The historical setting If the Opium War, provoked at the start of the XIXthcentury by Great Britain, marked a turning point in the history of China and the Qing dynasty, it is the bourgeois democratic Revolution of 1911 that put an end to the monarchical regime which lasted more than two thousand years. Its leader, Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), overturned the Qing dynasty and proclaimed the Republic of China after the abdication of the last emperor Pu Yi in 1912. His revolutionary organisation became in 1919 the Kuomintang, of which Chiang Kai-Shek, on the death of Sun Yat-sen in 1925, took the direction and made an alliance with the communists who founded the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai in 1921.
Already in June 1900, the members of the secret Chinese society of “Closed fist”, also named “Boxers”, rose up against the foreign presence. They invaded the Catholic missions, besieged the foreign legations and killed priests as well as the German minister von Ketteler. The colonial powers, present in China since the Opium War of 1840, also reacted, forcing the dowager empress Cixi to flee from Peking.
In 1937, the Japanese declared a war of general aggression against the Chinese. Under the direction of the Communist Party, the Chinese army played a decisive role in the victory over Japan. The War of Liberation led by the Communist Party against the Kuomintang overturned them in 1949, forcing Chiang Kai-Shek into exile in Taiwan where he founded the Nationalist Republic of China.
In September 1949, the consultative political Conference of the Chinese People was held in Beijing. On the 1st October 1949, the foundation of the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, with Mao Zedong becoming the President and Zhou Enlai the Prime Minister. The communist government tried to create a new society, undertaking between 1949 and 1952 reform and propaganda campaigns: agrarian reform, political purification, alliance with the USSR, policy of non-alignment. The Maoist socialism touched all the domains of the life of millions of Chinese.
The occupation of Tibet in 1950, the combat between nationalists and communists on the island of Quemoy (Jinmen) until 1958, the Tibetan revolt of 1959 pushed China to institute a Chinese military dictatorship. From 1958, Mao Zedong launched the “Great Leap Forward”, an economic, social and political programme which recommended collectivisation in all the domains of daily life. The withdrawal of Russian economic aid in 1960 weakened Mao Zedong and brought to power Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping who tried to redress the country.
In order to recover power, Mao Zedong launched in 1966 the Great Cultural Revolution to revive the revolutionary spirit. The Little Red Book published in 1966 summarised the thoughts of the “Great Helmsman” who led the Chinese youth in mass manifestations organised by the Red Guards. The Cultural Revolution attacked intellectuals, artists, university students, the framework of the Party being to attain the world of work. Numerous leaders were deposed and excluded from the Party.
On the death of Zhou Enlai and of Mao Zedong who died in 1976, Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping (the ‘Little Helmsman’) led the country in a more pragmatic manner and brought to birth the hope of better times. The new Constitution, adopted in 1982, announced an opening with the law on the autonomy of ethnic regions. The arrival of Zhao Ziyang in January 1987 as secretary general of the Party, came together with a general protestation demanding more democracy: The days of Tian’anmen in Beijing killed thousands of civilians.
The opening of China to market economy in 1992 and the withdrawal by the United Kingdom from the British colony of Hong Kong in 1997 prepared China to enter the new millennium as a great power.