China History Guide 22- WWII in China or Second Sino Japanese War(1937-1945)

China History Guide 22- WWII in China or Second Sino Japanese War(1937-1945)

Outbreak of war and Nanjing massacre  

After Japans invasion of Manchuria and annexing into Manchukuo areas of Inner Mongolia Japan didn’t stop. It was becoming more and more eager of Chinese territories and resources. Japan was expelled from League of Nations as its aggression in foreign policy was on rise.  Japan was more and more allying with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy because of their revisionist aims. Japanese ultra nationalist and militant ideology of that time wasn’t much different than those of Nazism and Fascism. Japan already controlled Chinese Taiwan( occupied in 1895), Chinese Diaoyu islands( since 1895), Korea( since 1910) , a lot of Russian islands( since 1905) and Chinese Manchuria( since 1931). But Japan was aiming for more- it wanted more of Chinese territories, Russian territories primarily and Pacific islands. It wanted dominance in Asia and Pacific. Japanese aggression on China was in 1937 but it became part of WWII when it started in 1939. Japan entered WWII in 1941.

lugou bridge incident
Lugou bridge incident

Border tensions between 1932 and 1937 were frequent and intensive. In northeastern China there were often border clashes between Chinese KMT and Japanese troops. In January 1932 Chinese people in Shanghai entered incident with Japanese army stationed for protection of Japanese legations. After that incident Japan pushed China to demilitarize Shanghai. Also Red Army was organizing guerilla attacks in Japanese occupied Inner Mongolia. ROC didn’t want to enter war against Japan despite constant pressure because Chiang Kai Shek was more interested in fighting against communist forces. He was literally forced to conclude alliance with Red Army as mentioned in previous post. Everything escalated on 7th July 1937. Japan was slowly occupying areas around Beijing and Tianjin. Reaction of NRA was zero even when they captured important railway in Fengtai near Beijing. But on 7th July after midnight Japanese patrol nearby Lugou ( Marco Polo Bridge) Bridge in Beijing suburbs was stopped by Chinese patrol. They wanted to enter Wanping but were prevented and verbal conflict escalated in gunfire. Incident resulted in several hundred deaths on both sides and Japanese were prevented to enter town.

japs enter beijing
Japanese troops enter Beijing

But Japanese artillery started shelling of Wanping. Chiang Kai Shek was avoiding war at a cost for balancing against communists what is considered again as his betrayal of China. Few other KMT generals and CCP pushed ROC government to finally stand for dignity, territory and Chinese people and fight back Japanese aggression. This has escalated in large battles for Beijing and Tianjin which finished by Japanese occupation of these two cities. Japanese and Mongolian puppet troops captured more areas of Inner Mongolia as well. After this KMT until 1938 was in big retreats in northern China while in other areas it was fighting more. It was again seen often as Chiangs move to destabilize communists and let them fight alone. On the north large battle between 8 Route Army of CCP and Japanese troops occurred. It happened on 25th September at Pingxingguan and ended in Japanese defeat and partial stagnation of invasion. Japanese air force was bombing major Chinese cities very brutally with many civilian casualties. In August 1937 when Japan ordered KMT troops to withdraw from suburbs of Shanghai they rejected and it led to Japanese invasion of Shanghai. Battle of Shanghai was conducted by KMT and some CCP fighters as well under separate command. Bombing, shelling, infantry and naval attacks occurred in Shanghai.  Shanghai was sieged for about 2 months what led to causing suffering of civilians with lack of supplies. Japanese army was much more modern and Chinese troops were isolated. Despite that Chinese deployed 700 000 soldiers and Japanese 300 000 Japanese army was better equipped. Even when defender of Shanghai KMT officer was sympathizer of CCP it wasn’t enough to prevent fall of Shanghai. Chinese troops fought bitterly on the streets of Shanghai but by end of November Shanghai fell. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese fighters and civilians were killed. Japan didn’t respect any conventional warfare causing great damage to civilian objects, killing, torturing and raping civilians. Nothing was spared in Shanghai except foreign legations and concessions. But Japanese forces expelled foreign concessions and legations in 1941 when it entered war with USA, UK and France. Until 1941 Japan was respecting foreign concessions and legations in China in general. Captured and wounded Chinese soldiers were shot or beheaded by Japanese too.

Next was Nanjing. On 1st December Japanese forces started invasion of ROC capital Nanjing. Nanjing was left poorly defended after KMT withdrew a lot of troops. It left there 100 000 soldiers against 150 000 better equipped Japanese soldiers. Nanjing was bombed severely for months already. Only in 2 weeks Nanjing already heavily damaged was captured. Between 13th December 1937 and beginning of January 1938 occurred one of biggest war crimes not only in China or in WWII but in history of humanity. It is often compared to holocaust. It is known as Nanjing Massacre – a systematized mass murdering, massacring, mutilating and raping of Nanjing civilians and POWs. For only few weeks 300 000 people were brutally massacred. It is considered that 20 000 women and children were raped. Simply, nobody was spared who was found by Japanese forces. People were shot, beheaded or buried alive. Japanese troops were competing who will kill more people using swords only. Property was intentionally destroyed too. Corpses of people were lying anywhere on ground. Many corpses were burnt or thrown into Yangtze river. Nanjing massacre still remains a most tragic event and humiliation of Chinese people in recent history. It is commemorated every year and it is one of core points of Chinese national identity and basis for patriotism and unification.

Public beheading,
Japanese soldier bayonets baby,


Chinese Prisoners Being Buried Alive
Live Burial

After Nanjing massacre Japan expected Chinese capitulation but war was far from an end.  Japan settled its occupation now in vast territories of northeastern, eastern and southern parts of China. Almost all Chinese coast was controlled by Japan as it needed the coast the most. There stayed  two separate centers of resistance against Japanese invasion. One was CCP and another KMT which proclaimed fight in name of ROC. Both entities were in official alliance named Second United Front  until 1941 which was de facto zero without any cooperation. Soon Japanese imperial army established a Nanjing puppet government which fought on side of Japanese.


Killed children Nanjing,



CCP was stationed in Yanan and controlled most of Shaanxi province. It was major base of their power during WWII. They considered this anti Japanese and resistance war as it is in name of the people. In 1937 they deployed two large armies- New Fourth Army and 8 Route Army. Those 2 armies had aim to fight on front against Japanese forces. By 1940 they counted about 700 000 soldiers.  Other forces and majority of CCP force was aimed on guerilla warfare. Mao Zedong and other CCP leadership understood very well that Japanese army is much more powerful and that rational warfare and guerilla tactics are necessary for survival and successful fight. Except that CCP leadership knew that from untrained masses of people it would be deadly to send them to fight directly against more powerful force but instead of that they were sent in guerilla operations. CCP fought war in name of people and took care of economic reforms and peasant rights and care of family of fighters while they were far from home. CCP fought in name of people and their social rights. CCP was more decisive in fight than KMT and defined it in public and among people as top priority to fight invader while KMT was remaining indecisive a lot.  These were reasons why CCP was more successful in combating Japanese and why it got biggest popularity among people what led to communist victory in 1949.  Simply such tactic assured fight while preserving increasing resources in terms of people and weapons and it resulted in good trust among people.

1940 occupied areas
Situation in 1940
guerilla ccp
Communist guerilla,

Lets review first how guerilla warfare was conducted by CCP.  In total between 1937 and 1945 large network of guerilla units was built which conducted 20 000 guerilla attacks on vast Chinese countryside.  Various attacks and ambushes drastically hardened Japanese control of northeastern and eastern Chinese occupied territories. Almost whenever when their troops got out of cities or bases they were attacked. CCP attacked and detonated rails, military trains, military convoys, bases and patrols. Red Army guerillas in smaller units were successfully cutting communication and destroying infrastructure used by Japanese forces and Nanjing puppet forces. Tanks, trucks and airfields were target as well. Thanks to that Japanese troops had poor control of areas out of cities in northeastern and eastern areas of occupied territories. By constant diversions they were preventing many Japanese advancements in occupying more territories.  Red Army successfully was attacking and destroying warehouses and ammo and fuel supplies of Japanese army. It was capturing a lot of Japanese weaponry and used it against occupier. Red Army guerillas on countryside often were hiding in plains and mountains and often had shelter among people in villages. There were thousands of guerilla units secretly operating on occupied territories constantly sabotaging and interrupting Japanese activities. Guerilla operatives are considered as core for delaying Japanese movements in occupied territories and in further invasions of Chinese territories. They managed to recruit even more people there in name of Chinese nation, communism, equality, unconditional battle against intruder, liberation and unification. Chinese partisans are seen together with Soviet and Yugoslav partisans as most effective guerilla forces of WWII.  Japanese came very close to Yanan a main headquarters of CCP but because of effective combination of guerilla and later conventional warfare of Red Army it was never captured. Guerilla warfare of CCP seen as major one which united Chinese people against Japanese occupation and later united them in unification of China.

8 route army
8 Route Army of CCP,

Between January and June 1938 Japanese forces launched attacks on Henan and on Yellow River. Both Red Army and KMT fought there against Japanese but were defeated. In May 1938 as part of this campaign Red Army and KMT together defeated Japanese forces at Lanfeng. Aim of Japanese forces was to further advance into Chinese territory. On northern areas this was quite impossible because of guerilla tactics but here they tried to enter through central and southern China. Between June and October large battle of Wuhan in Hubei province occurred. Both 8 Route and New 4th Army and KMT forces participated as well. Japanese forces used aircrafts, tanks, artillery and infantry while Red Army and NRA used infantry, artillery, tanks and little aircrafts. Wuhan experienced heavy bombing. More than million Chinese troops participated and 350 000 Japanese. Big clashes occurred on shore of Yangtze river which always had important strategic location in Chinese history. Battle resulted in defeat of Chinese troops but Japanese forces had severe losses too. Hundreds of lives were taken on both sides. Japanese captured Wuhan but their advancement was halted in central China until 1944. This battle gave chance to Chinese troops to regroup and prepare for more battles. Japanese control of areas surrounding Wuhan was weak since Red Army constantly launched guerilla attacks on their infrastructure and logistics what was further delaying new offensives of Japanese army. Japanese forces committed many crimes again and used chemical weapons too. Another significant battle was at Taierzhuang at Shandong province which finished by Chinese victory in April 1938.


Between December 1939 and March 1940 in Guangdong, Anhui, Hubei , Shanxi, Shaanxi and Shandong large Chinese counteroffensive occurred. In central and northern China Red Army was dominant anti Japanese force while in eastern areas, both Red Army and NRA fought against Japanese while on south and some central areas KMT fought. Counteroffensive wasn’t completely successful but great damage was done to Japanese troops especially in areas where guerillas sabotaged their activities constantly. Communist leadership launched some bigger offensive because they regained some strength, soldiers and supplies. In August 1940 PLA already had more than 500 000 soldiers and more of supplies and equipment. Thus under command of Zhu De was launched 100 Regiments Offensive which lasted until December 1940. It was great tactical move of CCP and great victory. They launched attacks on Japanese rails,  telegram lines,  roads, mines and military bases and important posts near Taiyuan, Dezhou,  Datong and Shijiazhuang.  All major connections and defense positions of Japanese forces between these 4 cities were severely destroyed. In this offensive 400 000 PLA soldiers fought against 250 000 Japanese.

partisans ccp
Red Army guerilla,

After Hundred Regiments Offensive position and power of CCP was drastically increased. Their guerilla attacks became more frequent, better coordinated and brought more damage to Japanese troops. They managed to liberate some smaller territories in Jiangsu and Anhui. Because of rising power of communists Chiang Kai Shek became concerned and ordered to communist New 4th Army to withdraw from Anhui in January 1941. Leadership of that army didn’t want to withdraw from Anhui to Jiangsu but moved on another position in Anhui as they had own command independent from KMT. This made angry Chiang Kai Shek and he ordered to KMT troops to open fire on New 4th Army.  Several thousand of PLA soldiers were killed and few hundreds of KMT soldiers. It is known as New 4th Army Incident. This moment is considered as official betrayal of  Second United Front and unity in resistance war by Chiang and KMT. It was end even of nominal alliance between CCP and KMT. However they didn’t fight against each other until 1945. CCP military force was rising drastically between 1941 and 1945. Now not only guerilla attacks intensified but also conventional moves.  Between 1943 and 1945 they managed to increase number of liberated bigger or smaller enclaves in Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan, Hunan, Hubei, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui. They didn’t hold any bigger city but were very close to them such as Shanghai, Nanjing, Jinan, Qingdao, Beijing, Wuhan, Hangzhou, Kaifeng, Luoyang, Anyang, Hefei, Wuchang . Zhengzhou and Nanchang. CCP forces held there major sections of major  roads and rails which were connecting vast Chinese territories.  During Operation Ichi Go 8 Route Army was trying to prevent Japanese forces but unsuccessfully. However Japanese victory in this operation was not stable and  Japanese held roads and rails  were constantly attacked. Bridges and tunnels were more actively destroyed after Operation Ichi Go and for Japan it was harder to control larger occupied territories after this operation. By spring 1945 a lot of intersections of major roads and rails were sabotaged or controlled by Red Army.

In liberated enclaves they were immediately implementing communist tax  reduction, land reforms and were calling people on national liberation against Japan. Power of Japan was declining because of Pacific War against USA where Japan had severe losses and was losing war slowly. After ambushes and guerilla attacks Red Army then usually did large scale moves. Control and administering of occupied territories was more and more difficult because of bigger sabotages. Most of rails, bridges and roads could hardly be used by Japanese forces for any larger move because of constant sabotages, guerilla attacks and it was blocking them.  Only real full control of Japanese forces was remaining in big cities. Now millions of people were attracted by CCP and great patriotic morale of its armies and were joining resistance too. In 1945 CCP managed to gain control over quite big coastal areas of Hebei, Shandong and Zhejiang provinces. Maybe if Japan didn’t surrender in August 1945 as a result of nuclear attacks by USA and Soviet Union entering war against Japan war for liberation wouldn’t finish that fast but with such tactics of CCP, Japanese presence in China wouldn’t be longer than 5-7 additional years.

CCP soldiers


Simply by tactical, planned in detail and persistent struggle initiated by CCP national revival among Chinese people grew. They woke up against Japanese aggression and started to join Red Army and follow CCP on new promise for communism, equality, land for peasants, free healthcare, free education,  justice, national unification, stability and peace. People were tired from poverty, starving, foreign humiliation, exploitation by foreign powers and KMT which wasn’t taking care of interests of people. By 1945 not only peasants but intellectuals started to support CCP in its aims of  creating of  New China- unified, proud, rebuilt, stable, independent, strong, peaceful and communist China. Chiang Kai Shek and KMT disappointed people and they didn’t want to recognize them as legitimate ruler of China even in those areas controlled by KMT during war, mostly because of oppression and harsh taxes. In 1945 tens of millions were on side of CCP which now had 1.5mln Red Army and 2mln militiamen. In 1947 Red Army was renamed to Peoples Liberation Army. By end of civil war in 1949 PLA had about 5mln soldiers and hundreds of millions of supporters. In next chapter we will review of establishment of Peoples Republic of China and reunification after circa 100 years of instability and humiliation.

new fourth
New Fourth Army,


KMT role

After fall of Nanjing ROC government was seated in Chongqing. NRA employed totally different tactics than Red Army. They maybe were better equipped than Red Army but not ready enough to fight direct warfare which they often initiated. KMTs role in WWII is often seen as a bit undecisive. KMT was divided  between on one side on generals who were around Chiang Kai Shek who were balancing between fighting against Japanese troops and blocking Red Army and on another side those who were aiming to fight invader. Chiang Kai Shek and some more KMT figures are accused for refusing to give information to CCP guerillas about positions of Japanese and even for giving information to Japanese agents about locations of CCP guerillas. Only in 1941 in mentioned above incident KMT forces directly attacked CCP troops. Chiangs troops were positioned in such way that they often blocked movements of Red Army. On KMT controlled territories Chiang was still oppressing population and was sending untrained people to fight directly too. Because of these reasons popularity of KMT was decreasing and they saw more and more Chiang as traitor. Despite division in KMT Chiang was still dominant person what caused continuation of Civil War after 1945.

Battle of wuhan
Battle of Wuhan NRA,

However there were few other KMT generals who fought sincerely against Japanese aggression. Most of credit is usually given to KMT troops and martyrs  who fought for China. There are hundreds of thousands of them who fought conventional warfare. They usually fought in defensive and offensive direct battles. Sometimes these KMT armies were successful sometimes not. Often they fought together with 2 CCP armies- 8 Route Army and New 4th Army against Japanese forces. They didn’t cooperate much but didn’t fought each other except in case of incident in Anhui caused by Chiang Kai Shek loyalists.  Generally speaking todays China respects efforts of KMT generals and soldiers who sincerely fought against Japanese aggression in name of homeland. Their contribution is acknowledged by CCP and their veterans still invited to Beijing on commemorations. But still their strategies are seen as irrational and causing unnecessary losses of people and equipment. Their equipment was much less advanced than Japanese what was one more indicator that their tactic of direct warfare wasn’t best solution. Such tactics caused weakening of KMT and after that defeat by CCP.

Lets review major battles where KMT troops were involved. Chinese historians, CCP and politicians acknowledge today role of KMT soldiers and generals who deserve honor in their battle against Japanese aggression.


ktm solds


Some battles of 1938 and 1939 where KMT participated were mentioned above. Except in battle of Wuhan there were other battles where KMT fought bitterly. Between March and May 1939 battle of Nanchang occurred where 200 000 KMT forces participated against 150 000 Japanese much better equipped troops. NRA was defeated and had to withdraw from Nanchang. During approximately same period 200 000 of KMT forces fought at Suxian against 100 000 Japanese and won there. In February 1939 Hainan island fell under Japanese rule despite KMT persistent defense. Between September and October 1939 Japan launched large scale invasion on Changsha  a strategically important city but their attack was repelled by KMT and Japan got heavy casualties here. Here Red Army guerillas were also involved in sabotaging Japanese forces. During Winter 1939-1940 KMT participated in large scale counteroffensive.

In 1940 battle of Wuyuan occurred where NRA forces commanded by Hui Muslim generals participated in war against Japan and defeated Japanese troops. Japanese forces were attempting to reach Ningxia and create there Hui Muslim puppet state but at battle of Siyuan( Inner Mongolia) Muslim divisions of KMT defeated Japanese forces. At Yichang KMT troops in Hubei won and at Kunlun Pass in Guangxi in 1940. At Shangao in 1941 KMT forces won again. In 1941 KMT again defended Changsha and in 1942. In 1942 in Zhejiang and Jiangxi in its activities KMT forces were successful.

changsha batt

KMT definitely played significant role in fighting Japanese on frontline and achieved several victories but their supplies and power started to deteriorate. Without clear idea and enough closeness to people and large casualties morale of soldiers and their support among people was in decline. Since 1943 their operations became much more reduced and their success as well. Chiang Kai Shek was more and more concerned with rise of popularity of communists and a lot of KMT troops were positioned to block progressing of Red Army guerilla tactics and creating enclaves in central and southern China. He lost a lot of supplies and equipment because of too big and unthinkable activities at beginning and people were more disappointed because of corruption and lack of clear vision. Between 1942 and 1945 few divisions of KMT entered Burma through Yunnan to assist British and later US troops fighting against Japanese forces. These actions were more successful but mostly thanks to powerful US and British war machinery. Even US commanders had disputes with Chiang Kai Shek despite that they supported him because of balancing against Soviet Union.  They tried to use Chiang as their marionette in fighting war on their terms and needs.  Japan was already destabilized by war on Pacific and because of communist guerilla warfare and their strengthening and thus its operations towards further offensives on KMT were delayed. Japan now used its air force and conducted many bombings on Chongqing and other KMT and Red Army positions. Because of poorer tactics and losing public support NRA suffered more casualties. Heavy casualties of civilians were recorded. In April 1944 Japan launched large operation Ichi Go which lasted until December 1944. Their aim was to secure some routes in central and southeastern China towards Indochina and capture airports in south China used by US bombers to bomb Japanese positions. Japan deployed 500 000 soldiers and 800 tanks in Hunan, Henan and Guangxi. Under pressure of USA KMT deployed million troops but they were severely defeated and lost 1mln of people. They lost Changsha, Guilin and Luoyang. Now KMT only had southwestern and some areas of central China under its control. After this operation Japanese forces held even more territories but it was hard to control them because of constant guerilla attacks of Red Army and rising of national resistance in occupied territories. Anyway USA used other bases on Pacific to bomb Japanese territory more and more frequently. Ichi Go was last large scale operation of imperial Japan in China.

Japanese soldiers operation ichi go
Japanese infantry and tanks operation Ichi Go

Japanese control over large occupied areas was dropping thanks to communist rise. Thanks to US victories in battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa Japanese military machinery was destroyed. In last year of war Chiang Kai Shek was reducing military operations and he was focused on defense of KMT held territories.  He also focused on gathering strength to fight against communists. It is often estimated that if Japan didn’t surrender to USA because of nuclear bombs it could capture Sichuan province and headquarters of KMT in Chongqing. There were such preparations but were not initiated because of capitulation of Japan. Between April and August 1945 USA started to support KMT more intensively because of rising rivalry with Soviet Union. They started to provide KMT with arms, tanks, vehicles, artillery and aircrafts. Thus they managed to help them under large support of US air force and several thousand US paratroopers capture areas of Guangxi and Hunan.

WW2 mapa
Situation in 1945

All in all because of all mentioned above KMT is seen as less rational, less serious and undecisive force most because of Chiang Kai Shek. After 1945 KMT regained some power but people and military power were on side of PLA.

Free Area of China

Were territories held either by CCP or KMT during WWII which were not captured by Japanese army.  As mentioned CCP held territories experienced economic and land reforms. Dialogue with people was constantly held there and party officials were constantly becoming closer to people. They attended their celebrations, ate with them, helping them plow the land and aided them with food and medicines. They were introducing to people communist ideas, equality, rights of peasants and workers and patriotic ideas. They were introduced with Marxist and Leninist philosophy. Economic success was achieved in areas controlled by CCP. Red Army applied moral principles taught by Mao Zedong which were mentioned in previous article. Peasants were attracted by new ideas and freedoms and were massively joining Red Army to combat occupation.

KMT under Chiang Kai Shek was introducing hard taxes and hard labor among territories controlled by them. Chiang was trying to take more resources to fight while corruption was dominant there and  while he didn’t have some good idea to get closer to people. This resulted in already mentioned decline of public support. Even in territories controlled by KMT in Gansu in 1944 peasant rebellion started because of poor conditions what led to brutal surpassion.


Chinese puppet governments

Were collaborationist governments installed by Japan on occupied territories.  They were completely subordinated to Japanese army command.

First one was created in 1937 after fall of Beijing and Tianjin. It was called Provisional Government of ROC and its president was former KMT Minister of Finance Wang Kemin.

In 1938 was formed another parallel Reformed Government of ROC with Liang Hongzhi as its president, a former Anhui clique warlord.

Between 1935 and 1938 existed Autonomous Hubei Council as Japanese anti communist puppet which primarily had aim to fight communist guerillas.

All this was incorporated into Reorganized National Government of ROC which lasted between 1940 and 1945 with capital in Nanjing. Wang Jingwei was its president.

This puppet entities had own collaborationist forces under command of Japanese army. This puppet government was recognized only by Axis powers.

At the end of war both PLA and NRA executed many collaborationist officials.

Wang Jinwei
Wang Jingwei

Economy during WWII

Economies of CCP and KMT were already mentioned.  Under occupied territories there was complete use of Chinese labor and resources by Japanese and collaborationist governments. In harsh conditions workers and peasants had to work to provide supplies for armies. Resources were exploited by Japanese. A lot of industry was destroyed by Japanese bombings. Also CCP guerillas often attacked factories and infrastructural objects and mines in order to prevent Japanese forces to use them to supply their army.  Famines were large and killed several million people during war. Chinese economy was one of most destroyed by WWII. Illegal opium trade was blooming.

Life under occupation and Unit 731

Healthcare, education and arts were in decline. Religion was also without progress. Many temples were used as barracks and shelters and  were destroyed in crossfire.  We already spoke about life in CCP and KMT controlled areas. Now we speak hear about life under Japanese occupation. Life was generally hard and people faced everyday violence, corruption and famine. In cities were programs in cinema with aim to distract people from everyday life. In nights there was martial law and anyone could be shot who wasn’t Japanese or Chinese collaborationist officer. Women were often forced into prostitution to earn some money from Japanese for food. Man were under harsh control and could be imprisoned if it was suspected that they cooperate with CCP or KMT. In cities life was more or less quite stable but control of every activity was rigid.  Whenever people on the street would see a Japanese patrol or traffic policeman they had to bow or they could be even shot. Outside of cities in many areas Japanese troops didn’t have full control and were often under guerilla attacks. Peasants were often interrogated, tortured or killed by Japanese soldiers if they were suspected to cooperate with guerilla. As a vengeance for guerilla attack Japanese troops would execute all villagers and burn village. In order to impose fear they often committed random massacres and rapes.  Beheadings, life burials and shooting were common.  There were many prison camps for POWs with poor conditions and torture. It is estimated that Chinese people are second biggest victim of WWII in terms of casualties. There are 25million dead Russians and 20mln dead Chinese. From 20mln Chinese casualties more than half are civilians. What Japan did to Chinese people is often considered as equivalent to holocaust. This war is one of biggest humiliations for Chinese people and most tragic events in its history.

shanghai 1940
Occupied Shanghai 1940,
Victims of bombing of Chongqing 1941


One of worst things which Japan did in WWII is in Manchuria in Harbin. There was established secret Unit 731 facility. Its official purpose was biological and chemical warfare research center but in reality human experimentations were everyday life. Japanese doctors performed medical experiments under Chinese, Manchu and Korean men, women and children. There was vivisection frequently performed over captives without anesthetics. They performed there amputations to study speed of blood loss, amputations and connecting limbs on opposite sides, removal of parts of lungs, brain, livery, kidneys to study its effects and standing of surgery without anesthesia. They often on purpose caused gangrene to study effects.  Japanese doctors were injecting prisoners with plague, gonorrhea, syphilis,  smallpox, anthrax, tularemia, cholera and other dangerous diseases. They performed experiments of new medicines for these diseases  which caused tens of thousands of deaths.


Also Japanese warplanes threw on residential area gas containing plague , smallpox and anthrax in Manchuria, Ningbo and Changde to test their effects. It was causing large epidemics causing millions of deaths.  Prisoners infected with syphilis and non infected were often forced into sex to observe transmitting of disease. Some of infected people were  vivisected in order to observe internal and external effects of disease. Testing maximal dose of X rays, plague bullets, standing cold or hot water, centrifuges, burning alive, injecting animal blood, injecting sea water and similar things. Japan was testing these weapons in order to potentially use them in warfare. When soviets captured Manchuria in 1945 doctors fled to Japan with their families. After war they gave to CIA results of experiments as deal to avoid trial. USA used its results in own researches during Cold War. Soviet Union took some documents from Unit 731 and used them too. A lot of former guards after war acknowledged what happened there and in similar units in Changchun, Beijing, Guangzhou and Nanjing. In Beijing famous Peking Union Medical College Hospital served as center for medical experimentations in Beijing.

Shiro Ishi, commander of Unit 731



unit open
Unit 731 open for visitors today

Other Regions

Manchukuo and Soviet liberation

Lets start from Manchukuo a puppet state of Japan. During WWII communist guerillas were often interrupting functioning of everyday life of occupier and puppet by sabotages and raids. Manchukuo army often participated in war on side of Japan in areas of northern and northeastern China.  We already mentioned Unit 731.


In August 1945 Soviet Union started invasion on Manchukuo. Only in 10 days Japanese and Manchukuo forces were severely defeated by powerful and victorius Soviet 1.5mln soldiers including tanks and air force. Soviet Union already captured Berlin and now turned against Japan too. Chiang Kai Shek invited Soviet Union to invade Manchuria and was promising Manchuria to Soviet Union as he hoped that in such case Soviet Union will turn on side of KMT.  This is considered by CCP as another betrayal of Chinese people by Chiang Kai Shek. Soviet Union liberated Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and north parts of Korea from Japanese occupation. However at that moment Soviet Union gave Manchuria to PLA which served as new base to fight against KMT and unite China. Chinese and Manchu resistance movements joined PLA. Many Japanese civilians who were brought by Japanese forces to inhabit Manchukuo were left behind and now they stayed in China. Most of them were women and they married Chinese man and raised children and were well treated.

Pu Yi was captured by Soviet Red Army and taken to Siberia. He was there until 1950 when PRC was founded as Chiang Kai Shek wanted to execute Pu Yi. After extradition he was taken to Fushun prison camp in Liaoning province. H was well treated there and expressed repentance for everything in past. It was proved that he was only puppet and that he didn’t know what Japanese forces did in secret. Pu Yi was therefore released in 1960 and lived peacefully in Beijing  as editor and editor until his death in 1967.  Until death he enjoyed protection from CCP.

pu yi arrest
Pu Yi arrested,
Mao Zedong and Pu Yi

Inner Mongolia and Mengjiang

Japan captured many areas of Inner Mongolia in 1936 those which were not annexed into Manchukuo. On these territories was formed Mengjiang a Mongolian puppet state. Japan appointed there Demchungdongrub a former prince and Mongol nationalist as ruler. Mengjiang actually wasn’t considered as independent but formally as part of reorganized collaborationist ROC government. Inner Mongol Army was formed but served as puppet army. Both Han Chinese and Mongol communist guerillas were active there against collaborationists. In 1945 Soviet Union liberated Inner Mongolia and returned it to China and it was later one of major communist bases and became Autonomous Region under control of communist China in 1947.  Autonomy for Mongol people was guaranteed now in frames of PRC. In 1949 Demchundongrub escaped to Mongolian Peoples Republic but was expelled and returned back to China. He was there arrested and 13 years in prison. After that he lived in Beijing until his death in 1966.


As mentioned before it was governed by Anti KMT warlord Sheng Shicai. He was cooperating with Soviet Union and with CCP. Some of Chinese Red Army troops were increasing presence in Xinjiang in 1943. Sheng Shicai was afraid of their influence and he massacred them including Mao Zedongs brother. Soon after that Ma clique warlords and KMT garrisons threw Sheng Shicai from power. Because of that Soviet Union in 1944 initiated Uighur revolt known as Illi Rebellion and sent there its Red Army too. KMT garrisons, Pro KMT Uighur warriors and Ma clique soldiers were defeated. They established Second East Turkestan Republic. Uighur nationalists  and communists came to power and declared war on ethnic Han people within Xinjiang. Mass massacres of them occurred. Several hundred thousands of Han people were killed and also Hui Muslims. Ali Khan Ture was president until 1944 and until 1949 Ehmetjan Qasimi. ETR served as Soviet puppet state. Since 1945-1946 there were active pro Chinese Uighur communists. ETR fell under legal and legitimate control of PRC in 1949 even when Soviet Union wanted to avoid it.


An island of Chinese expeditions and Chinese colony during Ming dynasty shared with Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish.  With fall of Ming dynasty some Ming officials struggled until 1680ies against By end of XVII century it was incorporated into China under Qing dynasty. By force it was taken by imperial Japan in 1895 and since that time until 1945 it was Japanese colony. It was heavily industrialized in order to support Japanese colonial and military machinery and served as good located base for navy. In 1913 there was large pro Chinese rebellion but was brutally surpassed. During WWII it served as military base and industrial hub. Japan was trying to assimilate Chinese population by imposing Japanese laws, culture, religion and educational system. In 1945 under pressure of USA Taiwan was given back to KMT controlled China and it became there a province.400 000 Japanese lived in Taiwan at that moment and by 1946 they were expatriated to Japan about 90% of them.




There were no significant events in Tibet during WWII. Theocratic system and serfdom was remaining unchanged. Nazi Germany in 1938 sent SS expedition to Tibet to perform researches. They often compared conditions of Tibet to that one of medieval times. In 1939 Japan sent agents to Tibet to gather intelligence about Soviet activities in Central Asia. In 1945 Tibet was still a de jure part of China but only in 1950 PLA troops incorporated it into PRC.


China and international relations during WWII

All League of Nations condemned Japanese invasion of China. Even Nazi Germany until 1939 was supplying by weapons and other equipment NRA. But with outbreak of WWII in 1939 Germany definitely decided to completely ally with Japan.  NRA was mostly supported by USA in terms of arms, tanks and aircrafts especially after 1943 with rise of communist power. Since 1945 Soviet Union started massively to support CCP with arms and ceding some liberated territories of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. USA and Britain didn’t support NRA because they considered KMT as legitimate representatives of China but because of its interest to balance against Soviet Union and communist forces what was aim of US foreign policy. On Yalta Conference 1945 China was not invited there. Soviet Union, USA and UK agreed there to give all occupied territories to China. All of this was given back to KMT except Manchuria and Inner Mongolia which were given to CCP. By end of WWII China was nominally recognized as world power even if KMT army wasn’t that strong enough and Chinese economy was very weak. USA threw two atomic bombs on Japan on cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki what discouraged Japan to further fight a war. When Japan signed capitulation in September 1945 it was obliged to return all occupied Chinese territories to China.It was done nominally to increase balance in international relations and build legitimacy of victorious side and reduce influence of Japan. Similar thing was done with France on cost of Germany. China became permanent member of UN Security Council in October 1945. But KMT representatives were considered as legitimate ones by USA, UK and France because of their anti communist stance. Soviet Union demanded from USA to recognize Outer Mongolia as independent as condition to enter war against Japan in Since beginning of 1946 Soviet Union was supporting intensively PLA and USA KMT. USA gave billions of dollars for KMT armies. But Soviet aid was much smaller because they were partially suspective of support to PLA because of Soviet idea to get control over Xinjiang. Chiang Kai Shek was promising to Soviet Union Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria in case if they support KMT but Soviet government rejected it because of initial idea to support communist China. When it comes to unequal treaties they were canceled in 1945 because most of foreign concessions were part of Japanese occupied territories since 1941 and because foreign states wanted to nominally increase credibility of China. In 1945 Soviet Union, France,  Japan, Italy and Britain cancelled all unequal treaties and formally returned all concessions. Only Hong Kong and Macau remained colonies of Britain and Portugal until 1997 and 1999 on basis of previous state agreements. In 1941 Japan occupied Hong Kong while Macau stayed untouched because of Portuguese neutrality during WWII.

Next chapter is about resuming of Civil War and establishment of PRC and first period of CCP rule in China.



China History Guide 21- Civil war( 1927-1937) and Japanese invasion of Manchuria( 1931)

China History Guide 21- Civil war( 1927-1937) and Japanese invasion of Manchuria( 1931)

Civil war and political situation

As mentioned previously Chiang Kai Shek by commiting massacre over communists and workers in Shanghai betrayed KMT-CCP alliance and socialist ideas of Sun Yatsen. Chiang Kai Shek after capturing most of China seated in government in Nanjing in 1928. Still warlordism stayed and there was lack of law enforcement on captured territories. He promoted conservatism, right wing ideas,  patriarchal Confucian ideas… Officially Chiang Kai Shek promoted democracy and some noble Confucian values related to merits and education but he didnt apply them.  Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek governed as dictator oppressed people, was taking large taxes and burnt temples. From his governance mostly suffered peasants and workers who were completely subordinated to new political, economic and military elite. Peasants and workers were exploited by excessive labor, big taxes and they lived poorly without any rights. They were often beaten, raped and robbed While top classes lived in luxury, while China was still humiliated and exploited by foreigners peasants and workers were dying from famine, exhaustion and illnesses. Still Chiang Kai Shek is mostly seen as negative figure but only little as positive figure because he managed to ease unequal treaties by gaining control over import and export tarrifs ( since 1860 controlled by foreign powers) and did some effort in fighting Japanese soldiers in WWII. Other KMT members and soldiers are more respected as veterans of WWII. But mostly is condemmed because of his harsh governance, ignorance of masses and opportunism. His main aim was to  defeat communists and rule instead to try to improve living conditions of people.

Nationalist soldiers looking for communists, source:…58831.60757.0.60932.….0…1.1.64.img..0.0.0.uA3JCFjejIQ#imgrc=Wb4CoulwSd36sM:

After betrayal in 1927( Shanghai massacre) communist guerillas were more intensively recruiting peasants and workers into their armies and started committing attacks on KMT officials and forces.  On 1st August 1927 in Nanchang was conducted large uprising by CCP commanded by Zhou Enlai. Nanchang was liberated from KMT but soon communist forces were expelled and withdrew into mountains. Their forces were much weaker and still smaller than nationalist forces. After few days CCP held revolutionary committee and agreed on revolution against nationalism, bourgeoise, capitalism and imperialism. 1st August 1927 is regarded as day of beginning of Civil War, revolution and formation of Peoples Liberation Army( PLA). At that time it was called Chinese Workers and Peasants Red Army. This war in total took 4million lives. Series of rebellions started around Changsha, Shantou and Guangzhou. Mao Zedong managed to capture some territory in Hunan and Jiangxi for short time in september 1927. This event is known as Autum Harvest Uprising. Some left wing members of KMT joined Chinese Red Army too. In December 1927 CCP captured Guangzhou and established soviet commune there which lasted for 3 days only.

After end of northern expedition  China had one capital in Nanjing( controlled by right wing KMT) and in Wuhan( CCP and left wing KMT).  In 1930 broke out Central Plains War between different KMT factions commanded by Chiang Kai Shek and Feng Yuxiang. War was led in Henan but also in Gansu. Various Hui Muslim armies fought against each other too. At the end of 1930 Chiang Kai Shek defeated them.In 1931 Japan fabricated Mukden Incident about which we will speak later. This incident was used as excuse of Japan to invade China and occupy Manchuria. Chiang Kai Shek instead to fight Japan at that moment more decisively he aimed fighting communists more who were too far from Manchuria to intervene. This time full scale war between China and Japan was avoided for short time. CCP leadership was calling KMT for establishing united front against Japan until they conquer more of Chinese territories but KMT rightists rejected it.

In central, southern,  southeastern and southwestern provinces such as Hunan, Anhui, Hubei, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Jiangxi, Fujian, Gansu, Yunnan and Guizhou Red army was stregnthening its positions and more or less controlled some territories. On 7th November 1931 in Ruijin( small town in Fujian province) Mao Zedong and CCP declared Chinese Soviet Republic. Mao Zedong was Chairman of Central Executive Committee and Head of State which was supported by Soviet Union only. At same time largest territorial unit in young Chinese Soviet Republic was Jiangxi Soviet region was established. Zhou Enlai was commanding Red Army which now counted 140 000 soldiers. They fastly stabilized economy and state system which were much more efficient and stable than those controlled by Chiang Kai Shek. Leadership under Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai was trying to improve life of people and were introducting communist policies of abolishing private property and giving land to peasant communes. However both Jiangxi Soviet and Chinese Soviet Republic were short living since they were under constant threat of KMT forces and warlords who sided KMT since they didnt want order as to warlords wartime adn chaos is always suitable.


Since 1929 Chiang Kai Shek launched encircling campaings against rising Red Army in various provinces such as Hunan, Anhui, Hubei, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Jiangxi, Fujian, Gansu , Yunnan and Guizhou. First 2  campaigns failed while 3rd was cancelled because of Mukden incident. But still despite Japanese invasion of Manchuria Chiang Kai Shek was launching campaings against Chinese Soviet Republic and Jiangxi Soviet. In January 1932 KMT launches campaign on Jiangxi Soviet with aim to encircle it. Siege lasted until March 1932. This ended with communist victory despite that their forces were outnumbered and underarmed. KMT sent 500 000 soldiers while PLA had there 70 000 soldiers. Second stage of fourth campaign started in July 1932 and lasted until October 1932. This time encircling was aimed on Hubei, Henan and Anhui and again ended in communist victory. But since PLA forces were outnumbered and underarmed despite maintaining strict discipline and loyalty it was hard to survive being encircled. In September 1933 fifth encirclement campaign started. It engaged 300 000 KMT soldiers against 140 000 Red Army soldiers. Jiangxi Soviet was encircled by KMT troops. Red Army was defending every centimeter bravely of their territory. But soon because of siege they had lack of supplies in terms of weapons, food and medicines. Aim of Chiang Kai Shek was to completely destroy strongest communist stronghold. In April 1934 PLA launched few counterattacks which finished by failure. In October 1934 communist leadership decided to break through encircling lines and escape instead to hold here position without enough supplies.  This is known as beginning of Long March. First 4 campaings were finished with failure thanks to Mao Zedongs guerilla tactics. He was sending smaller units as kind of counterattacks to approaching KMT forces which conducted ambushes and surprsie attacks. Fifh encirclement finished with victory for KMT as this time other communist leaders wanted direct contrfrontation what in opinion of Mao Zedong was too early. Mao Zedong was expelled from Central Committee because of disagreement with Zhu De, another core figure during initail phases of civil war. Mao understood well that PLA forces are not yet ready to fight directly against KMT.


Long March was large move and withdrawal of PLA forces from territories of Jiangxi Soviet in order to avoid complete defeat and capture by much larger KMT forces. PLA was under siege in Jiangxi Soviet for one year already exhausted with lack of weapons and food. It was not just withdrawing but first they had to push through enemy circles and avoid all ambushes and other attempts to be encircled during long journey to the northwest of China.  Aim was to reach new more safe territories of China Soviet Republic in todays Shaanxi , get out of encirclement, to refresh troops there and gain more supplies there before further revolutionary activities.Aim was to refresh and consolidate all Red Army factions and prepare for more direct confrontation with KMT.  Mostly by walk in one year PLA soldiers have passed 10 000km from southeast to northwest passing over 24 rivers and 18 mountain ranges. Neither weather, neither terrains, lack of supplies and KMT attacks didnt stop them thanks to PLAs heroism, loyalty and motivation to win and fight for people.  Thus in October about 100 000 soldiers and few thousand civilians fled away from Jiangxi what caused fall of Jiangxi Soviet. At Xiang river PLA had to break through KMT positions. PLA relied on weapons from killed KMT soldiers, on food from peasants and on more members in recruiting peasants on their way through countryside. They were often under attack and constant threat not only from KMT but from local warlords. PLA was also under bombings of KMT air force. PLA used to pass through sections between positions of KMT to try to gain as less damage as possible and avoided combat but sometimes they were noticed and attacked and also to push through and behind lines they had to storm the KMT positions. During November and December PLA had lost almost half of its troops because of lack of good decisions under some members of Central Committee. They were those who considered that PLA should attack positions of KMT during withdrawal instead to avoid combat and push through points where KMT forces are weakest or take some guerilla action as Mao Zedong was suggesting. By end of December they passed through Guangdong, Guangxi and  Hunan province. In January 1935 CCP leaders and Red Army entered Guizhou province and captured Zunyi town. They held a conference there in order to decide further what to do and how to prevent more losses. Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai already disagreed a lot with other leaders such as Bo Gu about moves since Bo Gu was suggesting return to Hunan where forces of KMT were too strong. Outcome was that party committee have chosen Mao Zedong as  important member of Military Commission , Zhang Wentian as General Secretary of CCP and Zhou Enlai. Thus these 3 figures became most influential in CCP. Mao Zedong even if he wasnt General Secretary still he defacto became most influential figure of CCP. Chief editor of Red Star( a CCP newspaper) Deng Xiaoping also attended conference.

Mao Zedong and Zhu De, source:

After Zunyi conference CCP and Red Army were under more rational and better organized leadership thus suffered less losses and avoided direct combat. Also they didnt focus much on recruiting new members while focused on maneuvring with current members. Now they were chased by nationalist forces which attempted to block their way many times and attacked them while they avoided direct battles.  Communist forces mostly maneuvred in Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan avoiding encirclements and battling on several river crossings when it was neccessary. Mao Zedong faked attack on Guiyang in order to distract KMT forces while PLA troops pass as safe as possible into Yunnan. Most famous battle was at Luding Bridge in May 1935. It was a bridge of core importance for escape of Red Army. Its location is on Dadu river in Sichuan province. PLA troops were in danger of being encircled and destroyed completely. There were not enough boats for crossing river so they had to use damaged bridge. Best 22 soldiers were sent in advance to fight KMT regiment nearby bridge in order to secure safe passage for majority soldiers. Battle finished with victory and secure passing of communist forces. This battle is considered as most heroic battle of Long March.

Luding Bridge today, source:

In June 1935 in Sichuan Zhang Guotao a commander of another army section from Henan with 80 000 soldiers and met with Mao Zedong. He was always considered as opponent of Mao Zedong. Now they disagreed of further withdrawal tactics. Mao Zedong was suggesting of immediate withdrawal towards Shaanxi while Zhang Guotao was suggesting move towards southwest where were more KMT forces. His idea was to persuade there Sichuanese local minorities to join side of communists. Mao and Zhou Enlai considered this as irrational in such conditions under constant atempts of encircelement. Thus Mao and Zhou continued on their way and Zhang Guotao went to southwest. Until October PLA had passed through swamps of northern Sichuan and Gansu being attacked by KMT and Hui Muslim warlord forces from Ma Clique. By end of October Red Army forces have reached Yanan in Shaanxi province which were controlled by Gao Gang and Liu Zhidan. Red Army totally exhausted but have reached its aim. Only 7000 from  initial 100 000 participants of withdrawal have survived. In total Yanan was reached by 8000 combatants.  Still this is considered as victory and success by CCP because they avoided complete destroyal and have survived its hardest times. Long March is  still  seen as a move which saved CCP, bravery, patriotism, loyalty and persistence. It is considered as one of major components of communist legitimacy in China. Except because bravery and patriotism CCP and PLA gained  trust among people because of their moral behavior. Mao Zedong issued a doctrine known as 8 Points of Attention in 1928 where he called on respectful behavior of soldiers towards civilians generally, peasants, prisoners, females,and property. He banned harassing of women, torturing prisoners, damaging crops, swearing, seizing property of peasants and called for obeying orders, paying compensation for damage and giving property of landlords and warlords to central commanders. People never before in recent Chinese history experienced such soldiers since they got on brutal KMT soldiers and even more brutal and coercive warlord armies. Major commanders of Long March such as Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De,  Lin Biao, Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and others. On another hand Zhang Guotao was considered as looser since he came with only 400 soldiers( from 80 000) especially because of mentioned irrationality. He was also accused that he planned a plot against Mao in Yanan and therefore expelled from party.

Map of Long March, source:
gathering of soldiers in Yanan
PLA in Yanan after end of Long March, source:

During 1936 CCP was holding order in some territories of Central China and reforming economy. It recovered its troops and got more supplies. Chiang Kai Shek sent large army commanded by Zhang Xueliang on communist territories in Shaanxi. His forces were in several invasions on Shaanxi defeated largely and he didnt receive any aid from Chiang Kai Shek. In December 1936 Zhang kidnapped Chiang Kai Shek in Xian by his forces. Aim of that was to push Chiang Kai Shek to create new alliance with CCP because of new threat of Japan. This event is known as Xian incident.  By end of December Chiang Kai Shek agreed on Second United Front which was supposed to bring peace between CCP and KMT and unite forces against Japanese invasion which came true in July 1937. Before that CCP have created two armies- 8 Route Army and New Fourth Army which counted around only 50 000 members in 1937 and in 1940 700 000 members and were supposed to directly battle against Japanese. While other CCP armies were supposed to fight guerilla war against Japan. CCP formally abolished Chinese Soviet Republic and declared unity with KMT controlled ROC for a war time. But CCP and PLA held still control of their territories. Both CCP and KMT fought against Japan on their own without much direct coopearation while Chiang controlled divisions more focused on maneuvring against communists than fighting Japan. Alliance at beginning was tighter while later it was dissolved in 1941 when Chiang Kai Shek betrayed CCP again.

Mao and Zhou
Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in Yanan, 1935, source:

Chinese Soviet Republic

As mentioned it was short lasting state founded in 1931 by Chinese Communist Party. It was generally one of the worlds first communist states. There were formally and in practice established and applied communist ideas mentioned in previous chapter. Immediate confiscation of property of big and middle landlords occured and was given to the peasants. Peasant communes were established and all land was their public ownership and tools which they used. Education and healthcare were declared completely free. Their economy became centrally planned and was doing better than economy under territories controlled by Chiang Kai Shek. Army of this state was Chinese Red Army. National Bank was also established and currency of paper yuan, silver dollar and copper coins. Prime Minsiter was Mao Zedong. First capital was Ruijin in Fujian province. Jiangxi Soviet component was largest controlled territory of the CSR. Generally its territories were  different communist enclaves composed of Soviet units without much direct territorial connection. After fall of Jiangxi Soviet in 1934 and Long March CSR lost most of its territories. When  Long March ended Yanan  a seat of Shaanxi Soviet became capital of Chinese Soviet Republic .In 1937 Chinese Soviet Republic was formally abolished in name of anti Japanese alliance with KMT, but CCP and Red Army controlled Shaanxi and some other central areas until end of WWII and later and there they applied communist policies.


soviet china
Flag of Chinese Soviet Republic



Politics and Economy of ROC

Chiang Kai Shek soon after Northern Expedition started to lose credibility. He officially proclaimed democracy, progressivity and modernization but most historians agree that there was only minor progress in modernization if there was at all. From capital Nanjing most of territories were hardly controlled because of CCP, warlords and big corruption of KMT officials. Chiangs reunificaiton of 1928 was short lasting and already in 1931-1932 he controlled only eastern, southern, southwestern and some areas of central China. So basically it can be considered as failed reunification or at best partial reunification.  In politics Chiang introduced totalitarian ideology known as New Life Movement. He was trying to educate population about politics but was strictly repressing and imprisoning all who were not sharing his opinion or presented potential alternative to his regime. In 1934 Chiang initiated famous New Life Movement a civic organization which was promoting right wing and conservative values. It is often considered as reaction to May Fourth Movement and attempt to prevent any modern, liberal, socialist or foreign values. This movement was calling for revival of Confucian values but actually it was kind of misinterperetation and use of Confucianism in nationalist ultraconservative political ideas. Movement was promoting superiority of Chinese nation, absolute loyalty towards state at any cost, strict patriarchal values and strict hierarchy. Original Confucianism is based on merits, education, social haromy and loyalty towards state which is responsible to take care of all citizens. But regime was based on oppression, strict militarism  and created great social inequality and predisposition to most severe capitalism. Such ideology is by some scholars seen as version of ultranationalism and even fascism such as it was during that time in Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain.

The executive court was the actual government of the one-party state with the National Party (Kuomintang 國民黨) as ruling party. It consisted of a court head and nine ministries (bu 部) for national politics (neizhengbu 內政部), foreign affairs (waijiaobu 外交部), war (junzhengbu 軍政部), navy (haijunbu 海軍部), finance (caizhengbu 財政部), industry (shiyebu 實業部), education (jiaoyubu 教育部), traffic (jiaotongbu 交通部), and railways (tiedaobu 鐵道部). Further there was a health department (weishengshu 衛生署) and two commissions for Tibetian and Mongolian (Zang Meng weiyuanhui 藏蒙委員會), and for Chinese Overseas affairs (Qiaowu weiyuanhui 僑務委員會).

chiang and song
Chiang Kai Shek and Song Meiling, source:

In the Republic of China, especially after the foundation of the Nanjing government in 1928 the executive was organized in an executive court (xingzhengyuan 行政院), the legislative was in the hands of the legislative court (lifayuan 立法院), and the law was administered by the judicial court (sifayuan 司法院). Additionally, there were two courts in this five court system that were inherited from the imperial administration structure, especially the fifth of them, the censorial court (jianchayuan 監察院); the fourth court was the audit court (kaoshiyuan 考試院).  SOURCE:

Speaking de facto most of power in KMT controlled areas was in hands of Chiang Kai Shek and executive court which controlled all other branches of power.

Administratively state was divided on provinces and counties.

When it comes to economy it had very limited success and great disparity between regions was present. Some of more successful facts are that Central Bank of China was established what stabilized currency. There was partial improvement of infrastructure, industry, motorways, rails, electification in some provinces and areas where KMT had bigger control.  Chiang took control of some tarrifs in foreign trade what reduced impact of unequal treaties. But still Chinese economy was deeply exploited and its labor both by foreign and Chinese owners. In areas where KMT didnt have control where warlords dominated it was impossible to implement any reforms and economy there was in poor condition. Most of KMT controllled province governors were quite corrupt and didnt allow good development of industries and infrastructure since money was finishing in private hands. In communist controlled areas ecoonmy was doing much better as mentioned. Generally KMT government had lack of resources as it spent too much on army or state budget money was spent on private purposes. 47% of budget was spent on army while on education only 4%.  Nazi Germany was one of major economic partners of Chiang Kai Shek in 1930ies.  Opium was still illegally smuggled by bands, warlords and corrupt officials.


National Revolutionary Army of KMT had around 700 000 and later more soldiers. It was mostly equipped by homemade rifles and German rifles. Uniforms and helmets were mostly bought from Germany or USA.  They also imported tanks from Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and France. Artillery was often domestic. Air force in 30ies was gradually developing mostly Soviet and US fighters and bombers were bought or got as aid.

PLA mostly used domestic rifles and artillery. Also it often used Soviet equipment and rifles. When it had chance it seized and used other arms and equipment from KMT. PLA got airforce only in 1949.  Thats why PLA used initially guerilla tactics.

When it comes to education and healthcare situation wasnt changing much in comparison to previous decade. In bigger cities quality of both was better while in rural areas there was large lack of both. Education was still very limited for women especially higher one. Healhtcare was hardly affordable for majority of people as one labor salary wasnt enough to cover healthcare bills.

NRA soldiers


Here except traditional arts Western arts were present in bigger cities. Cinema was developing too. In 1931 first sound movie was developed known as Sing Song Girl Red Peony. Song of the Fishermen, Silkworms, The Goddess, Plunder of Peach and Plum, The Big Road were most famous movies of that time. In literature satirists and novelists appear. Leftist and feminist ideas were quite present in literature. Topics of relations between both sexes became very common. In 1930 in Shanghai Lu Xun founded a League of Left Wing writers which soon became illegal. They were writing about future under socialism and were promoting socialist and communist values. Fiction Wuxia was also developing during 1930ies.

Was highly censored and controlled by government in Nanjing.




Religion and philosophy

Didnt experience significant developments. Chiang Kai Shek accepted Chrisitianity at beginning of 1930ies and considered Taoism and Buddhism as supersititons and was trying to prohibit and eradicate them.  Temples were often abolished, used as warehouses and even destroyed by warlord forces.

taoists 13930s
Taoist monks practicing martial arts, 1930s, source:

Generally speaking about society there were not much positive changes in comparison to period of 1920ies. There were large social and economic inequality gaps, poverty, harsh capitalism, lack of effective governance in majority of territories and oppression.


guangzhou 1
Guangzhou, source:
milk station Beijing 1930s
Beijing 1930s, source:

Other Regions

Japanese invasion of Manchuria-  Altough ROC since establishment didnt have full control of Manchuria it was nominally considered as part of China but actually was a Japanese colony. Imperial Japan was deeply inspired by militarism which reminded on European fascism and with imperialist aims. Japan of that time considered itself as most developed and civilized in Asia After WWI Japan was angry as it didnt get what it wanted from Western powers. So it became revisionist power and aimed on further militarization and expansion. China was big, unstable and weak what was very attractive for Japan. Initially Manchuria was most attractive since of great strategic location on the sea, for balancing against Soviet Union and full of minerals and coal. It was easy to conquer because of lack of Chinese control over it. In September 1931 Japanese Imperial Army fabricated incident on Mukden rails near Mukden( todays Shenyang). Its soldiers set up an minor explosion but presented in Japan as Chinese diversion against Japanese rail company and rails in Manchuria. Japan used it as excuse to invade Manchuria. Japanese Kwantung Army set up an occupation in Manchuria and was supported by reinforcements from Japan. Manchuria almost fell without resistance and ROC government almost didnt react since it saw more of priority to fight communists instead to defend its territories. CCP was suggesting to KMT to form anti Japanese alliance in 1931 but KMT rejected it.  PLA troops couldnt reach Manchuria  as they were too far and would be blocked by National Revolutionary Army. This act is often considered as betrayal of KMT.

japanese in manchuria
Japanese forces in Manchuria, 1931, source:

Japan formed a puppet state from Manchuria known as Manchukuo. It was formally established in 1932.  It  became constitutional monarchy based on Japanese model. Emperor was Puyi( now Emperor Kangde) a last emperor of Qing. Puyi was for long time eager to rule and he felt as ethnic Manchu so he was perfect for manipulation by Japanese.  Other state organs were State Council and Legislative Council. Manchus and Chinese worked in State Council and ministries. Chinese was prime minister. Manchus and Chinese too had top positions officially but each vice minister was Japanese. Commander of Japanese army in Manchuria was an Japanese ambassador to Manchukuo. He could also veto any decision of emperor.  Officially Japan and Manchukuo were allies but as it is obvious Manchukuo was just a puppet. Capital was Changchun and Manchukuo was divided on 4 provinces and later in 1941 on 19.

puyi manchuria
Puyi as emperor Kangde of Manchukuo, source:

State authorities were calling on peace, harmony and development. They were promoting friendship between Han Chinese, Manchu and Japanese people but it was just a mask for Japanese dominance, occupation and exploitation of resources.  Manchukuo got own Imperial Army which was subordinated to Japanese army. Japan was investing in industry and infrastructure of new puppet state as most of revenue was going to Japanese hands.  Most of products and money were used for feeding Japanese war and military machinery. Japanese authorities saw Manchukuo as industrial zone for supplying Japanese army and serving its imperialist interests.CCP was secretly sending insurgents into Manchukuo which were organizing guerilla attacks between 1932 and 1938 mostly. They often allied with local Chinese movements of resistance which were often joined by Manchu population.  Guerillas often performed attacks on rails, factories and military posts. Both Japanese and Manchukuo imperial armies fought against these insurgents who counted around 100 000.  Japanese army was much more active as it considered Manchukuo Army as unreliable and wanted to keep it under its control.  In 1936 CCP agents in Manchukuo established Anti Japanese United Army composed of Han, Manchu and Korean people.  It was main force of resistance since it united all other anti Japanese movements in Manchuria.  By most people Manchukuo is seen as collaborationist government and its officials as traitors.  Manchukuo was recognized by Nazi Germany, Spain, Slovakia( 1941), Hungary, Romania,  Vichy France, Philippiness, Bulgaria, Denmark and  Croatia and Finland. Basically governments which supported Axis powers recognized this state.

Map of China and Manchukuo, source:

Mongolia and Inner Mongolia

Outer Mongolia wasnt much used as term since in 1924 Peoples Republic of Mongolia existed.  Its government was mostly seeking good relations with USSR in order to avoid returning back to China. Soviet Union and China still didnt recognize Mongolia as independend state but as part of Republic of China.  Mongolia was still just nominally part of China but de facto functioned as independent state. On its territory in 1939 large battle between Soviet Union and Japan occured at Khalkin Gol as result of border incident between Monoglia and Manchuria.

As mentioned before Inner Mongolia was divided on several provinces. Japan incorporated some areas of Inner Mongolia into Manchukuo. Later more Inner Mongolian areas were occupied by Japan. Communist activists were quite present in Inner Mongolia and cooperated with loca Inner Mongolian Peoples Revolutionary Party.

Mongol archers 1930s
Archers in Inner Mongolia, 1930s, source;


As mentioned before with establishment of ROC Tibet was still part of China but without direct control of Chinese government. It was like that because of lack of capacity to restore control over Tibet. Tibet functioned as isolated theocracy in which small clerical elite oppressed and kept population poor and enslaved. British spies were often trying to distance Tibet even more from ROC as they wanted to destabilize China further and expand its influence in world. In 1930 13th Dalai Lama ordered invasion on neighboring Xikang and Qinghai provinces because of dispute with 9th Panchen Lama who was exiled from Tibet. Chinese forces, Sichuan clique and Ma clique rapidly defeated invading Tibetan forces. Conflict lasted until 1932 and forces of Dalai Lama were severely defeated despite political and financial support from Britain. Still National Revolutionary Army and two warlord cliques didnt have enough power and interest at that moment to enter Tibet and set up legitimate control.   In 1934 in  Tibetan inhabited Kham region of Xikang province there was launched Khamba rebellion led by local rich Pandatsang family. It was directed against Sichuan warlord clique and Dalai Lama. They also attacked retreating PLA forces during Long March. By 1935 rebellion was dissolved after many defeats.

Lhasa in 1930s
Tibet in 1930s, source:


As mentioned previouslt Xinjiang remained under very low control by ROC since 1912. Yang Zengxin was governor there since 1912. Among people tensions were quite low and were often interreligious marriages between Han, Uighur and Hui people. But political rivality among core figures in Xinjiang,  Islamic movements, Chinese attempt to restore control legitimately and Soviet interests were creating instabilities. Governor Yang Zengxin was assassinated in 1928 by opponents when he recognized new government in Nanjing. New governor became Jin Shuren. In 1931 started a war in Xinjiang between ROC divisions, Ma clique on one side and on another Uighur separatists. National Revolutionary Army of ROC pretended to support Jin Shuren but actually wanted to overthrow him as he was too close to Soviet Union which was trying to distance Xinjiang from China. Uighur separatists declared East Turkistan Republic in 1933 with capital in Kashgar. Against them were fighting ROC divisions, Ma clique warlords, local governance of Xinjiang and Soviet Union. But also ROC divisions and Ma clique fought against Soviet Union and some Han and Hui militias commanded by provincial government since Soviet Union was striving to exercise further influence via its allies in local government. Mongol militias were on side of Soviet Union fighting there and Kyrgyz and Kazakh militias on side of Uighur East Turkestan Republic.  There were also Uighur loyalists of Soviet Union and local government and also loyalists of ROC. Biggest battle was at Kashgar in 1934 when Ma clique warlords defeated Uighur separatists. Soviet Union wanted to exercise more influence and invaded Xinjiang in January 1934 and were sided with remaining Russian White forces, some Uighur militias  and Mongol forces. Local Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai an ethnic Han was commanding Han militias and Uighur militias on side of Soviets. On side of China most active were Ma clique of Chinese Hui Muslims, some Republican divisions and Uighur loyalits. Most active against Soviet invasion was militia of Hui Muslims. By april 1934 Soviet forces were defeated and expelled from Xinjiang but civil war continued there. In 1937 new rebellion in Xinjiang started and warlord Sheng Shicai gained almost full control over Xinjiang with his Han and Uighur militiamen. He didnt declare independence but expelled republican armies and pro republican Ma clique warlords. Because of Japanese invasion ROC couldnt send more troops.  Main islamic fundamentalist and Uighur separatists were Muhammad Bughra, Masud Sabri and Hoja Niyaz and they were rejecting Soviet cooperation with Sheng Shicai in Xinjiang.

International situation around China

Similarly like in previous decade China was still in unfavorable position and seen as easy target for imperialist interests. It had vast territory, fertile land and a lot of resources and of course great strategic location. ROC government was trying to survive on its own but also looking for good relations with other countries. During 1930ies it had quite close relations with Germany which was reemerging power. ROC beleived relations with powerful country will secure it from potential invasions. Nazi Germany and ROC were close because of right wing ideology and fighting against communistm. China was vulnerable and surrendered by Soviet Union from west and north, by Britain( via India) from south and Japan from northeast and east. Biggest weakness was that it had low control over bordering areas what was making it even more vulnerable and great chance for foreign manipulation and invasion. ROC was trying to avoid conflict with Britain and therefore didnt initiate larger intervention in taking control over Tibet.  Britain was trying to pursue independence of Tibet and annex other Chinese regions into Tibet. Soviet Union was interested in bigger influence in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia as we mentioned before.  Japan was most ambitious and merciless now when it comes to China. It wa fastest developing Asian economy and military power and with its rise of power its ambitions were rising too. Japan already almost without resistance occupied Manchuria and now was aiming to occupy most of Chinese coast and a lot of other Chinese territories. Japan aimed to become biggest power in Asia and have control over vast territories and seas. Japan and Soviet Union perceived themselves as rivals as a result of Russo-Japanese War. Soviet Union perceived Japan as a threat and therefore was strengthening military presence in Siberia and was supporting Mongolia on which it relied as an ally. Japan had Manchukuo to balance against Soviet Union as it was afraid Soviet revisionism as Russia lost a lot of territories after the war of 1905. Northern and northeastern Chinese territories were great opportunity for Soviet Union and Japan to Balance against each other and increase their power in order to gain better strategic position and secure themselves. Communist revolutionaries had most of support and closest ties with Soviet Union but Soviet Union wasnt supporting them completely. Soviet Union was also providing support to Republican forces as it didnt trust much to both sides and wanted to use the chance of weak and disunited China and supported such situation as much as possible. Soviet Union realized that weak China suits it the most and used to trade with both sides and sometimes support one side more and sometimes another. Republican government was avoiding conflict with Soviet Union and Japan at any cost what is obvious from 1931 ( Mukden incident) and wasnt even able to control its territories and not to defend them. Communist forces were calling in case of any occupation on guerilla warfare. China was also member of League of Nations but it was largely underestimated by world powers and barely had any influence.




source of cover photo:

China History Guide 20- Fall of Qing dynasty and establishment of Republic of China

China History Guide 20- Fall of Qing dynasty and establishment of Republic of China


Internal affairs and Politics

After Boxer Rebellion authority of Qing dynasty was further declining together with their control over Chinese territory. In 1902 foreign troops withdrew from Beijing but power was further decentralized. Qing highest officials returned back to Beijing from Xian but their control was even more decreased as well as respect among people. It was becoming more and more obvious that last attempts to preserve Qing dynasty were falling apart. Ci Xi was still rejecting reforms while Emperor Guangxu didn’t have power to initiate more decisive reforms. China was semicolonized where a lot of territories were under foreign control and most of people lived in poverty.  Living conditions were very bad for most of people. Outbreak of plague was still widespread mostly in Manchuria killing millions. Worship of Heaven by Qing court have  stopped since 1900 since it lost any sense and most of citizens realized that this dynasty lost any legitimacy.  New Policies were new series of reforms launched by imperial court in 1902. Main aim of New Policies was name partial reforms of state and educational system. In 1905 imperial exams based on Confucian classics were abolished and replaced with modern education. After 2000 years imperial examination was abandoned. It actually meant abolishment of Confucianism as state ideology after 2000 years. Traditional schools were replaced with modern schools based on western example. Also military academies were established in each province. Modern legal code and judicial system were established too. However reforms were initially successful only in Zhili province because of lack of control over vast territories. On summer 1908 Principles of Constitution were issued by Qing government what meant a step towards establishment of constitutional monarchy. Chinese Constitution was based on Japanese Meiji Constitution. It aimed establishment of modern parliament and conducting elections. First elections were conducted in 1909 in all provinces except in Xinjiang. Still in government cabinet were put members of governing royal Aisin Gioro clan what caused anger among population. In November 1908 Emperor Guangxu died and a day later old Empress Ci Xi died. It was found out that Guangxu was poisoned by arsenic while Ci Xi died from aging There are often speculations that she felt that she is dying soon and she decided to set murder for Guangxu in order to prevent him for conducting his reforms which were more progressive. Before death she pointed Puyi a two year old son of Prince Chun as new Emperor Xuantong. Instead of him regency governed as he was obviously too young. Basically Ci Xi was last imperial ruler with real power in her hands and Puyi was last emperor of China.

Puyi - age two

Reforms didn’t bring what was expected and Qing court lost even more authority with death of Ci Xi. During that time nationalism was rising and tendency for democracy and socialism due to poor living conditions. In 1905 in Japan was formed Tongmenghui a Chinese United League led by Sun Yatsen and Song Jiaoren. Their aim was to overthrow dynasty, establish republic and bring social equality among people. For this socialist and revolutionary aims most famous was Sun Yatsen one of core national heroes and revolutionaries deeply respected by Chinese Communist Party. Sun Yatsen is often known as father of Chinese nation. Tongmenghui was aiming to gain support among  wealthy Chinese living in Japan, USA and China to gain their support in overthrowing Qing dynasty. Support among Chinese for Tongmenghui was rising vastly as they saw them as way to better life and more just society. In August 1911 large incident in Chengdu occurred. It is known as Railway Protection Movement. Thing is that until 1905 all Chinese rails were in hands of foreign companies which were building them. In 1905 Chinese public provincial companies for building rails appeared and among strongest was Chengdu-Hankou Company led by Chinese. Aim of this company was to build 1200km Chengdu-Wuhan rail. Qing government in 1911 wanted to nationalize all rails and to make them to be ownership of government not local public companies. Qing government wanted to nationalize them and sell them to German, US and British companies for big money in order to repay debt to 8 governments which surpassed Boxer Rebellion. This of course made angry provincial governments and new rail companies. They established Railway Protection League. Provincial government of Sichuan arrested leaders of this league what caused protests in Chengdu. Police and army opened fire on protesters and Tongmenghui called for armed conflict with Qing troops. Hubei and Hunan armies joined Sichuan army in surpassing the revolt but on 11 October 1911 Wuchang uprising was launched by Tongmenghui. Several thousand of revolutionaries were initially successful against Qing armies. Revolutionaries were also joined by some Qing soldiers and they stood together against government. Between end of October and December 1911 battle at Yangxia occurred in todays Wuhan. This battle led to stalemate but end was far.

Sun yatsen1
Father of Chinese nation, Sun Yatsen, source:

Wuchang uprising was just a beginning of national revolution in China and final end of Qing dynasty. Wuchang uprising is considered as part of Xinhai revolution known for national revival of Chinese nation and overthrow of Qing dynasty. Revolts spread to other provinces as well. In all provinces since 1905-1908 there were already active some rebel groups on smaller scale but now their activity really became large scale and directly engaged against Qing. All China was standing against Qing. In Japanese occupied Taiwan uprising also started but was surpassed. Muslims in Gansu and Xinjiang joined revolutionaries.  14 from 24 provinces declared independence from Qing dynasty. Regional provincial armies of these 14 provinces sided revolutionaries. In November 1911 Qing regency tried last time to save monarchy and declared constitutional monarchy and they appointed General Yuan Shikai as prime minister instead of members from Aisin Gioro.  Qing lost military control over Tibet but it stayed official part of Republic. Only Mongolia declared complete independence in 1911 but later will be about it.

bodies of victims of plague in Manchuria 1910

In December 1911 revolutionaries captured Nanjing and declared it as seat of new provisional government. In December 1911 they met with Yuan Shikai in Wuhan after both sides were pushed by Britain, France, USA, Russia and Japan to negotiate. They decided that they will agree on reunification of provinces which declared independence with government in Beijing if Yuan Shikai forces Qing court to abdicate. On 29th December elections were held  in 17 provinces  for provisional president and Sun Yatsen became president of provisional government. On 1st January 1912 Sun Yatsen declared Republic of China.  Many political parties emerged now. Later Sun Yatsen promised to give up presidential position  on behalf of Yuan Shikai if Yuan Shikai forces Puyi to abdicate. In February 1912 under threat of use of force Empress Dowager agreed for 6 year old Puyis abdication. Yuan Shikai who was prime minister commanded one of strongest armies and ordered to cease to follow orders of regency and pushed regency to abdicate. When Yuan Shikai who commanded large Beiyang army turned against Qing dynasty it wasn’t practically backed by any force. So regency didn’t have any choice except to abdicate in name of Puyi. It was promised if she abdicates in emperors  name they wont be harmed and will be allowed to live in palace. Thus rule of Qing dynasty officially ended which was governing China since 1644. With abolishment of Qing dynasty and establishment of republic imperial China ended after 2000 years of its existence. Xinhai revolution has a lot in common with abolishment of other dynasties but it differs as it didn’t bring new dynasty but republic and modern concept of  governance. On 10th March Yuan Shikai became president as dealt with Sun Yatsen. At that time Tongmenghui formed Kuomintang political party which became one of strongest parties latter. Initial ideas of Kuomintang were to establish nationalism( not in sense of ethnic but on unity of all Chinese people and freedom from monarchy), free trade and socialism. It was agreed that Beijing will remain capital despite that Sun Yatsen and southern revolutionaries had stronghold in Nanjing of their institutions. Reason was that they didn’t have strong military capacity while Yuan Shikai commanded large Beiyang army and he had real control over northern China while southern areas fell apart in hands of regional warlords and acted as fragile union.


From 1912 to 1928 was chosen 5 colored flag which represented 5 major ethnicities Han, Tibetans, Manchus, Muslims and Mongols. In 1912 provisional constitution was adopted which was proposed by Sun Yatsen. It was based on concept of division of powers and on parliamentary system. In December 1912 were held first elections for National Assembly. Most of votes got Kuomintang and second strongest party was Yuan Shikais progressive party. Song Jiaoren a close ally of Sun Yatsen was chosen for premier but already in March 1913 he was assassinated by secret police of Yuan Shikai. Thus Yuan Shikai gained even more power and adopted new dictatorial constitution. This led on division of two governments in China. Under excuse of Hui, Uighur, Mongol and Tibetan rebellions and regional warlords Yuan Shikai declared that he must have most of power such as to sign treaties, declare war and execute major decisions without consent of parliament. Even he abolished parliament in 1914. Such situation led to northern Beiyang government led by Yuan Shikai which controlled most of northern areas. South was controlled by provisional institutions in Nanjing and by Kuomintang but their executive power was poor as regional warlords had primary say. In 1913 southern provinces organized rebellion against the Beiyang government. Beiyang army captured Nanjing and some core leadership figures of KMT escaped to Japan. Yuan Shikai promised to Russian Empire that he wont enter Outer Mongolia and gave Russia full right to use it. He also allowed British expeditions to Tibet. It caused even more revolt among Chinese parties. All this Yuan did only for his greedy aim to govern and secure power in his hands. Most of KMT leaders came from Japan back to Guangzhou. From Guangzhou Chinese revolutionaries supported new rebellions. Yuan Shikai declared himself as Emperor Hongxian. It was short restoration of Chinese Empire which lasted until 1916. Yuan Shikais empire wasn’t recognized by single state and it caused open civil war in China. As WWI started and Japan fought against Germany it launched forces to Shandong which was controlled by Germans. Japan issued 21 Demands to Beiyang government about controlling Shandong, parts of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. Also Japan demanded control of Chinese rails and providing of exclusive trade rights over all China what would turn China into Japanese colony. Yuan Shikai accepted it as he was only thinking how to secure his own power but before he could execute such decisions war started against him.  This war is known as National Protection War which started in Yunnan province. Provinces of south united against Beiyang government and were supported by KMT. In several battles National Protection Army defeated Yuan Shikai and he abdicated in 1916 and soon he died after few months. It weakened Beiyang government and strengthened warlordism across China but also strengthened positions of revolutionaries in south in political and military terms.   Aristocratic class was abolished in 1912 but shortly renewed by Yuan Shikai during his imperial rule 1915-1916.

Yuan shikai
Yuan Shikai

After death of Yuan Shikai President became Li Yuanhong and prime minister Duan Qirui. They readopted parliamentary constitution from 1912. But they got involved in disputes again now about issue whether China should enter WWI. Li Yuanhong believed China shouldn’t join war while Duan Qirui wanted to join war in order to secure loans from Japan for his Anhui army. Li Yuanhong resigned and asked influential Zhang Xun to mediate. Zhang Xun tried to decrease influence of Duan Qirui by short restoration of Qing dynasty which lasted between 1st and 20th July of 1917 and Puyi was emperor for short again. Without any real power and recognition Duan Qirui abolished  20days empire and defeated Zhang Xun. Duan QIrui declared war on Austria-Hungary and Germany and detained their citizens in China and seized their property. He also abolished constitution and parliament and started own dictatorship. Sun Yatsen and other leaders of National Protection War established new military government in Guangzhou as a response to Duan Qirui dictatorship. They declared war on Beiyang government and called provincial leaders to side Guangzhou military government. First War for Protection of Constitution lasted between 1917 and 1918 and ended in stalemate. There were also some negotiations but everything finished with stalemate.  Sun Yatsen believed that China will become first socialist republic in world before Soviet revolution. Guangzhou became main center from which Sun Yatsen and KMT conducted further activities for reunification of China.

To understand further processes it is necessary to mention New Culture Movement and May Fourth Movement. Those were strong political, social and cultural forces of  between 1917 and 1921 which set up roots for further shaping of Chinese politics, society and culture.  New Culture Movement started in 1917 by Chen Duxiu, Zhou Zuoren and others. Aim was to focus on socialist values, better governance, rule of law and modernization of society, politics and culture. It promoted equal rights of men and women and abolishment of patriarchate. New Culture Movement promoted also further decrease of role of Confucianism in order to establish more just and equal society. It also promoted democracy and science. On 4th May 1919 they organized protests in Beijing and New Culture  Movement with other movements merged into 4th May Movement. Protests occurred when students and young intellectuals and started to protest against Chinese government which wanted to accept Versailles treaty in which China was supposed to give up Shandong to Japan. Protests led to clashes with police and army but government anyway refused to sign treaty after strong public pressure. Until 1921 May Fourth Movement was very active in promoting democracy, western culture, socialism, science, pragmatism and patriotism. On public meetings and by using press they were rising public opinion and awareness in big cities. Movement was promoting emancipation of women and breakdown of traditional Confucian patriarchal values. They promoted equal employment and educational opportunities of women and establishment of student syndicates across China. In big cities they were mostly influential and successful but in rural areas their influence was still very small. They had a lot of female members too. Movement was highly divided in their aims and ideas because some of them were more for western values and more abolishment of Confucianism while other sections wanted to keep traditional values too and adopt some western values too. Some of them were promoting adaptation of traditional values to new ones.  There were also strong Marxist factions of movement.  Without clear vision movement was dissolved by 1921. This movement caused also New Confucian traditionalists to promote their ideas too which were borrowed by Chiang Kai Shek who later became leader of KMT.

may fourth protest
May Fourth Protests, source:

May Fourth Movement promoted Chinese language and literature. They were suggesting reforms of simplifying writing system. Since establishment of ROC only Mandarin was official language while Manchu language and clothing was widely abolished on official level. Many Manchu officials had either to adapt to use Chinese only and change clothing or to lose positions.

May Fourth Movement was a root of establishment of Chinese Communist Party. Some former members of May 4th Movement were inspired by Marxist and patriotic ideas. They were not completely against tradition but were against patriarchate and wanted to improve position of workers and peasants. Also they wanted to improve position of women. Various socialist and communist movement met on First Congress in Shanghai in a French Concession on 1st July 1921. This day is regarded as day when Chinese Communist Party was established. Its first leaders were Chen Duxu and Li Dazhao. They were supported by Comintern and some Soviet agents. In 1921 also Sun Yatsen launched from Guangzhou Second Constitution Protection Movement regarding the constitution of 1912. On first congress of Communist Party of China( CPC) there was Mao Zedong( born in 1893, Shaoshan, Hunan province) an already influential writer of socialist magazine from Hunan province. He later became one of major national heroes and fathers of Peoples Republic of China. Mao was since young days concerned about hard life of peasants and believed that they should own the land not private owners. Also Mao was believing that workers deserve better rights and that they should own the factories. Basically Mao Zedong was for seizing the means of production and cracking down the capitalist system and imperialist influence in China and establishment of centrally planned economy.  Also Mao Zedong was promoting completely equal rights between men and women and was strictly against arranged marriages considering them as rape. In Shanghai Mao Zedong was calling workers to organize in labor unions and also to strike against abusive owners of industries. Mao Zedong was also often visiting rural Hunan and initiating peasants to rebel against landowners and learning them about their rights and calling them to revolt for better socialist futures. Mao Zedong was inspired by Soviet Revolution and believed that it should work also in China. Since 1923 CPC  was  cooperating with KMT on launching united front and revolution against Beiyang government. Sun Yatsen turned to ask Soviet Union for aid of reunifying China as he saw that Western powers are not much interested to aid him. Soviet Union saw a chance for installing another communist revolution.  Commintern agent Mikhail Borodin was convincing communist leaders and Sun Yatsen to create common front. In 1924 alliance between KMT and CCP was established known as First United Front. Actually CCP was much weaker at that time and was more subordinated under leadership of KMT. Their cooperation with Sun Yatsen was very good and in Guangzhou Mao Zedong was appointed to train future militants for CCP. They were together preparing invasion on Beijing and reunifying China.

mao zedong young
Young Mao Zedong in 1919, source:

In 1925 Sun Yatsen died from cancer and future of KMT-CCP relations wasn’t promising anymore. Sun Yatsen was initially buried in Azure Clouds Temple in Beijing suburbs, picture below.

Statue of Sun Yatsen in Azure Clouds Temple where he was initially buried, suburbs of Beijing, Xiangshan hills,

New notable figure of KMT Chang Kai Shek had quite right wing ideas, was focused too much on patriarchal side of Confucianism, was quite concerned about his personal power and authority and was even ready to cooperate with foreginers and give up Chinese interests in order to win. At same time CCP was gaining more supporters among workers and they formed some militias composed of peasants. Chang Kai Shek launched large scale offensive from Guangzhou in 1926 which aimed to stop warlordism and capture Beijing. Soviet government advocated communists to support KMT as they wanted to make them cooperate and launch common revolution. But on spring 1927 National Revolutionary Army( KMT army) attacked communist factions and workers in Shanghai and massacred many of them. From most of coastal towns communists were massacred by nationalists and conservatives of KMT.

In 1928 Chang Kai Shek captured Beijing and abolished Beiyang government. Chang Kai Sheks war against warlords, communists and Beiyang troops is known as Northern Expedition.  Now after capturing Beijing he declared new capital in Nanjing and he became supreme leader of ROC. Chang Kai Shek ruled as dictator despite official promotion of democracy and freedoms.  Chang Kai Shek had control over some parts of China but still warlordism and communist guerillas were present.  Chang managed to reunify China but only partially as many of his local governors were corrupt and didnt implement all laws well and warlordism was still present. He promoted conservativism, right wing ideas, patriarchal Confucian ideas but also some noble Confucian ideas related to education and merits. But he was quite corrupt and didn’t obeyed any even good Confucian ideas but was governing as opportunist who wanted to have full power in his hands. This caused several rebellions initiated by CCP as they felt betrayed because of massacres against them. In Guangzhou CCP in December 1927 organized  revolt which failed. They wanted to establish Guangzhou Soviet Governance. Guangzhou commune lasted for 3 days.  Communists and their supporters were massacred again. More of Chang Kai Sheks repression of communists led to more communist rebellions what caused civil war what will be reviewed in next chapter.

chiang kai
Chiang Kai Shek after capturing Beijing, 1928, source:

Political system 1912-1928

The provisional constitution of Nanjing with the temporary government (Nanjing linshi zhengzfu 南京臨時政府) that was made in 1912 stressed the role of the President (da zongtong 大總統) who was the prominent person of the administration.  The President was elected by the Legislation Court (canyiyuan 參議院), an assembly of the military governors of the provinces (gesheng dudufu daibiaohui 各省都督府代表會), held his post for five years and could only once being reelected, normally succeeded by the Vice President (fu zongtong 副總統). His tasks were commanding the army, proclaiming martial war, declaring war to other nations, sanctifying and signing international treaties, sending and receiving ambassadors, appointing the highest officials, promulgating laws, etc. The President had to make use of the Legislation Court for political assistance and in questions of legislation. He had the right to make use of advisors (guwen 顧問) outside the normal administrative structures. After the proclamation of the Constitution of the Republic (Zhonghua minguo yuefa 中華民國約法) in 1914 his position was changed from the head of the cabinet (neige 內閣 or guowuyuan 國務院) to a direct controller of the executive. He was elected by the National Council (canzhengyuan 參政院) and was allowed to make use of the state seal (guoxi 國璽) that was kept in a golden case – a relic of the imperial era. This presidential system was repudiated after the death of Yuan Shikai 袁世凱 in 1916, and a cabinet system with a Prime Minister (zongli 總理, guowu zongli 國務總理) was introduced. Although the office of the President was designed to be the pillar of the administration, he was during the warlord period often controled by military potentates that quasi clockwise took over the offices of President and of Prime Minister.

The legislative power of the early Republican state was the Legislation Court whose members came from the provinces. The executive power consisted of nine ministries (bu 部) for National Politics (neiwubu 內務部), Foreign Affairs (waijiaobu 外交部), the Army (lujunbu 陸軍部), the Navy (haijunbu 海軍部), Finance (caizhengbu 財政部), Law (sifabu 司法部), Education (jiaoyubu 教育部), Traffic (jiaotongbu 交通部), and Industry (shiyebu 實業部). There existed also some military institutions like the Advisory Ministry (canmoubu 參謀部), further bureaus (ju 局) for law drafting, national currency and print products, bulletins, personnel, investigation, and so on. Together with Yuan Shikai, the administration organs of the central government moved from Nanjing to Beijing.

During the period of the warlords (Beiyang 北洋 era) the Cabinet (neige 內閣) was headed by the Prime Minister (zongli 總理). The highest organ of the legislation was the National Assembly (guohui 國會) that was first created in 1913 and whose members came from the Legislation Court (canyiyuan 參議院) and the House of Representatives (zhongyiyuan 眾議院) with 870 members. The members of the Legislation Court were elected in two steps. In 1914 Yuan Shikai dissolved the two courts and installed his own administration apparatus with the Participation Court (canzhengyuan 參政院), the Political Conference (zhengzhi huiyi 政治會議), and so on. In 1917 again, the National Assembly was dissolved by president Li Yuanhong 黎元洪, Duan Qirui 段祺瑞 reestablished a third “New” National Assembly (xin guohui 新國會 or Anfu guohui 安福國會 – dominated by Duan’s military Anhui Clique). The last period of the National Assembly was from 1922 until 1924.


Administrative divisions were provinces, circuits and counties. There were added few more provinces composed of Inner Mongolia( see below) and from one Tibetan region Xikang province was created.

Economy of ROC 1900-1928

Most of economic activities were disrupted during this period. In foreign concessions and free trade cities capitalism was developing while other provinces were remaining unchanged. Government, local warlords and provincial governments were overtaxing already impoverished population. Now agricultural sector was dominant in economy but also there were industrialized areas. From 1905 with new reforms conducted by Qing court and later by republican government economy of inner areas was changing and experienced partial industrialization in terms of rails and more modern industrial objects.  So some domestic industries were developing too in textile, food production, iron processing and rail construction. After 1912 China experienced first foreign direct investment mostly from UK and Japan. Mostly Chinese economy was subordinated to western capitalism and imperialism because of unequal treaties. Only after 1928 when KMT took control of most of Chinese territories economy experienced some progress. In 1931 when Chinese Soviet Republic was established on its territories were among worlds first communist centrally planned economies was established. Main object of foreign trade now were iron, mine products, salt, tea, silk, weapons and various industrial products.



Army 1900-1928

Between 1900 and 1912 Qing dynasty didn’t have anymore its own regular army but largely depended on provincial armies commanded by regional governments and warlords. One of most loyal was Beiyang army commanded by Yuan Shikai. However his army turned against Qing court and demanded abdication in 1912. ROC until 1928 was without official army but de facto Beiyang army was major military force of ROC. In other provinces there were local warlords dominating and also some KMT militias which struggled against Beiyang government. In 1923 Beiyang army was renamed in Republic of China Armed Forces. At that time KMT formed in 1925 National Revolutionary Army which was main force for initiating Northern Expedition which ended with KMT dominance in China in 1928. Since 1928 official army of ROC was National Revolutionary Army. Since 1923 CCP was organizing own local militias and in 1927 they formed Red Army which later became Peoples Liberation Army. It will be later about it more.  Now all armies had modern uniforms and modern equipment. Since 1905 modern military academies were established over China. Most of warlord armies were composed of bandits and robbers who were often very oppressive towards local population. PLA was mostly composed of peasants and workers. Major warlord cliques were- Anhui Clique, Guizhou Clique, Yunnan Clique, Fengtian Clique, Zhili clique, Ma clique( Hui Muslim clique), Sichuan clique, Guangxi clique, Shanxi clique and Guangdong clique.



In 1905 imperial examination and academies were abolished. Educational system became 3 levelled and was compulsory. It was divided on elementary, secondary and high. Colleges and universities and academies were basis for high education. Peking University was established in 1898 and Tsinghua University in 1911. Those 2 are still among strongest Chinese universities. Universities sent their professors abroad to UK, France, Japan or USA in order to receive more skills. Also they used to send best students to these countries. Until 1919 mostly was emphasized by government on technical knowledge while since May Fourth Movement emphasizes on social sciences rises. Since 1919 Western philosophy was taught in China for first time and other social sciences. Sociology was also taught since that time. Each province had own academy which didn’t charge fees for students and often gave scholarships.  Education was very limited for women but there were exceptions. Islamic schools were present in Muslim regions.  In 1911 Sino-US cooperation in education was started when US government offered to accept several thousand Chinese students annually as compensation for Chinese reparation to US government for Boxer rebellion.

Chinese school girls 1920
school uniforms, 1920, source:


Since beginning of 20th century China was adopting parallely to the traditional medicine western medicine too. Several medical schools and colleges were established in China. One of most famous was established in 1921 which is still best medical college and hospital in China- Peking Union Medical College.


Western style painting appears and western style music too mostly in urban areas. Some foreign books appeared too. Also  traditional painting, Peking opera and traditional music were still present widely in urban and rural areas. Generally arts didnt develop too much during this turbulent areas. In 1905 first Chinese film was recorded and named The Battle of Dingjunshan. It takes place in 3 Kingdoms Period.  In music appears combination of Western and Chinese styles too. Classical music and jazz was popular in urban areas. In Shanghai appeared Shidaqu a special genre which combines Chinese music and Western popular music. Western theater appears too.  In literature love stories were dominant but also fiction appears known as Wuxia. Wuxia is based on traditional Chinese stories about martial arts. Wuxia appeared after May Fourth Movement and aimed in breaking with Confucian tradition and emphasizing on individual freedoms and choices. It often includes secret martial arts sects, romance, fictional characters and techniques,  Daoist wisdoms and a lot of principles under which warriors live.

Religion and Philosophy

Religion and philosophy were not of core importance for political leaders during this period. Taoism which was highly respected by most of dynasties didnt enjoy state support too much. It didnt enjoy funding from state so Taoist sects had to finance themselves. Members of Quanzhen sect often lived in mountains as hermits while members of Zhengyi Dao usually lived in villages or towns nearby temples. Members of Zhengyi sect often lived in mountains taught martial arts but didnt practice celibate neither were too isolated. Buddhist monks lived either in temples in towns, villages or mountains. Taoism and Buddhism often focused on preserving traditions from past, their knowledge and provided solace and hope to desperate people during such hard times.  Mostly they were popular in villages among masses of peasants who had the hardest burden of all instabilities in China. Also Taoism and Buddhism were popular among city residents but on smaller scale than in village.

Taoistischer Bettelmönch / Foto um 1925 - Taoist Mendicant Monk / Photo c.1925 -
Taoist priest meditates, 1925, source:

Some city population was more devoted to Taoism or Buddhism while others less. Temples often provided shelters for poor and homeless and gave food and medicines. Except most of  Taoist and Buddhist sects with positive intentions there appeared sects with ideas of manipulating people and gaining power and money. One of such sects is Yiguandao which was created by end of 19th century. Yiguandao means Consistent Way and it is sect which combines Taoist and Buddhist teachings but also promotes some ideas about apocalipse and salvation which are not regular Taoist and Buddhist teachings. They promoted various supersititions in order to gain support among masses but often caused even more fear among population.

Generally speaking religion among intellectuals and promodernists was becoming less popular and secularization was ongoing. Many intellectuals and scientists more saw religion as subject for studying and analyzing rather than faith to follow. Still it didnt mean that all of them are atheists but some of them had some religious beliefs but also used to focus on science and compare and study various religious movements.


Some of politicians tolerated religion while others such as Chang Kai Shek were oppressive. Chang Kai Shek considered religion as a primitive superstition and believed it is threat to modernization of China. His troops often killed priests and burnt temples. Some warlordian armies used temples for strategic positions and thus temples often were shelled in clashes. Temples were often victims of warlord armies as they used to rob temples and take their property.

Christianity  was quite stable at that period and present among some city and some rural population. By some people it was perceived as  new and modern religion and was more favored than traditional ones. While bigger part of population had negative attitude about Christianity because of all foreign intervention. Missionary work during this period becomes less opressive and most of missionaries participate in school and hospital building. Generally saying Christianity becomes a bit more socially acceptable again like in pre Qing period.

Presence of Islam presence was stable mostly in central and western China. Several Islamic schools appeared there. Various Islamic Sunni and Sufi sects and more rare Shia sects were active.Islam had generally favorable opinion of society like during most periods of Chinese history.

Confucianism stayed important part of Chinese society and people. Even when it wasnt official and only state ideology it was very important. It was subject of social scientists and often compared with Western philosophy whcih was now studied at Chinese universities. Most of people still respected Confucian values and some politicians promoted some of its principles. For people still perception of society, family and relationships was more or less based on some Confucian principles. May Fourh Movement and some other political movements were quite against Confucianism considering it as a burden and too conservative for society. Also CCP was against some patriarchal, traditional and elitistic standards of Confucianism.Unlike in imperial China Confucianism now could be discussed, criticized and compared to other teachings. Alternative to Confucianism appeared in scientific, progressive and more socialist, tolerant  and democratic ideas. But reaction to May Fourth Movement was among some Confucian scholars who attempted to revive Confucianism and preserve it. Since May Fourth Movement was against classical Confucianism Confucians tried to reform Confucian teaching somehow. Most active was Xiong Shili who created New Confucianism which appeared as neoconservative reaction. It now included humanistic, ecological and concept of political harmony. It is often compared to Western rationalism and humanism.

LIFE  As it was mostly mentioned that most of people lived poorly and were not educated. About 80-90% of people lived in villages and were working in agriculture. For them life was hardest and often were victims of warlord troops, famines and diseases.. Peasants were mostly leading traditional lifestyle. Most of them still practiced feet bandaging. Most of them were quite religious and traditional.  In famines until 1930 more than 10mln people died. Areas where CCP was active popularity of labor rights, socialist ideas and ideas of equality was on rise. In cities lived much smaller number of population.  They belonged mostly to low and middle class. Low class was composed of cheap labor which worked in harsh conditions for domestic or foreign companies in factories or construction projects.

street meal beijing 1920ies
Street meal Beijing 1920ies, source:

Middle class was composed of intellectuals, doctors, teachers, mid level entrepreneurs  and mid level state officials. Among workers socialist ideas and ideas for better working conditions were on rise. In high class were highest university teachers, political elite and richest industrials and merchants. In foreign controlled concessions and free trade cities number of foreigners was quite big. Among them were diplomats, merchants and industrials. Because of lack of legislature about protection of workers rights they used to exploit workers on high scale, underpay and force them to work overtime. Foreigners lived in foreign legations where ordinary Chinese were not allowed to enter. Still many foreigners were racist and saw  and treated Chinese as inferior to them. However they respected high class Chinese entrepreneurs, intellectuals and officials. Situation was there quite looking like peaceful coexistence between foreigners and Chinese in cities and that their relations were becoming better and accepting situation as it is.

rural china 1920ies
Rural China, 1920ies, source:

City life was becoming vibrant in terms of restaurants, fashion, operas, performances and jazz. Prostitution was on rise among Chinese women in cities since they knew they could earn a lot among high class Chinese and foreigners. In some cities appeared electrical lampposts, cars and trams between 1900 and 1928.  Still it is not necessary to mention that China was subordinate to West and in semicolonial position as all of treaties, taxations and conditions were imposed by foreigners. Foreigners had extraterritorial immunity in China. Also Western powers could hold their troops in legations, concessions and occupied territories. China didn’t have almost any sovereignty.

shanghai 1920ies
Shanghai 1920ies, source:

Press media was developing quite rapidly and there were both Chinese but foreign newspapers too.

Opium was becoming less important for foreign powers and in 1907 UK agreed to gradually stop opium exports. Now opium wasn’t anymore so important for Britain to export as it suited them to export other things now to China. However opium represented big challenge now as it was domesticated by some Chinese. Opium trade and production became illegal officially in 1907 again. Firstly Qing court and later Republican authorities were battling against opium, seizing its factories, destroying opium and arresting those involved in trade. But illegal opium trade and use was too hard to eradicate because of corruption and lack of law enforcement. There were many  secret dens for smoking opium in towns and villages and bigger cities. Situation was like that until 1949.

Other Regions

This section relates to other Chinese regions which were inhabited by large ethnic minorities such as Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs and Manchu which were historically part of China for long time.  Lets start from Mongolia. After Boxer rebellion Qing court tried to prevent Russian imperialistic aims after Russian occupation of most of Manchuria. It set up very oppressive conditions for Mongolia mostly in Outer Mongolia. In 1910 in Ulaanbaatar it send Sando ( an ethnic Manchu) to govern over Outer Mongolia. It wanted to tighten control in Mongolia in order to prevent Russian influence. In 1911 Mongolian rebellion started after fight between Qing authorities and Mongol monks. Qing court was too busy with Wuchang uprising and with lack of capacity it couldn’t prevent declaration of independence in Outer Mongolia. Bogd Khan an influential Mongolian cleric became primary figure in Outer Mongolia which became new theocratic Buddhist state. His aim was to unite Inner Mongolia too. In 1915 Russia, China and authorities of Outer Mongolia agreed in Kyahta that China wont keep any troops in Outer Mongolia while Mongolia will officially recognize Republican government as suzerain. Outer Mongolia thus became de facto independent. Yuan Shikai was trying to return Outer Mongolia by sending gifts to Bogd Khan. Mongol aristocrats invited Beiyang Army in 1919 to protect Outer Mongolia from theocratic elite and from Russian Civil War which was occurring there too. Beiyang government saw this as chance to return Mongolia to China and prevent pan Mongolian movement which was becoming active and worked on unification of all Mongols living in Outer and Inner Mongolia and in Russian territories.  Beiyang troops were initially successful in controlling Outer Mongolia.  In 1921 communist revolution in Mongolia occurred and Beiyang troops were attacked by new communist Mongol troops and Soviet troops. . In 1924 Peoples Republic of Mongolia won and Beiyang troops agreed with Soviet government to withdraw if they nominally recognize Mongolia as part of China. Thus China didn’t recognize Mongolia until 1946 but couldn’t send troops there anymore.  Inner Mongolia was divided on several provinces after 1912 in order to prevent them for gaining more of independence. Warlordism was quite strong in Inner Mongolia. Also Revolutionary Party of Inner Mongolia was formed in 1925 and fought on side of CCP. Only after establishment of PRC Inner Mongolia got autonomy.

Xinjiang after 1910 was quite stable and ethnic tensions were almost none. In 1912 after fall of Qing dynasty governor of Xinjiang gave up his position and new Republican governor was appointed. His name was Yang Zhengxin. Full scale control over Xinjiang was not present and warlords were quite active there too. Uighurs and Han lived in more or less peaceful relations and marriages between them were often present. Some pan-Mongolians  who operated in Outer and Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang promoted reunification of Xinjiang with Outer Mongolia. Basis for this idea was Mongol Dzungar Khanate which governed Xinjiang in past. After 1930 situation became a bit more unstable and later will be about it.  Only with establishment of PRC full control over Xinjiang was restored by China.

kasghar 1920ies
Kashgar, 1920ies, source:

Manchuria was mostly occupied by Russia since 1900. Outer Manchuria was mostly occupied by Russia since mid 19th century. Japan in balancing against Russia occupied most of Outer Manchuria during Russian Civil War. But Soviet troops restored control of Outer Manchuria. n Outer Manchuria never became part of China again. Inner and Southern Manchuria fell under control of Japan in 1905. Japan exercised there big political influence and controlled all rails previously possessed by Russia. In 1911 Inner and Southern Manchuria were officially part of China but de facto control was in hands of Japan. In Port Arthur were present some Japanese troops and in areas of rails. But Japan most of power in Manchuria exercised by controlling local warlords. Only in 1931 Japan launched full scale invasion of Manchuria. Relations between Chinese and Manchu residents were close, stable and friendly.

Tibet also acted as de facto independent but was not a state in full sense. It was kind of theocracy which was officially part of China. Tibet became new point of interest of two imperialistic powers Britain and Russia. In order to prevent Russian intervention Britain sent military expedition to Tibet in 1903 to force Dalai Lama to open trade with Britain and not to enter into any relations with Russia. It was prevented by Qing court claiming that they are sovereign over Tibet. Some lamas caused a rebellion in Lhasa in 1905 and they started to massacre Qing officials, British and French missionaries. It was surpassed by Qing troops. In 1906 Britain and China agreed in joint convention that: Tibet remains part of China and that Britain doesn’t have permission to interfere into local Tibet affairs without consent of China. China had to pay a fee to Britain for this agreement. In 1910 already desperate of losing China Qing court sent an military expedition to Tibet commanded by governor of Sichuan province. It had aim to completely annex Tibet and destroy its autonomy but it was prevented by Wuchang uprising in all China and Xinhai revolution. Both Han and Tibetan population was attacking Qing troops which withdrew completely from Tibet in 1912.

tibetan slave
Slave in Tibetan theocracy

In 1912 Tibet as a part of Republic of China was recognized. It was continuation of Chinese legitimacy over Tibet which existed for centuries. As mentioned before China first formal relations of having Tibet as tributary state date from Tang dynasty what was formalized by marriage between Chinese and Tibetan aristocrats.  During Yuan dynasty Tibet with local autonomy was part of China and recognized supremacy of Chinese court. During Ming dynasty Tibet formally recognized supremacy of Ming court but exercised own local affairs. Since 1720 Dalai Lama recognized supremacy of Qing having  control of local autonomous affairs but allowing imperial Qing supervisors and permanent presence of Qing army. Tibet was still part of China since 1912 although Republican government couldn’t place troops and full control due to lack of  military and economic power. Britain tried to use the situation and destabilize China further. It introduced concept of dividing Tibet on 3 areas: Outer, Inner and Southern. Southern Tibet was annexed by British India and it is still today dispute between China and India. In India it is called Arunachal Pradesh. Inner Tibet was attempt of Britain to create an autonomous region of parts of Sichuan, Xikang and Qinghai on example of Inner Mongolia and Outer Tibet was their name for Tibetan existing autonomy.  Britain wanted to apply concept of Outer Mongolia on creating Outer Tibet in order to more exercise its influence. All this concepts were rejected by ROC but it didn’t have power to return South Tibet and maintain effective control over Tibet region. But ROC successfully didn’t give up Tibetan areas in Xikang, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. British concept is known as McMahon Line. Still Britain was trying to further move away Tibet from China by sending secret agents who presented themselves in merchants and were trying to persuade Dalai Lama to accept their offers. Tibet was under control of  13th Dalai Lama who didn’t exercise full power completely over whole region except in capital Lhasa. Other areas were more in control of local landlords. Serfdom and slavery were very harsh in Tibetan theocracy where 90% of people were illiterate peasants and 10% literate and oppressive feudal clergy.

International Politics

From previous subchapter we can see that most of Chinas foreign policy was based on balancing between world powers of that time UK, Russia, Germany,  Japan, Austria and France. China was quite depending on them and tried to find most peaceful solution for every situation but generally seeing position of China was strengthened comparing to mid and end of 19th century.  China managed to renegotiate its stance in unequal treaties  with Britain and managed to stop import of opium. With USA it managed to develop educational cooperation. China was bandwagoning with great powers as it was unable to project own military and economic power strong enough to counter them. But anyway China managed to prevent complete losing of Mongolia and Tibet and guaranteed itself at least official sovereignty over Tibet and Outer Mongolia. China entered WW1 with aim to gain support of UK and France for regaining Shandong province( controlled by Germany). China didn’t have power to fight on its own but sent some labor and military corps to assist British and French troops. Beiyang government wanted to sign in Versailles ceding Shandong to Japan under pressure of UK and France as they wanted to reward Japan as their ally but it caused big protests known as May Fourth Movement. So Chinese ambassador to France Welington Koo disagreed to cede Shandong to Japan. Even when China had control over Shandong its rails were owned by Japan. China was still weak and exploited economically and various powers mostly UK, Russia and Japan were trying to strengthen their influence in China and destabilize it further. UK wanted it via Tibet to exercise its influence in China, Russia through Xinjiang and Mongolia and Japan through Manchuria and Shandong. Japan was also funding Beiyang government as it knew it wont unify China while was against KMT and CCP which aimed for unification and strengthening of China. But ROC managed to secure buffer zone with Russia by creating Outer Mongolia and prevent direct conflict of interests.  Beiyang government to secure its support from West  sent troops to Siberia to fight against Red Army in Russian Civil War. Beiyang government sent 2300 soldiers on side of White Army, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, Canada and USA. It tried to gain control over some north Manchuria territories but with failure.  In 1921 KMT and CCP were looking aid from Soviet Union in reuniting China since they saw West doesn’t want to help them much to stabilize. With Soviet aid KMT managed to capture Beijing and stabilize a bit more ROC. After 1928 ROC was mostly cooperating in economic terms with Germany and USA while both KMT and CCP cooperated in political terms with Soviet Union.

In light green are  territories still claimed by ROC

Finalizing chapter

Since establishment of Republic China was more open to modern world and foreign influence and tried to combine its own culture, state and politics with new trends. Generally speaking China in 18th and until Opium Wars was self-sufficient country. It didn’t strive for industrial development as with its own progress it was satisfied. Its military was destroyed by Opium Wars and economy went into decline. It was forced to open market, give up sovereignty exercise over foreign nationals everything under terms of foreign powers. Therefore its economy and strength was further declining. Delay of reforms by Qing court caused even bigger problems for state its system and people. In 1912 after establishment of republic China didn’t have choice except to adapt to foreign trends and try to balance with them as much as it was possible with safeguarding its own interests. China was still underestimated by whole world at beginning of 20th century and was considered as quasi state unable to self-govern. Modernizing efforts were to hard to implement and restoring of public order because of poor economy, undeveloped institutions, differing political ideas and lack of unities. Only CCP with gaining power in 1949 managed to restore order to China first focusing on stabilizing country from inside and than opening to the world on equal terms.






source of cover photo:


China History Guide 19: Qing 3- Rebellions( Boxer, Taiping), reforms and foreign exploitation

China History Guide 19: Qing 3- Rebellions( Boxer, Taiping), reforms and foreign exploitation


Treaty ports 1900-1920
Treaty ports and concessions,

After First Opium War China was highly destabilized. Qing court didnt want to feel big consequences of war and increased taxes drastically on peasants. So peasants started to be poorer and were even more hateful towards government. People instead on food production found more profitable to work with silk or tea and sell it in foreign market thanks to open ports but food price increased drastically what caused large famine as 80% of population could hardly afford such prices. In areas of open town some Chinese were employed by foreigners in warehouses and were also granted extraterritoriality what was a great chance for crime, robbery and smuggle. Opium was destroying families when at least one member would get addicted whole income and house property could be sold by few years for more and more opium. While some were cooperating with foreigners and working for them others were xenophobic and saw foreigners as main reason for all problems Qing court was ignorant about ideas to change something. For emperors was important to spend time in their palaces, gardens and luxury. Among people was raising not only anti Qing but anti Manchu feeling. They were feeling that court loses „Mandate of Heaven“ but also they started to blame Manchu people as it was more and more obvious that it is foreign dynasty and foreigners are always seen as main problem when country is in crisis. Identifying as us vs them was becoming more dominant in various circles of society.

Taiping Rebellion

First  large scale reaction to such situation was Taiping Rebellion. It was one of largest civil wars in Chinese history which lasted for 14 years between 1850-1864 and was present in 17 provinces. Estimates are that between 20 and 30mln people were killed in this war. Hong Xiuquan a dissapointed civil servant organized rebellion. By end of 1840ies he was studying Bible in Guangzhou and started to spread salvationist ideas among people in Guangxi. Mostly seen as political tool he declared that he is brother of Jesus Christ and that Jesus came to his dream to tell him that Manchu dynasty is devil and that China must be saved by him. Hong Xiuquan and Feng Yunshan formed secred society known as God Worshipers Society. Society rejected Chinese tradition and wanted to build completely new post apocaliptic society and ideas. In 1850 with 10 000 followers they started to rebel in Guangxi. In 1851 Hong declared himself as Heavenly King and his state of Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace. A lot of desperate masses joined them while those who didnt join were murdered by his rebels. As he was successful in fighting Qing forces his army was massacring Manchus, burning Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian temples. In 1853 rebels captured Nanjing and renamed it to Tianjing what means Heavenly Capital. It became capital of Heavenly Kingdom. Actually rebelious forces  controlled mostly capital and some areas around while other captured territories were not firmly controlled. This Heavenly Kingdom was a very controversial concept.It was against Confucianism and existing system but also adopted some of its methods of governance. In Heavenly Kingdoms examination system instead of Confucian classics Bible was taught. Foot binding, wearing queques was banned. Solar callendar was put instead of lunar one. Opium, gambling, prostitution and concubinage were strictly banned and punished by death.  Heavenly King and many officials were actually Hakka people a regional subgroup of Han Chinese which speak local dialect spoken in Southeastern and Southern China. By law women and men were strictly equalized and women were allowed to take royal examinations. But were also divided as men and women were prohibited to live together even when they were married. Private property was abolished and all land was controlled and distributed by state. Adminsitratively  state was divided on several provinces governed by kings of cardinal directions and flank king who were below Heavenly King.  Despite some innovative ideas Heavenly Kingdom was very corrupt and disorganized.

Hong Xiuquan himself behaved and lived as an emperor in a large palace in Nanjing with concubines and luxury. So his idea seems to be just a tool to manipulate masses and govern. He even mostly stayed out of politics since 1853 while his high ranking officials often fought about policies. They tried to gain some foreign support and support of larger number of masses but unsuccessfully. Famine soon occured in Heavenly Kingdom and there were too peasant rebellions and traditionalist uprisings which disliked ruling ideology. Aiming to strengthen position Taipings tried to capture Shanghai in 1860 but it finished with failure. After 1860 Chinese army and two Chinese divisions commanded by British and American officers launched offensive on Heavenly Kingdom. Foreigners initially stayed neutral but decided to aid Qing court after Beijing Convention of 1860. They surrounded Nanjing in 1864 and demanded from Hong to surrender. He committed suicide but before that he nominated his 15 years old son Tianwang as new Heavenly King. Nanjing fell already in 1864 and most of kings and princes were executed by Chinese forces. Soon other territories were captured and Taiping Rebellion ended but guerrila warfare continued until 1870 when Chinese forces often massacred Hakka population.

Taiping Rebellion left big significance on Chinese 19th century history. It showed generally that China needs to change as extremist ideas and acts usually appear in poor governance bad economic conditions, corruption and mistrust. In Guizhou, Guangxi, Hunan and Jiangxi government control drastically fell and it created circumstances for banditry, robberies and sects. Various bandits were attacking peasants while sects were preaching various salvationist ideas which were often ranging between moderate and extremist. State control drastically fell in these provinces and decentralization occurs. Power in these provinces was in hands of local provincial armies which were emerging as consequnce of Taiping Rebellion and Second Opium War. Qing dynasty realized that it cannot hold too much of absolute power since anti-Manchu feeling was rising among majority Han population. So it started to accept more of Han officials into the government service and allowed various irregular regional armies to operate on many Chinese territories. After these two wars Qing court never had full control over all China but large territories were mostly controlled by Han commanded armies. Shortly saying Taiping rebellion had power to attract desperate masses eager of reform and revival of Chinese nation, Idea of equalizing man and women was also positive but rebellions where leaders just use masses to pursue own aims and do not follow their own claims usually fail. Also such rebellion was inspired by fundamentalist misconception of Christianity including massacres and destroying Chinese culture. Without secular ideas, good organization and sincerity of leaders positive changes cannot occur.

Life of people worsened even more after these Second Opium War and Taiping Rebellion. Qing court realized that reforms are needed and a better approach to change conditions in country.  Corruption, unrests, disagreement among conservative and more openminded officials about reforms, awersion towards foreigners, poverty, opium addiction were everyday life of post 1860 China. Ceremonies of worshipping Heaven were not so confident like before and more and more people started suspecting in Mandate of Heaven not only for Qing dynasty but as a concept. Many questions about power of China appeared as in Second Opium War despite 200 000 soldiers China was defeated by 14 000 British and 7000 soldiers. They realized that quality is more important than quantity. Attempts of cooperation with foreigners, industrialization, restructuring of state institutions and modernization of army started in second half of 19th century.


Generally speaking after Taiping Rebellion and Opium Wars Qing court lost control over most of southern and a lot of central provinces. Qing court didnt have standing army anymore but depended on support of regional and provincial armies mostly of north and east. Qing court had to balance often on favor of regional army commanders in order to gain their support to back Qing throne. Most loyal to Qing court were Beiyang Army and 8 Banners.

Most of elite was still conservative while there appeared few of them who wanted reforms. Before we speak about reforms we must mention political situation at the top of Qing court and government. In 1861 young Tongzhi Emperor came to power but instead of him regency under leadership of Dowager Empress Ci Xi ruled. Even when regency was abolished in 1873 she continued to be most powerful person in late Qing years. Ci Xi de facto was primary ruler of state affairs behind official Tongzhi Emperor and later Guangxu Emperor until her death in 1908. Together with Wu Zetian( Tang dynasty period 618-907) she is most famous Chinese empress. After Taiping Rebellion she was partially allowing reforms while another regent Prince Gong and „minister“ of foreign affairs promoted reforms more widely. She often perceived him as a threat and dismissed him once but returned him to government again. Ci Xi was too conservative and often took some funds determined for reforms for restoration of imperial Summer Palace what is seen as selfish step. Ci Xi was last Chinese imperial ruler with through executive power.

Ci Xi
Ci Xi, source:

Self-Strengthening Movement and other reforms

Firt steps of reforms were known as Self-Strengthening movement initiated in 1861. One of reformists was also Zeng Guofan a military general and Confucian scholar. First phase of Self-Strengthening movement was between 1861 and 1872. In 1861 first de facto Ministry of Foreign Affairs was established and it is seen as a step of China to communicate better with outside world. Presiding over this ministry was Prince Gong. It was known as Zongli Yamen and functioned until 1901 when was replaced with real name Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also diplomatic college was established for preparing officials for diplomatic communication.Zongli Yamen had role of coordinating and keeping better relations with foreign powers. Except foreign relations reforms included trade and modernization of army during first phase. When it comes to army several modern arsenals were established and alsos ome foreign experts were invited to give advices on modernizing military. Several armies were soon equipped with modern weapons and modern uniforms. Also several modern battleships were built. However program appeared to be too expensive for declining Chinese economy and additionally because of corrupt high officials. China also tried to adapt to newly imposed treaties by estalbishing Maritime Customs Service in 1861. Thanks to that China expirienced some profit by earning from taxes of foreign commodities including opium. Horatio Nelson and later Sir Robert Hart were appointed as general inspectors of the Maritime Customs Service as they were considered as reliable and by some Qing officials foreign advisors were welcomed. Also Chinese imperial commissions were sent to supervise trade in open port cities.  In that phase was founded Tongwen Guan for learning foreign languages. It hired European proffessors to teach mathematics, astronomy and European languages.

Prince Gong
Prince Gong,  source:

Second phase lasted between 1872 and 1885 and aimed at industrialization of economy in ship building, railways, mining and telegraphy. In some areas in Tianjin, Fuzhou and Guangzhou were privatized some of enterprises in order to ease them of bureaucratic control. Success was very partial and didnt contribute much for boosting economic development. Some examples of successful privatization were Kaiping Mines, China Merchants Steam Navigation Company and Shanghai Cotton Mill. Many private owners created monopoly and thus demotivated others to compete or were closely linked to government and often bribed officials in order to avoid taxing. Also some entrerprises were too much controled by government and thus were not freely allowed completely to search new bussinesses.  In 1876 first short railline was established in Shanghai. Also in that period line between Tangshan and Xugezhuang ( 10km) was established in order to transport coal and was later extended to Tianjing. Woosong road was built by Americans connecting their concession and Zhabei. Railway project was initiated by Li Hongzhang ( an influential viceroy of Zhili and diplomat) without consent of Ci Xi. Ci Xi believed that building of rails is against nature and principles of fengshui. Also many villagers were afraid of trains passing nearby their fields considering them as monsters.

Third phase started in 1885 and lasted until 1895. Focused on further privatization of bussinesses such as textile and iron. Government avoided to develop larger industries such as iron one as it was afraid of losing power if loses control over iron production. Successful iron enterprise was Guizhou Ironworks established in 1891. Textile industry flourished more and most famous was Hubei Textile Company established in 1894. However government was still not ready to let private sector participate in trade more actively. Many local authorities were hiding taxes and income from government thus reducing income for national economy. Another reason why government avoided too much privatization was dominance of regional commanders who often were becoming even stronger and even less accountable with gaining control of local industries and taxes over local private industries.  With lack of money, confidence and vulnerability to foreign influence and fear of foreign influence reforms were quite weak and ceased after defeat in Sino-Japanese war. Confidence after this severe defeat dropped even more severely and conservative faction strengthened even more. Between 1861 and 1874 also existed Tongzhi restoration whcich had aim to stop decline of dynasty and promoted economic reforms and cultural revival. In 1889 China got first modern flag picture below. Also unofficial anthems were proposed in order to look more less like a modern state.

Qing china

In 1898 there occured last attempt to modernize empire peacefully. Scholar and politician Kang Yuowei promoted reforms known as 100 Day Reforms. He was supported by Emperor Guangxu. Kang Yuowei and his followers suggested reforms which included: establishment of constitutional monarchy, building modern educational system not just one based on Confucian classics, eliminating job positions which were not contributive but just a loss in terms of giving salaries, complete modernization of army and supporting further opening up, industrialization, manufacture and trade. But Prince Guan and Emperor Ci Xi were strictly against it as they saw it as foreign plot to destabilize China further and destroy imperial rule. Yuan Shikai and some other conservative generals performed coup and put the Emperor Guangxu into the house arrest in Summer Palace. Kang Yuowei escaped to Japan while some of his followers were arrested and executed in China.

Only in foreign concessions which were expanded after 1895 further modernization was possible under foreign interests. There were built several rails in British, French, German and Russian concessions determined for transportation of commoddities and people. Also many rails were connecting other parts of China on demand of foreigners such as between Beijing and Guangzhou, Tianjin and Nanjing. Germans built rails between Tianjin and Shandong province. They were needed for transport of exports, imports and people. British were building in areas of Hong Kong( Hong Kong –Guangzhou) but also further and French built between Vietnam and southern China 855km long rail. Russians built section  of TransSiberian rail between Port Arthur and Harbin. Also Russians built rail between Harbin and Manzhuoli as section of TransSiberian rail. By 1911 there was built 9000km of railways. Also in open cities and concessions European architecture started to appear. A lot of bussiness and residential buildings and churches were built in British, French, German, Russian and Italian styles depending on whose control was area. In foreign controlled cities and free trade cities some more wealthy Chinese started to adopt Western clothing styles too. It was a new formed elite of intellectuals and merchants living in free trade cities and foreign concessions. They often tried to understand foreigners better and tried to find some compromise in preserving Chinese culture but adopting some foreign changes. Among them appeared first progressive, republician, liberal revolutionary and socialist ideas in China and they started to support reformist movements.

Generally saying one of reasons why reforms were inefficient was because of lack of state control and executive power over many provinces due to control of regional armies.

Situation in 1890ies

Poverty, corruption, crime and sects were dominant aspects of Chinese society during 1890ies. Large portion of population lived in poverty and starved. It happened because of high taxes, high food prices, drought and lack of food caused by focus on silk and tea production.  In open trade cities a lot of  Chinese workers often were hired to work for foreign companies or railway constructions, building constructions and mining. Also some Chinese merchants were successful and rich thanks to trade with foreigners in trade free cities. Many Chinese in open cities worked as cheap labor for foreigners and really hardly. Many of them were servants at foreign legations or households. Thus high social inequalities were present and were burdening even more Chinese society. Addiction from opium was ruining richer families and destroying those poorer. Crime was blooming in all areas and secret gangster sects were operating. Crimes and smuggles were committed both by foreign and Chinese gangs. Various religious sects were operating some were promoting salvation as exchange for membership, others were attracting members for money and some were active in illegal activities such as robbing governmental buildings and rich people and giving it to the poor. Sects were inspired either by Taoist, Buddhist or Christian beliefs or sometimes by misconceptions of these teachings. Most sects practiced martial arts too in order to easier combat Chinese or foreign convoys when they wanted to take money and distribute it to the poor. Aversion towards Christians was common since missionaries were often criticizing indigenous Chinese beliefs and Buddhism. Often they tried by force to convert people and often considered themselves as civilized while Chinese Taoist and Buddhist beliefs as primitive or barbaric. Missionaries were often even preaching in local communities how to behave and use to punish those who were rejecting to accept Christianity. Christian missionaries tried to convince them and attacked Chinese culture and beliefs as primitive and barbaric. Aversion and xenophobia towards foreigners and Manchu dynasty was rising. People couldnt stand to feel like second order citizens in their own country when foreigners had all privileges.

Chinese women in Shanghai
Chinese women in Shanghai, 1900, source:

Nationalism and feeling of patriotism among Han people was rising as they blamed foreign Qing dynasty and wanted to restore former glory of China. Epidemics were also part of everyday life such as epidemics of cholera. In 1855 plague outbreak started in Yunnan province. Later it was spread to other parts of China and most intense was between 1905 and 1911. It took 10 million lives and most of them in Manchuria. Plague was already „indicator“ for end of Yuan and Ming dynasties so it seems that it showed that Qing dynasty lost Mandate of Heaven too.  Also various preacheries were appearing about guilt of Qing dynasty as a foreign one which some people found guilty at this moment for destroying China and for foreign invasion and unequal treaties. Now mistakes which Qing dynasty made- persecution of Han at beginning of their rule,  closing and disagreeing to cooperate with foreigners and decline of tradewere remembered and anti sentiment towards Qing dynasty rises even more. Chinese nationalists blamed Qing dynasty for destroying China and making a poor, underdeveloped and semi-colonized country from rich, developed and strong and prosperous country in all terms. They also felt aversion towards foreign countries which did very big humiliation to China from selling opium, imposing treaties, destroying palaces, seeing Chinese people and Chinese culture as barbaric, preaching Christianity and presenting it as superior faith and taking territories.

Shanghai 1900
Shanghai 1900, source:
rural china
Most of China was rural, source:

There appeared two types of secret societies those with modern ideas and those with traditional and somewhat supersitious ideas. In 1894 in Honolulu, Hawaii Chinese emigre under leadership of Sun Yatsen formed Revive China Society which was patriotic society which had aim to remowe Qing dynasty and return old glory of China and establish governance under modern principles. It was active in Chinese diaspora and formed Tonmenghui society in 1905 from which Kuomingtang emerged. Revive China Society was ready to cooperate with foreigners on establishing better governance in China and successfully conduct reforms.  Such organization tried to use rational methods of cooperation with foreigners and overthrow Qing and return China under governance of Chinese people. It was secular movement with pro modern ideas which saw importance of preserving culture but also installing new reforms for better functioning of state and society and international respect. Their aim was to restore Chinese glory, keep tradition but also modernise political, educational  and economic system.  Such movements only attracted minority of educated population and were mostly operating from USA and Japan and didnt have big influence. Members of elite with such ideas were often censored in Beijing.

Sun yatsen
A father of Chinese nation, Sun Yatsen, source:

But initially among majority of desperate population more popular was society of martial arts, spiritual ideas and magic which reminded on legends. Those traditionalist societies were not only anti Qing but anti foreign generally. Some of these sects were quite extremist and with no clear vision of change and concept of new society after they overthrow Qing and expell foreigners. Their ideas were often full of supersitions and mystical ideas but were quite disorganized.


Boxer Rebellion

One of such sects was Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. They were sect which practiced martial arts preached supersitions and attracted large number of poor peasants. This sect was most popular in Shandong province where famines and disease outbreaks and German oppression were occuring. Known as Boxers by Western powers they used to attack Qing troops but also German colonial troops and various foreign missionaries. They were mostly angry because of Christian missionaries which were preaching Christianity, attracting poor people and insulting traditional Chinese values and beliefs. Boxers found Christians as threat for Chinese values, traditions and concept of family. Often missionaries and new converts were coming to local rural ceremonies and interrupting them and used to buy temples and convert them to churches. Simply western missionaris felt as a „civilized“ representatives with a need to teach others how to live and need to impose own beliefs as best. So antiforeign sentiment isnt surprising at all in such situations. Boxers were getting more supporters especially thanks to promoting excellent martial arts skills and special rituals according to whcih they were non vulnerable to bullets. Boxers used only swords and spears believing that only traditional weapons can save China ignoring fact that powder weapons were used in China almost for 1000 years. With their mysteriy, quite secret leadership, martial arts and claim to being immune on bullets they gathered uneducated peasant masses eager of better life. In 1899 tension in Shandong peaked when temple devoted to Jade Emperor was converted to church in one village. Boxers attacked there and killed all missionaries their security and new Chinese Christians. Simply desperateness,  humiliation and disrespect caused by missionaries and foreign presence caused such extremist actions. Initially Qing troops were against Boxers.

By May of 1900 Boxers were reaching outskirts of Beijing and were very active in Shandong.  Qing government was divided in whether to support or not Boxers. Some promodern officials were rejecting support for Boxers while conservative who were majority promoted support for them. Ci Xi promoted to side on Boxers also because she was afaid that they may continue to fight against Qing dynasty too. So in June 1900 she declared war on foreigners and let the Boxers enter the Beijing. Boxers burnt several churches and attacked foreigners and Chinese Christians. On 10th June under command of British officer Seymour 1500 soldiers from UK, Germany, France, USA, Japan, Italy, Russia and Austria Hungary went from Tianjin towards Beijing. They launched so called Seymour Expedition whcih aimed to enter Beijing to rescue foreigners in Beijing legations( diplomats, and missionaries lived there) but at Battle of Langfang they were defeated by Boxers and Gansu Braves. Gansu Braves were Chinese Muslim militia loyal to Qing which used modern weapons. Many provincial governors such as Li Hongzhang and Yuan Shikai who controlled important modern regional armies rejected to join war against foreigners believing that it will cause even more damage to China.Yuan Shikai even battled against Boxers in Shandong. Thus only some troops of Beijing and 8 Banners were involved in war against foreigners. But practically Boxers and Gansu braves fought the most against foreign troops.  On June 20 1900 Boxers surrounded foreign legations together with Gansu Braves. Empress Ci Xi offered evacuation of foreign civilians to Tianjin by Chinese army but they rejected it since they didnt trust Chinese army. German minister who was at that time in legations asked to visit Zongli Yamen to discuss this issue but on the road there despite Chinese escort he was killed by Manchu officer. Thus foreigners rejected to leave legations. About 1000 foreign diplomats and missionaries and 3000 Chinese Christians were sieged in legations together with several foreign security troops. They were sieged by Boxers and Gansu Braves until mid August. It is known as 55 day siege of Beijing legations. Some foreign soldiers, diplomats and priests were defending legations while others were waiting. Boxers were attacking and circulating around together with Gansu Braves. By swords, spears, guns and setting surrounding houses on fire Boxers and Gansu Braves were trying to get in legations but foreign guards were not giving up. When Boxers realized that they can be killed by bullets some of them started to use rifles too. Few times rebels almost entered legations but were pulled back. Sieged people were without enough food and medicines.


Meanville 8 Nation Alliance was formed by Britain, USA, Russia, Germany, France, Austria-Hungary, Japan and Italy. Most of them rivals in Europe now united in securing own interests in China. They prepared about 50 000 soldiers. Netherlands officially didnt join Alliance but sent its troops too. British engaged a lot of Sikhs, Punjabis and Gurkhas from colonial India. From Tianjin they started offensive towards Beijing. It is known as Guslee expedition as commanded by British officer Guslee. At Beicang and Yangcun a settlements between Beijing and Tianjin they defeated Boxers at beginning of August 1900. Despite stubborn fight of Boxers foreigners won thanks to better tactics and modern weapons. Now they approached Beijing. Battle of Beijing occured between 14-15th August. About 20 000 foreign troops and 80 000 Boxers and Gansu Braves clashed. Boxers and Gansus were not giving up easily and were bitterly fighting and foreigners too. But 8 Nation Alliance troops managed to break through defence walls. Several hours before arrival of foreign troops on 15th August Empress Ci Xi and other top officials escaped the city undercover. She dressed up as a peasant women. They escaped to the Xian and officially claimed they are on tour there.

battle boxers
Russian troops storm Beijing

Meanville foreign troops reached central Beijing and met big resistance nearby todays Qianmen ( nearby were legations). Gansus used artilerry trying to make most of damage to legations and approaching troops. Same day siege was broken and foreign troops entered legations and rescued sieged people.


American soldiers storming Beijing, source:

Retreating Boxers and Gansus were bitterly fighting on the streets  until they were completely expelled from city. Foreign troops marched into Forbidden City in order to demonstratively show their power and humiliate Chinese. Now Beijing experienced one of biggest lootings in its history and one US journalist compared it to Pizzaros behavior in conquest of Inca empire. All troops were bitterly looting, burning,  stealing valuables, killing civilians and raping women for the whole day. They made damage to Yuanmingyuan again, Summer Palace and several temples and villas at Xiangshan. Boxers at least didnt loot and rape. Mentioned Zhao Miao Temple ( dating from 18th century) was looted and burnt as well as Fragrant Hills Temple( dating from 12th century).  They also captured Temple of Heaven and did some damage there. They made of the temple store for amunition. By doing this to one of core temples they showed even more humiliation. If they deployed more troops they could probably conquer  more of China and destroy dynasty at that time but they didnt want to usurp existing treaties and secured interests but they focused on cleaning countryside from remaining Boxers. Hostilities lasted until September 1901 when they imposed Boxer Protocol. Until that time most of Boxers were killed, captured and executed. Real hunting of them occured during 1900 and 1901 and Germans, Japanese and French were most brutal in their executions.

Beijing 1900 1
Beijing, 1900, source:

Boxer Protocol included- 1) legations quarter remain under full control of  8 Nation Alliance and no Chinese law applies there and Chinese have no right to enter it, 2) China must pay reparations to all 8 powers about todays 4 billions of US dollars, 3) Destruction of Dagu Forts, 4) China must express regrets for all killed foreigners, 5) China must execute or send to exile all responsible officials and remaining Boxer commanders, 6) China must give under full control to foreign troops Tianjin, Qinhuangdao, Langfang, Tangshan and some more important territories in North-Eastern China, 7) China must abolish imperial exams in next 5 years and replace them with modern educatinal system. 8) Zongli Yamen must be abolished and real Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be established with proper name.  After that most of Western, Russian and Japanese troops left Beijing.

Chinese accepted all demands except to execute Dong Fuxiang( a non-Muslim commander of Muslim Gansu Braves) but they sent him to luxurious exile in Gansu. China was once again humiliated and almost fully colonized. Qing dynasty lost even more power and even more support among people. Ceremonies of worshipping heaven were abolished as they lost all sense and meaning among people who lost any trust to Qing dynasty.  Boxers are modernly seen with dual views on one side positive on another negative. Often they are seen as patriots who assembled desperate and impoverished peasants who wanted change. They are seen often as kind of reaction to foreign occupation, humiliation, privileges of foreign nationals, unequal treaties, poor life standard and against imperial rule. From this point of view Boxers can be seen as kind of revival of Chinese national identity and Chinese national revolution. Their cause of fighting foreign imperialism and their brutal behavior towards China is definitely just. Even  Mark Twain famous American writer of that time expressed favoring Boxers considering them patriots who have right to expell powers which came and imposed dominance of China. Thus from that side they can be seen as revolutionaries who wanted to restore independence and sovereignty of China. On another hand they are often seen as irrational and extremist. Irrational can be their belief that they cant be killed by bullets and that they  used to fight only with swords and spears. Also as irrational can be seen that they didnt have clear vision what they want after they overthrow Qing or expell foreigners. They didnt have clear alternative what they would change and how.Such quite disorganized behavior is always paradise for extremism and misuse of movement. Extremism causes another extremism. Foreign pressure, corruption, imposing of treaties, foreign preaching of Christianity and seeing China as barbaric causes another extreme behavior. Thus Boxers were quite extreme as they targetted foreign  officials and missionaries and Chinese Christians who were mostly civilians. Their massacring of Chinese Christians and foreign diplomats and priests  can be seen as extremist way towards changes but definitely caused by foreign oppression and their privileges which they had in China and authoritative behavior. Definitely can be said that they showed that China needs reforms, overthrow dynasty and restore independence. Maybe Boxers were brutal but it is hypocritic to blame only them as we know very well how foreign troops burnt Chinese palaces in 1860, humiliated Chinese peasants and how they looted Beijing, raped  and killed civilians and burnt temples and houses in 1900.Except Boxers there was female sect known as Red Lanterns. They were wearing compltely red clothes with hidden face and fighting on several places very actively.

zhao before
Damaged Zhao Miao Temple at Xiangshan before reconstruction, it was burnt by British and French troops

During Boxer rebellion there occured significant events in Manchuria which were separate front than that of Tianjin and Beijing. Boxers entered Manchuria in in July 1900. Together with 8 Banner Qing Army composed of Manchus mostly they started attacking railway between Harbin and Port Arthur. They attacked Russian soldiers which were guarding construction and they attacked coal mines. Russian Empire in order to protect its interests in Manchuria sent 100 000 soldiers.  3 biggest battles occured between Russian army and 8 Banners and Boxers at Yingkou, Baitouzi and Amur river.  Despite that 8 Banners used cannons and rifles they were defeated by Russians. Russian soldiers committed a lot of atrocities during conquering Manchuria they killed many Manchu and Han civilians, raped women, looted villages and towns and burnt houses. At the end despite Russian promise that they will not occuppy Manchuria they took full large scale control which is equal to occupation. Despite their promise in Boxer Protocol to withdraw combat troops from Manchuria they kept them what led to Russo-Japanese war of 1905.



Revolts in Western and Southern China

In order to understand fully situation of 19th century China we need to take a look at revolts which caused big destabilization of China and took many casualties. One of such revolts is Dungan Revolt( 1862-1877). It started as an ethnic tension between Han Chinese and Hui minority. Rebellion occured in Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi and Xinjiang. Everything started in Shaanxi when Taiping troops approached there and Han people residing there they started to arm themselves under support of Qing. Hui people felt unsafe and started to arm too. Ethnic tensions led to uprising in Shaanxi in 1862. Hui Muslim warriors were divided into 18 battalions without clear aim but to revolt and even didnt have clear aim to overthrow Qing dynasty.  Green standard army and Hunan armies were major pro Qing forces there and also some Hui militants fought on side of Qing. At beginning most of battles occured in Shaanxi when Xian was under siege of Dungan troops. In 1864 Hui general Ma Hualong massacred 100 000 Han civilians in Gansu. He took almost entire control of province. In other areas Han troops were massacring Hui civilians. Because of disagreement in Islamic sects among Hui their militias often fought against each other. Among most notable Chinese commanders was Zuo Zongtang famous for bravery and for good  military strategies. By 1873 Zuo defeated numerous Hui armies in Gansu and Shaanxi and restored large control over them. He executed there many captives including Ma Hualong. In 1864 rebellion even spread to Xinjiang when Hui militias entered Xinjiang with Hui refugees and they joined there Uighurst who together started to attack Chinese troops in Kashgar and Urumqi. Here in 1865 Yakub beg a Tajik warrior from Kokand took control of some Uighur factions who defeated Chinese troops largely and were joined by Hui. Yakub was also massacring Han civilians in Xinjiang.  Kashgar, Turpan and Urumqi were under Yakug begs control. Yakub begs army included Uighur, Hui, Tajik, Kyrgiz, Afghani, Kazakh and Uzbek people. Many of them were brought from Kokand. His control of Kashgar and Tarim Basin started to fall down when in Kokand itself war started as Russian Empire invaded it. Many local Uighurs disliked appearance of Yakub beg and war and claimed that it was better under Chinese rule. In 1870 Yakug beg declared jihad against Hui people because of religious disagreements. His troops defeated Hui militia at Urumqi in 1870. Now some Han militias( which were not related to Beijing) joined Hui militias to fight Yakug beg.  Yakug beg was in some periods in good relations with Russian Empire and except support from them he was getting support from Britain and Ottoman Empire. Later his relations with Russia deteriorated and he fought them. In 1877 talented general Zuo Zongtang captured whole Xinjiang step by step defeating rebelious militias. Some western areas of Xinjiang were held by Russian Empire since they captured them while conquering Kazakhstan. Russian Empire wanted to get extraterritorial rights in Xinjiang and open trade but under threat of war by Beijing they had to sign treaty in 1881 St.Petersburg under which they returned taken parts of Xinjiang. Several thousand of Hui refugees went to live in Russian Empire and their descendants still live in Kyrgyzstan. It is estimated that in Dungan revolt at least 10 million people died. Despite victory of Qing their power was in decline because of exhaustion.

Other important rebellion was Nian rebellion between 1851 and 1868 in valley of Yellow River. Aim of rebels was to fight Qing but due to lack of strategy and lack of cooperation with Taiping forces they were defeated. Reason for rebellion were poor ecoonmic conditions, famine and droughts. Zeng Guofan a was one of core commanders against rebellion.

Another rebellion was in Yunnan known as Panthay rebellion which occured between 1856 and 1873. It was initiated by Muslim minority in Yunnan but was not driven by religious and ethnic nature but with dissatisfaction with existing situation. Muslim militias were joined by Han militias to whcih fought Qing armies and Muslim and Manchu loyalist militias. Du Wenxiu declared himself as Sultan of Pacified Southern Kingdom which claimed separation from Qing dynasty and was seated in Dali.  Main idea of sultan was to unitey with Han people and overthrow Qing dynasty since he considered that it lost Mandate of Heaven. Sultan Du Wenxiu tried to gain British recognition but was defeated until 1873. Despite Qing victory power of Qing was decreased again.

Between 1895 and 1896 occured Second Dungan Revolt. It occured in Qinghai province and Gansu and appeared as a result of dispute between two Islamic sects. When Qing local  court in Qinghai rejected to solve their dispute they started to fight against Qing troops. On side of Qing except regular Han troops were fighting Muslim militias too among most famous and strongest were Gansu braves. Qing troops and Muslim loyalists won again but massacred a lot of civilians.

Gansu braves


We must shortly mention arts which of course existed during this period. In painting by end of 19th century popular becomes colorful woodblock painting. In 1877 Six Chapters of Floating Life was published by Shen Fu. It became popular book. In free trade zones Western influence in music, literature and architecture appears. Few Chinese books were translated to English.



Religion in terms of missionary and revolts was covered mostly. During this time in Taoism and Buddhism there were not significant changes. In Islam Sufism appears.

"Selfies" 100 Years Ago
In temple in Beijing, 1900,



source of cover photo

China History Guide 18 Qing Dynasty 2- China a Victim of Foreign Imperialism( Opium Wars, Century of Humiliation and Decline of Empire)

China History Guide 18 Qing Dynasty 2- China a Victim of Foreign Imperialism( Opium Wars, Century of Humiliation and Decline of Empire)


We are approaching last period of Qing dynasty and end of imperial China after almost 2000 years of imperial history. Jiaqing Emperor who inherited throne ruled between 1796 and 1820. During his rule China experienced a rebellion of extremist White Lotus Sect but it was surpassed in 1804 after ten years. Jiaqing is known for anti-Christian policies since he still considered jesuits and other missionaries as threat to Chinese society and stability of empire. He issued and amendment to Qing Code a provision which punishes jesuits if caught on Chinese territory by death. Also provision prohibited conversion to Christianity for Han and Manchu people and if they reject to give up Christianity they were sent to Kashgar or Turpan to become slaves of Uighur lords and beys. After Jiaqing died this policy was continued by Daoguang Emperor. Daoguang Emperor inherited an empire in stagnation surrounded almost by new foreign powers which were colonizing Asia slowly. Internally China was stable in terms of society and economy despite stagnation. Pressure on China to open its markets for foreign trade was rising but China was closing itself more being afraid of disruption of its culture and stability. Britain mostly was pressuring China to open its trade since China didnt want to buy from it but only sold tea to it. East India Company was buying large amounts of tea from Guangzhou port and selling it to Britain earning large amounts of money. But it had deficit in exports and wanted to increase exports and found opium to be most profitable. For East Indian Company was more important to sell and earn than ethics of commodity such as opium.  Opium was harvested in British colonized India and Britain didnt know where to sell it in big amounts. Chinese didnt want any commodities but only wanted silver for tea what was unsustainable for Britain. So they found opium as good option which would attract people.  Meantine in Xinjiang there was a rebellion initiated by Jahangir Khoja in 1826. There increased dispute between Uighur and Hui people and it led to rebellion. At beginning Turkic rebels were successful by capturing Kashgar and Turpan but later were defeated. Hui fought alongside of Chinese troops this time.

opium smokers
Opium smokers

First Opium War

In 1839 First Opium War started which symbolized beginning of 1 century of humiliation of China and beginning of an end of Chinese empire. Opium sales were secretly partilly tolerated when they were in small amounts sold by British since middle of 18th century. But its amount was rising since more and more households got addicted to opium and it was becoming more and more profitable for British while for Chinese it was becoming bigger problem which could create more and more less productive addicted and unethical people. 1500 tons annually were smuggled into China through Guangzhou. Chinese special imperial commissioner in Guangzhou sent letter to British Queen which never arrived asking to stop opium smuggling in Guangzhou. Local government in Guangzhou in 1839 confiscated large amount of opium from British warehouse. These days drunk British sailor killed Chinese villager and British merchants rescued him and refused him to give him in front of Chinese court. In October of the same year Chinese authorities entered British merchant ships and threw away all opium into water. Chinese fleet blocked Pearl River in order to prevent British to arrive to Guangzhou. But in November 1839 British forces attacked Chinese blockade and war started. Battles were held at Guangzhou and Hong Kong. British used only 20 000 soldiers of this were 7000 Indian colonial forces. They used only 70 ships. Chinese had there 200 000 soldiers and much more ships but they were severely defeated. Thing is that British had much more advanced rifles and stronger ships while Chinese used outdated guns and wooden ships because of isolation they didnt advance. Guangzhou and Hong Kong were captured by British in 1841 and battles continued alongside Southeastern coast.  In 1841 in Battle of Xiamen Chinese were defeated too despite heroic defense British landing was successful. Final battle was at Chinkiang which ended by British capturing of Nanjing in 1842. Emperor Daoguan asked for peace treaty. Losses on British side were not big about 350 people while Chinese lost 19 000 people.

Painter E.Duncan, Destruction of Chinese junks

Nanjing Treaty of 1842 was first unequal treaty that China had to sign. Its provisions were following: 1) China must open fully for trade Guangzhou, Ningbo, Tianjin, Fuzhou and Shanghai for foreign trade  including opium2) Cohong a Chinese guild which conducted trade with British and mediated in Sino-British trade since 18th century is abolished,  3) Foriegn merchants can keep warehouses in open ports and  merchants got granted extraterritoriality  4) British consuls can be present in all open ports to supervise freedom and protection of British merchants, 5) Hong Kong port is completely given under British crown as colonial territory and 6) China must pay high reparations to Britain.

This defeat proved that China isnt anymore dominant world power and isnt invicible. This war showed that China is backward now in terms of technology. It was first sign that Qing dynasty isnt most superior and that Middle Kingdom isnt center of the world anymore and Chinese people started to lose trust into Qing dynasty. After this treaty Chinese reputation in world fell and became vulnerable to demands of other countries which eyed their interest on weakened China.  At same time Sikh empire invaded Chinese Tibet in 1841 but already until 1842 Sikhs were defeated and expelled.

Soon USA took opportunity in 1844 and forced China to accept treaty which grants extraterritoriality for US merchants in 4 open ports, allows them to build own churches and hospitals in these 4 cities and establishment of US consuls in 4 cities. It is known as Wanghia treaty. French did same with treaty in Whampoa in same year 1844 and by this treaty China had to allow missionaries in port towns. In 1850 Daoguang Emperor died and was suceeded by Xianfeng Emperor.  Also Russian Empire used chance for expanding its imperialistic aims and imposed treaty of Kulja( 1851) by which China had to completely open Ningyuan and Huiyuan for caravan trade.


Second Opium War and looting of Yuanmingyuan

In 1856 even bigger humiliation of China started. There was ongoing civil war known as Taiping rebelion about which we will speak later. Brits wanted to use chance of it and gain more in pressuring China. In 1856 Chinese army captured ship Arrow in port of Guangzhou suspecting for piracy. They arrested crew members. British consulate in Guangzhou demanded immediate release and apology. Chinese officials didnt release all members of crew and British fleet attacked Guangzhou soon. Than Chinese army burnt all opium in warehouses held by British merchants. British attack on Guangzhou was delayed until 1857 since they had rebellion in their colony India and it was at that moment priority for them. French also joined British forces as they wanted to revenge for recent murder of French missionaire in China. He was killed in Guangxi because this area was still closed for foreign presence. By end of 1857 British governor of Hong Kong and consul in Guangzhou demanded immediate release of remaining crew from Arrow and apology from imperial officer Ye Mingchen. Crew was released but there was no apology so British and French navies started bombing of Guangzhou. So battle of Guangzhou was ongoing between Chinese against British and French navies. Already on 1st January 1858 Guangzhou was occupied by British and French forces. Ye Mingchen was captured and exiled to Calcutta where he died from starvation.

Bombing canton
British bombing of Guangzhou, source:

Russia used a chance and threatened China to accept new revisionist treaty which cancelled Treaty of Nerchinsk( 1689). In May 1858 new Aigun Treaty was signed as Russia imposed new imperialist aims. Russia occupied large portions of Manchuria which are today part of Russia. Russia needed this territories as it wanted to secure more areas on Pacific and balance against Japan. Russia included this area in TransSiberian rail project and started building new ports. Next month in june 1858 China was forced to signed treaty in Tianjin under threat of British and French navies to storm Tianjin.  Before that at Battle of Dagu forts Chinese troops were defeated and British and French troops captured Dagu a core strategic point next to Tianjin. Provisions of treaty were following: 1) China opens for complete free and low tax trade except in previous ports in Newchang, Tamsui, Nanjing and Hangzhou, 2) reparations of 6mln taels, 3) foreigners can move freely in all China for seeking trade, 4) missionary activities allowed in all China, 5) legalization of opium, 6) foreing vessels can use Yangtze for traveling, 7) establishment of British, Russian, French and US legations in Beijing, 8) no more use of word barbarian for official communication with westerners, 9) extraterritoriality granted to citizens of foregin powers who come to trade in China, who come as diplomats or missionaries. After signing treaty British and French forces left Dagu.

Emperor Xianfeng was persuaded by some ministers to cancel the humiliating treaty. Xianfeng sent Mongol general Sengge Rinchen with large army composed of Han, Manchu and Mongols to strengthen Dagu fort. In June 1859 they attacked sailing British and French ships on which were envoys on road to Beijing supposed to enter new embassies. British, French and US navies were bombarding fort Dagu and launching landings but were unsuccessful. They were severely defeated and British army felt humiliated after defeat by weaker force for them. After Chinese victory at Dagu Xianfeng cancelled Tianjin treaty. Already in 1860 large scale British, French and US invasion started on Dagu. In third battle of Dagu Chinese forces were defeated because foreigners brought more troops this time and used very advanced cannons. Brits finally surpassed rebellion in India so could deploy more troops against China. Dagu was taken and Tianjing and forces proceeded towards Beijing. At that time  in August 1860 Chinese authorities sent delegation to Tianjin to British envoy but he rejected them. Also British forces kidnapped prefect of Tianjin. Chinese forces than captured Parks a British envoy and severely tortured and killed some members of his delegation.  This caused even bigger British outrage.

battle baliqiao
Battle of Baliqiao

A 10 000 Chinese army was defending Beijing on a canal from coming forces from direction of Tianjin. In september 1860 battle of Baliqiao bridge occured in which Chinese forces were severely destroyed by advanced Franco British cannons. Franco British troops entered Beijing in October 1860 and entered Forbidden City. Before that Emperor Xianfeng escaped to Chengde Resorts 300km from Beijing and left Prince Gong to negotiate. British and French were considering how to crackdown Chinese self-confidence and punish for resistance. Despite release of Parks they didnt want to give up idea and deeply defeat Chna culturally. First they thought to burn Forbidden City but realized that it may delay negotiations so they turned against Summer Palaces. French troops entered Yuanmingyuan and looted everything precious. A day after British troops burned Yuanmingyuan, almost all pavillions, villas and European Mansion. Looting and destruction of Yuanmingyuan is considered as one of most humiliating experiences for China in its history and one of most hypocritic and barbaric deeds of British and French. For Chinese it meant that they have lost superiority in world and respect towards their culture from side of foreigners. It proved that their culture is destroyable and not valued by those who invade them. It showed that they are not number one in terms of power and despite rich culture they are not respected and that invaders will use all means to put them down. For foreigner invaders it meant to put China down and show China that it isnt superior or in position to resist anymore.   Simply it was most hypocritic and vandal way of showing power by destroying cultural objects.They knew that China will fall if they use such coercive and destructive method. It is hypocritic because UK, France presented themselves as civilized superior nations while they considered China as barbarian one. They saw themselves as civilized, superior and advanced but behaved barbarically by destroying achievements of others. Even more shameful is looting and taking precious items from palaces and by this way they appeared to be more barbaric than those who they called barbaric. Some European scholars of that time condemmed behavior of Britain and France. Famous French 19th century poet Victor Hugo severely condemed this action and called Britain and France ordinary thieves. Today still this topic stays in memory of Chinese people as humiliation and a thing that Britain and France try not to speak. Some items have been returned to China by end of 20th century and few still not. Quite big damage experienced Yiheyuan palace too( Summer Palace) too.

2013-06-20 15.21.01
Remains of looted and burnt Yuanmingyuan
2013-06-20 15.17.19
Ruins at Yuanmingyuan


Consequences of Opium Wars

After this China decided to confirm previous Tianjin Treaty. Prince Gong signed so called Peking Convention which was confirming Treaty of Tianjin and giving up to Russia both banks of Amur and additional 350 000 square miles of Manchuria to Russia . Russia forced China to give up this territories as Russia promised it will persuade Anglo-French troops to leave Beijing if China does so. So it happened. Also Tianjin treaty included leasing to Britain Kowloon  peninsula in addition to Hong Kong territories.

Sovereignity, respect and power of China severely dropped after Second Opium War. It became a country that didnt have control of its own affairs and territory in full scale. Foreign merchants could move freely to sell opium everywhere. Missionaries could move freely to spread Christianity and they often misbehaved and humiliated Chinese religions and beliefs. Chinese officials couldnt restrict their movement or behavior since it was pushed to guarantee immunity for them in front of Chinese law.

Corruption, unrests, disagreement among conservative and more openminded officials about reforms, awersion towards foreigners, poverty, opium addiction were everyday life of post 1860 China. Ceremonies of worshipping Heaven were not so confident like before and more and more people started suspecting in Mandate of Heaven not only for Qing dynasty but as a concept. Many questions about power of China appeared as in Second Opium War despite 200 000 soldiers China was defeated by 14 000 British and 7000 French soldiers. They realized that quality is more important than quantity. Attempts of cooperation with foreigners, industrialization, restructuring of state institutions and modernization of army started in second half of 19th century. They established for the first time Ministry of foreign affairs for better foreign cooperation. More about this reforms will be in next part about internal and social affairs. Problem was here that reforms couldnt be speeded due to lack fo money, different stances among key figures and suspection of people about innovations from abroad. More about it will be later in next part.

Thanks to few modernized army groups and partial industrialized  areas  and more willingness to cooperate  China more or less avoided foreign pressure for some time and prevented complete colonization.  Margary crisis of 1874 when British diplomat Margary and his 4 Chinese servants were killed by villagers. By treaty from 1876 in Chefoo where China binded itself to punish perpetrators of crime and reduce taxes for British merchants. In some areas French and British forces and companies gave some help by employing people and by supporting industrialization and modernizing army.

China humiliation
19th century caricature of foreign powers dividing Chinese territory, source:

First Sino-French War

Between 1882 and 1885 Sino French war occured over Vietnam. Vietnam was still tributary vassal of China while France was capturing adn colonizing its southern areas. Therefore Chinese sent troops to North Vietnam.  Li Hongzhang a Chinese diplomat offered joint control of northern Vietnam but French rejected and Chinese entered battle with French. They were defeated and forced to sign a treaty to allow France full control of Vietnam and as compromise China doesnt have to pay reparations. But already in 1884 Chinese court rejected treaty and launched offensive in Tonkin. On land China was defeating France and bringing it a big casualties but on sea at battle of Fuzhou Chinese navy was defeated. Russia and Japan threatened China to stop war with France and accept treaty so China had to do that. France and China dealt in Paris in 1885 about restoring previous treaty. It was signed in Tianjin same year. This event showed that China maintained more or less better position than in previous period since it found that it must cooperate more in order to achieve compromise and avoid more damage from still more powerful rivals. China also strengthened position and won few battles thanks to partially modernized army.Also rivals saw that China cant be fully colonized and therefore they must make compromises too. Example except this one is St.Peterburgs Treaty of 1881 when Russia returned some parts of Xinjiang taken by Russia during Dungan revolt.  But still China had to pay reparations and accept expanding of consular network of Russia. About it will be in next part since it is issue of internal affairs more.

Still weak China was used by Portugal when demanded to prolong lease of Macau. It happened in 1887.

First Sino-Japanese War

After losing protectorate over Vietnam stayed Korea a last Chinese protectorate. But imperial Japan saw Korea as a good spot to strengthen its influence. Japan after successful Emperor Meiji industrial reforms and army modernization got so many ambitions in strengthening its power beyond own islands. Taking Korea over from China was great opportunity since China was too weak. China didnt want to lose Korea at all costs since it was its last vassal out if Chinese territories with significant importance. China felt confident thanks to modernized army while Japan felt confident with rise of national pride and ambitions to be mighty imperialist state. Korea was divided between pro Chinese King of Joseon dynasty and some pro modernization elite which was for cooperation with Japan. In 1884Pro Japanese reformists tried to overthrow king but Chinese troops commanded by Yuan Shikai saved king. That year Li-Ito Convention was signed which  agreed for both troops to withdraw from Korea. But in 1894 Japan was not ready for compromise anymore. Kim Ok Kyun a pro Japanese Korean was assasinated in Shanghai by Chinese agents and his body was sent back to Korea to scare rebels. At that moment Korean king invited Chinese troops to help him deal with rebellion. Japanese saw this as breach of Li-Ito Convention and sent troops to Korea and bombed Chinese fleet. War officially started in August 1894. Even Western officials predicted Chinese victory since army was much larger as Chinese participated with 600 000 soldiers while Japanese  with 250 000. But Japanese troops were more confident and better equipped since they had faster modernization and didnt have so much internal problems like China. Near Korean coast battle of Pungdo occured in which Chinese ships were sunk. First major land battle was at Seongwan in Korea also in summer 1894 where Chinese troops were defeated. In september Japanese forces attacked Pyongyang and expelled Chinese troops from that city. After this defeat Chinese started withdrawal from Korea. Soon occured naval  Battle at Yalu river near its flow in Yellow Sea where Chinese fleet was severely defeated. In October 1894 Battle of Jiuliancheng occured when Japanese troops attacked Chinese forces at Sino-Korean border and defeated them again.  Japanese forces entered China. Next battle was at Lushunkou( later known as Port Arthur and todays Dalian) where Japanese forces won again captured town and massacred 20 000 soldiers and civilians. This event is known as Port Arthur Massacre and one of first massacres that Japanese committed in China. When they captured areas of Manchuria by beginning of 1895 Japan launched invasion on Shandong province by sea and clashed with Chinese navy at Weihaiwai and defeated it. After that Princ Gong abolished Admirality Board since its fleet was destroyed completely. At beginning of 1895 at Yingkou in Manchuria Chinese were defeated again. Japanese troops were approaching Beijing and Chinese court asked for peace. In April 1895 Shimonoseki Treaty was signed. Its provisions were: 1) China recognizes full independence of Korea, 2) China fully gives up Pescadores islands, Taiwan and Liaodong peninsula with full property, weaponry and forts of that area., 3) 200 000  0000 of taels China must pay and 4) Shashi, Chongqing, Suzhou and Hangzhou opened for fully free trade with Japan and granting extraterritoriality for Japanese citizens in China.

sino jap

In sum this defeat was one of biggest humiliations of China since China always considered Japan as less powerful and less culturally developed country as China saw itself as main power in Asia. Even more confidence of China fell and confidence of reforms fell down. It was obviosu that Japan would impose own trade aims. Also it was obvious that Japan becomes dominant imperialistic power in Asia what caused concern of some states. While Britain was ally of Japan but also of Russia and France of that time Russia  when it comes to European affairs Britain wasnt concerned with rise of Japan. Russia, France a rivals of Germany in Europe agreed together to intervene against Japan. Under a threat of war they demanded from Japan to return back Liaodong peninsula to China and asked China to pay 30 000 000 additional taels. Russia needed Port Arthur as it wanted to strengthen its position in Far East and wanted to expand rail from Harbin to Port Arthur.It was supposed to be part of TransSiberian rail.Russia asked China to lease Liaodong under justificaiton to protect it from Japan but defacto it was Russian occupation of these territories. Also Germany, France and UK in next few years asked China to lease some more territories in order to use opportunity of already weakened China. In 1898 Germany leased Qingdao and Weihai and some more territories of Shandong province. Guangzhouwan was taken by France also in 1898. In 1898 Britain and China signed Convention on extension of lease of Hong Kong territories+Kowloon and some more territories around Hong Kong. All lease treaties were supposed to be binding for 99 years. Intervention and revision of Sino-Japanese treaty angered Japanese and their nationalism and imperialism rose even more. In 1905 they occupied Korea wholly and aimed to challenge Russian interests in Manchuria what caused their war. Before complete occupation of Korea it was manipulated by Japan and had to open ports for free trade under Japanese provisions. Mostly active against Japanese forces was Beiyang army.

Special situation occured on Taiwan. Leadership of Taiwanese representatives of Qing government rejected to give up to Japanese rule and proclaimed own republic. Republic was known as Republic of Formosa or Democratic State of Taiwan. It was one of first republics in Asia. Parliament, government and ministries were established.  President was Tang Ching Sung and Commander of Army Liu Yung Fu. They declared they will later fight until death than fall in Japanese hands. Their 75 000 thousand army was fighting for several months but after battle at Taian they were severely defeated and soon island fell completely in Japanese hands. This events were roots of todays disputes about Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan with self-proclaimed and unrecognized authorities on todays Taiwan and dispute between China and Japan over Diaoyou islands which were Chinese until 1895.

Shortly China after Sino-Japanese war lost its power even more and it was proved that its modrnization efforts were too small. Also China fell even more and was almost colonized by foreign powers.

china map divided
How imperialist powers divided spheres of influence, source:


source of featured image:

China history guide 17 Qing dynasty 1- Kangxi and Qianlong Emperors! Late Golden age of Chinese civilization

China history guide 17 Qing dynasty 1- Kangxi and Qianlong Emperors!  Late Golden age of Chinese civilization

Main events:

We finished last chapter when Nurchaci a former vassal of Ming court , from Aisin Gioro clan declared cease of tributary relations in new Manchu state in today’s Northeastern China  and his successors managed to pass through Great Wall and capture Beijing.

Prince Dorgon became de facto ruler as a regent together with Prince Jiarlang for new young Emperor Fulin(Shunzhi). Dorgon was very brutal warrior and committed many atrocities in captured areas. In 1645 he ordered to all Han male population to shave heads and beards and wear Manchu hairstyle in order to subordinate them. Those who refused were killed. Some estimates say several million were massacred by Manchu troops. Prince Dorgon also restricted trade in areas where Han people lived in order to make them less independent. Later this policy was softened. In 1650 Dorgon died and full power Emperor Shunzhi took. He also employed Han people in service. War with remaining Ming loyalists was ongoing. During second half of 17th century officials proclaimed Nurchaci as Emperor Taizu of Qing therefore legitimacy to Aisin Gioro clan as ruling one in China was given. In 1661 on power came Kangxi Emperor of Qing a one who was one of most successful in Qing dynasty and one of longest ruling emperors in China and in world. He finalized conquest of territories that were under Southern Ming control. There were launched large campaigns against them and soon was captured Fuzhou, Guizhou, Guangzhou and other areas where Ming loyalists were strong. Southern Ming survived until 1683 only thanks to capable army generals while emperors were not strong enough. Qing army composed of Han and Manchu soldiers committed various atrocities massacring population and most famous is massacre of Guanghzou.In 1661 one loyalist general to Southern Ming expelled Dutch troops from Taiwan and established his governance there. In 1683 Qing troops captured Taiwan too. In 1683 China was fully in control of Qing. Kangxi fought big wars against Oirat Mongols and Uighurs who controlled Xinjiang and areas of todays Mongolia. In 1720 Kangxi captured whole Tibet in order to protect it from Mongol and Uighur invasions as demanded by Dalai Lama. There stayed Dalai Lamas theocracy but he recognized supreme authority of Beijing. It was again since Yuan dynasty Tibet was under full control of China. Kangxi Emperor initiated idea that China is land of all people in Asia not only Han Chinese and that Uighurs, Mongols, Manchus, Koreans and Tibetans should live in peace as one big Chinese family. Through many policies such as building replicas of various temples and other architecture imitations he wanted to show that China is multicultural land where all of mentioned ethnicities are represented. Also he employed all of them in state service but Han and Manchus dominated there in service. Later this policy Qianlong emperor continued.

QIng map
Qing dynasty in 1820, source:

Kangxi in 1680ies mediated in Vietnamese civil war and managed to achieve peace there in tributary state. Korea and Vietnam were tributaries of Qing China. Kangxi was at beginning tolerant towards Christian missionaries, but  they still continued challenging traditional Confucian rites, ancestral and natural worships he forbade them and expelled from China.

One of biggest achievements of Kangxi Emperor is Treaty of Nerchinsk signed in 1689 between Chinese Empire  and Russian Empire. In 1640ies while Qing dynasty was busy with conquering whole China Russians as part of campaigns in Siberia and Far East crossed Argun river and reached Amur banks( Heilongjiang river). There were several clashes but in order to avoid war both sides met in Nerchinsk. Songgotu was representative of China and Fyodor Golovin of Russia. Compromise was reached that Russians will withdraw northern from Amur and that border will be Argun river. Territory between Baikal and Argun was left to Russians. It is also symbolical treaty with which China and Russia established diplomatic relations on win-win and equal level. Their relationship was cooperative until 19th century. Kangxi imposed policy of strict isolation of China from other world. He even more decreased foreign trade. Kangxi believed that China s Middle Kingdom is most superior state in world and can be self-sufficient and doesnt have to depend on anyone else. Also he wanted to prevent Han people from getting too much wealth with trade and thus empowering them beyond state control. Kangxi also wanted to prevent foreign cultural influence fearing mostly Christian missionaries and thus closed trade too. Guangzhou, Songjian, Ningbo and Xiamen were only ports where restricted foreign trade remained.

Kangxi Emperor, source:

Yongzheng came to power after Kangxis death in 1722. He ruled until 1735. He continued expansion to the west and strengthening borders in Qinghai. He took some parts of Outer Mongolia( name for todays Mongolia) from Dzungar Khanate.  Yongzheng sent 200 000 soldiers against Dzunghar Khanate 80 000 army which was invading Chinese Tibet. With difficulties at beginning Chinese army defeated Dzunghars and strengthened position in Tibet.  Yongzheng was prohibiting Manchus ,Chinese, Mongols and Tibetans to convert to Christianity stating that everyone should keep his own religion. He was speaking that Manchus can worship heaven by shamanistic rituals and follow Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese to follow Taoism and Buddhism.  Yongzheng Emperor promoted Sinocentrism and Confucian values. He was sending revisors all over country to discover corruption and supervise conditions of local governments. Inspectors had directly to report only to emperor so only he could initiate direct action.  In 1727 Russian Empire and Chinese Empire signed another treaty, this one in Kyakhta. China was represented by Tulishen and Russia by Sava Vladisavlevich( a Russian diplomat and aristocrat of Serbian origin). Treaty confirmed Sino-Russian border and established caravan trade at Kyachta town where tea and fur were exchanged. Kyachta was a Russian town where Sava Vladisavlevich founded an Orthodox church named after Serbian Saint Sava.  Sava Vladisavlevich was an first Russian permanent ambassador in China since 1725. He founded first Orthodox church in China on territory of Russian embassy in Beijing. Russian embassy in Beijing today is on the same place still.

In 1735 Emperor Yongzheng was succeeded by Qianlong Emperor. Qianlong was last successful emperor of China. He was even bigger Sinocentric than Yongzheng and Kangxi. Emperor Qianlong promoted unity of whole China, Han people with all other ethnic groups living in China. He considered that China is the center of the world a Middle Kingdom governed by Emperor with Mandate of Heaven. Qianlong favored radical Confucian branches and these scholars supported him. China was very isolated from outer world during his reign and became even bigger mystery for Western world. Trade was very limited as well as settlement of foreigners.

Qianlong liked and invested a lot in arts, promoted culture, and invested in building of palaces but later in part about society will be more about it. Qianlong emphasized on mutual cultural respect between all ethnic groups living in China. In 1755-1760 Qianlong initiated large scale campaigns against Dzungar Khanate  which kept Xinjiang. Uighurs under Dzungar Khanate invited Qianlong emperor to send troops.and Uighurs. Emin Khoja launched Uighur rebellion against Dzungars and joined arriving Qing troops. Thus Chinese forces captured whole Xinjiang and Outer Mongolia( most of todays Mongolia) and subordinated Dzungar Mongols.  As sign of thankfulness to Uighurs Qianlong Emperor built large mosque named after Emin Khoja in Turpan. Thus China again expanded to territories of Xinjiang that it captured during its biggest expansions and most stable periods of Han, Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties and to territories of Mongolia that were part of China during Yuan dynasty. In 1755 there was anti Chinese rebellion in Lhasa( Tibet) which was surpassed by Chinese troops under command of Qianlong. After that to Lhasa were sent two high commissioners that were accountable directly to imperial court to control work of Dalai Lama. Also even more imperial troops were concentrated to prevent attacks of Gurkhas from Nepal on Tibet. After their defeat in 1790 they had to pay tribute to China.

In the south Qianlong also had to deal with few rebellions. In 1747-1749 and 1771-1776 there were rebellons of ethnic minorities in Sichuan and Yunnan. They were successfully ended by Chinese troops both times. Between 1765 and 1769 was fought war with Burma. Burma and China didnt have clear border and when Qianlong ordered strengthening border control Burma disagreed with it and refused to pay tribute anymore. In a few battles they were defeated by Chinese but China didnt conquer their lands just returned tributary system and strengthened border control. In 1786-1788 there was a large rebellion on Taiwan initiated by Heaven and Earth Sect. It was defeated by Chinese troops. In 1788-1793 Gurkhas supported by British Empire entered Tibet but were expelled by Chinese troops. It was aim of Britain to destabilize China and strengthen its influence there. China also had a war with Vietnam in 1788-1789. It happened because Le dynasty which was loyal to China and paid tribute was overthrown by Tay Son and Nguyen Hue. China intervened and returned Le Thong Emperor on throne. During Lunar New Year Le Thongs troops and Chinese troops were attacked in Hanoi and few days later defeated at Dang Da. Qianlong agreed to accept Nguyen Hue as new Vietnamese emperor but in case if he accepts tributary system.

Qianlong invested a lot in palaces and luxury but due to lack of trade budget started to have deficits and economy was sloping towards decline. China was isolated from trends in world and new industrial development. Corruption was on the rise too and one of most corrupt persons was Heshen one of closest Qianlongs advisors. Corruption, opression and population growth were occuring in last years of Qianlongs rule. In 1793 occured first British diplomatic mission to China. It is known as Macartneys embassy as he was first British envoy to China. Aim of Britain was to ask China to lower trade restrictions for British merchants that could access some trade with China in Guangzhou and few other cities. They also wanted to rent some ports for more free use. British wanted to establish completely free trade with China but China didnt want as it didnt have need to buy or sell more goods since it was self-sufficient. It is obvious that China if on meeting both parts equally treated and opened trade could experience industrial revolution too. But point is that only 10%-20% of population would gain or benefit from it such as merchants, aristocrats and bureaucrats.. At that time big inequality both in China and Britain was present so it is highly questionable whether majority of people would benefit from opening of China. It was not todays China which cares also about other people and tends to improve social wellbeing of everyone. Moreover British were aiming to pursue own trade and imperialistic goals while China didnt have actual need to buy more goods which it considered useless. Macartney embassy showed also how both powerful countries one of the East and another of the West showed mistrust and misconception of each other. They considered each other as barbarians and inferior to each other. It is most possible reason why talks ended without agreement. Problem is that both sides saw each other as inferiors and didnt want to make compromise considering own superiority.

macarteny embassy
Qianlong and Macartney meet, source:

In 1796 Qianlong abdicated as he felt he is too old to govern. He gave throne to his son Jiaqing. Emperor Jiaqing governed between 1796 and 1820. More about him will be in next chapter. Simply with end of Qianlongs reign decline of imperial China started because of corruption, lack of innovation and population growth.

Culture and society:

Qing dynasty wasnt too oppressive towards Han people like Yuan dynasty was. There was no clear and open discrimination in most of the issues. At the beginning in order to impose loyalty Han were required to change hairstyles but later this rule was eased and they were not murdered if they wanted to keep traditional Han hairstyle. Only for state officials was required to adopt Manchu hairstyle. Qing court was aiming to establish social and ethnic harmony in all of Chinese borders and all cultures were equally represented. Next to the Chinese official languages were Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Uighur and most of documents were written in all of them. Nature of Qing China was closed country a mystery to foreigners, closeness to foreign influence, stagnation in  innovation and new technologies while Europe experienced industrial revolution.   Qing court also tried to prevent Han people from bandaging feet to women but unsuccessfully. Status of women deteriorated in comparison to Ming and drastically to Tang and Song dynasties. Sexuality was considered as taboo and women in presence of men were not allowed. Women were considered to be only in households and were prohibited from participation in public life, government and changing partners. Women were allowed to regulate life in household fully, to work in fields and sometimes to hunt. Women were allowed to participate in arts. In later Qing period there was a woman empress Ci Xi about which we will speak later.

State structure was not much different from the one of Ming dynasty. Qing court completely copied system of Ming with 6 ministries. Above six ministries was Grand Council established in 1720ies. It was main body to consult with emperor and make decisions. At beginning only Manchu officials were accepted there but soon also Han officials were accepted there.

Legal system was based on Ming legal system and Qing dynasty adopted Qing Code based on Ming Code.

Administrative division was based on provinces. There were in total 18 provinces including Zhili, Xinjiang and Taiwan province. Inner Mongolia, Outer Mongolia, Manchuria  and Tibet were divided o own leagues. There were 8 vice roys who governed the provinces. To these regions and provinces were sent periodically imperial commissions in order to check how the affairs are going, detect corruption or some other malfunctions and report directly to Grand Council and emperor. Beside tittle of Emperor of China Qing emperors held tittles Khan of Mongols, guardian of Tibetan Buddhism and guardian of Muslims in order to gain legitimacy over other territories. In Tibet main governor was Dalai Lama but he was supervised by imperial commissions from Beijing and Chinese army was widely present on Tibet. Dalai Lama governed very oppressively in Tibetan theocracy where serfdom was typical.

8 Banner system was special military-social system in which all Manchurian households were registered to serve army. From 8 Banner system Han people were completely excluded while some exceptions were made. This system wasnt only for serving army but for paying taxes too. It consisted of territories of Manchuria. 8 Banner army was a special and elite army of Qing dynasty. Major army was Green Standard Army mostly composed of Han Chinese.

Social structure during Qing dynasty was usually same as in previous dynasties. On top  were bureaucrats, aristocrats, scholars and military generals both Han and Manchu which composed majority of the elite. Imperial examination was still determining position of the individuals but becomes less available for non elite circles due to corruption, nepotism and more oppression over lower classes. Scholars were lower by power than bureaucrats, aristocrats and generals but were more respected than those. There were still 4 occupations like in ancient China but some of them were excluded from social life. But Qing court issued new law that divides all people on common and other people. Common people were considered legally as good people and to this category belonged most of citizens and they included scholars, generals, artisans, merchants, peasants, aristocrats and bureaucrats. They were allowed to take imperial examination formally but there was  a lot of oppression towards peasants, merchants and artisans.  Peasants were officially respected but in practice were completely powerless and were abused by officials, aristocrats and army. Often they were not allowed to take imperial examinations because of lack of money, connections and oppressive nature of the system. In category of other or mean people were street entertainers, prostitutes, actors and slaves.  Slavery was partially reestablished during Qing dynasty and included usually unsuccessful peasants or poor city dwellers who didnt have money to pay taxes. Slaves had to serve officials and aristocrats could be sold, punished or liberated. So basically waged labor which existed in Ming dynasty ceased to exist.

manchu women cloth
Qing style clothing influenced by Manchu, source:
manchu male
Male clothing, source:

In northern areas, northern from Beijing only Mongols and Manchus were allowed to live. Only in case of necessity Han Chinese were allowed to settle there such as when there was big famine by end of 1790ies and in order to receive aid millions of people from  Central and Eastern China were allowed to move to the north of Beijing.

Economy of Qing China was stable in the first period. Trade was limited but it brought high income to merchants and state thanks to taxing. Most of trade was concentrated in cities such as Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Xiamen but also in the north via caravans. Silk, jade, tea and porcelain were mostly exported. Trade was more controlled by state and movement of foreign merchants was only allowed in few port towns. Foreign commodities were widely inspected, highly taxed and only than allowed for sale. In domestic economy primary focus was on production of iron and food industry. Also textile industry was developing rapidly during 18th century. State had monopoly over food production in order to control hunger and prevent it and many state merchants got a lot wealth in food production. Qing court was preventing too high wealth growth on merchants and prevented innovation  and more exploration of resources. When merchants got too rich they had to pay more taxes and were limited to expand their business in limits of  money quota. Also those too rich were restricted to search new sources of resources by mining. This restrictive measures prevented innovation in new resources, new technologies and bigger surplus in trade. Population growth was great and from 150 million in 1644 it grew up to 300 million by end of 18th century. By end of 19th century population grew to 450 million. Population growth, lack of trade and new technologies, vast spendings on luxury led to decline in economy, increase of poverty and famine. But still China until mid 19th century stayed worlds largest economy by GDP.

Arts in Qing China were developed highly but there was tight state control over them.  Classical Chinese arts were widely promoted by emperors mostly Kangxi and Qianlong. They considered Chinese arts as center of culture and real old ancient quality and great characteristic of prosperity. Painting was one of most present arts during Qing dynasty and was highly based on Ming style in painting.  Free style was allowed in painting and very diverse works appeared. Among most famous painters were Six Masters of early Qing, Four Masters of Anhui, Eight Masters of Nanjing and Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou.  However freedom in painting was restricted only in erotic and nudity paintings which were completely banned. Prior to  this was allowed in Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties while Qing court banned it.  Painted porcelain was very present except blue red color was widely used.  Literature reached great expansion. During Qing period there were printed and reprinted 3400 books in total. Some of them were of periods of other dynasties but some originated from Qing period.  Historical books, novels, romance and adventure stories were written. Most famous literary works were The Scholars published in 1750 by Wu Jingtzi,  Shen Fu finished in 1807 Six Records of Floating Life, Pu Songling wrote in 1740 Strange Stories of Chinese Studio. Also forth classic great novel was written during Qing period. It is Dream of Red Chamber printed in 1791 by Cao Xueqin.  It is a work about an aristocratic family in of Qing era about events, dramas, plots and decline of the family. Poetry was also very popular even Qianlong Emperor by himself wrote a lot of poems. Classical Chinese styles were predominant and most famous poets were Gong Dingzi, Wu Weiye, Qian Qiany, Nara Singde, Wang Shizhen… Most famous poetic work was compilation of 300 poems of Tang dynasty. Qianlong Emperor established strict control over literature works and big censorship. All works that contained erotic topics, anti Manchu ideas, anti imperial or anti governmental ideas, irony towards imperial court or corruption were prohibited. Prohibition and burning of works was best case for authors as in other cases they could be jailed or executed. Music in that time was very diverse except dominant Chinese classical music popular was also Manchu music, Mongol, Tibetan and Uighur music. Jingxi appeared during Qing dynasty. It is classical Peking Opera. Peking Opera was initially popular among elite circles but later among the commoners too. Peking Opera involves various instruments, dances and topics which are related to history, romance, drama and legends.

Beijing opera, source:

Architecture of Qing China mostly involved Chinese classical architecture but also Mongol, Tibetan and Uighur styles became popular. Biggest amount of money went to the large imperial gardens what was one of causes of decline in economy. On names of halls in Forbidden City was emphasized on harmony rather than supremacy like during Ming period. Some shamanic Manchu elements were added to Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven where ceremonies of worshiping Heaven were still held and were primary source of legitimacy. Former residence of Qing emperors since times of Nurhaci Mukden Palace( located in Shenyang)  now served palace where emperors went once or twice a year. Qianlong expanded the palace. In 1750 was finished Summer Palace located 15km out of center of Beijing. Today it is located in suburbs of Haidian district and is one of largest imperial palaces. It contains elements from all of China- large lake known as Kunming Lake, stones from southern provinces, street that imitates Suzhou, Tibetan temple and Chan Buddhist pagoda.

Yiheyuan, source:
2013-06-20 11.02.41
Suzhou street, Yiheyuan

Also there was built Yuanmingyuan palace very close to Summer one. It was 5 times bigger than Forbidden City. Yuanmingyuan was initially built by Kangxi and later finished by Qianlong. It is vast area composed of pavilions, mazes and 3 large lakes.  Qianlong invited architect and jesuit Giuseppe Castaglione in 1747 to build European style gardens withing Yuanmingyuan. There was built European style palace, garden and fountain with very advanced water pump system. Construction was one of masterpieces of Qianlongs rule. Qianlong wanted to be as powerful European rulers and have such palace too and emphasize his supremacy in the world. In suburbs near summer palaces were also built several pavilions, villas, pagodas and temples in area of Xiangshan and Yuquan. Xiangshan as I mentioned before was area initially inhabited by Taoist hermits and later were built pavilions during Jin dynasty( 1115-1234) and one temple. During Yuan and Ming dynasties place was popular for imperial family to rest in nature and hunt. Also temples were built in 14th century where Buddhist monks resided. Most famous 14th century temple is Azure Clouds Temple.  Qianlong built 5 villas and one big temple and many pavilions. He used to go there to hunt and spend time with concubines.

Yuanmingyuan Western Mansion
2013-06-19 11.21.25
Xiangshan resort,

300km from Beijing next to Chengde in todays Hebei province was built large Chengde Mountain Resort. It is largest palace of imperial China preserved until today and it contains sceneries of almost whole China.  It was constructed between 1703 and 1793 by Kangxi and Qianlong. Aim of this palace was for imperial family to have rest in shadow of mountains and to escape heats of Beijing summer. Palace included classical Chinese landscapes from different areas of China, lakes,  halls, pagodas, pavilions and villas.  Palace includes sceneries from various parts of China including Mongol grasslands and yurts. Natural landscape combines lakes, pines, smaller hills, rocks and grasslands. Around palace were built 8 temples which are built in Chinese, Tibetan and Mongol style. Most famous temple is Putuo Temple which imitates Putuo Palace of Tibet. Since Kangxi emperors started to spend there almost half of the year.  Main goal of replicating various sceneries of China was to promote harmony of all ethnic groups and to emphasize of unity of all people in one country-one China. Another reasons were that emperor could emphasize that he has China in small and that he is supreme figure in all China. Also it was with purpose for emperor to enjoy various sceneries without need to travel too far.

chengde resort
Chengde Mountain Resort

Qing China was multireligious and quite tolerant society but there were some preferences over one religion than others. Taoist books were now only allowed in Taoist temples and were banned from imperial libraries and Tao Te Qing  wasnt subject of imperial exams anymore. It was part of imperial examination  since Tang dynasty but now was abolished. But Qing emperors used Taoist based worship of Heaven which dates from Zhou dynasty. Taoism was freely followed by people and temples were freely built. During middle of 17th century Quanzhen sect again took major seat in White Cloud Temple in Beijing. Chan Buddhism was also widespread in cities, villages and among people. A lot of temples were built in cities and their suburbs too.  Confucianism was highly promoted and state ideology but conservative version only.

Azure Clouds Temple,

Free thinkers and those who challenged original Confucian system were banned. Tibetan Buddhism was mostly promoted by Qing emperors as they were its followers. Qing emperors held tittle of guardian of Tibetan Buddhism. It was a tool of Qing emperors to control Tibet a remote region and therefore wisely they maintained strong ties with lamas.  We mentioned building of Tibetan monasteries in summer palaces. Also in middle of Beijing in 17th century Tibetan Yonghe Temple was built which is today one of largest Beijing temples. In 1780 on Xiangshan hills Qianlong built large Zhao Miao Tibetan monastery to serve as residence for Panchen lama who was invited to Qianlongs birthday.  Islam was also respected and legal religion. There were a lot of mosques in todays Shaanxi, Ningxia and Xinjiang. Qing emperors invested in some mosques too in Beijing, Xian and Guangzhou. However a lot of Muslims were against Qing rule initially Hui siding Ming supporters and in late 18th century Uighur rebellions in Xinjiang. More about Muslim rebellions will be in next chapter. Christianity was not much preferred because it was associated with too much of foreign influence and missionaries. Emperor Yongzheng banned all jesuits because he perceived them as a treat to existing social order and culture especially after they criticized Chinese rituals. He also prohibited to Manchu people to convert to Christianity. Han converts were at that time rare and Qianlong had a bit more tolerant attitude towards jesuits and slightly allowed them to enter China but on limited scope.

2013-06-19 13.48.06
Tibetan Zhao Miao Temple
2013-06-21 10.28.13
Yonghe temple


China history Guide 16: State, Society, Culture of Ming dynasty, Third golden age of imperial China

China history Guide 16: State, Society, Culture of Ming dynasty, Third golden age of imperial China


Lets start from government structure and functioning. Civil administration  was quite unchanged in comparison to Tang and Song dynasties. There was still division on Secretariat and six ministries. Secretariat was assisting in work of emperor and coordinated and supervised work of ministries.

Below are six ministries andtheir functions- taken from

  • The Ministry of Personnel handled all matters relating to government employees, from appointment to assessment of work, promotions etc.
  • The Ministry of Revenue was in charge of tax collection, state revenues, and currency.
  • The Ministry of Rites was in charge of all ceremonial matters and the priesthood.
  • Ministry of War was in charge of all matters relating to the armed forces. They also ran the courier system.
  • The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the judicial and penal process. They did not have jurisdiction over the Censorate.
  • The Ministry of Works was in charge of all government construction projects and maintenance of roads. They also were responsible for the standardization of weights and measures in the country.
symbol of power
Dragons, symbol of imperial power, source:

System was officially based on merits more than connections like before. But still corruption and nepotism existed often.

Censorate was reestablished in 1430. Main Censor was general supervisor of all affairs in state and administrative apparatus. He also sent inspections to various ministries and regional governments. They could dismiss and request punishment for corrupt official.

Administrative division was combination of Song dynasty and Yuan dynasty.  On highest level were provinces and were totally 13 of them. Except them there were 4 quasi autonomous regions. Province was governed by civil, military and surveillance commissions. Below province were prefectures governed by prefects and subprefectures governed by subprefect. There were also counties as lowest units governed by magistrate.


Social classes were same as before Yuan dynasty.

Educational system was same as before explained but with some restrictions for lower classes.  Legal system was based on Ming Code derived from Song Code.

Tibetan territories had some autonomy but were depended on Ming court and Ming court often gave tittles. At beginning of 15th century tittle of Tibetan Buddhist leader such as Dalai Lama appeared. He paid tribute to Ming court. In Tibet strict theocracy was formed in which trone Dalai Lama was and monastic elite which got large wealth. They were only 5% literate of Tibetan population. They were masters of  peasants which were widely exploited and punished severely.

By beginning of XVII century on Han settlers started to come on Taiwan. There lived local aborigines and also some parts were colonized by Dutch and Portuguese. Aborigines started to be assimilated by Han Chinese but kept some of indigenous traditions. Soon Taiwan fell completely under Chinese rule and Dutch and Portuguese were expelled.

Economy of Ming China was one of worlds strongest economies same as during significant Qing period. Ming dynasty rule is considered as third golden age of Chinese state, society and economy after first Han and second Tang/Song.  In first period agriculture was in very good condition and most of peasants were able to produce enough to sell both on rural and urban market too. Together with different tools water powered equipment was used for production of crops. Manufacture was mostly stable and large amounts of iron and salt were produced.  Maybe new achievements for boosting production were not made but technology of Tang and Song dynasties was used. Anyway production was very conceptualized and determined for internal market. Production of iron and salt was largely privatized what motivated merchants even further to produce and sell on national market. In 17th century there were more than 300 factories in China. First time in Chinese history waged labor appeared. Ming dynasty abolished forced labor and installed waged one. Peasants with low income had chance to join some factory and work in iron, salt or pottery production for money. Except privatization taxes were reduced too.  When emperor Hongwu died his successor Yongle Emperor didnt follow restrictive policy and promoted trade quite a lot. His successors again imposed restrictions   related to trade but kept opened few ports for free trade and leased Macau for conducting trade. National trade was completely free from state while international was under tight control much tighter than before in terms of taxes, determining amount and means of trade. China focused on maritime trade since Silk Road became too dangerous . Uighurs and other Turkic groups strengthened themselves in western borders and would attack caravans. Ottoman Empire occupied most of Arab world and it wasnt interested to trade. Only chance to trade was via sea with new emerging economies and powers such as Netherlands , Spain and Portugal.  Trade with Japan over sea was regular through few ports. China played real mercantilist policy since it exported everything and imported a little. It imported silver only mostly and was rejecting other demands of other powers which wanted either to sell different commodities or to impose their trade regulations.  With such commerce and production it is often considered that China experienced some proto capitalism and was about to reach industrial revolution if trade and inventions were more frequent and intense during Ming dynasty.

When it comes to technology discoveries were not so stunning and large like it was during Tang and Song dynasties. China already used advanced technologies in metal industry. Shipbuilding and in transport through canals, hydraulics and mechanics. Trade with Europe brought one of first telescopes to China. Chinese were also among first who proposed heliocentric model of solar system.  In military gunpowder was used in guns, canons, kind of rockets, mines and naval mines.  In medicine  many medical books were published about treating various diseases and conditions and more than 50 books about treating smallpox.

Type of brush for teeth was invented too.

There was written largest encyclopedia of that time in printed form even. It included astronomy, arts, history, medicine, religion, technology and agriculture.

Very detailed maps were drawn and printing was used for all major documents.

Zhang He did significant contribution to maritime communication. He commanded large fleet the biggest one of that time.  Ships were more than 65m long and longest one was 137m. He conducted 7 voyages  between 1405 and 1433 all starting from Nanjing. Aim was spreading knowledge of China and getting confirmation from all states that China is strongest in the world. His mission was not militarily invasive but only fought against pirates that they encountered on journey.  He wanted to gain cultural and political acknowledgement that China is most superior country in the world with Mandate of Heaven. Zheng He delegation was bringing gifts and showing cultural and technological achievements to present superiority. He also issued invitations to rulers  of host countries to visit Chinese emperor and some of them did it. He also got tributes and official acknowledgements that they recognize China as supreme state in world.  Zhang He also established trade relations with these countries nas it was one of aims to expand the trade. Tribute from Somalia were giraffes which were brought to imperial palace. Giraffes were reminding Chinese on qilin- a mythological unicorn so they saw it as gift of Heaven and confirmation that their discoveries and journeys are good thing. But since 1433 further voyages were banned and biggest ships burnt because of mentioned influence of some Confucian scholars on emperor. Many written evidence of voyages was burnt in order to prevent new journeys and any knowledge gained outside China. Also state manuals for shipbuilding were changed and replaced with those which allowed building only of smaller ships in comparison to those used in journeys. It was with aim to make ships unable to travel further from East and Southeast Asia. It is often believed that if voyages were not banned that Chinese fleets would reach Europe, discover America and Australia with aim of searching new trade opportunities. Confucians didnt want to encourage discoveries and expansion of trade believing that it can damage social order, dissolve culture and that dependence on trade will be too high. They believed that China should focus on own state, social order, own culture, national trade and education. They believed that China should be self-sufficient and to depend only on itself.

Zheng HE map
Routes traveled by Zheng He, source:


Arts experienced quite a big progress during Ming dynasty.  Literature was really rich during this time. There were written many short fictions often related to legends, martial arts and mythological beings.  Also longer novels were written among which is most famous Journey to the West written by Wu Chengen and this is one of 4 main Chinese classics. It is about legendary being Sun Wukong half human half monkey who is good, skillful in martial arts and a bit eccentric and funny. Also novel Romance of 3 Kingdoms ( Luo Guanzhong) appeared which depicts 3 Kingdoms Period and events and relations related to that period( 220-280). Among main characters there is Zhuge Liang a chancellor of Shu Han and brave and honest hero.  Another classic novel was Water Margin.  Various journey and travel essays were written.  Most famous travel writer was Xu Xiake. Poetry was also widespread during Ming dynasty across all China. Most famous poets were Gao Qi, Yuan Hongdao, Yuan Zhongdao, Ou Daren and Wang Wei. Wang Wei was female Taoist poet monk. She wrote mostly about nature and love. Generally poets wrote about nature, love, relationships, hedonism…

Painting was also very  widespread. Qiu Yang, Wen Zhengming, Tang Yin and Shen Zhou are regarded as Four Painting masters of Ming dynasty. They used styles from Tang and Song but also they invented own free independent styles. They sold paintings expensively and could make living from it.

ming giraffe
Ming dynasty painting of giraffe, source:

Music, opera and plays were very colorful and widespread during Ming Dynasty.  inese Drama was very popular and jingxi( Peking opera).

Religion  and philosophic developments were stable. State support of Tibetan Buddhism which was high during Yuan dynasty dropped. First few Ming emperors favored Taoism and promoted in widely. Yongle Emperor ordered collecting all Taoist texts in new version of canon Daozang.Whole process took long time between 1406 and 1447.  Zhengyi sect now overpowered Quanzhen in White Cloud Temple as abbot became member of Zhengyi sect. Chan Buddhism was mostly represented by Caodong and Linji schools. Martial arts were popular both in Taoist temples and Buddhist too.

Confucianism experienced reforms of during 15th and beginning of 16th century. There were two streams one liberal and one ultra conservative. Wang Yanming started to promote more liberal ideas which could be catalyst of change in China for increasing equality and freedoms. He promoted idea that careful investigation of yourself and surrounding can give you wisdom. Wang was saying that anyone could attain wisdom with patience and observation and be as wise as Confucius. He was saying that some intelligent and experienced peasant may be more wise than scholar who studied all classics and poetry. Hardline Confucians disliked his ideas and considered them as „rebellious“ as Taoist and Buddhist ones and same as emperor considered him as treat to hierarchical strict order. Therefore they often sent him to remote wars hoping that he will die. But his ideas started to be more widespread and he got very active followers such as Wang Ge, Li Zhi and He Xinyin. Wang Ge was spreading more equal ideas among commoners while Li Zhi and He Xinyin were advocating better opportunities for women in education and jobs and called for equality. This made conservative stream of Confucians and emperor very angry and they perceived them as usurpers s and danger to the system. Li Zhi and He Xinyin were arrested and they died in jail. As a reaction to that and to strengthen system and power emperor and conservative Confucians made system even more strict, conservative and closed. Except mentioned partial closing trade and foreign influence they reduced rights of women even more and reduced opportunities for lower classes to enter bureaucracy.

Christianity experienced rises and falls during Ming dynasty. At beginning as contra policy towards Yuan dynasty it was restricted and declared illegal for further spreading. By end of 16th century Christian jesuits were only partially allowed as a measure of partial maintaining of openness towards trade and foreign culture. Jesuits educated in Macau came accross China to present new European technologies and to try to convince people by rationality to accept new faith. Matteo Ricci was one of most famous Jesuits in China. He with Chinese convert Xu Guangqi presented world map based on European cartography and also translated Euclids works into Chinese. They got some support from Confucians because they emphasized on knowledge and hierarchy. Almost forgotten stele built during Tang dynasty in Xian was pointed by jesuits to get affirmation of Christianity as old faith in China. Matteo Ricci promoted balanced preaching approach in which he spoke that converts could still practice traditional rituals, respect Confucius… But after his death his followers were more conservative what caused expelling of Jesuits in 1616 for several years back to Macau. Later they were allowed partially again. But now some movements were balancing with Chinese traditions while others such as Dominicans were critical and spoke that Confucian rites are incompatible with Christianity. It later caused big disputes and banning during Qing dynasty.

Judaism was slightly present mostly in Kaifeng.

Islam was very respected during Ming dynasty. Marriage with Muslim people were legal. Muslims could also join state and serve. Except Zhang He there were several other Muslim generals in Chinese army. They commanded Muslim troops in wars with Mongols. Uighur general Hala Bashi was famous for surpassing rebellions of minorities in Yunnan.  At same time non-Chinese Muslims which were brought during Yuan dynasty, were deported from Gansu province back to todays Xinjiang, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Ming emperors and Confucians considered Muslims as loyal and that they fit Confucian ideology. Several emperors built a lot of mosques in Nanjing, Yunnan, Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Fujian, Xian….In foreign policy China supported Champa and Malacca Sultanate a Muslim governed states. It supported Champa in war with Vietnam and fought Portuguese for attacking Malacca. Lin Nu was famous Chinese Muslim scholar and merchant.

Life in that period was quite similar in comparison to leisure, gardening, virtues, enterntainment to Tang and Song dynasties. Despite difference in life in city and village they became very interconnected thanks to better roads and canals. Because of rapid growth of cities they were coming closer to each other and towards villages. It eased communication and cooperation between various artistic, scholar, religious and other associations. Presence of women was reduced in public life and theri rights decreased in comparison to Song and even Tang dynasty.

Ming dynasty male clothing, source:
ming female
Ming dynasty, women dress


In new capital city Beijing life was very vibrant. There were many shops, markets,  temples, tea houses, brothels and other.  City started to take shape with gates and hutongs of todays appearance of old parts. Core of the city was around todays Qianmen, Shichihai and Temple of Heaven. During 15th century many grand constructions were done both for pleasure and duties of emperor. Most remarkable is Forbidden City a large imperial palace larger several times than those of Xian( Tangs dynasty palace) and of Nanjing( at beginning of Ming). Still it was smaller than the Weiyang Palace of Xian a residence of Han dynasty. It was called with a reason that no one who is not in aristocratic or bureaucratic top elite could enter it. Emperor lived there with his closer family in Inner area of palace and there only eunuch guards and servants were allowed and female servants. In outer area were performed various ceremonies and governmental procedures,  receptions, celebrations, conferences and decision making were conducted. Here could enter non eunuch soldiers on guard and top governmental officials. First European to enter it was Matteo Ricci. Emperors built other large complexes around Forbidden city such as Beihai Park and Jingshan park determined for leisure of imperial family. Emperors built several villas and temples at Xiangshan hills where they liked to spend summers and hunt and enjoy with concubines.

One of main halls of Forbidden City
Beihai park in Beijing, important imperial garden of Ming dynasty


Xiangshan mountain resort in Beijing suburbs enjoyed by Ming emperors

Within Beijing emperors invested in renovation of Imperial Academy( built during Yuan dynasty). Temple of Heaven, Temple of Sun, Temple of Moon and Temple of Earth were built in purpose of worshipping these bodies and elements. Most important was Temple of Heaven where emperor prayed for good harvest at beginning of new lunar year in order to confirm Mandate of Heaven.


Before we finish it is important to mention Jianghu a term for all quasilegal or illegal secret societies. Here belonged both good and bad societies.

Most of them lived as hermits in mountains and practiced martial arts.They had their code of conducts based on Taoist principles and some Confucian manners. They wanted to stay separate from state or other institutions as they wanted to be independent completely free from taxes, others influence and wanted to keep their martial arts in secret. They had own hidden shrines in some of their temples or city houses.  Also some of them resided in cities and secretly gathered in houses. They used this arts for self-defense from robbers. Some societies were aiming fighting against robbers and helping people who were victims of robbers. Others were fighting against injustice and used to attack rich officials and rob them and distribute wealth to poor people. Such societies were always target of government and often  were caught and executed but also often they managed to fight back successfully. Most famous such sects are quasi-fictional such as Emei Sect, Wudang Sect and Shaolin Sect. Kunlun Sect was purely fictional.  There were also secret societies of magicians, fortune tellers who wanted to remain in secret to keep their formulas and rituals away from competition and offered their services to people who came for help. Some of societies were societies of artisans who were hiding their talents from others. There were also some societies which promoted apocalypse and were calling for disasters and violence and promoted some messianic ideas. Such extremist sects were very dangerous and manipulative. Among them most famous was White Lotus Sect. There were also secret societies of robers and assassins. Robers used to rob anyone while assassins were hired by some figure to eliminate another figure in power struggle. Such societies started to appear during Han dynasty, were becoming more widespread during Tang and Song dynasties. During Ming were even more widespread while they peaked during Qing dynasty when biggest crisis appeared and were aimed at foreigners and Manchu dynasty mostly  and help for the poor.

Wudangshan, source of  legends, martial arts and mystery, source:



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