This week we’ve arrived in one of the modern world’s most important and influential countries: the People’s Republic of China (PRC). China is seen as the country most likely to challenge American influence around the world. It’s already the world’s second largest economy and is continuing to grow – many experts believe China may soon surpass America.
There’s much more to China than its complicated politics and economic might. It’s a vast country with a rich history that can’t easily be summed up but we’ll give it our best shot. So in anticipation of Chinese New Year (beginning on February 19th) strap in and take a trip to the Far East with us.
- Capitol: Beijing
- Largest City: Shanghai
- Population (2015): 1,368,220,000 (1st)
- Total Area: 9,596,961 km² (4th)
- National Language: Standard Chinese
- Currency: Renminbi – yuan (¥) (CNY)
From the Emperor to the Party
It’s not wholly clear when imperial rule in China truly began. Though there may have been an earlier dynasty, the Shang dynasty was confirmed to have ruled in eastern China between the 17th and 11th centuries BC. Various other dynasties such as the Han, Tang, and Song ruled over what would become one of the most advanced cultures of its time. While Europe struggled through the Dark Ages, China was a beacon of technology, philosophy, and the arts. Mongol invasions tested the region, but China persevered and the dynasties remained.
Eventually conflict with growing European colonial empires would help to bring an end to imperial China, last ruled by the Qing dynasty. The Opium Wars crippled the economy and Chinese pride. Eventually unrest and reforms led to the Republic of China – ruled by Chiang Kai-shek. However, political and social division would bring about the rise of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to challenge Chiang and his nationalists. Following World War II, the communists took power and formed the People’s Republic of China.
Though its leader Mao Zedong did much for China, his policies also led to near economic ruin. His successor Deng Xiaoping reformed China, bringing more openness to the country. Today, China remains communist in name – controlled autocratically by the party – while the economy is more open (one might say capitalist). Today China is generally seen to be ‘rising’ on the world stage as it seeks to expand its influence both regionally and globally.
Traditional or Modern?
There is no simple summation for all of Chinese culture. Thousands of years of arts, calligraphy, Confucian teachings, and more have served to create an incredibly diverse and rich culture. Both imperial and communist influences can be seen in China today. Traditional practices and arts have seen a resurgence. Loyalty to the state as the ultimate authority has also been a staple of Chinese society and governance, no matter who rules. While China has preserved much of its own culture, globalization has led to greater western cultural influence within the country. Meanwhile Chinese culture has also been exported across the globe – Chinese food and large Chinatowns are just a couple examples.
When traveling to China, you’ll find both classical architecture and the ultra-modern. One look at how much Shanghai has changed over the last 50 years shows the incredible pace of China’s modernization. While the race to the future has left many in Chinese society behind, it remains something to behold. China will continue to speed ahead in the coming decades.
Peaks and Valleys
Being such a large country, China has an incredibly diverse landscape. The world’s tallest mountain, Mt. Everest, sits on the border of China and Nepal. Beyond the Himalaya’s are; valleys used for farming, the arid Gobi desert, great rivers such as the Yangtze, and sandy coastlines.
Perhaps the most imposing feature of all is the manmade Great Wall of China. Stretching for almost 22 thousand kilometres, the Great Wall was used to keep out invaders from the north. Maintained and built in pieces by various emperors and dynasties, much of it still stands today as a testament to imperial power.
More and more people are visiting China every year. Despite questions over the undemocratic government and state-censorship, it remains a trip absolutely worth taking. The natural beauty of China, as well as its seemingly unstoppable industrial machine makes China a truly impressive and awe-inspiring experience. Without a doubt, the People’s Republic of China is sure to play an important role in shaping the coming decades.
Stay tuned to the Continental Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems.
Stay informed. Stay Current.