China emerged as one of the world's earliest civilizations, in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. China's landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts in the arid north to subtropical forests in the wetter south. The Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain ranges separate China from much of South and Central Asia. The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the third- and sixth-longest in the world, respectively, run from the Tibetan Plateau to the densely populated eastern seaboard.
China's coastline along the Pacific Ocean is 14,500 kilometers (9,000 mi) long and is bounded by the Bohai, Yellow, East China and South China seas. China connects through the Kazakh border to the Eurasian Steppe which has been an artery of communication between East and West since the Neolithic through the Steppe route - the ancestor of the terrestrial Silk Road(s).
The Chinese are a very ancient race, their annals going back to 2637 B.C., though there probably were Chinese living in the country long before that. China as an empire dated from 221 B. C., and lasted for over 2,100 years. The late dynasty, the Manchu-Tartar, began to reign in 1643. The Chinese were not the first people in China. They made their way from the north and west, pushing before them the older inhabitants.
However far back you go, you always find two persons of prominence in China-the ruler and the sage. The sage, or Man of Intelligence, advised and helped the ruler, and taught the people lessons of truth and duty. From this grew up the custom, in full force since the 7th century A. D., that all officers of the government must be educated. This is now done by competitive examinations. The three religions of China are Confucianism, representing the brains and morality of the nation; Taoism, its superstitions; and Buddhism, its worship and idolatry, though it acknowledges no God.
For millennia, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, or dynasties, beginning with the semi-legendary Xia dynasty in 21st century BC. Since then, China has expanded, fractured, and re-unified numerous times. In the 3rd century BCE, the Qin reunited core China and established the first Chinese empire.
The succeeding Han dynasty, which ruled from 206 BC until 220 AD, saw some of the most advanced technology at that time, including paper-making and the compass, along with agricultural and medical improvements. The invention of gunpowder and movable type in the Tang dynasty (618-907) and Northern Song (960-1127) completed the Four Great Inventions. Tang culture spread widely in Asia, as the new Silk Route brought traders to as far as Mesopotamia and Horn of Africa. Dynastic rule ended in 1912 with the Xinhai Revolution, when a republic replaced the Qing dynasty.
The Chinese Civil War resulted in a division of territory in 1949, when the Communist Party of China established the People's Republic of China, a unitary one-party sovereign state on Mainland China, while the Kuomintang-led government retreated to the island of Taiwan. The political status of Taiwan remains disputed.
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China, before the republic, was governed by the emperor through the grand cabinet, which met daily for business between 4 and 6 A.M. Seven boards-civil office, revenues, ceremonies, war, punishment, works and foreign affairs-prepared the matters which were to be dealt with by the grand cabinet. The provinces were governed usually by a viceroy acting for the emperor. The rank of the different provincial officers was indicated by a knob or button on the top of their caps.
The revenue of the empire was under $100,000,000. The imperial army was about 200,000 strong, with headquarters at Pekin, and scattered in garrisons throughout the provinces as far as Turkestan. There were also some 700,000 militia troops, called the national army. The navy after the war with Japan did not number more than a few small cruisers and several old torpedo-boats. China has never cared to have anything to do with western nations, but has been forced to do so. In 1516 the Portuguese, followed by the Spaniards, the Dutch and the English, appeared at Canton. In 1767 sprang up the opium-traffic. It was the traffic in this drug that brought on the war with England in 1840 and the war with England and France in 1855-57. By these wars China was forced to cede the island of Hong-Kong to Great Britain, to open many of its ports to trade and to let in missionaries and admit opium. It has recently been semi-officially announced that the importation of opium will after the lapse of a few years be prohibited.
On Feb. 24, 1844, Caleb Cushing arrived in China and negotiated the first treaty between that country and the United States. The late emperor came to the throne as a child of four years old. He became king in his own name in 1887; though in 1898 an imperial edict announced that the empress-dowager would direct the affairs of the empire. Of late years the Chinese have shown a tendency to seek a livelihood abroad, especially in California, British Columbia, the Straits Settlements, the East Indies and Australia. Chinese workmen or coolies began to come to the United States about the time of the discovery of gold. In 1882, 33,614 came. The low wages at which the coolie was willing to work threatened to destroy the high wages of American laborers; and this led to action by Congress prohibiting their immigration to the United States, although permitting Chinese merchants and students to travel or live in the country. British Columbia and some of the Australian colonies have also passed similar exclusion-laws. In 1894 China became involved in war with Japan, the result of rival interests in Korea. She, however, proved no match for Japan on land or sea. Her armies were routed and her fleet destroyed, and in 1895 she secured peace by the payment of a heavy war-indemnity and the cession to Japan of the island of Formosa. Of 34 ports open to foreign trade, only 7 have less than 20,000 population.
The very symbol of the "unchanging East" in her intense conservatism and apparent indifference to the movements of the world beyond her boundaries, her own easy and swift defeat by Japan and the subsequent victory of Japan over Russia produced a profound change in China and the mental attitude of the Chinese people. It convinced the leaders of national thought of the utter incompetence and corruption of their Manchu rulers and of the superiority of Western education, military and industrial methods and ideals. The more intelligent among the Chinese began, through these leaders, to demand better government, the right to take part in it, the increase and modernization of the army, the substitution of European for Confucian subjects in the Civil Service examinations and the establishment of schools similar to those of America and Europe.
Alarmed by these rumblings of the gathering storm, the government began the usual process of making pretended concessions. Late in August, 1908, an imperial decree announced that nine years from date-that time being required to fit the people for the proposed measure of self-government-a parliament and constitution would be granted. This failing to quiet popular discontent, another edict, three years later, provided for a cabinet and council to assist the emperor, but a president under the control of the throne was given the right of veto over other members. Exasperated by the delay in establishing real constitutional government, the people rose in various parts of the empire until the uprising assumed the form of a general rebellion and within a few months had become a revolution. Beginning in September, 1911, it was practically ended by December, and on December 29 Dr. Sun-Yat-Sen, who was educated in America and who had been particularly active in the campaign, was elected president of the "Provisional Government of the United Provinces of China." The child emperor, Pu-Yi, through the regent, abdicated, and on February 12 issued a proclamation which closed the 267 years reign of the Manchus and established the Chinese republic. The premier of the empire, Yuan-Shih-Kai (Yoo-an she ki), was chosen president. Serious dissensions, particularly over the finances, arose between the new president and the council, but, the government was maintained and the first nation to take official notice of the establishment of the republic was the United States, which by concurrent resolution of Congress extended congratulations to the people of China. This action was followed on May 2, 1913, by formal recognition by President Wilson.
William J. Calhoun, our minister to China during her revolution, says: "The Chinese republic is, of course, not up to our standards, but that cannot be expected. The great mass are ignorant, living in mud walled houses without windows or doors, but they are a peace-loving, industrious people and the whole impulse of China is toward modern education. In this the missionaries are doing a wonderful work."
Its boundaries now embrace China Proper, Manchuria, Ili (including Sungaria and East Turkestan) and Tibet, and also a wide territory in eastern Asia. According to recent Chinese estimates the following is the area and population of the republic: China Proper, 1,532,420 English square miles; population, 433,553,030. In 1904, however, Mr. Rockhill, American minister to China, after careful inquiry concluded that all official estimates since 1750 have far exceeded the truth and that probably the inhabitants of China Proper number less than 270,000,000.
The dependencies are Manchuria, area 363,610 English square miles and the population 16,000,000; Tibet, area 463,200 English square miles and 6,500,000 population; and Chinese Turkestan containing 550,340 English square miles and 1,200,000 population. Mongolia, part of which is now independent, has an area of 367,600 miles, population, 2,600,000. The natives call their country the Flowery Kingdom or the Middle Kingdom, while the name Cathay came from the Persians. The name China comes from India.
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Surface and Drainage
China Proper slopes from the mountainous regions of Tibet and Nepal toward the eastern and southern shores of the Pacific. The Nang Ling or Southern Range, a spur of the Himalayas, is the most extensive mountain range, separating southeastern China from the rest of the country. North of this long range, as far as the Great Wall, lies the Great Plain, covering 210,000 square miles, on which live 175,000,000 people. The soil of most of it, called loess beds, is a brownish earth, crumbling easily between the fingers.
It covers the subsoil to a great depth, and is apt to split into clefts. These clefts afford homes for multitudes of the people, who live in caves dug at the bottom of the cliffs. Sometimes whole villages are so formed, in terraces of earth which rise one above the other. These loess beds are very rich, and have given to the province of Shan-hsi the name of the Granary of the Nation.
The two largest rivers are the Ho or Yellow River and the Yang-tze-Chiang, each over 3,000 miles long. Ho has changed its course many times, and its numberless floods have given it the name of China's sorrow. It last burst its banks in 1887, destroying millions of lives. The Grand Canal, built by King Kublai, joins the northern and southern parts of the empire and is over 600 miles long. The Great Wall (see adjoining article) is 1,500 miles long.
The nominal capital is Pekin, in the province of Chili, population estimated at 700,000, part of which reside in the Chinese city and part without in the Tartar city. The other chief cities, with their estimated populations, are Canton (1,250,000), Tientsin (750,000), Shanghai (651,000), Hankau (870,000), Ningpo (400,000) Fuchau (624,000), Nankin (270,000) and Chung-King (620,000). Hong-Kong (population, 366,145) is a crown-colony of Great Britain, ceded to that power in 1841.
Customs and People
For building, the Chinese use timber, brick and stone; but cheap houses are made of a kind of concrete called sifted earth. The best architecture of the country is seen in the marble bridges and altars of Pekin. In the country, houses are rarely over one story high. In the cities, the highest buildings are the pawnbroker's shops, and the most finely finished are the guildhalls of the trades. The pavilions and pagodas are picturesque. The streets of the cities are usually not wider than lanes; they are paved with slabs and are badly drained. Matting on the floor, tables and straight-backed chairs, sometimes a bamboo couch and stools, make up the furniture of the houses. The dress of both sexes is much the same.
The most striking thing in the appearance of the men is the queue, a plat of hair which hangs pendant from the crown, all the rest of the head being shaved; while among the women the most notable thing is their small feet. This is a late and foolish fashion, prevalent only from the 6th century A. D., and is not customary among the very poor or among servants. It is effected by bandaging the feet in early years so as to prevent further growth. The Chinese girl at ten years is shut up in the women's apartments, and is taught the care of cocoons, silk weaving and all woman's work.
At 15 she wears the hairpin to show that she is now a woman. Marriage is controlled by the parents, and a class of match-makers or go-betweens has arisen, who hunt up desirable matches for parents. The killing of girl-babies was formerly practiced; but only among the lower classes, and then the reason was poverty. The complexion of the Chinese is yellowish, the hair coarse black, the eyes seemingly oblique, cheek bones high and face roundish. They usually are stout and muscular, temperate, industrious, cheerful and easily contented.
The dead are buried in graves built in the form of mounds or cones. There is no weekly day of worship and rest, like our Sunday, but festivals are many. New Year's Day is the one holiday for all. On this festival the noise of firecrackers is to be heard everywhere; the people dress in their best; the temples are visited; and the gambling tables are surrounded by crowds. Other festivals are those of Lanterns, Tombs, Dragon-Boats and All Souls.
Resources and Exports. China's coal-fields are extensive, coal being found in all of the 18 provinces, but chiefly so far in Shansi, Feng-tse, Kai-Ping, Pashan, Annan and Kansu. Tin, copper, lead, silver and gold are found, but very little has been done in the way of mining. China's imports in 1910 were in value about $310,000,000, while her exports were $155,000,000. Silk, raw and manufactured, raw cotton and tea, were among the chief exports. In 1910 the value of Chinese exports to the United States amounted to $31,297,928, while the imports from the United States amounted to nearly $17,000,000.
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China is a farming country. Each year the emperor began the season by himself turning over a few furrows in the Sacred Field, while the empress in the same way started the work among the silkworms, the care of which is left to the women. Wheat, corn and other grains, peaches, pineapples and other fruits, sugar in Formosa, rice, and opium are grown; but tea and silk are the great export crops.
Pork is largely eaten, though ducks and geese, fish, caught by tame cormorants (which see), and dogs are also used as food. The famous bird's-nest soup is made by slicing the nest into soup, thus adding an invigorating quality. The great beverage is tea, which is drunk weak and clear, and is offered to guests at all hours of the day. It is this tea-drinking habit which has made the Chinese a temperate people, a drunken man being a rare sight.
The Chinese clothing is made from their stores of silk, cotton and linen. China is the home of silk; the mulberry grows everywhere, and the silkworm has been cared for since the 23d century B. C. The manufactured silk ranks as high as any made in Europe, while the embroidery is superior to that of the west. Cotton is also now raised everywhere.
The New Student's Reference Work pgs. 389-391 (1914)