Chinese history: 5000 years and 4 types of societies

November 28, 2010 | Posted by Chris

The famous Terra Cotta Warriors of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang, located in modern day Xi'an

Chinese people are proud to belong to the world's longest continuous civilization. Generally the Chinese people regard Chinese history as about 5,000 years long, and although there are different opinions about this, historians attest to over 4000 years of history, during which China has experienced four types of societies.

Primitive Society

The first phase of development of human society, primitive society has a very low level of productivity and all means of production are publicly owned, and the control of society is maintained by tradition and parents. In Chinese history, primitive society is regarded to range from 2600 BC to 2100 BC. This period of Chinese history is called the "Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors period."

Slave Society

With the development of productive forces and the emergence of private ownership, the slave society arose, in which many fields of material production utilized slave labor that neither received benefit nor were free. The slave society in China is regarded to range from 2100 BC to 476 BC, including five dynasties: Xia (2070 BC - 1600 BC), Shang (1766 BC - 1122 BC), Western Zhou (1046BC - 771 BC), Eastern Zhou (770 BC - 256 BC), and the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC - 476 BC).

Feudal Society

The Yellow Emperor of Ancient China

Feudal society is a social system defined by a certain land-holding system and a land-based natural economy which combines agriculture and handicraft industries together, taking the family as a production unit, and is characterized by self-isolation, independence and meeting one's own needs. In China, feudal society ranged from 475 BC to 1840, and included more than 20 dynasties roughly known as: Warring States (475 BC - 221 BC), Qin (221 BC - 206 BC), Han (206 BC - 220), Three Kingdoms (220 - 280), Jin (265 - 420), Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 - 581), Sui (581 - 618), Tang (618 - 907), Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907 - 960), Song (960 - 1279), Liao (916 - 1125), Western Xia (1038 - 1227), Jin (1115 - 1234),Yuan (1271 - 1368), Ming (1368 - 1644), Qing (1644 - 1840).

Semi-colonial, Semi-feudal Society

Semi-colonial, as opposed full colonial, refers to an independent country with a nominal government, but one that is very weak and in which many political, economic and other social aspects are controlled by foreign colonialism. Regarded as low-point for the history of any civilization, semi-feudal is called such relative to a complete feudal society. In form it is still dominated by feudal rules and a natural economy, but in fact modernized, capitalist economy, politics, ideology and culture are beginning to take root. China is regarded to have experienced this form of society from 1840 to 1949, including the Late Qing Dynasty (1840 - 1911) and Republic of China (1912 - 1949).

Socialism with Chinese Characteristics

Founding ceremony of the People's Republic of China on Oct 1, 1949

This type of society is fairly new in history and China -- only with the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 did the country begin a path to realize socialist utopia. In the absense of total socialism, China has adopted what it calls "socialism with Chinese characteristics," in which the country aims to innovate upon past socialist models.

However, the development model of Chinese society laid out in 1949 has undergone significant and fundamental changes as the world around it has changed in equally important ways. Since the rise of post-WWII Japan and the "Asian Tigers" -- Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong -- China has sought to develop a prosperous society away from Soviet state-led economic models. Since officially implementing a policy of opening up and reform in 1979, the Chinese economy has grown rapidly and today is the world's second largest.

Shanghai, above, seeks to become the modern financial hub of East Asia, competing with Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul

Despite the rapid growth as a result of its economic forms, China presently is neither totally socialist nor capitalist, a fact that some observers may take to be the meaning of the phrase "with Chinese characteristics." At present China has a number of different economies -- state-owned economy, collective economy, private economy, individual economy, associated economy, shareholding economy, foreign-funded economy and so on. Many modern enterprises far removed from the state-led economic model have emerged and are thriving in China. For example, Chinese technology companies Baidu and Alibaba are world famous, and its car companies, led by Geely, which recently acquired 100% of Volvo, and BYD, in which Warren Buffet is a famous investor, are helping to engineer the next generation of Chinese economic innovation.

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