The name ‘China’ is itself a Western term that comes from the Persian language. Most Chinese call their nation Zhongguo, a word that translates as ‘middle kingdom’.
The Mandate of Heaven bears a close similarity to the ‘divine right of kings’, the European concept of royal authority and sovereignty. Unlike the European ‘divine right of kings’, however, the Mandate of Heaven obligated emperors to rule thoughtfully, with the interests of their people in mind. Revolution was illegal under ‘divine right’ but was justified under the Mandate of Heaven.
Yongyan, also known as the Jiaquin Emperor, was the Qing ruler until 1820. He was known for his profound obesity, in fact toward the end of his life he was unable to stand without help.
Known in the West as “death by a thousand cuts”, ling chi or ‘slow slicing’ was the most brutal form of execution used in imperial China.
Victory in the Opium Wars saw the British claim possession of the small region known as Hong Kong. In 1898 the Chinese were coerced into granting London a 99-year lease on Hong Kong. When this lease expired in 1997, control of Hong Kong reverted to China.
The Dowager Empress Cixi followed a strict but sometimes bizarre daily ritual. Every morning she breakfasted on porridge laced with human breast milk, followed by a small spoonful of powdered pearl. Within the palace, dozens of eunuchs were assigned to Cixi’s daily regimen, including four for her toilet and another four for her daily bathing.
Throughout her adult life, Cixi maintained long fingernails, which were manicured regularly and protected by solid gold shields to protect them from breaking. Long fingernails was a sign of status and great importance in imperial China, and Cixi’s were as long as 20cm.
The Wuchang Uprising of 1911 began the conversion of China from dynastic to republican government, a result Dr Sun Yixian (Sun Yat-sen) had struggled for nearly two decades to achieve. He was not present at it, however, and read about it in a local newspaper in Denver Colorado.
To force a vote on a foreign loan made by then-President Yuan Shikai in 1912, Premier Duan called out the army to surround Parliament. These troops refused to allow any members to leave until the vote had been passed.
Yuan Shikai fathered no less than 32 children (17 sons, 15 daughters) and possibly others that are unrecorded.
Feng Yuxiang ruled an area in the north-east of China and became known as the ‘good warlord’. Feng was an avid Christian who encouraged his soldiers to convert, reportedly baptising them with a fire hose. He also outlawed gambling, drinking, opium and prostitution.
The location of the May Fourth gathering was Tiananmen Square – the world’s largest city square – in Beijing. Just over 70 years later the square became a focus of world attention when a lone rebel confronted a Chinese tank.
At its first Congress in 1921 the CCP had just a dozen delegates who were representing 53 members. Today the CCP membership is nearing 80 million.
Like other peasants in Hunan, Mao was quite fond of eating dog. He enjoyed occasional meals of dog meat until his death in 1976. Mao despised the practice of keeping dogs as pets, viewing it as a strange Western bourgeois habit.
After Sun Yixian’s death in 1925, the communist leaders of the Soviet Union gave the Guomindang a crystal coffin to house his body. It was never used because Sun had already been buried. The coffin is now on display in Beijing.
Li Dazhao was arrested during Jiang Jieshi’s purge of commmunists in 1927 when a local warlord ordered troops to raid the Soviet Union embassy in Beijing. Li and 18 of his comrades were later executed by strangulation.
The Jiangxi Soviet even had its own bank, which issued currency as well as loans and savings facilities. The bank’s first governor was Mao Zemin, younger brother of Mao Zedong.
In late 1937 a US Navy ship, the Panay, was bombed and sunk by the Japanese air force. Tokyo offered both an official apology as well as compensation for the attack, claiming its pilots did not notice the US flag on the ship. Many historians believe the attack was intended to force the US out of China – and possibly into war with Japan before it could adequately prepare for such a conflict.
One of the victims of the political violence in the Yan’an Soviet was Wang Shiwei, a journalist who had criticised Mao for his sexual liaisons with young women, as well as other CCP leaders for their enjoyment of a privileged lifestyle. He was tried in 1942 then detained for five years, before being executed. His body was hacked into several pieces and dropped into a well.
Jiang Jieshi’s “New Life Movement” of the 1930s, which aimed at building up national morale, was based in part on the International Scouting Movement.
Jiang Jieshi’s wife Soong Mei-ling – better known in the West as ‘Madame Chiang’ – was known for both her charm and her utter ruthlessness. During a visit to the US she was asked how she would deal with the striking unions of America. Madame Chiang made a horizontal line under her chin, to simulate the cutting of throats.
In mid-1948 the CCP army laid siege to the city of Changchun in far northern China, cutting off access in and out of the city for five months. Guomindang forces there flatly refused to surrender. Between 150,000 and 250,000 people starved to death as a result of the siege.
The ‘Speak Bitterness’ tribunals employed many forms of torture and intimidation. Hanging the accused by one arm, causing dislocation of the shoulder, was often used.
In the Xiagang area, just north of Shanghai, an old man who owned a half-acre of land was deemed a ‘landlord’ by communist cadres. They seized his land, then publicly humiliated the old man by forcing him to engage in sexual relations with his niece. Both later committed suicide.
Zhou Enlai, Zhu De and Mao Zedong all passed away in the same year (1976). The death of Mao and Zhou generated grief around the nation, however, the response to Zhu’s demise was more restrained since he had been partly discredited during the Cultural Revolution.
The Guomindang party survives today as the ruling party of Taiwan. Modern Taiwanese politics is well known for its volatility, with all-in brawls occasionally breaking out in Taiwan’s parliament.
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