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Introducing China (1)
Introducing China (1)
The Chinese Nation
China is one of the largest countries in the world, her territory being
about the size of the whole of Europe. In this vast country there are
large areas of fertile land which provide the people with food and
clothing: mountain ranges across its length and breadth with extensive
forests and rich mineral deposits; many rivers and lakes which provide
the people with water transport and irrigatio; and a long coastline which
facilitates communication with nations beyond the seas.
China has a population of almost a quarter of the world total. Over
nine-tenths of her inhabitants belong to the Han nationality. There are
several score of minority nationlties, including the Mongol, Hui,
Tibetan, Uighur, Miao, Yi, Zhuang, Zhungjia, Korean and many other
nationlities, all with long histories though at different levels of
cultural development. Thus China is a country with a very large
population composed of many nationalities.
Developing along the same lines as many other nations of the world, the
Chinese people (referring mainly to the Hans) went through many thousands
of years of life in primitive communes. Some 4,000 years have gone by
since the collapse of these primitive communes and the transition
to society, which took the form first of slave and then feudal society.
Throughout the history of Chinese civilization it agriculture and
handicrats have been renowned for their high level of development;
there have been many great thinkers, scientists, inventors, statesmen,
soldiers, men of letters and artists, and China has a rich store of
classiscal works. The compass was invented in China very long ago (A).
The art of paper-making was discovered as early as 1800 years ago (B).
Block-printing was invenred 1300 years ago (C), and movable type 800
years ago (D). The use of gunpowder was known to the Chinese before the
Europeans (E). Thus China has one of the oldest civilizations in the
world; she has a recorded history of nearly 4,000 years.
The Chinese nation is known throughout the world for its industriousness
and stamina. The history of the Han people demonstrates that the Chinese
never sunmit to tyrannical rule but invariably use revolutionary means to
overthrow or change it. In the thousands of years of Han history, there
have been hundreds of peasant uprisings, great and small, against the
dark rule of the landlords and the nobilty. And most dynastic changes
came about as a result of such peasant uprisings. During the thousands
of years of recorded history, the Chinese nation has given birth to many
The Chinese Fedual Society
Although China is a great nation and although she is a vast country with
an immense population, a long history and a splendid historical heritage,
her economic, political and cultural development was sluggish for a long
time after the transition from slave to feudal society. This feudal
society, beginning with the Dynasties of Zhou (1134BC to 256BC) and Qin
(221BC to 207BC) lasted about 3,000 years.
The main features of the economic and political system of China's feudal
era were as follows:
(1) A sel-sufficient natural econmy predominated. The peasants produced
for themselves not only agricultural products but most of the handicraft
articles they needed. What the landlords and the nobilty exacted from
them in the form of land rent was also chiefly for private enjoyment and
not for exchange. Although exchange developed as time went on, it did not
play a decisive role in the economy as a whole.
(2) The feudal ruling class composed of landlords, the nobilty and the
emperor owned most of the land, while the peasants had very little or
none at all. The peasants tilled the land of the landlords, the nobilty
and the royal family with their own farm implements and had to turn over
to them for their private enjoyment 40, 50, 60, 70, or even 80 per cent
or more of the crop. In effect the peasants were still serfs.
(3) Not only did the landlords, the nobilty and the royal family live on
rent extorted from the peasants, but the landlord state also exacted
tribute, taxes and corvee services from them to support a horde of
government officials and an army which was used mainly for their repression.
(4) The feudal landlord state was the organ of power protecting this
systemof feudal exploitation. While the feudal state was torn apart into
rival principalities in the period before the Qin Dynasty, it became
autocratic and centralized after the first Chin emperor unified China,
though some feudal separatism remained. The emperorreigned supreme in the
feudal state, appointing officials in charge of the armed forces, the law
courts, the treasury and state granaries in all parts of the country and
relying on the landed gentry as the mainstay of the entire system of
It was under such feudal economic exploitation and political oppression,
that the Chinese peasants lived like slaves, in poverty and suffering,
through the ages. Under the bondage of feudalism they had no freedom of
person. The landlord had the right to beat, abuse or even kill them at
will, and they had no political rights whatsoever. The extreme povery and
backwardness of the peasants resulting from ruthless landlord
exploitation and oppression is the basic reason why Chinese society
remained at the same stage of socio-economic development for several
The principal contradition in the Chinese feudal society was between the
peasantry and the landlord class.
The peasants and the handicraft workers were the basic classes which
created the wealth and culture of this society.
The ruthless economic exploitation and political oppression of the
Chinese peasants forced them into numerous uprisings against landlord
rule. There were hundreds of uprisings, great and small, all of them
peasant revolts -
from the uprisings of Chen Sheng, Wu Guang, Xiang Yu, Liu Bang (F) in the
those of Xin Shi, Ping Lin, Red Eyebrows, the Bronze Horses (G) and the
Yellow Turbans (H) in the Han Dynasty,
those of Li Mi and Dou Jian-de (I) in the Sui Dynasty (581AD to 618AD),
those of Wang Xian-zhi and Huang Chao (J) in the Tang Dynasty
(618AD to 907AD),
those Song Jiang and Fang La (K) in the Sung Dynasty (960AD to 1279AD),
that of Zhu Yuan-chang (L) in the Yuan Dynasty (1206AD to 1368AD),
and that of Li Zi-cheng (M) in the Ming Dynasty (1368AD to 1644AD),
down to the uprising known as the War of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in
the Qing Dynasty (1644AD to 1912AD).
The scale of peasant uprisings and the peasant wars in Chinese history
has no parallel anywhere else. The struggles of the peasants, the peasant
uprisings and peasant wars constituted the real motive force of
historical development in Chinese feudal society. For each of the major
peasant uprisings and wars fealt a blow to the feudal regime of the time,
and hence more or less furthered the growth of the social productive
forces. However, the peasant uprisings and wars did not have correct
leadership that was the main reason that they failed miserably.
(A) With reference to the invention of the compass, the magnetic power of
the loadstone was mentioned as early as the 3rd century BC (Warring
States Period in Zhou Dynasty) by Lu Bu-wei in his Almanac, and at the
beginning of the 1st century AD (Han Dynasty), Wang Chong, the materialist
philosopher, observed in his Lun Heng that the loadstone points to the
south, which indicates that magnetic polarity was known by then. Works of
travel written at the beginning of the 12th century AD (Song Dynasty)
show that the compass was already in general use among Chinese navigators
at that time. (see Ping Zhou Ke Tan by Zhu Huo and The Report Of An Envoy
On Korea To Emperor Hui Zong <reigned 1101AD to 1126AD> by Xu Jing).
(B) It is recorded in ancient documents that Cai (Tsai) Lun, a eunuch of
the Eastern Han Dynasty (25AD to 220AD), invented paper, which he had
made from bark, hemp, rags and worn-out fishing nets. In 105AD (the last
year of the reign of Emperor He Di reigned from 89AD to 105AD) Cai Lun
presented his invention to the emperor, and subsequently this method of
making paper from plant fibre gradually spread in China.
(C) Block-printing was invented about 593AD in the Sui Dynasty.
(D) Movable type was invented by Bi Shengin the Song Dynasty in 1041AD.
(E) According to tradition, gunpowder was invented in China in the 9th
century AD, and by the 11th century AD it was already in use for firing
(F) Chen Sheng, Wu Guang, Xiang Yu and Liu Bang were leaders of the first
great peasant uprising in the Qin Dynasty.
In 209BC Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, who were among the nine hundred
conscripts on their way to take up garrison duty at a frontier post,
organized a revolt in the present day Su county in Anhui
province,against the tyranny of the Qin Dynasty.
Xiang Yu and Liu Bang were the most prominent of those who rose in
response to this armed uprising all over the country. Xiang Yu's army
annihilated the main forces of Qin, and Liu Bang's troop took the Qin's
capital Xian Yang in Shaanxi province. In the ensuing struggle between
Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu and founded the Han
(G) The Xin Shi, the Ping Lin, the Red Eyebrows and the Bronze horses are
the names of peasant uprisings in the latter years of the Western (or
Former) Han Dynasty when peasant unrest was soread. In 8 AD Wang Man
overthrew the reigning dynasty, ascended the throne and introduced a few
reforms to stave off the peasant unrest. But the starving masses in Xin
Shi (present day Jing Shan county in Hubei province) and Ping Lin
(present day Sui county in Hubei province) rose in revolt.
The Bronze Horses and the Red Eyebrows were the peasant forces which
revolted during Wang Man's reign in what are now central Hebie and
central Shandong provinces. The Red Eyebrows, the largest of the peasant
forces, were so named because the soldiers painted their eyebrows red.
(H) The Yellow Turbans, a peasant force which revolted in 184AD, were
named after their headgear.
(I) Li Mi and Dou Jian-de were leaders of great peasant uprisings against
the Sui Dynasty in Henan and Hebei respectively in 611AD.
(J) Wang Xian-zhi organized an uprising in Shandon province in 874AD.
In 875AD Huang Chao organized an uprising to support Wang Xian-zhi.
Huang Chao was the leader of the peasant revolts towards the end of
the Tang Dynasty. In 875AD, starting from his home district Cao Zhou
(present day He Ze county in Shandong province), Huang Chao led armed
peasants in victorious battles against the imperial forces and styled
himself the "Heaven-Storming General". In the course of a decade Huang
Chao swept over most of the provinces in the Huang He (Yellow River)
Chang Jiang (Yangtse River) Huai River, and Zhu Jiang (Pearl River
valleys, reaching as far as Guangxi province. Huang Chao finally broke
through the Tong Guan pass, captured the Tang imperial capital Chang An
(present day Xi An city in Shaanxi province), and was crowned Emperor of
Cheng. Internal dissensions and attacks by the non-Han (mainly Sha Tuo
tribe) tribal allies of the Tang forces compelled Huang Chao to abandon
Chang An and retreat to his native district, where he committed suicide.
The ten years' war fought by Huang Chao is one of the most famous peasant
wars in Chinese history. Dynastic historians record that "all people
suffering from heavy taxes and levies rallied to him". But as Huang Chao
merely carried on roving warfare without ever establishing relatively
consolidated base areas, his forces were called "roving rebel bands".
(K) Song Jiang and Fang La were famous leaders of peasant uprisings in
the 12th century. In 1121AD Song Jiang was active along the borders
between Shandong, Hebei, Henan and Jiangsu (See the novel entitled
Shui Hu Chuan or Water Margin written by Shi Nai-an). In 1120AD Fang La
was active in Zhejiang and Anhui provinces.
(L) In 1351AD, the people in many parts of the country rose in revolt
against the rule of the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty. In 1352AD Zhu Yuan-chang
joined the rebel forces led by Guo Zi-xing and became their commander
upon the death of Guo Zi-xing. In 1368AD Zhu Yuan-chang finally succeeded
in overthrowing the rule of the Mongol Dynasty. which had been tottering
under the attacks of the people's forces, and founded the Ming Dynasty.
(M) Li Zi-cheng, also called Chuang Wang or King Chuang (the Dare-All
King), native of Mi Zhi county in northern Shaanxi province, was the
leader of a peasant revolt which led to the overthrow of the Ming
Dynasty. The revolt first started in northern Shaanxi province in 1628AD.
Li joined the forces led by Gao Ying-xiang and campaigned through Henan
and Anhui provinces to Shaanxi province. After Gao's death in 1636AD Li
succeeded him, becoming King Chuang. Finally Li captured the imperial
capital Beijing (Peking) in 1644AD, wherupon the last Ming emperor,
Emperor Yi Zong, committed suicide.
The chief slogan Li spread among the masses was "Support King Chuang, and
pay no grain taxes". Another slogan of his to enforce discipline among
his men ran: "Any murder means the killing of my father, any rape means
the violation of my mother". Thus he won the support of the masses and
his movement became the main current of the peasant revolts raging all
over the country. As Li, too, roamed about without ever establishing
relatively consolidated base areas, Li was eventually defeated by Wu
San-gui, a Ming general, who colluded with the Qing troops in a joint
attack on Li.
Written by Mao Ze-dong in December 1939.
Names in Pinyin, years added and text abridged by CHUNG Yoon-Ngan.
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