Brief history of the Chinese empire: origins and development of the world's second superpower

Chinese civilization has very ancient origins (the first settlements witnessed in the Yellow River date back to 3000 BC), but the territory has not always been administered by a single state. After first political unification of 221 BC, which formed the first Chinese empire, alternated periods of fragmentation and periods of unity until the Mongol invasion, which took place in the 13th century. The Mongols were followed by two dynasties, i Ming (1368-1644) ei Qing (1644-1912), who controlled almost all of the current territory and constituted a strong and centralized state. However, internal tensions were not lacking, to which, starting from the modern age, the interference by European states. In the nineteenth century the interferences became more invasive and contributed to theweakening of the empirewhich in 1912 was overthrown by a revolution and replaced by republic. The Chinese empire then lasted about 2000 years!

Origins of Chinese civilization

Chinese civilization was born from small villages and isolated settlements that arose near the Yellow River and in the Yangtze River around 3000 BC. The ethnic group of the Hanwhich, albeit with some internal divisions, today represents the predominant ethnic group in China (those we simply call “Chinese”) and the most widespread in the world.

China, however, was not a unified state in ancient times. From the second millennium BC. C. established themselves state systems in some parts of the territory: the semi-mythical dynasty Xia; the dynasty Shang, in power from approximately 1600 to 1046 BC. C.; the dynasty Zhou from 1045 to 256 BC. C, during which the main philosophical-religious systems developed, the Confucianism and the Taoism, still existing today. Other portions of the territory, however, were inhabited by poorly structured companies. The prevailing activities everywhere were agriculture, hunting and fishing.

Chinese states around 260 BC (credit Philg88)

The first unification: the Qin

After the collapse of the Zhou dynasty, the territory was divided into many state entities, which were constantly at war with each other. One of the main kingdoms was that of the Qin dynasty, which carried out important internal reforms, creating a state-of-the-art legal system is one Centralized state.

The State of Qin conducted various military campaigns against the other kingdoms and in 221 BC. C. the sovereign Ying Zheng he completed the unification of the territory, becoming the first emperor from China. His reign lasted only until 210, but was of great importance. First of all, it was codedthe writing system, which became a powerful tool for the cultural unification of a people spread over a vast territory. Furthermore, work began on the construction of the great wall (continued in the following centuries) and theTerracotta Army, the famous group of statues located in the emperor's mausoleum in Xian, the capital of the empire. Finally, many scholars date the Qin dynasty (read “cin”). very name of China.

The Terracotta Army.

The dynasties of the first millennium AD

The Qin were overthrown by another dynasty, the Han, already in 206 BC. C. The Chinese territory was divided again into various states, but the fragmentation alternated with periods of reunification, in particular those of the dynasties Tang (618-907 AD) e Song (960-1127). L'linguistic-cultural unity of the population– without prejudice to the inevitable differences on the territory – did not cease and the Chinese kingdoms cultivated “international” commercial relations along what would be called the Silk Road. Furthermore, in China, discoveries and inventions of capital importance for the entire human race were made: paper, the compass, gunpowder and others.

The Mongols

The Great Wall failed to protect China from the invasion of the Mongols, a people from east-central Asia who, under the leadership of Genghis Khan, had created a vast empire. The conquest of China was completed by one of Genghis' successors, Qublai Khan, who proclaimed himself emperor in 1271, founding the Yuan dynasty. Kublai ordered the construction of a new city, Khanbaliqwhich would later become Beijing.

For the Han Chinese, the Mongol conquest represented the beginning of a foreign domination and caused a drastic decline in the population, but also began a period of technological advances, thanks to the development of the inventions of previous centuries and the technical contribution of the other peoples dominated by the Mongols. Furthermore, they developed profitably cultural and commercial exchanges with the Western world and the most famous European traveler, Marco Polo, arrived in China.

The Mongolian-era Beiyue Temple
The Mongolian-era Beiyue Temple.

The Ming dynasty

The Mongols were overthrown in 1368 by a revolt led by a Chinese dynasty, the Ming. The new rulers established their capital for a short time in Nanjingbut at the beginning of the 15th century they moved it to Beijingnew name of Khanbaliq, in which they built the complex of Forbidden City, the imperial palace which is still an essential destination for anyone visiting the city. The Ming faced new external threats and, for this reason, enlarged and consolidated the great wall. Trade along the Silk Road was reduced, but in the 16th century it reached Chinese territory the first European navigators. The Ming did not close the doors to them and in 1557 allowed the Portuguese to establish a commercial base in Macau.

One of the buildings of the Forbidden City.

The Qing dynasty

During the 16th century the Ming empire began to weaken due to internal rivalries. The empire, moreover, had to face the threat coming from Manchuriaa region located north of China and inhabited by a people, i Manchu, of a different ethnic group from the Han one (although there was no shortage of traits in common). In 1644, after many years of war, the Manchu Qing dynasty defeated the Ming and conquered all of China. The Qing represented another foreign domination, to the point that they forced the Chinese to wear pigtails, according to Manchu custom, but they managed to consolidate their power and even extend the empire's territory to Tibet and Taiwan. The dynasty, however, had to face numerous rebellions among the populationincluding that called dei Taiping of the years 1850-1864, which resulted in a bloody civil war. Furthermore, from the nineteenth century, the Qing found themselves faced with the most dangerous challenge: the aims of Western countries.

Western interference and the end of the Chinese empire

In the modern age, European states had undergone a powerful technological development, which had allowed them to dominate many populations on other continents. In the nineteenth century, Western interest in the economic-commercial control of China increased.

Naval battle between the English and the Chinese
Naval battle between the English and the Chinese.

The United Kingdom fought and won two wars against the Qing to impose the opium trade. At the end of the century, following the so-called Boxer revolt against foreign interference, a coalition of Western countries, including Italy, invaded China and secured possession of military bases (theconcessions“) on the territory. The Qing empire, weakened by internal problems and external interference, was overthrown in 1912 by a revolution and was replaced by the Republic of China, which was followed in 1949 by the still existing socialist state, the People's Republic of China.

Chinese cultural revolution Mao Zedong