Humanities 210 MIC/WIC- Cora Agatucci
Cultures & Literatures of Asia

China Timeline 5:
Republican & Communist China
(1912 - Present)

Asian Timelines Table of Contents Literary & Cultural History
Learn more about selected Chinese topics by clicking the links embedded in these timelines.
And if you find inaccuracies, bugs, or other relevant websites, please let me know:
The timeline pages are under construction and probably always will be...

Republican Era 1912-1949

1914-1918 World War I. In 1915, a free-for-all struggle for power breaks out among Chinese warlords.
1919 May Fourth Movement begins, and the Guomindang or Kuomindang (Nationalist) Party is founded, opposing the Beijing government and Chinese warlords, and advocating liberal democracy.
Luxun Lu Hsun, Selections from His Writing (and a photo): "Like other writers of the May Fourth Movement, Luxun saw China's old society as rotten and corrupt. Only after a radical reform, he felt, would the Chinese be able to realize their human potential " (From Introd. to Alfred Craig et al, The Heritage of World Civilizations, 2d ed. [New York; Macmillan, 1990], p. 889).
1920-1926 China suffers a devastating Civil War, and the Chinese Communist Party is founded, centered at the University of Beijing, including student librarian Mao Zedong, with boundless faith in the revolutionary potential of the peasantry.. Nationalist Party leader Sun Yat-Sen dies in 1925, and Chiang Kai-shek takes control of the Guomindang. (See Opposing the Warlords )
1927 The Nationalists capture Shanghai, and purge Communists and workers from the alliance.
1934 - 1937 Mao Zedong's "Long March"(1934), of some 100,000 Communists forced to evacuate their homes and camps, covers some 12,500 kilometers through 11 provinces, 18 mountain ranges, and 24 rivers in southwest and northwest China. Shaanxi (look for it on this big map) becomes the center of Mao's Communist movement (until the1940s), and civil war rages in China between Nationalist and Communist forces until 1937. (See The Rise of the Communists.)
1937 Japanese attack and invade China , just as Chiang’s Nationalists are on the verge of victory over the Communists in the civil war. (See Anti-Japanese War.)
1939 - 1945 World War II: The Chinese unite in opposing the Japanese invaders, the Chinese Communists waging bitter guerrilla war on the Japanese. In 1945, Japan is defeated by the Allied Forces.
While China was repeatedly shaken by internal conflict and foreign intervention, writers of the first half of the 20th century: used literature as a mirror to reflect the seamy side of life, as a weapon to combat the evils of society, and as a means to spread the message of class struggle. By using trenchant essays and stories to attack traditional society, many writers helped advance the socialist revolution.
"[T]he quest for a new unity of government took form in plainly recognizable continuities from the Chinese tradition. Reformers and revolutionaries alike felt that economic growth should be under state control in some form of ‘socialism.’ The totalitarian claims of Leninism perpetuated the claims of the imperial autocracy. The Neo-Confucian doctrines as absolute truth were substituted by Marxism-Leninism, which was equally all-embracing and absolute….This new communist order was so consonant with the old imperial order that Mao as a successor to emperors was able to hold autocratic power while trying as a revolutionist to being the masses into participation in politics" (Fairbank 429-430).

"Another element…was militarization. By the late nineteenth century, aided by an arms monopoly, telegraphs, railways, and steamships, the state’s organized violence could be brought to bear more quickly and comprehensively. Twentieth-century technology made the state omnipresent and made totalitarianism now possible" (Fairbank 430).

1945 Japan is defeated by the Allied Forces. World War II ends.
1946-1948 Civil War in China resumes between Mao Zedong’s Communist forces and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces. The Chinese peasants support Mao, and the balance of power shifts to the Chinese Communists.

People's Republic of China 1949-present

1949 The Communists win victory in the civil war and establish the People’s Republic of China. "The Chinese people have stood up!" declared Chairman Mao Zedong (see photo) as he announced the creation of a "people's democratic dictatorship." However, the mainland was in ruins from the devastations of lengthy wars. The Nationalist Party consolidated in Taiwan under Chiang. Chinese peasants, burdened by a century of strife and unrest, and oppressed by an antiquated and unjust landholding system, rally to the Communist cause and the promise of a more equitable order.
1950-51 Purge of landlord class; land redistributed to peasant small landholders
1953 Beginning of China's first 5-year Plan for urban industrialization. See The Transition to Socialism, 1953-57
1954 Beginning of of China-Russian Communist split.
1957 "Let a 1000 Flowers Bloom" campaign, critics flushed out
"The Great Leap Forward" attempt at rapid collectivization fails. Poor planning and bad management set off a great famine in China
1962 Break with the Soviets is complete, and China started to position itself as the "other" superpower while it recovered from the "Great Leap Forward."
1963 Beginning of state family planning (China's population at this time: 750 million).
1965 Growing Hong Kong autonomy under British.
Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, calling upon students to rebel against authority, forming units of Red Guards. Schools shut down, offices closed, transportation was disrupted, and the extent of the chaos, blood, and destruction is still far from known. Mao gained the political support of the People’s Liberation Army, spearheaded by General Lin Biao, who later fell from favor and died in mysterious circumstances. While the Cultural Revolution "officially" ended in 1969, as did its worst abuses, a repressively charged political atmosphere remained until after Mao Zedung’s death in 1976. " Mao's ideas, popularized in the Quotations from Chairman Mao [click the English translation], became the standard by which all revolutionary efforts were to be judged. The "four big rights"--speaking out freely, airing views fully, holding great debates, and writing big-character posters --became an important factor in encouraging Mao's youthful followers to criticize his intraparty rivals." (Leon Poon, Univ. of Maryland, The Cultural Revolution Decade, 1966-76)
During the Cultural Revolution, writers and artists were expected to serve the needs of the people, and bourgeois Western influence was zealously attacked. In the Maoist years, a favored slogan was "Better Red than Expert," which meant, in practice, that totally unqualified ideologues were put in charge of projects that really needed technical expertise.
Beijing Opera suffered along with other kinds of theatrical arts in China. All the traditional pieces reflecting the Old Societies were banned from performance. The famous Eight Model Plays, featuring the communist activities during the anti-Japanese war and the civil war with the Nationalists, as well as the class struggles after the founding of the People's Republic, were then developed. Many outstanding Beijing Opera and Kunqu Opera actors and actresses performed in these operas. Although "Class Struggle" was the theme of most of these plays, these plays introduced some new forms of stage performances. Many people who grew up during the Cultural Revolution are still in favor of the music and singing from the Eight Model Plays." From Bejing Opera (Xu-Ming Wang, Syracus Univ.)
Chinese historiography under the Communist regime was built on a Marxist model of progression from primitive communism to slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and finally socialism. Communist historians wrote their own version of the past, and the events of history came to be presented as a function of the class struggle. A series of thought-reform and antirightist campaigns were directed against intellectuals in the arts, sciences, and academic community. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) further altered the objectivity of historians.
1976 Deaths of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong; the subsequent purge of the "Gang of Four" brings the "Cultural Revolution" to an end. The pragmatist wing of Chinese Communist Party prevails.
1978 Deng Xiaoping, twice "purged" during the Cultural Revolution, emerged as paramount leader and launched his economic reform program: "It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white; what matters is how well it catches mice," was one of Deng’s favorite sayings. See photos of Deng Xiaoping, and Reforms, 1980-88.
Performances of traditional Beijing Opera were allowed again in 1978. Except for periodic creative restrictions (e.g. 1981 and 1983, the year of the campaign against "spiritual pollution"), more freedom of expression has been allowed and a new interest in Western forms and ideas tolerated.

In the years after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, interest grew within the party, and outside it as well, in restoring the integrity of historical inquiry. This trend was consistent with the party's commitment to "seeking truth from facts." As a result, historians and social scientists raised probing questions concerning the state of historiography in China. Their investigations included not only historical study of traditional China but penetrating inquiries into modern Chinese history and the history of the Chinese Communist Party. While historiography has not been separated from politics, figures from Confucius--who was bitterly excoriated for his "feudal" outlook by Cultural Revolution-era historians--to Mao himself have been evaluated with increasing flexibility. In the 1980s, historical institutes were restored within the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a growing corps of trained historians, in institutes and academia alike, returned to their work with the blessing of the Chinese Communist Party.

1979 Reconciliation efforts between China-U.S. in the 1970s culminate in establishing formal diplomatic relations in 1979. See China and the Four Modernizations, 1979-82: economics takes precedence over party politics.
1984 Chinese-British agreement to return Hong Kong to the People’s Republic in 1999, follows Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s visit with Deng Xiaopeng in 1982. The people of Hong Kong, however, were never consulted on their future.
1984 Yellow Earth (Huang Tu Di, China, 1984), dir. Chen Kaige, with cinematography by Zhang Yimou. Yellow Earth was one of the earliest of the celebrated new films coming out of China created by "Fifth Generation" filmmakers like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, who both attended the Beijing Film Academy, in Beijing, China.
1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, where at least 200 unarmed demonstrators calling for political reforms died--200 is the "official" count, but probably many more were killed on June 4. See photo of The Goddess of Democracy in Tiananmen Square.
An Analysis of the Tiananmen Massacre of July 4, 1989 (from Fairbank 423-425):
Chinese rulers have inherited an "atavistic off-with-his-head tradition" of dealing with dissent (423)
"The nationalistic doctrine that what happens inside China is not the outside world’s concern" lost its validity in the face of worldwide media coverage of the event. "As the world watched, two or three thousand students staged a hunger strike. But the aged CCP leaders refused to negotiate. Instead they called in tanks of the People’s Liberation Army. After prolonged hesitation, they opened fire on June 4 and killed, at the official figure, 200 unarmed demonstrators, perhaps many more, and wounded thousands" (423, 424).
Yet the government followed the massacre by launching a largely successful two-year program of repression, and "open dissent was silenced" (424).. Why?
Reasons:"…the potential dissenter’s lack of private property, legal human rights, and personal independence. People had to depend upon their work units (danwei) for support, supplies, living space, human contact, travel permission, and everything formerly supplied by their families. Once admitted to higher education, students continued to be creatures of the party-state aparatus, obliged to make their way through obedience and connections. Their own ingrained acceptance of authority was part of their problem" (424).
Reasons: "A second factor inhered in their thinking. For centuries Chinese classical training had bred a faith in absolutes, in pure principles without social compromises, in the public good with no admission of selfish interests" (424). A kind of "high-mindedness"in Chinese political thought worked against successful dissent: for example, against unfair, selfish appropriation of wealth, and against allowing selfish interests to affect key leadership decisions; and in favor of claims to China’s international status equal to the two reigning superpowers, the appeal of maintaining an intellectual life free of confusing contradictions (fen-yun), of bringing all moral and factual truths into a single unified doctrine (hui-t’ung) [Thomas Metzger ctd. in Fairbank, 424). Observers noticed a gap between students’ "personal needs and their public pronouncements. They needed better food and clothing, more space to live in, more books available to read, and more chance to express themselves in speech and writing. But these were selfish needs, ignoble and unseemly to demand in public. Their pronouncements therefore dealt with abstractions—democracy, freedom, liberty, morality (against corruption), justice (against favoritism), and national honor (against foreign insults)" (425). Tiananmen Square student protesters lacked intellectual sanction for their personal demands, and in negotiations, they made no concrete demands (425).
Some suggest that "Tiananmen demonstrations can best be understood in terms of traditional Chinese ritual and theatrical performances. Before a large audience the demonstrators, by their marching, slogans, shouting, and collective solidarity, asserted their moral commitment to the cause of complaining, yet they reaffirmed their loyalty to the establishment. In effect they were using street theater to petition the authorities, not at first questioning their authority" (J. W. Esherick and J. N Wasserstrom cited in Fairbank, 425).
1992 Gong Li, China's best-known actress in the West, was named Best Actress at the 49th Venice International Film Festival for her role in The Story of Qiu Ju (Qiu Ju da guan si, China/Hong Kong, 1992), dir. Zhang Yimou.
1993 Farewell My Concubine (Ba Wang Bie Ji, China / Hong Kong, 1993), dir. Chen Kaige (b. 1952, Beijing, China), based on the novel by Lillian Lee dealing with effects of the Cultural Revolution on two Beijing Opera stars. Actress Gong Li earned the New York Film Critics award for her work in Farewell My Concubine.
Recent Literature...."Red Sorghum (Viking, trans. 1993), by Mo Yan, is a powerful, searing novel about farm lifeduring the Japanese Occupation."
The novel was made into the film Red Sorghum (Hong gao liang, China, 1987), the first film directed by "Fifth Generation" filmmaker Zhang Yimou, and starring Gong Li (b. 1965), her film debut while still a student at the Central Drama Academy in Beijing (from which she graduated in 1989).

Wild Swans (Simon and Schuster, 1995) by Jung Chang traces the changes and events of the 20th century in China through the lives of her grandmother, her mother, and herself.

The Cultural Revolution has spawned a literature all its own; three of the most insightful are Life and Death in Shanghai (Grafton, 1986) by Nien Cheng, Red Azalea by Anchee Min, and The Garlic Ballads (Viking, 1995) by Mo Yan" (from Paul Frankenstein's Annotated Recommended Reading List ). See also Farewell My Concubine and To Live.

1994 To Live (Huozhe, China / Hong Kong, 1994), was directed by Zhang Yimou, (b. 1950, Xi'an, Shaanxi, China), with Bin Wang and Xleochun Zhang. The film stars Gong Li and is based on the novel by Yu Hua.
1995 United Nations 4th Conference on Women held in Beijing, attended by more than 17,000 people from more than 135 nations to address issues and problems obstructing the advancement of women
1997 Deng Xiaoping died, handing power over to Jiang Zemin . Many predict that China will become a leading industrial power sometime in the next century, and become more closely economically tied to its East Asian neighbors.
Modernization "originated in the inevitable growth of specialization and the resulting autonomy of the expert within his sphere of expertise….The inheritors of china’s autocracy have faced a particular frustration in the fact that china’s modern intellectuals have claimed not only the autonomy of expertise but also the pluralism felt to be so fundamental in intellectual circles abroad. Chinese thought, always homegrown and sinisized [Chinese-ized] heretofore, has got out of the Chinese government’s control: too many chinese scholars today are capable of participating in world scholarship" (Fairbank 431).

As for economics, "outside observers and many Chinese concur in thinking that it [China’s economic growth] cannot proceed very far without being accompanied by a greater degree of popular participation in politics." Further, "[t]he law of diminishing returns (because of too many people) still holds China back…" (Fairbank 431).

"Where lies the remedy? The skeptical believer Thomas Metzger sees the main problem in a Chinese trait of ‘optimistic this-worldliness,’ which persistently states the facts as they ought to be, not as they are, and denounces alternatives as immoral. He advocates for China an acceptance of ‘three pluralisms’ or ‘three market places,’ namely, a free market economy, the intellectual marketplace of ideas, and the political marketplace of conflicting and bargaining interest groups and political parties, ‘each pursuing legal but at least partly selfish ends’….In Chinese eyes,….the struggle…[is] cast in…moral terms, decrying the materialism and greed exhibited in economic life, the constant confusion created in a free marketplace of ideas, and the selfishness condoned in the form of interest groups in representative politics" (Fairbank 431-432). China sees in Western democratic regimes negative examples of corruption and low public morale, and an inability to curb media violence, and drug and gun industries. Thus, China is not rushing to adopt Western models of democracy, with free elections, representative government, and human rights guaranteed by law, nor does Fairbank believe that we in the West should be so eager to propose our own models as the answer to Chinese movements toward "civil society" in the 21st century. China must work out its own answers that fit its own situation, and the West needs to "scrutinize the adequacy of our basic assumptions about the Chinese scene" (Fairbank 432).

China Timelines Sources and Resources

"The Ancient Dynasties." From: [accessed Dec. 1997].

Ebrey, Patricia. Chinese Civilization and Society: A Sourcebook. Free Press, 1981.

Elvin, Mark. The Pattern of the Chinese Past. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1973.

Fairbank, John King. China: A New History. Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard UP, 1992.

Frankenstein, Paul. "Condensed China: Chinese History for Beginners."
From: [accessed Dec. 1997]. See also [accessed Jan. 1998].

Gernet, Jacques. A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge UP, 1982.

Giles, Herbert G. A History of Chinese Literature. Tuttle, 1973.

Goldman, Merle. Literary Dissent in Communist China. Harvard, 1967. Atheneum, 1971.

Hall, David L., and Roger T. Ames. Anticipating China: Thinking through the Narratives of Chinese and Western Culture. Albany: SUNY, 1995.

Halsall, Paul (Core 9 SUNY-Brooklyn). "Chinese Cultural Studies: Bibliographical Guide." [accessed Jan. 1998].

"Historical Setting of China." From: [accessed Dec. 1997].

Hsia, C. T. The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction. Columbia, 1968. Indiana, 1981.

Hucker, Charles O. China's Imperial Past. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1975.

Kwang-chih. Archaeology of Ancient China. 4th ed. Yale UP, 1986.

Link, Perry. Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies: Popular Fiction in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Cities. California, 1981.

Link, Perry, ed. Roses and Thorns: The Second Blooming of the Hundred Flowers in Chinese Fiction, 1979-1980. California, 1984. (post-Maoist writing)

Liu Wu-Chi. An Introduction to Chinese Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966.

Mair, Victor. Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way. Bantam, 1990.

Nelson, Lynn H., and Patrick Peebles, ed. Classics of Eastern Thought. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991.

Ogden, Suzanne. China's Unresolved Issues. NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.

Owen, Stephen, ed. and trans. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: Norton, 1996.

Poon, Leon (Graduate Student, Dept.of Physics, Institute for Plasma Research, Univ. of Maryland). "References for History of China." [accessed Jan. 1998]

Pye, Lucian. China: An Introduction. Boston: Little Brown, 1972.

Snow, Edgar. Red Star Over China. Random House, 1938; Bantam, 1978.

Spence, Jonathan. Search for Modern China. New York: Norton, 1990.

China Timelines Introduction 
China Timeline 1: 
Early China (to 3rd c. BCE)
China Timeline 2:  Qin & Han Dynasties & "Time of Troubles"  (3rd c. BCE - CE 7th c.)
China Timeline 3: Tang, Song, Yuan & Ming Dynasties (7th - 17th c.)
China Timeline 4: Qing Dynasty & Clashes with the West (1644-1911)
China Timeline 5: Republican & Communist China (20th c.) & China Timelines Sources
URL of this webpage: 

Asian Timelines: India China Japan
  were first prepared by Cora Agatucci, in 1998. 
They are slowly being updated in Winter 2001.  Please bear with me.
Other Online HUM 210 Course Resources:
HUM 210 Syllabus Course Plan Assignments Student Writing 
Asian Film Asian Links: India China Japan

Cora's Home Page | Site Map | Current  Schedule | Cora's Classes
Student Writing | COCC Links  
If you're interested in other world literatures and cultures, visit these course websites:
Hum 211 - Culture and Literature of Africa 
Eng 109 - Western World Literatures (late 18th-late 20th centuries)