In the political vacuum left by the fall of the Manchu (Qing) dynasty, warlords battle each other for control. Many are supported by foreign powers that maintain "concessions" in China's main port cities.
Sun Yat-sen is one of the few political figures to address China's problems. In 1912 he helps establish the Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party, a coalition of small political groups. Educated in Hawaii, Sun looks to the West for financial support. The Dalai Lama returns to Tibet in 1913 and declares Tibet's independence from China.
The Nationalists and the newly formed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) work together at the Whampoa Military Academy on a plan to unify China. Chiang Kai-shek is appointed commander, Zhou Enlai director of political education. Sun Yat-sen holds this fragile alliance together. He dies of cancer in March 1925.
The Shanghai Massacre is the first bloody split between Communists and Nationalists. The Communists move underground while the Nationalists set up headquarters in Nanjing and establish security organizations to stop Communist growth in cities. Chiang Kai-shek adopts the title "Generalissimo."
Mao Zedong creates a government in Jiangxi and builds a base of support. He emerges the undisputed leader of the Chinese Communist Party during the Long March. In Nanjing, the Nationalists launch an ideological offensive called the New Life Movement, a mix of Confucianism and fascism.
The Nationalists lose their entire Northeastern power base as city after city falls to the Japanese at the start of the Sino-Japanese War. Meanwhile, the Communists are building a strong rural base of support in Northern China with a series of reforms, reducing land rent and taxes and holding elections. The two sides are officially united against Japan but clash frequently.
U.S. financial and military prop up the Nationalist government, and at the end of World War II Chiang Kai-shek is hailed as a hero. But despite U.S. mediation efforts, full-scale civil war soon erupts, and the Nationalist government flees to Taiwan. American foreign service officers who dealt directly with Communists are later blamed for the "loss of China."
The People's Republic of China is established October 1. Communists forge new political structures, with a network of party branches in every village. Its first major legislation makes women legally equal to men. People are organized in work units that provide employment, health care, housing, and education. Mao Zedong is first in authority, followed by Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping.
China becomes increasingly isolated, but relies on the Soviet Union for loans and industry advisors. But theirs is an uneasy alliance, and it snaps in 1958 after Mao threatens to invade Taiwan, a move Premier Nikita Khrushchev fears could provoke a superpower confrontation. Within China, no one dares criticize Mao, even though his policies, such as the Great Leap Forward, are clearly disastrous.
Mao retreats from view after creating history's worst manmade famine. Pragmatists Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and Zhou Enlai run the government, determined to restore order and economic stability. "It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white," Deng says, "so long as it catches mice." Mao believes they are betraying the revolution, and relies almost exclusively on Defense Minister Lin Biao.
Deng Xiaoping is struggled against and exiled to a remote village. Liu Shaoqi is attacked, beaten, and kept under house arrest for two years, after which he is finally flown to a remote prison, where he dies. Zhou Enlai is seen as a moderating influence, though he never openly challenges Mao. Factional warfare breaks out between Red Guard groups.
At the 9th Party Congress in 1969, Lin Biao denounces the U.S. and USSR as imperialist enemies. Opposed to Mao's forging relations with America, he plots a coup but is killed in a mysterious plane crash before he can execute it. Zhou Enlai is a key advisor to Mao in talks with President Nixon that result in the ambiguous Shanghai Communique, which contains U.S. and Chinese positions on Taiwan.
Even near death, Mao remains China's paramount leader. Zhou Enlai, however, is more popular, and when he dies in 1976, thousands go to Tiananmen Square to lay wreaths for him. Their pent-up frustration erupts in anti-Gang of Four demonstrations. Mao dies quietly that same year. The unknown Hua Guofeng becomes his successor in late 1976, and soon afterward he arrests the Gang of Four.
Deng Xiaoping returns to power, decisively ousting the ineffective Hua Guofeng. He brings millions of sent-down youths back to cities and from that pool cultivates new economic advisors with valuable rural experience. Deng maintains complete political control with his crackdown on the Democracy Wall movement, even as he displays a willingness for innovation in the economic realm.
Economic reformers Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang work openly to reform China's economy. In 1982 Deng hosts Margaret Thatcher and negotiates the return of Hong Kong from Britain to Chinese rule. The Joint Declaration is signed in 1984, signaling China's growing power on the world stage.
Reformers try to address problems of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), but are resisted by conservatives like Chen Yun, who view SOEs as the backbone of the socialist system. Deng unsuccessfully pushes to oust older Central Committee members. Mao's legacy is debated. The Party faces mounting social instability.
The government is split between hard-liners intent on restoring old order and reformers seeking increased openness and economic reform. Deng views student and worker demonstrations in Tiananmen Square as a challenge to his authority and political stability and joins hard-liners in calling for a brutal crackdown. Zhao Ziyang is dismissed from his posts, and Jiang Zemin is named new Party chief.
After a period of retrenchment following the Tiananmen massacre, Deng begins to challenge conservative foes like Chen Yun, urging their retirement. His bold trip through the Southern Special Economic Zones (SEZs) confirms their importance to China's economic growth.
There are sharp disagreements within the Party about how to maintain government control, increase prosperity, join world markets, and stop the fiscal hemorrhaging of the state-owned enterprises.
Deng Xiaoping, the last veteran revolutionary, dies in 1997. Jiang Zemin becomes the Party's new leader at the 15th Party Congress. The government focus is on maintaining internal stability and economic growth, projecting itself forward into global organizations, and preventing Taiwan's permanent separation from China.
Jiang Zemin protégé Hu Jintao brings generational renewal as new Party secretary. Jiang heads the military and retains strong influence on the leadership. The Communist Party welcomes businesspeople in a further broadening of "socialism with Chinese characteristics." In 2003, the regime mishandles the SARS outbreak, then sacks the health minister and Beijing's mayor to try to regain credibility.
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