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China, History

China traces it origins as a discrete political and cultural unit to ancient times. From the 2nd millennium bc to the early 20th century, a succession of dynasties ruled progressively larger parts of what is now China. A notable feature of the later dynasties was the dominance of the scholar-official class, made up of educated men who were recruited to serve as government officials based on their skills rather than their family background. When European expansion began in Asia in the 16th century, the global context of Chinese history changed, and by the 19th century China had to confront militarily stronger European powers. By the early 20th century China’s humiliation at the hands of the imperialist powers had become the catalyst for a revolution against the dynastic regime. Chinese revolutionaries overthrew the last dynasty in 1911, and for several decades the country was torn apart by warlords, civil war, and Japanese invasion.

In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war and established China’s current government. The Communists initiated many social and political changes. The most significant campaigns were the transition to a planned economy in the 1950s; the Cultural Revolution, in which students loyal to Communist leader Mao Zedong attacked intellectuals and party leaders, in the late 1960s; and the economic reform movement, begun in the late 1970s, that reintroduced aspects of a free-market economy and encouraged foreign investment.

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