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China: Country and Foreign Investment

History, Population, Language and Culture

This page was last updated on 1 July 2019.

China’s history of advanced civilization stretches back for more than two millennia. For centuries, China was far ahead of the rest of the world. Ideas flourished, as did inventions, including paper (c. 105), gunpowder, block printing, the compass and mechanical clock. In the 1420s Admiral Zheng He sailed the Indian Ocean demanding tribute on a journey that could have led to a vast Chinese Empire. However, conservative and isolationist elements won the day, and the Chinese fleet was literally left to rot.

The atrophying grew worse under the Qing dynasty, and China fell into full-on technological and cultural decline. The traditional attitude that other nations were mere tribute-paying potential vassals was now sustained by little more than pride.

By the time the Industrial Revolution was in full flow, Western powers such as Britain, France and Germany were in a position to exploit China and did not hesitate to do so. Small parts of the country, such as Hong Kong, Macao and Qingdao were sliced away, while foreign influence grew and military intervention was commonplace.

The Chinese were slow to react, but did so with force in uprisings such as the Boxer Rebellion. The drive both to catch up with the West and minimise its influence culminated in the formation of the Republic of China under Sun Yat-Sen in 1911.

After years of aggression towards its Western neighbour, Japan launched a full-scale invasion in 1937. China suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese, but much worse was to come. In 1945, having formed an uneasily truce to defeat the Japanese, the Nationalist and Communist factions turned on each other. After the Communists emerged victorious in 1949, Mao Zedong seized power and attempted to industrialise and modernise the country. Though his efforts met with some success, they were achieved 'at any cost', by means of a murderous totalitarian regime. By the time of Mao's death in 1976, more than 70 million people had died.

New leader Deng Xiaoping led the country in a different direction by opening up the economy - though the leadership was still highly authoritarian. Combined with the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, this has resulted in gigantic economic growth, though improvements in personal freedoms have been scanty. The grip of the Communist Party is as strong as ever, and the policies of Mao – some of the most destructive the world has ever seen - are still regarded by many as ‘70% right, 30% wrong.’

China has a population of 1.42 billion (June 2019 est.), of which 91.5% are deemed Han Chinese, though there is substantial variation among this somewhat arbitrary grouping. The population officially consists of 56 minorities (one of which is Taiwanese - this can be excluded from this as Taiwan is de facto an independent country), the largest of which are the Zhuang, Hui (Chinese Muslims), Manchu, Uyghur, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan and Mongol.

The language situation in China is quite unusual. Though written Chinese is virtually the same across the country, it is a mistake to suggest that there is only one spoken Chinese language. Mandarin – which itself exhibits considerable variety – is by far the most common language and is taught throughout the country. The next best-known Chinese language is Cantonese; others related to Mandarin are Wu (Shanghainese), Fuzhou, Hokkien (Minnan), Xiang and Hakka. Non-Chinese languages spoken include Zhuang, Mongolian, Uyghur, Tibetan and Korean.



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