol Yuan Dynasty and the Manchu Qing Dynasty.

After the demise of the Tang Dynasty in 907 AD, regional rulers, disloyal generals, high palace officials, and even leaders of bandit groups were engaged in more or less constant wars against each other.

In 959, Zhao Kuangyin, the leader of the palace guards of a regional dynasty, grabed power from a 7-year-old head of state. In the following years, Zhao Kuangyin conquered regional kingdom after regional kingdom, and finally succeeded in uniting practically all of China under his rule. The resulting Song Dynasty is usually dated from the time, Zhao Kuangyin usurped power from his child king, 959 AD. It lasted until 1279, when Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty.

The Song Dynasty brought to China what has been referred to as a "commercial revolution". One of the reasons has been the introduction of paper money, greatly facilitating trade. Cities grew enormously, to a larger size than what existed anywhere in Europe at the same time. The "commercial revolution" also extended to the countryside where new agricultural techniques were introduced.

Unlike most of the former Chinese dynasties, the Song Dynasty didn't die because it would have been sick inside but rather was killed by external forces over which it had no influence. The external forces were Mongol hordes, a scourge in most of Asia and Eastern Europe. The Mongols had been united in 1206 by Genghis Khan, and since then had been terrorizing neighboring nations. Genghis Khan had taken Beijing (then NOT the capital of China) in 1215 but his attention has then been diverted to other parts of his vast empire, a fact that gave the Song Dynasty a stay of execution for a few decades. It was Genghis Khan's grandson, Kublai Khan, who finally conquered all of China by 1279, including the Yunnan Thai kingdom of Nanchao. Though Kublai Khan's conquest of China was only accomplished in 1279, the Yuan Dynasty founded by Kublai Khan is commonly dated 1271 to 1368.

Under Kublai Khan the Chinese empire extended as far west as Moscow and Baghdad, too large an area to rule for an extended period of time without modern means of communication.

The Mongols restructured the administration of China by militarizing it. While before the Mongol onslaught, extremely well educated Mandarins had been the pillars of the Chinese administration, they were, under the Mongols, replaced by people who had risen through military ranks.

While the Mongol ruling class soon adopted all major elements of Chinese culture and became virtually indistinguishable from their Chinese subjects, a difference was made politically: all ethnic Mongols were exempted from paying taxes while the Chinese were taxed all the more heavily. This injustice, rather than the fact that the ruling dynasty was ethnically foreign, was probably the main reason why the Yuan Dynasty lasted for less than 100 years. The double tax system could be felt in every part of the country. Who actually was emperor, was of little interest to the average commoner. Actually, there are a number of Chinese proverbs implying that "the emperor is far away".

While it is a Chinese, originally Taoist, concept that a lasting dynasty can only be established if it has a "Mandate of Heaven", it was, and is, equally believed that when a particular dynasty's mandate has run out, it will succumb to a rebellion or a palace revolt. In Chinese traditional thinking, heaven withdraws a dynasty's mandate but the actual removal of an emperor is left to humans. The effect of this Taoist political philosophy is simple and practical: everybody may try his luck with a rebellion if he so wishes. If the rebellion fails, well, then those who made an attempt obviously did not have a "Mandate of Heaven" and were usually executed. If, however, a rebellion succeeded, this was taken as proof that a Mandate of Heaven actually existed. The point solely lay in succeeding. Everybody could become emperor so long as he could muster sufficient muscle.

Indeed, Chinese history is riddled with rebellions, most of which, of course, did not succeed in establishing a new dynasty on an all-Chinese, imperial level. Nevertheless, rebel groups have often ruled a limited area for up to a few decades, usually for as long as a charismatic leader was at the helm.

Often, successful leaders were ruthless to the extreme, purging potential competition within their own ranks without shedding tears, and disposing of enemies they got hold of in the most efficient way, by having them killed.

Practically all founders of new Chinese dynasties, whether they were peasants or bandits, disloyal generals or administrators, displayed a higher level of cruelty, and a higher level of disregard for their subjects' lives, than their heirs. And often, the final emperors of dynasties have been quite lenient, and rather been interested in the arts, or their concubines, than in oppressing their subjects.

These mechanisms of Chinese history have been evident until the most recent times. Mao Zedong has probably been influenced as much by reading, and taking to heart, Chinese history, as he has been by reading Marx, Engels and Lenin. He likened himself to a founder of a new Chinese dynasty, as indeed, he was. Mao Zedong may have believed that the ruthlessness he displayed during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and his repeated purges of the Communist Party, were necessary not so much for ideological reasons but rather to stabilize the new dynasty, rule by himself, and later, the Communist Party. The economic failure of the Great Leap Forward, therefore, seemingly didn't matter much to him.

Parallels between the Communist revolution and Mao Zedong's ascend to power on the one side, and the founding of previous Chinese dynasties on the other side, are more numerous than one may first want to believe.

The whole concept of a rebellion by the lowest classes of society is more ingrained in Chinese social thinking than it is in European thinking. There are few incidents in European history in which a peasant rebellion, or even an outlaw rebellion, was the foundation of a lasting new dynasty. In such cases, in Europe, there had always been a lack of legitimacy, and after an historically short interlude, the old powers were restored.

In Chinese history, they never come back. Dynasties that have been disposed of were so for good. Leaders of lower-class rebellions could establish themselves as new emperors, and for as long as a dynasty remained in power, there newer was a legitimacy problem.

And there is another parallel between the Communist Revolution of the 20th century and peasant rebellions of earlier periods of time. They often followed a rather utopian ideology.

It was such a peasant rebellion in the middle of the 14th century that defeated the Yuan Dynasty. Leader of the rebellion was Zhu Yuanzhang, who had been an orphan adopted into a Buddhist temple before becoming a leader of a number of rebel groups which he united. He terminated the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 and made himself the new emperor, thus founding the Ming Dynasty.

When declaring himself emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang changed his name to Hongwu. Twice during his reign, he conducted extensive purges, especially among the educated. More than 10,000 men of high learning and their family members were executed.

In the early years of the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese system of double capitals was established, with Beijing in the north and Nanjing in the south. Actually, Beijing, literally translated, means nothing else but "Northern Capital", and Nanjing "Southern Capital", Jing being the Mandarin word for "capital", Bei for "north", and Nan for "south".


China / Yunnan / History / Dynasties

During the Ming Dynasty, especially in its later years, more and more political power was amassed in the hands of eunuchs.

In a large number of Chinese families of that time, one of the sons would be castrated at early age, so he would later qualify to serve at the imperial court. Being unable to seek pleasures as would other males, many of the eunuchs just concentrated on becoming rich and powerful. In the early 17th century, one of the eunuch, Wei Zhongxian, effectively ruled China all by himself while the emperor was kept busy entertaining himself in his harem. Another eunuch, Zheng He, became admiral of a huge Chinese fleet, sailing the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean up to the African east coast.

The early 17th century saw, for the first time, Japan attempting to intrude seriously into Chinese spheres of political influence, trying to conquer the Korean peninsula. Though the Japanese were repulsed, the Chinese war effort brought the imperial court in Beijing to the brink of bankruptcy. When the Ming Dynasty pressed its subjects for more taxes, peasant rebellions erupted in various parts of the country, further weakening the imperial court.

The internal conflicts in China were an opportunity, the Manchus north of China had been waiting for. The Manchus, like the Mongols further to the north-west, were one of the principal peoples, supposed to be kept out of China by the Great Wall. Most of the time, the Great Wall served its purpose, even at the beginning of the 17th century.

But then, a Chinese general in charge of guarding a section of the Wall, decided to just let the Manchu armies pass. It wasn't really that he wanted his emperor harmed. But Chinese peasant armies were threatening Beijing, and the Chinese general at the Great Wall calculated that if he were to let loose the Manchu hordes, they would engage the Chinese peasant rebel armies in battle, and somehow, the two enemies would decimate each other.

Alas, while the Manchu hordes decimated the Chinese peasant rebel army alright, they did not suffer much loss themselves. They were still strong enough to turn against Beijing which they took in 1644, establishing the Qing Dynasty.

Though they took Beijing in 1644, the Manchus needed another 40 years to conquer all of China. They met with much resistance especially in the south of China. There, a large number of secret societies were formed, initially for the sole purpose of opposing Manchu rule. While the Manchus have long since been disposed of, remnants of these secret societies exist to the very day. However, their focus has shifted from political terrorism to enriching themselves through criminal means. They are commonly known as "triads".

The Qing Dynasty lasted until 1911, for 258 years all in all. Initially, the Qing Dynasty was able to expand the reaches of the Chinese empire to include Mongolia as well as Tibet. An administrative reform as well as widespread irrigation measures also brought about new prosperity. However, more than any previous dynasty, the Qing was marked by a long, long decline, spanning more than half of the Qing period. Instrumental to the decline of the Qing Dynasty was the involvement of the Western imperial powers. As they preferred a weak Qing Dynasty over whatever might have replaced it, they shored it up on several occasions when Chinese rebels were about to get rid of it.

While there has been trade between China and Europe since the times of the Roman Empire, it had initially only been conducted through caravans crossing central Asia, and the caravans were those of Arab and Turk traders, not of Europeans. Marco Polo was the first high-profile European visitor to China, not exactly a political or military force.

This changed in the 16th century when the first Portuguese vessels showed up at Chinese ports. Though these vessels didn't come for military conquest, they were equipped with intimidating military hardware, cannons, which were actually based on a Chinese invention, gunpowder. The vessels arrived for trade, and their military equipment made sure that the Chinese governments of that time, though unhappy about the whole matter, allowed them to conduct business. In 1557, the Portuguese were given permission to set up shop in Macao.

After the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, and later almost every other western power arrived on China's coast, wanting to trade. Initially, the western merchants paid for Chinese products mostly in silver. While selling Chinese products, such as tea, silk, and porcelain in Europe was making huge profits, delivering silver and, to a lesser extend, gold to the Chinese was not. However, the Chinese didn't really want any European merchandise the Western traders offered.

Looking for high-profit merchandise for which to create a secure market in China, the British finally chose opium. There was ample supply from India, and once there were enough addicts, there was a steadfast demand.

The British began selling opium in China in 1773. The consequences for the Chinese economy were severe: addicts by the millions, willing to pay any price they could afford for British-imported opium.

The opium trade was banned in 1800, but only in 1839, serious attempt were made to enforce the ban. In Canton, then China's main port, most of the British opium was confiscated. This was reason enough for the British government to declare war on China. In 1840, during the first aptly named Opium War, British gunboat set off towards Beijing. The Chinese gave in, the opium trade resumed, and on top of that, the Chinese had to concede Hongkong to the British. There was a second opium war a few years later when the Chinese emperor again tried to get rid of British opium, but the result was pretty much the same.

Only when the British succeeded in smuggling out of China the seeds for growing tea, and only after tea plantations were formed in India and on Ceylon, did the British loose interest in selling Indian opium to China. For tea was the most priced Chinese export item. Once enough tea was grown in India and on Ceylon, there was no longer any point in growing opium in India and bartering it for Chinese tea.

The Chinese defeat in the Opium Wars not only weakened the country in its international relations but also undermined the grasp of the imperial court in Beijing over its subjects. The sentiment was wide-spread that the Qing Dynasty had lost its Mandate of Heaven. As elaborated before, in such a situation, Chinese philosophy and religion consider it just and appropriate to finish off a dynasty by means of a rebellion.

Indeed, there were two major rebellions, and numerous lesser ones, soon after the Opium War debacles. The first one was the Taiping rebellion, originating from Canton. There, a man named Hong Xiuquan proclaimed himself the younger brother of Jesus Christ, and, oddly enough, there were millions who believed him. Hong Xiuquan brand of Christianity was rather militant and included kind of a cultural revolution, in many ways similar to the communist Cultural Revolution, initiated by Mao Zedong at the end of the sixties of the 20th century.

The Taiping cultural revolution, too, involved the burning of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian temples, the smashing of altars and idols of other creeds, and a campaign of very active civil disobedience.

In 1851, when the imperial court in Beijing tried some countermeasures, Hong Xiuquan simply declared war. The Taiping formed a regular army of more than one million men and women and marched north from Canton, taking city after city. By 1853, the Taiping had conquered the traditional Chinese southern capital of Nanjing, practically ruling over all of southern China.

Far-reaching social reforms were implemented. Opium, alcohol, and even tobacco were declared illegal drugs, and slavery, prostitution, and the trade in wives were outlawed. Overall, a new society was born, featuring all the typical characteristics of new social systems, including strength from the common belief to be immune to the corruption and the decadence of the old ways.

The Qing imperial court in Beijing clearly no longer had the Mandate of Heaven. But it had the mandate of the Western powers.

The Western powers didn't want a new society in China, or, more particularly, they didn't like the internal strength which could be expected from such a new society. They found it more convenient to deal with the corrupt and hallow Qing court.

Therefore, the Western powers organized the Qing armies for a military campaign against the Taiping, in spite of the fact that the Taiping could have turned all of China into a Christian nation. Several Western powers sent not only military advisers and arms but even regular troops. By 1864, the Taiping rebellion had been thoroughly defeated. Hong Xiuquan committed suicide.

The second serious rebellion which the Qing Dynasty survived during its long decline was less massive but nevertheless is better known among Westerners with overall limited knowledge of Chinese history, probably because of its catching name: the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers were a secret society, one of many existing at that time in China. They practiced a fist-fight martial art, and their society's full name was "Boxers United in Righteousness". They weren't organized very well, and they lacked a mature political concept but they were fanatically anti-foreign and anti-Christian, and they believed that they couldn't be harmed by bullets shot at them by Westerners.

For centuries, the Chinese have never been particularly happy about Europeans coming to their shores. But to understand the hatred against anything Western that prevailed among the Chinese towards the end of the 19th century, one has to take a look at what happened in China after the defeat of the Taiping Rebellion.

The Western powers just dictated the Chinese court treaty after treaty to suit their desire of the day. When the Chinese rebelled against any of the treaties, they were easily defeated by Western military power, and they will then presented with huge indemnity bills, and yet another set of so-called unequal treaties. By that mechanism, the Western powers dictated which Chinese ports were to be opened for international trade, and they instigated a system of extraterritorial jurisdiction were by foreigners could only be tried by their own courts, no matter what their crime had been on Chinese soil.

China also lost its suzerainty over neighboring territories. The French made Indo-China their colony, and the Japanese forced China out of Korea and occupied Taiwan.

From just before the end of the Taiping Rebellion, 1861, to be exact, until 1908, China was effectively ruled by the favored concubine of a deceased Qing emperor, the Empress Dowager Wu Cixi. She wasn't among China's most talented administrators, though she knew how to stay in power, for period of 47 years.

The Empress Dowager died in 1908, leaving the throne to her two-year-old successor Puyi. With no recognizable government, rebellions again broke out in several parts of the country. The most successful one was let in Wuhan by the physician and revolutionary Sun Yatsen.


China / Yunnan / History / Republic of China

Sun Yatsen and revolutionary representatives from 17 provinces met on October 10, 1911, in Nanjing and set up the Provisional Republican Government.

Though the republican government had much popular support, it lacked the military means to oust the Qing Dynasty in Beijing. Rather, it was threatened to be ousted itself by an army dispatched from Beijing.

Sun Yatsen and his associates, however, succeeded in convincing the commander of the imperial forces, Yuan Shikai, to switch sides. Ultimately, however, it was not Yuan Shikai who was won by Sun Yatsen to the republican cause but the republican movement that was made subject to the personal ambitions of Yuan Shikai. Yuan Shikai first ousted Sun Yatsen as leader of the republican government, then installed himself as president, then changed the republican constitution to make himself president for life.

In 1915, when this met with opposition from those who had taken part in the republican revolution, Yuan Shikai felt that the republican ideology had outlived its usefulness for his personal ambitions. He abandoned the republican cause on short notice and declared the restoration of imperial China, with himself, who else, as emperor.


China / Yunnan / History / Kuomintang

Yunnan seldom played a vanguard role in Chinese history.

However, after Yuan Shikai had declared himself the new emperor of China, Yunnan was the first Chinese province to reply in open revolt. Other provinces followed, and Yuan Shikai's armies moved south to subdue the rebellious provinces. Alas, while the campaign proceeded, Yuan Shikai suddenly died. Subsequently, Sun Yatsen was re-installed as head of the republican movement, now organized in the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang.

Though the Kuomintang at that time was the only nation-wide political, and military, force, power in many a province and city was actually held by a local warlord. During the 1920's, establishing itself as single authority all over China became the principle concern of the Kuomintang; it was, therefore, no surprise that the military factions within the Kuomintang were calling the shots. Correspondingly, upon the death of Sun Yatsen by cancer in 1925, it was one of the Kuomintang's military leaders, General Chiang Kaishek, who took the reigns.

However, in the 1920's a b was emerging in China. Aided by the newly established communist government in Moscow, the Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai in 1921. In order to keep the course of history in accordance with communist dogma, which demands a nationalist revolution before a socialist revolution, Russian Comintern advisors insisted that the CCP first work in the frame of the Kuomintang government.

However, recognizing the communist threat and regarding it as more serious than any other internal conflict, Chiang Kaishek soon engaged in a policy of massacring communist forces whenever there was an opportunity. Still, the CCP was under pressure from the Comintern to try a variety of forms of cooperation with nationalist forces, and furthermore, to go by the book in centering their revolutionary efforts in the cities.

Both policies were disastrous to the CCP. Mao Zedong was the communist leader who saw most clearly the ill effects, Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy had on the cause of a social revolution in China, and, out of practical need, he offered alternatives, thereby setting the foundations of Maoism.

Maoism departed from communist orthodoxy in declaring peasants and the countryside, not industrial workers and the cities, as the appropriate base for a social revolution in China. Apart from this new political ideology, practical needs also gave birth to a Maoist school of thought with regard to military tactics. As the communist forces were outnumbered by far, and out-equipped as well, by Chiang Kaichek's Kuomintang, and as the communists were confronted with Chiang Kaichek's policy of extermination, the communist forces, under the guidance of Mao, adopted a guerrilla strategy, based on constantly harassing Kuomintang forces rather than attempting victory in pitched battle. When confronted with a vastly superior Kuomintang force, the communist retreated from their central Chinese bases and, in October 1933, took to their 8000-kilometer Long March to the Northwest of the country.

From the middle of the 1930's to the middle of the 1940's, the internal conflict between the Kuomintang and the communists was temporarily put on hold because of the Japanese expansion into Chinese territory. The Chinese communists didn't want to engage into civil war because they didn't want to weaken any force they thought could oppose the Japanese annexation of China. Similarly, the World War II allied forces, especially the Soviet Union and the US didn't want Chiang Kaishek to waste Chinese military power in internal conflict but rather have all forces directed against the Japanese.

Chiang Kaishek, however, was in the correct belief that the Americans could handle the Japanese alone, and while not pursuing the communists as eagerly as in the beginning of the 30's, he still considered them his primary enemies. Therefore, rather than using Allied military assistance to put up a fight against the Japanese, he stashed away arms and financial means, and preserved his forces, for the time after the Americans would have defeated the Japanese.

Accordingly, soon after the defeat of Japan and the end of World War II, China was engulfed in a full-fledged civil war. It was won in 1949 by the communists, with Chiang Kaishek and the remnants of the Kuomintang fleeing to Taiwan where they were protected from annihilation by an US naval blockade.


China / Yunnan / History / Communist China

The founding of the People's Republic of China was announced in Beijing by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949.

While the first years saw an impressive economic restoration, much of the progress was lost when by the end of the 1950's the policies of the so-called Great Leap Forward were enacted. The Great Leap Forward was attempted on two fronts: in agriculture and in industry.

In the area of agriculture, the Great Leap Forward concentrated on massive irrigation projects and the formation of huge so-called People's Communes, with the total collectivization of agricultural production. Collectivization went so far that there wasn't even any cooking done anymore at private households. Alas, contrary to the howling communist prognoses, the new system was utterly unproductive. There were no incentives for ordinary farmers to show any special eagerness to increase production, or even just to keep it at former levels.

At the same time, while large-scale projects were favored in agriculture, industry, and especially heavy industry, was decentralized. While before, the state had favored large industrial complexes, the directive of the day during the years of the Great Leap Forward was decentralization, epitomized in the proliferation of backyard steel furnaces where useful instruments, such as household utensils, were melted into useless metal pebbles.

As if the effects of the Great Leap Forward weren't disastrous enough, China in 1959 and 1960 experienced a series of serious floods and droughts, leading to severe famine with millions of Chinese starving. Many of the policies of the Great Leap Forward were thereafter abandoned, fist of all the decentralization of the steel industry. The system of the People's Communes lingered on, and it was revived during the Cultural Revolution a few years later, principally because it had the personal backing of Mao Zedong.

The Cultural Revolution was launched by Mao Zedong in 1966, initially probably because he wanted to get rid of rivals in the hierarchy of the Communist Party, such as Liu Shaoqui. Mao used his support within the general population to confront party officials whom he either considered insufficiently loyal to him, or whom he considered lacking in revolutionary fervor. The pretext for the Cultural Revolution at first were alleged counterrevolutionary tendencies among intellectuals but soon the scope of the attacks widened to include any bureaucracy and authority, with the exception, of course, of Mao Zedong.

Many of the initial events of the Cultural Revolution were directed by Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing. However, after the first Red Guard groups had been formed by Beijing university students, the situation soon got out of hand. Red Guard bands were moving against authorities on any level, and destroying, throughout the country, religious and historic sites in great numbers. For the four years of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1970, practically all universities and schools in the country were closed.

The first year of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1967, was the most chaotic as the Red Guard were virtually free to attack whomever they wanted. Initial targets were low and mid-level officials and party cadres, but soon even the highest officials, except Mao and very few people in his immediate surrounding, became fair targets. However, once Mao's competitors in the highest party echelon were purged, even Mao wished for an more orderly course of the Cultural Revolution. Therefore, in 1967, the Chinese People's Liberation Army was declared the vanguard of the Cultural Revolution. Defense minister Lin Biao rose to become the second most powerful man in China, after Mao Zedong, and was officially designated Mao's chosen successor.

Nevertheless, by 1971, Mao viewed with discomfort the deep penetration of all aspects of public life by officers of the PLA. When it became apparent that Mao was to demand self-criticism from senior PLA leaders, defense minister Lin Biao, according to official reading, plotted an attempt on Mao's life. The circumstances of what exactly happened on September 13, 1971 have never been fully clarified. The standard explanation is that Lin Biao and his family attempted to flee on board of a Trident jet to Russia, but the jet allegedly didn't carry enough fuel and crashed in Mongolia.

Mao Zedong died on September 9, 1976. His initial successor was Hua Guofeng who had been prime minister after the death of Zou Enlai in January 1976. Hua Guofeng had been a compromise candidate, acceptable to both the radical and pragmatist faction of the CCP, principally because he lacked his own power base.


China / Yunnan / History / China Today

In the power struggle that started immediately after the death of Mao Zedong, the pragmatists were victorious.

Within a month of Mao's death, the four chief radicals, including Mao's wife Jiang Qing, were arrested and later tried as "Gang of Four".

By mid-1977, it became clear that Deng Xiaoping was now the most powerful figure in China, though he never assumed the positions of party chairman or prime minister, preferring to let protégées hold the official position, and to work himself much from behind the scenes.

From 1977, China embarked on a steady course of economic liberalization which for several years made the country the world's fastest growing economy.

Ideology which has been the paramount concern for as long as Mao has been leader of the People's Republic of China now took a back seat to concerns over what worked best, economically. In Deng Xiaoping's most famous judgment, it doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.

However, unlike what happened in the former Soviet block, the Chinese political leadership has so far been unwilling to accept a process of political liberalization, or to share power in a multiparty system. Correspondingly, demonstrations for political liberalization in 1989 were subdued with military power on June 4 of that year. However, while there had been fears that China would slide back into ideological chaos, this has not happened, and China's rapid economic development and its rate of constant economic growth is the envy of many a developing, and many a developed, nation.