The Cyber-Cave

Reflections on the political, technological, cultural and economic trends of the world

A brief history of China

“Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun” (Chairman Mao)

// China is mainly populated by the Han ethnic group. The Chinese government also recognises other 55 minority ethnic groups. The Han constitute approximately 90% of the whole population of China. The ‘Han’ take their name from the dynasty of the same name that ruled over China in the third century BC.
Emperor Huang-di is considered to be the ancestor of the Han people.
The Shaanxi and Henan regions are considered as the cradle of the Han civilisation.

Some of the 55 minority ethnic groups include:
Hui: 10 million. Chinese muslims mainly living in the Northwest. Ningxia is an autonomous region for the Hui people. Hui muslims have different internal religious beliefs: about a half of them follow the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, one fifth follows Wahabism and another one fifth belong to Sufi schools.
Huis are less persecuted than Uyghur because they are much more similar to Han Chinese, while Uyghur have a distinct Turkish origin and speak their own language. Huis speak Mandarin as their first language.
However some Chinese disparage the muslims by calling them ‘the greens’. The Communist Party is generally suspicious of religion interfering with law and politics.
Huis’ ancestors are merchants from Persia and Arab lands that have intermarried with Han chinese for generations. The first muslim merchants are believed to have arrived between the 7th, 8th and 9th century.
Sharia law is not recognised by Chinese legal codes, but mosques have local courts that solve family disputes in accordance with the sharia.
The ‘imam’ of the Huis is known as the ‘ahong’ (originating from the ‘akhoond’ in Persian).
The Dungan revolt (1860s, 1870s) was due to quarrels over the Huis blaming the Hans for overcharging the price of bamboo poles, but also with repressive policies by the Manchu Qing dynasty over Islamic practices. Eventually the Huis tried to establish an independent country in Northern China (especially Ningxia, Gansu and Shaanxi regions), but the Qing Dynasty violently crushed the revolt.

Uyghurs: 10 million. Chinese of Turkish origins, muslims, living in Xinjiang. Huis are more sparsely populated, while Uighur are mainly located in the Xinjiang region.
They are much more persecuted than other muslims like the Hui because they are perceived by the Communist Party as a separatist threat.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the Uighurs tried to declared an independent state. By 1949, however, Communist China had complete control over Xinjiang.
China is trying to revitalise the region with economic development.
Kashgar was declared a Special Economic Zone in 2010. It will be an important terminal within the China-Pakistan Economic corridor.
Khorgos will become a logistical ‘dry port’ for the numerous Chinee investment plans in the new Silk Road project.
Many assets in Xinjiang are controlled by the XPCC, a paramilitary organisation created after the Korean war. The XPCC was given control, but in exchange it had to promote economic development. In Chinese history this was known as the ‘tuntian’ system: since the Qin dynasty military officials would be given lands in newly conquered territories to promote economic development (mainly agriculturally).
Manchus: 10 milion. Initally they were knows at the ‘Juchen’. They had established a kingdom in Northern China by the 12th Century AD. However they would be later invaded by the Mongols. Then they re-established control over Manchuria, conquered Beijing in 1644 and controlled China under the name of the Qing Dynasty.
Bimoism as religion.
Zhuang: they are the second largest ethnic group. They live predominantly in Guanxi. They were conquered by the first Qin emperor in 221 BC. They have their own language. They are known for working in agriculture. They are polytheists (worshipping the spirits of trees for example).//

-During the neolithic age different herdsmen cultures (at least eight according to recent archeology) are spread around today’s China-mainly along the Yellow river’s Valley, but also along the Yangtze river. The Yangtze river, throughout history, was considered as the division between ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ Chinese. Northern civilisations cultivated wheat, while Southern civilisations cultivated rice.
Around 2000 BC some of these cultures like the Yang-Shao had developed fine pottery, villages, agriculture (rice), domesticated animals.
Interaction with Turkish tribes in Northern China may have introduced bronze (important for the crafting of better weapons) (1800 BC).
-According to the Records of the Grand Historian there were popular myths on the existence of three semi-gods (Fuxi, Nuwa and Shennong) and five perfectly sage emperors.
-Spirituality was animistic: there were beliefs on the presence of spirits within nature and ancestors. Ancestors were believed to become ghosts and live in another dimension where they could help the living relatives. Instead, if the relatives neglect the dead ancestor, then the ancestor might turn into a ‘hungry ghost’ that can be vengeful. Today there are still temples for venerating ancestors.
The sky was considered as a deity (called ‘Di’ or ‘Tian) that could interfere in human affairs with higher powers.
Animal Totems were also worshipped.
Today the spiritual beliefs of the Chinese are a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Confucius encouraged rites of ‘filial piety’ such as worshipping ancestors.

The ‘Yellow Emperor’ (believed to have been born in 2704 BC) is venerated by Taoists and is generally considered to be one of the ancestors of Chinese civilisation. He is credited for having defeated ‘barbarian’ in what today is the Shaanxi region. Taoists believe that his reign was of a ‘Golden Age’ where people had an harmonious relationship with nature.  Descendants of the Yellow Emperor are believed to have founded the Xia dynasty.

-XIA DYNASTY (2100 – 1600 BC)

-SHANG DYNASTY (1600-1028 BC)

-ZHOU DYNASTY (1027 – 221 BC, Western Zhou and Eastern Zhou Dynasties): The ruler of the time would justify his authority on the basis of the ‘mandate of heaven’. During the decline of the Zhou dynasty and empowerment of various local warlords, the ‘hundred schools of thought’ blossoms.
From 771 to 476 BC the Spring and Autumn period: the authority of the Zhou dynasty declines as feudal powers defy the Zhou rulers. This creates different cultural and political spheres across China.
From the 5th Century until the 221 BC there is the Warring States period.
Historians like John A.G Roberts suggest China was a feudal system under the Zhou Dynasty, though with Chinese peculiarities. For instance, contrary to the Western feudal system, the vassals were not strictly hereditary but open to changes on the basis of loyalty. However Zhou rulers did try to use kinship networks.
The Zhou king would give portion of lands to loyal vassals that in exchange would support him militarily. The conferment of a portion of land was marked by great ceremonies and gifts (like bronze vases).
This system was known as the ‘Jintiang’ (well-field system). ‘Jing’ in Chinese means ‘well’ and the character itself ‘井’ gives a graphic representation on how fields were distributed.  The central ‘field’ was a ‘public field’ that would be used to pay taxes, while each of the remaining fields would be given for private use to eight families. Usually there would also be a commonly distributed well for canals and irrigation.
The society was divided in four main groups, in descending order: the shi (scholars, also the lower nobility), the nong (farmers), the gong (artisans) and the shang (merchants).
The Zhou ruler would rank the aristocrats that would go to rule the chosen vassal state in the following order: Dukes (within the Dukes the Zhous had the Western equivalent of dukes, marquis, counts, viscounts, barons etc), ministers and knights.
The collection of poems from the Zhou Dynasty ‘Classic of Poetry’ (Shijing) contain many eulogies to the power of the king.
For instance in the Shijing II.6.(205) we read:
“Under the wide heaven,
All is the king’s land.
Within the sea-boundaries of the land,
All are the king’s servants.”
The Chinese had developed the concept of Tianxia (‘under heaven’): the world is seen as physical (territory), psychological (the sentiment of the people) and institutional (bureaucracy). The rule of the Zhou dynasty was considered as the ruler of the Tianxia. Then the world was visualised as a series of concentric circles starting from the capital where the ruler resided (more specifically the imperial court), then the tributary state and finally the periphery where everyone else was considered as a barbarian.
China was considered to be at the center of the world. When the Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) arrived in China with a map showing that China was not at the center of the world, his ideas were met with deep skepticism as they believed he was treating China like a small unimportant country.

The Chinese people still call their country ‘Zhongguo’- ‘Zhang’ means ‘middle’, while ‘guo’ kingdom’. The first time this term was used was during the Zhou dynasty.

In the 5th Century BC, Sun Tzu wrote the ‘Art of War’.  The book is a reflection on the nature of warfare and a collection of stratagems to use in battle:
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near” [2]

Sun Tzu was a military general serving the Wu State at the end of the Spring and Autumn Period.

Chinese military strategy is influenced by the ancient tradition of the stratagem. An important text of this genre is the so-called “Thirty-six stratagems”. Most of these stratagems have to do with techniques of deception. Many of these stratagems originate from the battles of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). However it is not yet clear when the actual body of the “Thirty-six stratagems” was written nor is it clear who the author/s was. The first mention of this text is made during the Southern Qi Dynasty in the “Nan Qi Shi” (a history book of the Southern Qi Dynasty).
According to some historians, the choice of the number ’36’ has to do with the numerology of the ‘I-Ching’ [3].
Some notable examples from the “Thirty-six stratagems”:
Hide your dagger behind a smile: Charm and ingratiate yourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust, you move against him in secret.
Beat The Grass To Startle The Snake: When you cannot detect the opponent’s plans launch a direct, but brief, attack and observe your opponent reactions. His behavior will reveal his strategy.
Tie Silk Blossoms to the Dead Tree: Tying silk blossoms on a dead tree gives the illusion that the tree is healthy. Through the use of artifice and disguise make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use, useful.
The Strategy of Injuring Yourself: Pretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat. The second is a way of ingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.
[translations by Verstappen]

THE HUNDREDS SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT: a period of great intellectual fervour, despite political instability.-
-Confucius (551- 479 BC): He lived in an era where the Zhou dynasty was in the process of dissolution, so his thought is concentrated on the achievement of political stability. He was in favour of a stratified society. His thought is non-metaphysical and entirely practical on how to construct the ideal society and how individuals within their social role should behave.
Confucius believed that the Early stages of the Zhou dynasty were a ‘Golden Era’ with wiser people such as the King Wen, Wu and the Duke of Zhou. In the Shijing there are many poems to venerate King Wen. King Wen is also credited for an arrangement of the I Ching hexagrams.
The Duke of Zhou (11th Century BC) helped his relatives to found the Zhou dynasty (today’s Shaanxi province). Duke of Zhou is credited for having developed the ‘Mandate from Heaven’ (Tianxia) concept to justify the Zhou authority. The Concept of the ‘Mandate from Heaven’ replaced the Shang view that rulers had to be descendants of the ‘Shangdi’ God. ‘Shangdi’ was considered to be the ancestor of the Shang dynasty and to hold considerable powers over the flow of events. Today ‘Shangdi’ is the term used by many Chinese Christians to refer to the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The Duke is also credited for having raised the importance of court rites and gift-giving.

Confucius came from the Lu feudal State.
He preached the importance of self-learning and he claimed that since he was 15 he was driven by a pursuit of knowledge. Confucius had the reputation of having mastered the six essential arts of Chinese culture: ritual, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and arithmetic.
However knowledge was not seen just as learning crafts, but also as a way to improve one’s character. Hence he stressed the importance of education.
Confucius belonged to the shi class. He held various government jobs. Eventually in Lu he became a minister of justice. He left the Lu state as he thought that the leadership at Lu was not interested in his humanist beliefs. He spent the remaining years wandering China to teach. He then returned to Lu where he died.
During the Cultural Revolutions some Confucian Temples were destroyed. However in the 80s and in the 90s some of them were restored, most notably the one in Qufu.



-Mohism: Mozi criticised Confucius and preached ‘universal love’.



-QIN DYNASTY (221 BC – 206 BC): unification of China under Qin Shi Huang-di is considered to be the beginning of imperial China. The Terracotta Army was built. Legalism is adopted as the ruling philosophy. Notably the books of dissenters were burnt down. The Great Wall begins to be constructed. This period is known for the centralisation of power and the attempt to homogenise the laws and customs.

-HAN DYNASTY (206 BC -220 AD, Western Han, Xin and Eastern Han Dynasties): Confucianism is adopted as the ruling philosophy.
The Silk Road becomes established.
Emperor Wu defeats the Huns.
Paper is invented by the court eunuch Cai Lun
There is a period of instability with a the war between the Three Kingdoms (Wei, Shu and Wu).
By the 3rd Century BC The Han Dynasty was seriously troubled by the Xiongnu nomadic people of the North (today’s Manchuria, Mongolia, Siberia).
As the Han campaigns to conquer the North became costly, the Han developed other ways to subjugate the Xiongnu (to ‘handle the barbians’. One way was by creating kinship relationships between Han and Xiongnu leaders, another one was creating ‘economic dependence’ between the two kingdoms. For instance the Han dynasty could provide “silk and woolen cloths, instead of their own rude furs and felt” [4]. The Han dynasty would also try to assimilate the Xiongnu culturally such as by disseminating Confucian teachings. Eventually some of Xiongnu hordes became loyal to the Han dynasty, some were also hired to patrol the dangerous borders of the North.
Nonetheless, China periodically suffered raids by disloyal hordes.




-TANG DYNASTY (618 – 907): a great period of prosperity and technological innovations.
Standardised examinations in order to be recruited in the bureaucracy.
Buddhism became one of the most popular religions.
Two notable poets: Du Fu and Li Bai. Du Fu a Confucian, Li Bai a Taoist.

Li Bai (701-762) was a knight errant.  Legend says he died drowning in the river as he jumped from a boat to ‘catch’ and hug the reflection of the moon on the water.
From the poem ‘Waking From Drunkenness on a Spring Day’:
“Life in the World is but a big dream;
I will not spoil it by any labour or care
So saying, I was drunk all the day,” [1]

In ‘Drinking Alone By Moonlight’ Li Bai reflects decadently on the flowing of time and things in human affairs:
“Who, sober, look on sights like these?
Riches and Poverty, long or short life,
By the Maker of Things are portioned and disposed;”

Then Li Bai describes a state of drunkenness as his consolation:
“When I am drunk, I lose Heaven and Earth.
Motionless—I cleave to my lonely bed.
At last I forget that I exist at all,
And at that moment my joy is great indeed”

Li Bai then suggests there is no need for him to study “spirits and hsien [enlightened taoists]”, because after a full gallon of wine he can feel “Nature and I are one”.

Gustav Mahler would eventually incorporate some poems by Li Bai in Das Liede Von Der Erde.


-SONG DYNASTY (960 – 1279): considered by historians to be the highest point of Chinese civilisation.
The Southern Song Dynasty developed gunpowder for military purposes.
Spread of literature enhanced by printing.
The Jurchen people (later known as the ‘Manchus’) set up an independent rule (Jin Dynasty) in Northern China from 1115 to 1234- until the Mongol invasion. The Jurchens had assimilated many Chinese customs and had began to follow Confucian teachings.

-YUAN DYNASTY (1271-1368): The dynasty was established by Kublai Khan, the leader of a Mongolian. Parts of the Chinese territory had already been occupied decades before my Mongols, but Kublai Khan reclaimed centralised control. For the first time China was ruled by a foreign dynasty.
Introduction of paper currency.

-MING DYNASTY (1368-1644): Revolts pushed back the Mongols.
Development of complex, cumbersome bureaucracy.
Zheng He’s (the ‘Chinese Columbus) expeditions reach Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique.

-QING DYNASTY (1644 -1911): rule by the Manchus.
Control over new land like Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan and Mongolia.
First Opium War in 1840 due to China banning the British trade of opium. As a result of the Chinese defeat, in 1842 Hong Kong was ceded to Britain.
The failed Taping Rebellion (1851-1864) led by a quasi-Christian self-declared prophet Taiping Tianguo leads to enormous social and economics costs. It is estimated 20 million lives were lost because of the Rebellion.
After the defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War, the Qing Dynasy cedes Taiwan to Japan.
Other rebellions ensued: the Boxer rebellion against foreigners (the response was the Eight-Nation Alliance) and the Dungan Revolt (mainly Chinese muslims).
Another crisis (a Malthusian trap) of the 19th Century was the combination of excessive demographic growth and food shortages to feed the entire population. One of the most devastating famines occurred in the 1890s in Northern China (especially in the Shanxi region): drought and overpopulation led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Since the Ming dynasty the population had started to growth disproportionately, especially in the Qing dynasty (the population doubled from 177 million in 1749 to 358 million in 1811).
Emperor Guangxu tries to modernise China, however thanks to a military coup Empress Dowager Cixi manages to reverse Guangxu’s reforms.
After the death of both emperors, there is no clear heir to the throne.
Sun Yat-Sen creates a movement to topple the Manchu dynasty and create a Republic on the basis of nationalism and democracy.
After the 1911 Xinhai revolution, Sun Yat-Sen returns to China and forces Emperor Puyi to abdicate. Sun Yat-Sen founds the KMT (Kuonmitang) party.  The revolutions had consisted of several uprising from military defectors.

After the loss of key cities in mainland China, Chiang Kai-Shek evacuates the ROC government to Taiwan. Taipei becomes the ‘temporary’ capital of the ROC.

PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA (1949-): The Republic was founded after che civil war victory.
Cultural Revolution in 1966.
Deng Xiaoping de facto ruler over economic reforms (1976-1989). He favoured the creation of Special Economic Zones. Deng’s reforms led to the concept of ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’.
Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 and Macau in 1999.

-‘Peaceful development/rise’ was the official foreign policy under Hu Jintao. The term was coined by the advisor Zheng Bijian. The foreign policy was based on soft power, economic ties and little military provocations to avoid being seen as a threat.

-In 2011 the Chinese government approved the creation of China’s own Wikipedia. It will mainly be an online version of the 1993 Encyclopaedia of China. It is estimated that 20.000 Chinese (academics, not volunteers) are working on this project, which will be published online in 2018.
Some content of Wikipedia in the Chinese language is blocked (such as the Dalai Lama page).
According to the editor-in-chief- of the project,Yang Muzhi, the Encyclopaedia of China “is not a book, but a Great Wall of culture”.
In 2014 also Russia planned the creation of an alternative Wikipedia.


Xi Jinping: “As comrade Mao Zedong once pointed out: ‘Our principle is that the party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the party.”

-[1] More Translations from the Chinese, by Arthur Waley, [1919]
-[2] Translated by Lionel Giles (1910)
-[3] “36 Stratagems Plus: Illustrated by International Cases” by S. T Douglas S. Tung and Teresa K. Tung, Teresa Tung, Douglas S. Tung  (pg.xvi, Trafford 2010).
-[4] The Rise of China Vs. The Logic of Strategy by Edward N. Luttwak. p.27 – Harvard Unversity Press 2012

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