Below is a timeline of events that have shaped the current events in modern China. Click on any date to view its relevant information.
|Date ||China ||International Community |
| ||Qing (or Manchu) Dynasty begins; unified China is considered the premier Asian power for last 2000 years. |
Empire run by a Confucian bureaucracy system begins decline into corruption and warlordism.
|Age of European exploration continues; formal British-American colonies developing. |
| ||China begins to open ports to Western traders on very limited basis, exporting luxury goods (silk, tea, porcelain) to Western elites. Maintains restrictions on import of British goods. ||European nations engaged in trade and imperialism throughout Asia, the Americas, and Africa. |
North American colonies gain independence. USA formed.
| ||British appeal to China to lift trade restrictions; China refuses, citing unequal benefits and fear of Western imperialism. ||Western nations increasingly more aggressive about trade; want more access to China’s ports. |
| ||China protests exploitative opium trade triangle with Britain and British India; Opium Wars begin. ||Britain wages Opium Wars to preserve and increase trade domination in Asia. |
| ||China defeated in Opium Wars; forced to sign humiliating Treaty of Nanjing. |
Hong Kong ceded to Britain; China forced to open 5 treaty ports and grant British special concessions and exemption from Chinese laws in these areas.
|Western domination and imperialism in China begins the “Century of Humiliation.” |
Chinese Empire slowly dismantled by Western powers and Japan.
| ||More Chinese treaty ports and concessions created for Western nations. ||Western nations consolidate power in African and Asian colonies. |
US increasingly enters commerce in Asia.
| ||First Sino-Japanese War. China loses Taiwan and other Asian islands to Japan. ||Formal “spheres of influence” marked out by Western powers in China. |
| ||Boxer Rebellion begins in China against influence of Western powers and the Qing Dynasty that allowed the infiltration of imperialists. Declining Chinese Empire puts down rebellion with help of Western powers and Russia. |
China forced to pay reparations for damage to Western property and to cede more ports and land to Western concessions.
|Western, Russian, and Japanese powers easily defeat Boxer rebels and use the victory to further subjugate China to their own commercial interests. |
| ||Qing Dynasty further declines; China essentially ruled by foreign powers. Confucianism abolished as government ideology. ||Western powers and Japan continue to consolidate commercial interests in Asia; more annexations and colonization, including Japanese colonization of Korea. |
| ||Qing Dynasty implodes, Emperor abdicates. ||Fall of the empire seen as sign of victory for Western domination. West and US in throes of Industrial Revolution. |
| ||Sun Yat-sen establishes the KMT or Nationalist Party and becomes President of new Republic of China; outlines Three Principles of the People as a way to strengthen China. ||European powers in intense competition for colonies and global markets. Imperial powers collaborate with Chinese warlords to further divide up China. |
| ||Poor governance in new Republic; China starts to fall apart as independence movements sweep through the provinces. Central government weak and riven by competing ideologies and unable to control warlords throughout country. |
As a teacher in Beijing, Mao Zedong becomes interested in the Russian Revolution.
|WWI breaks out in Europe; Russian Revolution begins and establishes Communist state. Peace Treaty ending WWI cedes more Chinese territory to Japan, an occasion that is marked annually in May 4 Movements. |
Decline of European influence in Asia; rise of Japanese influence.
| ||Chinese Communist Party (CCP) formed in opposition to ruling Nationalist Party (KMT) of Sun Yat-sen. Mao Zedong begins recruiting revolutionaries in rural areas. ||Europe recovering from war; Communist Russia agrees to help Sun Yat-sen battle warlords if he will accommodate the formation of the Chinese Communist Party. |
Japan becomes more aggressive in attempts to colonize China.
| ||Sun Yat-sen dies and is replaced by Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang allies with Mao and the CCP briefly in an attempt to defeat warlords and unify China. ||Independence movements begin in Western colonies in Asia and Middle East. |
Western ideas and culture spread throughout Asia.
| ||Alliance between KMT and CCP ends; Chiang purges government of Communists and launches attack on Mao’s guerrilla forces, successfully defeating them in the wars of the Northern Expedition. |
Mao continues to recruit among peasants; CCP grows and forms Red Army.
|Stock Market Crash and Great Depression in the US, Hitler comes to power in Germany. |
Japan invades Manchuria (northeast China) and meets little resistance from Chiang’s troops. Japan occupies Manchuria in defiance of League of Nations and prepares for full-scale invasion of China.
| ||After a series of wars, Chiang defeats Mao and CCP guerillas, sets up capital in Nanjing. |
The Long March begins and the CCP regroups to interior mountains of China. Despite heavy casualties, Mao strengthens and unifies CCP after brief internal power struggle.
Chiang under fire for not repelling the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Chinese Civil War brewing amid impending further invasion by Japan.
Brief alliance between the KMT and CCP against Japan which proves untenable. Internal weakness in China lays the foundation for a successful Japanese attack.
|Run-up to WWII in Europe and Asia from German and Japanese aggression. |
USSR breaks with CCP and Mao over ideological conflicts and competition; US begins to support both Mao and Chiang to deter an impending Japanese invasion of China.
The Great Depression continues in the US. New Deal is launched.
| ||Second Sino-Japanese War begins when Japanese invade China with Marco Polo Bridge incident in Beijing; often considered the beginning of WWII in Asia. Japan easily prevails, takes Beijing, Shanghai. Moves on to take capital where Massacre of Nanjing occurs. ||Hitler consolidates power in Germany and oppression of Jewish populations increases. |
Mussolini consolidates Fascist power in Italy. Franco in power in Spain.
| ||Japanese occupy China while Civil War rages on between Chiang (KMT) and Mao (CCP). |
CCP consolidates power in Northern China and Red Army fights fierce battles against Japanese forces.
Chiang’s beleaguered forces further weakened by corruption and weakness within KMT. KMT starts to lose support of US who suspect Chiang is not engaging Japanese in order to save his forces to fight the CCP.
|WWII begins in Europe with German invasion of Poland. |
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brings US into war. Japan occupies much of Southeast Asia.
Significant tensions develop between US and Chiang; US provides support and weaponry to Mao and the CCP. US tries to mediate KMT-CCP split, to no avail.
War rages on throughout Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia.
| ||Japan defeated by US. Japanese forces withdraw from China. |
Chiang and Mao vie for power in new phase of Chinese Civil War.
|War ends in Europe with surrender of Germany following defeat on Eastern and Western fronts. War ends in Asia with US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. |
| ||KMT does well at first against CCP. Mao rallies rural areas. Floods and famines in 1947 erode support for KMT, especially in cities where Chiang is blamed for poverty, corruption, and incompetence. |
CCP begins to prevail, consolidating power throughout northern and central China.
|India and Pakistan win independence from Britain. Independence movements sweep through colonies of defeated and victorious powers alike throughout the world. |
Israel formed. Korea divided.
| ||Chiang and KMT retreat to Taiwan to establish the Republic of China (ROC) on the island with US support. Chiang vows to continue struggle to recover Mainland from Communists. |
People’s Republic of China (PRC) established under leadership of Mao Zedong. Doctrine of Maoism prevails as a hybrid of Marxism, a celebration of peasant life, and perpetual revolutionary struggle.
China devastated by war, bankrupt, and fragmented. Mao establishes CCP government structure, begins social and economic reforms with goal of modernizing China.
|More independence movements throughout former colonies. Cold War intensifies. |
USSR provides support for China in an uneasy Mao-Stalin alliance undermined by conflicting ideologies and competition.
US Marshall Plan rebuilding Europe.
| ||Mao supports Communists in North Korea against UN and US forces; views stalemate and armistice in 1953 as a victory for Communism. |
Mao determined to wipe out all influences of old society; thousands imprisoned and/or killed for having ties to KMT or being seen as “elites.”
Socialization of agriculture: private estates seized, peasants organized into tightly controlled government-run cooperatives.
CCP extends control over art and culture; consolidates power in media and judicial systems.
Mao’s “One Hundred Flowers” movement briefly encourages dissent and diversity of opinion, allows criticism of CCP.
PRC takes formal control of Tibet, a formerly autonomous region.
|Korean War ends in stalemate and original division of country at 38th parallel remains: North Korea becomes Communist ally of China; South Korea comes under protection of US and West. |
Cold War produces race to align former colonies with US or USSR throughout Asia, Africa, Middle East.
Stalin dies and is replaced by Khrushchev.
US and others recognize Taiwan as the “real China,” over the PRC; Taiwan (ROC) takes Chinese seat on United Nations Security Council.
PRC shells Taiwanese military during training exercises and is condemned by USSR for provoking war in the Taiwan Strait. Tensions grow between Mao and Khrushchev.
| ||CCP cracks down on dissent. Purge of “Rightists” from Party affects 1 million people (10% of the Party) who are imprisoned, sent to labor camps, or disappear. |
Mao consolidates power completely in the CCP and becomes a totalitarian dictator.
|Cold War continues with Soviet expansion in to Eastern Europe. |
McCarthyism in the US includes refrain of “Who Lost China?”
Brief skirmish between PRC and ROC in Taiwan Strait.
| ||Mao institutes The Great Leap Forward, a 15-year plan to rapidly industrialize China through giant upheaval of rural society. 900 million peasants pulled off farms, required to work around the clock, making steel from everyday objects. Those left in the agriculture sector required to engage in faulty farming innovations. |
PRC cracks down on protests in Tibet.
Propaganda and further consolidation of power in central CCP; corruption and graft among Party officials.
40 million people die in the greatest man-made famine in history, resulting from disruption of agriculture. Steel produced is useless. Families and communities destroyed. CCP propaganda machine suppresses news of famine and crushes dissenters.
Mao briefly steps down as Chairman of the CCP; recovery slowly begins as rigid economic policies are eased.
Moderates briefly in control of CCP.
|PRC officially splits from USSR over border disputes and direction of global communism. Soviet advisors leave China. PRC-USSR relationship becomes hostile. |
China isolated from the international community during upheavals and suffering of Great Leap Forward.
Independence for former colonies in Africa at its height.
Fidel Castro takes control of Cuba. After the Bay of Pigs incident, he officially proclaims Cuba a Communist country.
Berlin Wall constructed.
| ||Mao returns to power preaching a doctrine encompassing propaganda, political education, indoctrination, and commitment to the cult of revolution. ||US fighting in Vietnam. US President John F. Kennedy assassinated. |
Khrushchev ousted from power in USSR.
Brief border conflict between China and India.
| ||Mao institutes Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution aimed at negating the influence of intellectuals and elites, and affirming the superiority of peasant values and continuous revolution. |
Purges in the Party; schools and universities closed; youth co-opted and urged to take the reins from Party elders and to spread the revolution throughout the country. Museums, cultural institutions, foreign-owned companies and embassies attacked. Urban youth sent to rural re-education camps.
1 million people imprisoned and/or killed by Red Guards; intense power struggles within Party; moderate voices crushed. Cult of Mao at height.
|US in Vietnam amidst domestic protests of the war. Tet Offensive and My Lai Massacre. |
Cold War continues to intensify with further Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe. Western powers and US begin to look to Communist China as a potential ally against Communist USSR.
7-Day Arab-Israeli War expands Jewish territories.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Presidential Candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy assassinated in US.
| ||Cultural Revolution winds down; fanaticism begins to fade; Red Guards disbanded. ||Anti-Vietnam War sentiment rising in US. |
| ||PRC opens up to the world with the historic visit of US President Nixon. ||US President Nixon’s visit signals international rapprochement with PRC. |
| ||Mao steps back from everyday leadership of CCP; succession battle begins. Fight for the soul of the Party between moderates and radicals. Demonstrations against the Gang of Four (radicals including Mao’s wife). ||Watergate Scandal forces resignation of President Nixon. |
US defeated in Vietnam.
| ||Mao dies. Gang of Four arrested. Mao/Revolution Era in which tens of millions of people were killed is officially over. PRC is impoverished and isolated from the world. |
Massive earthquake kills over 200,000.
|Communist Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot becomes dictator of Cambodia. |
| ||Reform Era begins under leadership of Deng Xiaoping. Deng determined to open up China to outside world and to implement liberal market reforms. Establishes doctrine of Four Modernizations. |
Deng tries to heal wounds of the Revolution era, reaching out to youth whose lives were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Replaces rhetoric of continuous revolution with freedom, happiness, and democracy. Brief experiment with democracy begins and ends with Democracy Wall.
CCP remains tightly in control and dissidents continue to be imprisoned. Democracy not a component of reform.
Household Responsibility System replaces communes in rural areas; peasants encouraged to embrace market incentives; agriculture rebounds despite droughts.
Population control becomes a concern and One Child Policy is instituted.
|US and others withdraw formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan (ROC) and recognize Mainland China (PRC). |
PRC takes the Chinese seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat and Israeli leader Menachim Begin sign historic peace accords at Camp David.
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The Shah of Iran deposed by Islamic cleric Ayatollah Khomeini. US Hostage Crisis in Tehran.
| ||Market incentives extended throughout economy. Industry grows and is directed by the Party. Economic Development Plan creates Special Economic Zones (SEZs) where market capitalism is unleashed and foreign investment courted through the Open Door Policy. |
Investment in infrastructure: transportation, electricity, housing, education, communications.
Growth spreads throughout Southern coastal regions, financed largely by Hong Kong and Taiwan. Gradually spreads to inland areas; more international investors enter the Chinese economy. Entrepreneurial spirit encouraged by the Party. Chinese consumerism rises; even rural populations see improved standards of living. New factories open every day.
Migration of peasants from rural to urban areas for work in factories alters family structures and strains traditional values.
Corruption spreads as Party officials’ direct involvement with the growing business sector produces rampant conflicts of interest.
Communism as an ideology diminished; culture begins to open to Western influences. CCP maintains rigid control of press and judicial systems.
CCP tightens control over Semi-Autonomous Regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.
|US and others boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. |
Gorbachev’s policies begin to liberalize the USSR.
Information and Technology Revolution begins in developed nations.
World begins to develop an appetite for low-cost Chinese manufactured goods.
USSR mistakenly shoots down a South Korean airliner.
Attacks on US marines stationed in Beirut, Lebanon.
| ||CCP Secretary for Tibet, Hu Jintao (future President of China) cracks down on political and religious activity in Tibet. |
Students coming of age without memories of the Mao’s Revolution start to protest legitimacy of totalitarian state; get some traction when they are joined by workers in big cities. Party cracks down on students and professors, but split emerges within the CCP over how to deal with dissent amid modernization. Some softening of Party control over religion.
Growing inequality of wealth between rural and urban areas and within cities. Unemployment and erosion of state-run welfare systems produces resentment.
Former Premier Zhou Ziyang takes over reformist wing of CCP and division within Party deepens.
|USSR boycotts 1980 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. |
Historic meeting between US President Reagan and USSR President Gorbachev.
Cold War winding down.
USSR nuclear accident at Chernobyl
| ||Death of popular reform leader Hu Yaobang who had been ousted by the Party sparks student tributes and rallies where political demands are issued. Students gather in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to protest censorship and corruption. Students begin hunger strike. Zhou meets with protestors in the Square, making divisions in the Party apparent to protestors. Zhou ousted from party and arrested. Jiang Zemin succeeds him as likely successor to Deng. |
Deng declares Martial Law; PLA army troops enter the city and are blocked by civilians from entering the Square. Troops repel civilians; tanks enter the Square where an all-out battle ensues. An unknown number (hundreds) of protestors are killed and thousands arrested.
Deng uses the incident to consolidate power once again and purge party of dissidents. Students are sent to “re-education” camps.
|Outrage over Tiananmen Square leads to brief recall of foreign nationals living in China; foreign investment is curtailed briefly. |
Fall of the Berlin Wall.
Beginning of the end of the USSR and Communism in Eastern Europe.
Cold War winding down.
1990- 1995 [+]
| ||CCP emerges from Tiananmen Square incident determined to roll back any progress toward democratization or political reform of society. Party closes ranks and increases control mechanisms. |
Economic reforms expanded; foreign investors move back in.
Deng’s control of CCP ends, one of the last of CCP founders. Jiang Zemin becomes Chairman of CCP and President of PRC.
China loses bid to host the 2000 Olympics over human rights abuses in Tibet and throughout the PRC.
Henan Province blood sale scandal; HIV/AID epidemic takes off.
Crackdowns on Tibet start with anti-Monastery campaign and end with destruction of many Buddhist temples.
|World watches, expecting Tiananmen Square to expose fault lines within Chinese politics and society and signal the beginning of the end of Party domination. Those who believe democracy to be a natural product of economic liberalization are proven wrong as social/political reforms stall and are rolled back in China, even amid downfall of USSR and end of Communism in Eastern Europe. |
Military exercises in Taiwan Strait along with missile tests ramp up tensions.
East and West Germany reunited.
Persian Gulf War
Boris Yeltsin democratically elected President of Russia.
US President Bush and Russian President Yeltsin officially end the Cold War.
US lifts trade sanctions on China.
| ||Floods in Eastern and Southern China kill hundreds of thousands and destroy millions of acres of crops. International aid is accepted by the CCP. |
Growing nationalism is sparked by mistaken bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade by American forces.
Macao is returned to China.
Falun Gong is outlawed as a threat to PRC stability.
Two books celebrating Chinese nationalism become bestsellers in China: China Can Say No and Behind the Demonization of China.
Chinese nationalism increases with strong anti-Western, anti-US, anti-Taiwan, and anti-Japanese features.
|Hong Kong is returned to Chinese control after a century of affiliation with Britain. |
China spars with US over Most Favored Nation status over human rights concerns. PRC starts to release political prisoners. President Clinton ultimately disconnects issue of human rights from trade negotiations. Control of Sino-American relations is routed away from US Congressional control and consolidated in the US Executive Office.
Tension in UN Security Council over the war in Bosnia. China does not support UN intervention in a sovereign state. Sino-America relations badly damaged when US forces accidentally bomb the Chinese embassy in Belgrade as part of the NATO effort against Serbia.
Russia and China establish diplomatic ties.
Shanghai Five (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan) meet to discuss border, security and trade concerns.
Asian Financial Crisis cripples all countries in the region, except China. Southeast Asia severely impacted and gets little help from US or West. China comes to their aid.
| ||Nationalism further ignited by collision of Chinese fighter jet and American spy plane. |
China joins World Trade Organization.
CCP cracks down on corruption.
CCP uses the post 9-11 Global War on Terror (GWT) as a justification for cracking down on Islamic dissidents living in Muslim areas of China, particularly in the Xinjiang (Uigher) region.
Falun Gong demonstrations in Beijing and elsewhere put down.
China granted bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
|US spy plane collides with Chinese fighter jet. PRC detains American crew temporarily. |
Chen Shui-bian from the opposition DPP elected President of Taiwan, ending KMT control of the Republic of China.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) formed from the Shanghai Five adds Uzbekistan and formalizes security, trade, investment agreements. Also addresses issue of ethnic minority separatist movements that affect their common borders.
PRC and Taiwan hold separate military exercises simulating attack and defense of the island.
US-NATO invasion of Afghanistan.
| ||Hu Jintao becomes President of China and Chairman of the CCP. Wen Jibao becomes Premier. Fourth Generation now in power. |
SARS outbreak, handled badly by the CCP, eventually contained.
China launches first manned spacecraft.
Massive building campaign for the 2008 Olympics begins.
|US President Bush makes an official state visit to China. |
India and PRC make historic agreement on Tibet where India refuses to indulge pro-Tibet independence protests in its country.
US-led invasion of Iraq.
| ||China and Southeast Asian nations sign trade agreement. ||Chen Shui-bian barely re-elected in Taiwan, signals Taiwanese desire to improve relations with PRC. |
| ||Jailed reformer Zhou dies and CCP censors all information and forbids memorial demonstrations. |
Anti-Japanese demonstrations in China over softened Japanese depictions of atrocities committed in WWII in textbooks and visits by Japanese Prime Minister to WWII shrine.
Anti-Secession Law passed forbidding Taiwanese declaration of independence.
|China and Russia hold joint military exercises. |
Indonesia and other in Southeast Asia recovering from December 2004 Tsunami. Western and Chinese aid pours in.
| ||Completion of Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric power project that displaces millions of peasants. |
Announcement of new Economic Five Year Plan aimed at addressing rural poverty in China.
China-Tibet railroad opens, further facilitating movement of Han Chinese to Tibet and opening region up to economic development. Seen by Tibetans as a way to dilute and ultimately extinguish their culture.
|China-Africa Summit attended by 48 African nations and symbolizing growing economic influence of China on continent. China now has oil and development concession throughout the continent, including in rogue states such as Congo, Angola, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. |
| ||Chinese missile test in space alarms Asian neighbors. |
New labor laws passed to address concerns of Chinese workers.
Food and drug safety scandals, as well as toy recalls.
|China-Japan rapprochement begins. |
China seen as obstructing UN Security Council efforts to address the conflict in Darfur and accused of violating arms embargoes to militia forces in Sudan.
| ||Anti-China protests in Tibet are met with force by PLA. |
Olympic Torch relay meets with protest along its route from Athens to Beijing. China responds with counter-offensive and increase in nationalistic rhetoric.
CCP announces it has uncovered and foiled a terrorist plot by Uighur/Muslim separatists to disrupt the Olympics.
Earthquake in Sichuan Province kills tens of thousands and destroys whole villages. CCP is largely seen as responsive and is hailed for its open press policy about the disaster.
Concerns are raised about construction standards in schools and other destroyed buildings. Protests by grieving parents against local CCP officials who were responsible for shoddy school construction are allowed for several weeks, then suppressed by police.
|China sends peacekeeping forces to the United Nations/African Union effort in Darfur while China remains under fire for supporting the Sudanese government with whom the PRC has lucrative oil contracts. |
Ma Ying-jeou of KMT elected President of Taiwan following KMT landslide in parliamentary elections. Signals new era of rapprochement with PRC and maintenance of status quo in the Taiwan Strait. US and others breathe sigh of relief.
Worldwide protests accompany Olympic Torch relay as human rights, Save Darfur, and pro-Tibetan groups attempt to send a message to the CCP in advance of the Games.
Earthquake quiets protests amid expressions of sympathy for Chinese victims. International community sends funds and relief supplies to China.
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