China's historical civilization dates to at least 13th century B.C., first under the Shang (to 1046 B.C.) and then the Zhou (1046-221 B.C) dynasties. The imperial era of China began in 221 B.C. under the Qin Dynasty and lasted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. During this period, China alternated between periods of unity and disunity under a succession of imperial dynasties. In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty suffered heavily from overextension by territorial conquest, insolvency, civil war, imperialism, military defeats, and foreign expropriation of ports and infrastructure. It collapsed following the Revolution of 1911, and China became a republic under SUN Yat-sen of the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist) Party. However, the republic was beset by division, warlordism, and continued foreign intervention. In the late 1920s, a civil war erupted between the ruling KMT-controlled government led by CHIANG Kai-shek, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Japan occupied much of northeastern China in the early 1930s, and then launched a full-scale invasion of the country in 1937. The resulting eight years of warfare devastated the country and cost up to 20 million Chinese lives by the time of Japan’s defeat in 1945. The Nationalist-Communist civil war continued with renewed intensity following the end of World War II and culminated with a CCP victory in 1949, under the leadership of MAO Zedong.
MAO and the CCP established an autocratic socialist system that, while ensuring the PRC's sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and launched agricultural, economic, political, and social policies - such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) - that cost the lives of millions of people. MAO died in 1976. Beginning in 1978, subsequent leaders DENG Xiaoping, JIANG Zemin, and HU Jintao focused on market-oriented economic development and opening up the country to foreign trade, while maintaining the rule of the CCP. Since the change, China has been among the world’s fastest growing economies, with real gross domestic product averaging over 9% growth annually through 2021, lifting an estimated 800 million people out of poverty, and dramatically improving overall living standards. By 2011, the PRC’s economy was the second largest in the world. The growth, however, has created considerable social displacement, adversely affected the country’s environment, and reduced the country’s natural resources. Current leader XI Jinping has continued these policies, but also has maintained tight political controls. Over the past decade, China has also increased its global outreach, including military deployments, participation in international organizations, and initiating a global connectivity initiative in 2013 called the "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI). While many nations have signed on to BRI agreements to attract PRC investment, others have balked at the opaque lending behavior; weak environment, social, and governance (ESG) standards; and other practices that undermine local governance and foster corruption associated with some BRI-linked projects. XI Jinping assumed the positions of General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012 and President in 2013. In March 2018, the PRC’s National People’s Congress passed an amendment abolishing presidential term limits, opening the door for XI to seek a third five-year term in 2023, which he ultimately secured.
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NOTE: The information regarding China on this page is re-published from the 2023 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of China 2023 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about China 2023 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.
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