A Land of 9,600,000 Square Kilometres

The People’s Republic of China is situated in Eurasia, on the western shores of the Pacific Ocean. Its borders reach from the central line of the main navigation channel of the Heilongjiang(Heilungkiang) River near Mohe in the north to the Zengmu Reef in the Nansha Ar-chipelago in the south, and from the Pamirs in the west to the conflu- ence of the Heilongjiang and the Wusuli (Ussuri) River in the east. The total area is about 9.6 million square kilometres, making China one of the largest countries in land size in the world. With a continen-tal land boundary of more than 20,000 kilometres, China adjoins Ko-rea in the east, Mongolia in the north, Russia in the northeast, Ka-zakhstan, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan in the northwest, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan in the west and southwest, and Myanmar, Laos and Viet Nam in the south. The continental coastline is more than 18,000 kilometres long, and looks across the seas towards South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

The primary administrative divisions in China today are the four municipalities directly under the central government, the twenty-three provinces, the five autonomous regions and two special administrative regions (Table I). The capital of China is Beijing.

Fifty-six Ethnic Groups and a Population of More Than 1,000,000,000

The People’s Republic of China is a unitary multi-ethnic state,comprising the Han people and over fifty ethnic minorities. The Han people are the most numerous, with a population of about 1.042 billion, and live all over the country; their highest concentra-tions are in the Huanghe, Changjiang and Zhujiang river basins and on the Songhuajiang-Liaohe Plain in the northeast, occupying forty to fifty per cent of the total area of China. According to 1990 sta-tistics, the ethnic minorities have a total population of 117.535 million, accounting for ten percent of the total 1.1601 billion population of China . They inhabit fifty to sixty per cent of the country’s total area.

1,700,000 Years and 3,600 Years

Human life existed in many parts of China in remote antiquity, leaving behind traces of primitive society. The earliest man discovered in China is Yuanmou Man, who lived roughly 1,700,000 years ago. The famous Peking Man lived approximately 400,000 to 500,000 years ago. The gradual formation of a matriarchal commune took place approximately 40,000 or 50,000 years ago, and the patriarchal commune appeared more than 5,000 years ago.

Because of low productivity, exploitation did not appear in primitive society; it was a society of communal production and con-sumption, and the productive relations were based on the public own-ership of the means of production. Primitive society was followed by slave society, in which the relations of production were based on the slave-owners possessing both the means of production and the pro-ductive workers, the slaves. It was in slave society that exploitation, classes and the state appeared for the first time. We still lack concrete evidence to determine when slave society came into being in China . According to traditional ideas, the first dynasty in Chinese history was the Xia, which ruled for more than four hundred years. Its activities were centred around the juncture of modem Shanxi , Shaanxi and He-nan. It is generally thought that this dynasty lasted roughly from the21st century to the 16th century B.C. and saw the beginning of slave society in China . Archaeologists are still trying to find out the truth about the Xia, knowledge of which exists only from traditional legend.

The first dynasty which can be traced from archaeological dis-coveries and from records corroborated by these discoveries was the Shang, having begun some 3,600 years ago when, according to our present knowledge, recorded history started in China . By the Shang, which lasted roughly from the 16th century to the llth century B.C., China had entered the stage of slave society. The Western Zhou Dy-nasty, which succeeded the Shang in the 1lth century B.C., was also based on the slave system. “Ilae centre of Shang activity was initially around Shangqiu in the southeast of modem Henan , but after repeated moves the rulers finally settled around Anyang in modem Henan . The Zhou capital, Hao, was on the western outskirts of modem Xi’an in Shaanxi . The centre of Zhou activity was the region around the lower reaches of two rivers, the Jinghe and Weihe. In addition, the Zhou had an eastern capital at Luoyi, on the west bank of the Luoshui (present- day Luohe) near modem Luoyang in Henan , which formed another centre of activity around the lower reaches of the Yihe and Luoshui. The Jing-Wei plain and the Yi-Luo plain were both well suited for agriculture, with fertile soil, a mild climate and relatively adequate rainfall. Other natural resources were also fairly abundant there. These two regions subsequently experienced several periods of prosperity and decline, but they enjoyed an important political position up until the end of the 9th century. Considerable bodies of cultural relics, leg- ends and records have also been preserved in other regions within China .

The period from 770 to 221 B.C. is known in traditional history as the early Eastern Zhou, Spring and Autumn, and: Warring States periods. It was a time when slave society was gradually disintegrating and feudal society taking shape, a period of transition from slave to feudal society. The relations of production in feudal society were the landlords’ ownership of the means of production and their partial ownership of the productive workers. In addition, there was an indi-vidual economy where peasants and artisans owned tools and other means of production on the basis of their own labour. But these individual labourers were the objects of landlord control and exploitation. The landlords and peasants were the two antagonistic classes in feudal society, although the different ranks into which the society was divid-ed generally obscured the class division.

In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, the feudal hierarchy of land ownership gradually replaced the land ownership by the slave-owning aristocracy; the labour of individual peasants replaced collective slave labour in agriculture, the dependence of the labour force on the land replaced an unstable relationship between the labour force and the land, and the individual peasant family combining ploughing and weaving gradually became the dominant form of labour organization. As for the political system, the system of en-feoffment initiated in the early years of Western Zhou underwent changes, giving rise to a prefectural system of local administration: local government officials were appointed by the court to serve limit- ed terms in a succession of different places, as opposed to the system of hereditary posts. With. the appearance and development of the pre-fectural system, contacts between the various regions increased, the political organization of each locality was strengthened and history progressed further along the path to unification of the country. In 221 B.C., Qin Shi Huang (First Emperor of the Qin) established the first imperial dynasty, marking the beginning of feudal predominance throughout the country.

The period from 221 B.C. to A.D. 196 was a time when feudal-ism reached maturity under the three imperial dynasties of Qin, West-ern Han and Eastern Han. The hierarchical feudal order matured both economically and politically. The emperor possessed supreme political power, and at the same time was the supreme landowner. Under the emperor were landowners with different kinds of hereditary status and privileges including the imperial relatives on the male and female lines and persons who had rendered meritorious services to the throne. These landed aristocrats with hereditary rifles occupied the dominant position in the landlord class. In addition there were the landowners from powerful families and the mercantile landowners thriving on usury. Both possessed considerable strength in property and social influence, but they did not belong to the higher ranks in social status, and some even ranked very low. The hereditary aristocrats subjected to exploitation peasants who were registered by household and be-stowed to them by the feudal state. This was the main type of peasant at the time. The registered peasants had a private economic sphere and a certain degree of personal freedom. Although they were exploited, they were better off than the slaves. But they too varied in socio- economic status. Their household registration status could not be al-tered after they were attached to hereditary aristocrats by state deci-sion. The land rent they paid to the landed aristocracy also served as their state tax, the two being combined in one. The relations of pro-duction stated above were established in the period of unity under the Qin and grew continuously under the Western and Eastern Han. Slavery did not vanish in the Qin and Han period but persisted in govern-ment and private handicraft industries, and existed in households throughout the feudal era. However, these remnants of the slave system were insignificant in social production.

As for the political system, Qin Shi Huang started a unitary pre-fectural system of administration, but no historical records survive which describe how it was carried out. Under the Western and Eastern Han the system coexisted with the fiefs. Underneath the prefectures and fiefs were counties and underneath the counties were administra-tive organizations at the gressroots. These were the different levels in the political structure, each with some relative independence. Begin-ning in the 3rd century, the prefectural system gradually superseded the fiefs and changed continually. But generally speaking, power became more and more concentrated in the hands of the court and re-stricted at the local levels.

The capital of the Qin Dynasty was Xianyang, and the capital of Western Han was Chang’an; the Eastern Han moved its capital east to Luoyang after Chang’an had been devastated by war. The JingWei plain, the Yi-Luo plain and the lower reaches of the Huanghe were the most fertile regions in these periods. The sphere of activity of the Qin and Han was much wider than those of previous dynasties and includ-ed the Huanghe, Changjiang and Zhujiang river basins. There were more extensive records of the history of the ethnic minorities than before. The Han people, the major ethnic group in China , was formed in the Qin and Han periods through the fusion of related tribes and ethnic groups. The name of the Han people is that of a great dynasty.

Chinese feudalism experienced its earlier period of ascendancy from 196 to 907, which covered a period of disunity the Three Kingdoms, the Western and Eastern Jin, and the Northern and South-ern Dynasties as well as the dynasties of Sui and Tang. The period witnessed protracted struggles as well as large-scale displacement and migration among the ethnic groups. As a result the territory shared by various groups expanded both northward and southward. The Han group replenished itself, and the ethnic minorities raised their produc-tion level and standard of living. A new phase in national fusion appeared, and feudalism developed among groups sharing the same ter-ritory. This is an important feature of the earlier period of ascendancy of Chinese feudalism.

The hereditary landed aristocracy of the previous era crumbled under the onslaught of peasant uprisings, and was replaced with the newly arisen landlords of privileged families. Like the landed aristoc-racy, the privileged families enjoyed political status and hereditary rights. But they built themselves up by relying on their traditional position in the feudal officialdom and not as a result of imperial fiat. Their land ownership had a more private character than had been the case with the landed aristocrats. The privileged landowners mainly controlled peasants who had attached themselves to these manorial lords for protection against exorbitant taxes and levies. These manorial peasants were omitted from the household registers of the state and the land rent they paid was no longer part of the state tax. Their posi-tion in society was lower than the state-registered peasants, but they were relieved of state taxes which included a heavy burden of labour service. This change in the relations of production was favourable to the growth of the productive forces of society. It was another sign of the ascendancy of Chinese feudalism.

The Wei (one of the Three Kingdoms), the Westem Jin, and the Later Wei (one of the Northern Dynasties) all set up their capitals at Luoyang . The Sui and Tang had their capitals at Chang’an and main- tained an eastern capital at Luoyang . The Wu (another of the Three Kingdoms), Eastern Jin and the four Southern Dynasties of Song, Qi, Liang and Chen all had their capitals at Nanjing ( Nanking ). The northerners who began to move south in the Wei and Jin dynasties lent fresh impetus to agricultural production in the southeast by increasing the labour force and spreading productive skills. The lasting promi-nence of Nanjing as a political centre was inseparable from the prosperity of the southeast. The economic growth in the middle and lower reaches of the Changjiang, emulating that in the fertile areas of the Huanghe river basin, was another feature of the ascendancy of Chinese feudalism.

The years from 907 to 1368 were the later period of ascendancy of Chinese feudalism. It began with the Five Dynasties and Ten King-doms, followed by the Liao, Western Xia and Jin dynasties on one side and the Northem and Southern Song dynasties on another, and finally reunification under the Yuan Dynasty. Extensive border regions from the northeast to the northwest and again in the southwest entered the stage of feudal society in most important respects at this time. This was a significant feature of Chinese feudalism in the later period of its ascendancy. The economic growth in the southeast surpassed that in the north, and the middle and lower reaches of the Changjiang became the most prosperous parts of the country.

The privileged stratum of landowners of the previous historical period crumbled under the onslaught of peasant uprisings: It was re-placed, under the Northern and Southern Song, by bureaucrat landlords who enjoyed certain political status and privileges. With few hereditary privileges, these bureaucrat landlords obtained most of their land through purchase or seizure. The law put no limit on the amount of land they might hold. They were obliged by regulations to pay taxes to the state, and in their turn collected rent from the peasants. The distinction between taxes and rent became clearer. Apart from the bureaucrat landlords there were also the plutocrat landlords and mercantile landlords. Some of the peasants owned small amounts of land, but the majority were tenant-farmers who worked on the lands of the various kinds of landlords. They had a better social position in society and more personal freedom than the manorial peasants in the previous period. Listed in the state household registers, they had to contribute a poll tax and some labour services to the feudal state in addition to payment of rent to the landlords. But generally they were not regis-tered with a certain landlord on the order of the feudal state. This was a major difference between them and the state-registered peasants of the Western and Eastern Han. The imprint of feudal bondage on both landlords and peasants tended to fade away, and the agrarian relations of exploitation in terms of property rights became more distinct. This marked the feudal relations of production in the Northern and Southem Song dynasties.

The strength of the Southern Song landlord class was largely pre-served after national unification under the Yuan Dynasty, and a most typical feudal economic order prevailed in the regions under its domi-nation. The Yuan Dynasty saw the emergence of a huge stratum of Mongolian aristocratic landowners, many commoner households bearing feudal duties, and a greater number of slaves. This kind of relations of production was, however, confined to the north and was merely a partial phenomenon of retrogression. The feudalization of extensive border regions was a new phenomenon in the development of production in Yuan society.

The states of Liang, Jin (936-946), Han and Zhou in the period of the Five Dynasties established their capitals at Kaifeng , which also served as the capital for the Northern Song and as a secondary capital for Jin (1115-1234). Modem Beijing was the capital for three dynas-ties: the Liao, which called it Nanjing ; the Jin (1115-1234), which called it Zhongdu; and the Yuan, which called it Dadu. Since ancient times this site has been of strategic, political and economic importance. After the Yuan, the Ming and Qing dynasties retained it as their capital and today it is the capital of the People’s Republic. The development of Beijing is a joint creation of the Han, Qidan, Ntizhen, Mongolian and other ethnic groups. Although the Song capital of Kaifeng and the Yuan capital of Beijing were rather distant from the fertile regions of the Southeast, they both used the Grand Canal linking north and south to facilitate the transport of foodstuffs from the south to the north and to bring in the wealth of the southeast.

The period from 1368 to 1840, which includes the Ming Dynasty and a large part of the Qing, saw the decline of Chinese feudalism. The majority of peasants under the Ming were still tenant-farmers. From the legal point of view, the feudal dependence of the tenant-farmer on the landlord was somewhat weakened. Peasants could choose their own landlords and could reject the landlords’ excessive demands for labour service. Hired labourers selling their labour power for material recompense also made their appearance. The tax law of the Qing converted the poll tax and the land tax into a single tax, so that those with land were taxed and those without were not, giving the tax the character of a pure property tax. These conditions showed that feudal bonds had eased considerably. But this did not arise from the kindness of the rulers, but from the necessities of socio-economic development and the fierce struggles of the labouring people. Never-theless, this was only one aspect of the social phenomena of that time. The other aspect was the rapacious plunder and oppression carried out by the landlord class, especially its ruling group, by using the power in their hands. The unscrupulous use of eunuchs at the Ming court and the strengthening of military rule during the Qing period were attempts to preserve a highly feudalized government. These two aspects may appear to be in disagreement with each other, but they are simply different manifestations of the moribund condition of feudal society. The second manifestation by no means showed the vitality of the feudal landlord class, but revealed its weakness. The two apparently con- tradictory phenomena were both signs of decline.

The bureaucrat landlords of the previous historical period and their successors, together with the Mongolian aristocratic landlords, crumbled as before under heavy attacks from peasant uprisings. Taking their position were the newly arisen scholarofficial landlords. Apart from officials it included fairly large numbers of intellectuals who had passed the Ming and Qing civil service examinations. The wealthier members of this class not only owned much land but also took up trade, operated pawnshops and issued highinterest loans. This was a reflection of the development of commodity production and a money economy, which nevertheless could not be developed normally because those people were dependent on feudal power.

The Ming court directly occupied large areas of land in the form of imperial estates. This, like its appointment of palace eunuchs to collect taxes on commerce and mining and to look for and store up tremendous amounts of gold and silver, revealed the greed of the rul ers of a falling dynasty. The estates of the imperial clan and the nobles and bureaucrats, along with the grain allowance of the imperial clan, amounted to fantastic sums, growing into a malignant tumour on the social economy and national finance. Although the Qing court also had imperial estates, they were aware of the possible harmful effects and kept the area much smaller than under the Ming. However, for a fairly long period, the Manchu homeland of the Qing court in the northeast was a forbidden area, which largely hindered local economic development.

“Sprouts of capitalism” could be found as early as the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. They appeared in greater quantity after mid Ming and showed a further development in early Qing. But these”sprouts” could never grow to full maturity or break through the de clining feudal system because of their insufficient strength.

In extemal relations, the Sui, Tang, Song and Yuan were all in a position to take the initiative, but under the Ming and Qing external relations took a distinct turn for the worse. In early Ming there were landings by “Japanese invaders” (wokou), pirates operating off the Chinese and Korean coasts from the 14th to the 16th century, but the Ming court did little against them. From the midMing on, coastal harassment by the “Japanese invaders” brought great destruction to the south. During the Ming and Qing period, capitalism had already arisen in the West, but Chinese feudalism hobbled along its own course, and the autocratic rulers knew nothing of world developments. By the beginning of the 16th century, the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and others had come east to carry out colonial activities and had invaded Chinese territory. They were subsequently followed by Tsarist Russia, England and the United States , whose ambitions in regard to China grew constantly. The eunuch admiral Zheng He’s voyages to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean in early the Ming and China’s resistance to Tsarist Russian invasion in the early Qing were major events in external affairs, but the overall situation worsened continu ally, and it was not by chance that the Opium War was followed by a series of national disasters.

The history of semifeudal and semicolonial China lasted from1840 to 1949. At the same time, this was an era of resistance to impe rialism and feudalism by all of China ‘s ethnic groups. The first stage, up to the May Fourth Movement of 1919, was the period of the old democratic revolution. The second stage, from 1919 on, was the period of the newdemocratic revolution.

The period of the old democratic revolution lasted almost eighty years, taking in the final years of the Qing Dynasty and the first years of the Republic. In this period, due to the invasion of foreign imperialism and its brutal rule over China , China ‘s social economy underwent major changes, becoming more complex than that in feudal society. In addition to the feudal landlord economy and the individual economy of the peasants and handicraftsmen, which continued to exist, the newly arisen capitalist economy became a major sector in the social economy. The capitalist economy comprised three parts: imperialist capital, bureaucratcomprador capital and national capital. While imperialism gained control over China ‘s economic lifelines, the feudal landlord class occupied a dominant position in the economy, and the two were in mutual collaboration. Bureaucratcomprador capital was an appendage to the imperialist economy and was also closely connected with feudal exploitation. The national capitalist economy was extremely weak. It did not form an independent economic system or occupy an important position in socioeconomic life, and it also had ties with imperialism and feudalism. Foreign imperialist aggression brought ruin to the selfsufficient natural economy in the countryside; commodity production developed, but agricultural production and the peasants’ economic life was drawn deeper and deeper into the vortex of the world capitalist market. These were the main features of China ‘s semicolonial, semifeudal social economy.

Along with the violent changes in the social economy, changes also developed in class relations. Following its penetration into China , the foreign bourgeoisie became a dominant power in Chinese social life, controlling the country’s economy, politics, military affairs and culture. It not only propped up the feudal landlord class as the mainstay of their rule over China , but also created a comprador class to serve the needs of their aggression. Within the feudal landlord class, the newly arisen warlordbureaucrat landlords, with the support of the international bourgeoisie, replaced the scholarofficial landowners as the dominant force. The warlordbureaucrat landlords were an appendage to the international bourgeoisie and were generally the earliest bureaucratcapitalists of a strong comprador character. They held the real power in the regime of the landlord class and became the decisive force. This was an important manifestation of the compradorization of the landlord regime. The peasant class mostly comprised ownerpeasants, tenantpeasants and farm labourers, and accounted for about 70 or 80 per cent of the national population. Under the oppression and exploitation of feudalism and imperialism, the peasants became increasingly impoverished and bankrupt, so that the ownerpeasants became ever fewer and the tenantpeasants ever more numerous. The national bourgeoisie and the proletariat were the two new classes arising in this period. The national bourgeoisie, as determined by their economic position, was a class with a dual character: on the one hand it exhibited an antiimperialist, antifeudal revolutionary character in certain periods and to a certain extent, but on the other hand it tended towards compromise with the enemies of revolution. The proletariat was the greatest, most progressive and most revolutionary class. In the period of the old democratic revolution, however, it did not constitute an independent political force, but took part in revolution as a follower of the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie.

The socioeconomic conditions and class relations in semicolonial, semifeudal China determined that the basic task of the Chinese revolution was to Overthrow the rule of imperialism and feudalism. In the period of the old democratic revolution, the people of all ethnic groups in China carried out a bitter, unremitting struggle against the internal and external enemies and for the winning of national independence and freedom and happiness for the people. However, they did not find the road to liberation and did not gain the final victory. After the May Fourth Movement of 1919, the proletariat grew in strength, MarxismLeninism spread to China , the Chinese Communist Party was established and the Chinese revolution took on an entirely new appearance. Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the people of each ethnic group in China gained the final victory in China ‘s democratic revolution. In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established and China entered a new age of socialism.