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Obverse of 1921 Chinese Dollar of the Gansu Province
Obverse of 1921 Chinese Dollar of the Gansu Province

Reverse of 1921 Chinese Dollar of the Gansu Province
Reverse of 1921 Chinese Dollar of the Gansu Province

A Brief History of China

Early Dynasties
The earliest recorded dynasty is the Xia Dynasty, a semi-mythological dynasty which came to power in about 2100 BC and lasted until 1600 BC. This dynasty was overthrown by the Shang Dynasty, the first dynasty for which written records still exist. The Shang Dynasty came to an end in 1046 BC, when Emperor Xin of Shang, whose policies were said to have been dictated by his evil concubine Daji, was overthrown by the Zhou Dynasty, the longest lasting of the dynasties which lasted until 256 BC. King Wu of Zhou justified his usurpation under the concept of the 'Mandate of Heaven' by which Emperors who presided over periods of disaster, cruelty and corruption could be said to have lost Heaven's mandate to rule and could therefore be legitimately overthrown and replaced.
Although the Zhou was the longest lasting of all the Chinese Dynasties, their authority weakened during the Spring and Autumn Period (771 – 475 BC) and collapsed almost entirely during the Warring States period, during which the various Chinese states nominally under the overall vassalage to the Emperor, degenerated into open warfare with each other. When the last Zhou Emperor died in 256 BC, none of his sons bothered to claim the title of Emperor. It was not until the King of Qin, Shi Huang, finally unified the warring states in 221 BC that a new dynasty, the Qin Dynasty was established. It was under Shi Huang that the first Great Wall was constructed and that the Terracota Army was formed. This dynasty was short lived, and did not survive after the death of Huang's son Er Shi in 207 BC.

Han Dynasty and the War of the Three Kingdoms
The Qin had unified China, but their authority had collapsed within the space of a generation. The rebel leaders Liu Bang and Xiang Yu fought with each other for the rule of China, but Liu Bang emerged victorious in 202 BC, founding the Han Dynasty. The Han (not to be confused with Han Chinese, China's dominant ethnic group) Dynasty formed diplomatic relations with the Romans.
The Han Dynasty came to an end when the last Emperor, Xian, was compelled to abdicate by Cao Pi in 220 A.D. The Yellow Turban Rebellion of 36 years earlier had however, left China in chaos for a long time since then, and China was no longer under one central authority. Instead, China was largely divided into Three Kingdoms, Wei, Shu and Wu. Cao Pi ruled over Shu. This conflict lasted for 60 years, before the Jin Dynasty finally defeated Wu to restore the Chinese Empire as a unified state.

Wu Hu
During the Early 4th Century, the non-Han Chinese tribes of the north rebelled against the Jin Dynasty and took control of the North. Throughout the next century and a half China broke up into 16 seperate Kingdoms. The last Jin Emperor was overthrown and executed in 420. Following the final collapse of the Jin dynasty, China entered the Northern and Southern Dynasties period, when China was once again divided into several competing kingdoms.

The Northern and Southern Dynasties
Despite being (yet another) age of chaos and civil war, this period was also a time of cultural and technological advancement. Imperial courts encouraged the development of science and the arts, both for the sake of itself and for the sake of achieving superiority over their rivals in other states. During this period, the Sinification of non-Han peoples accelerated and a Chinese cultural identity began to expand throughout China.

Siu and Tang Dynasties
China was re-unified under the short-lived Siu Dynasty, which was itself replaced by the Tang Dynasty in 618, which was a golden age of sorts, especially under the Tang Emperor Xianzong (805-820) who was one of the China's most benevolent and enlightened monarchs. During this period, the entrance exam for the civil service was introduced, intended to ensure that only the most competent and efficient people were allowed to become administrators.
The Tang Dynasty declined and fell in 907, when Emperor Ai was forced to abdicate by a former General who became Emperor Taizu of the Later Liang Dynasty.

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
China was once again divided into several kingdoms. Despite the name, there were actually more than ten independent states within China during this period, but 10 of them were long lasting and stable enough to warrant mention. Between 907 and 960, 5 Dynasties succeeded each other in rapid succession.

Song Dynasty
In 960, the Song Dynasty emerged as the most powerful Dynasty in China, although parts of China were still ruled by rival Dynasties such as the Jin and Western Xia. China under the Song Dynasty was considered the high point of scientific and technological superiority in China, with gunpowder weapons being used in the 12th Century against the Jin Dynasty.

Mongol Yuan Dynasty
In the 13th Century, the Mongols under Kublai Khan (Genghis Khan's grandson) invaded China and eventually supplanted the Song and other dynasties to reunify China under his rule by 1280. Despite being a Mongolian, Kublai was heavily sinified, much to the consternation of many of the Mongolian elite. As well as being an extremely capable General, he was an able administrator who introduced many reforms, including paper currency, to facilitate trade and tax payments in his massive Empire.
Later Yuan Emperors could not match Kublai's strong rule, and the Dynasty declined. Discrimination against the Han Chinese majority caused great resentment, and in 1351 series of revolts, including the Red Turban rebellion broke out against the Yuans. In 1368, the last Yuan Emperor was forced to flee to Mongolia, allowing the leader of the Red Turbans, Zhu Yuanzhang, who was later known as the Hongwu Emperor and the founder of the Ming Dynasty.

Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty was the last native Han Chinese Imperial Dynasty. Under the Ming Emperors, the Great Wall of China as we know it today was constructed (or reconstructed). Periodically, the Ming Emperors had to fight wars with China's previous overlords, the Mongols, and at one point, one of the Ming Emperors, Emperor Zhentong (1435-49) was captured by the Mongols and held for ransom (the Chinese however, refused to pay the ransom and instead installed Zhentong's brother Zhu Qiyu as Emperor instead). Zhentong was later released anyway and kept under house arrest by his brother for 7 years, before launching a coup to restore himself to power in 1457, from when he reigned again for a further 7 years.
The Ming Dynasty declined in the early 7th Century after a series of wars in Korea, coupled with a monetary crisis which sent demand for silver (the monetary standard of the day) soaring, resulting in heavy deflation and the inability of many of the provinces and populace from paying their taxes. This crisis also hampered the Ming Government's ability to react to other crises such as invasions, earthquakes and famines, and the result was growing discontent amongst the populace.
Taking advantage of Ming weakness, a Jurchen warlord named Nurhaci, formerly a vassal of the Ming, declared war on the Government, inflicting many defeats on the Mings, but it would not be until 1646 that his son Hong Taji, would finally crush the remnants of Ming Forces and rule as undisputed Emperor of China, and as the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty.

Qin Dynasty and the Collapse of Imperial China
The Qin Dynasty was the final Imperial Dynasty of China. Under the Qins, China's relative decline compared to the rest of the world in technological, political and economic terms became more and more obvious. The 19th Century under the Qins was a time of humiliation for China, as European and later Japanese imperialism saw the infliction of unequal treaties on China, giving foreign people privileges over Chinese subjects on Chinese soil. The Opium Wars forced China to open up its ports to European trade (particularly to imported opium).
Reaction to the foreign impositions conceded by the Qin Dynasty was fierce. The Taiping and Boxer Rebellions of 1850-64 and 1899-1901 where crushed either by or with the aid of foreign forces. The Taiping rebellion in particular saw a spectacular loss of life, numbering in the 10's of millions, making it comparable to the World Wars of the 20th Century in terms of loss of life. The Boxer Rebellion was tacitly supported by the Dowager Empress Cixi and the conservative faction at the Imperial Court, and when it was crushed by an alliance of German, British, Russian, Japanese and American troops, a crippling indemnity was imposed on China, adding further to the financial woes of the Qin Regime.
The death of the formidable Cixi and her stepson the Guangxu Emperor in 1908 left the infant Puyi as Emperor under a regency. This left the beleaguered Qin government without strong leadership. When the Qin Government tried to nationalise the railways in 1911 in order to pay back the debts incurred following the Boxer Rebellion, violent protests broke out, which escalated into a full scale revolt that involved elements of the Imperial New Army. Puyi was deposed and the Republic of China declared, with Sun Yat Sen as Provisional President.

The Republic of China was officially declared in 1912, the year after the uprising. The following year, Sun Yat Sen surrendered the presidency to Yuan Shikai, a General, in order that he could provide the military clout necessary to crush Qin loyalists and various other factions who threatened Chinese unity. Yuan Shikai briefly attempted to consolidate his power by having himself declared emperor for a few months in 1915-1916, but when in March of the latter year it became apparent that this move had been counterproductive, he reverted to the title of president until he died in June.
Warlordism and anarchy reigned in China after Yuan's death, with Sun Yat Sen's KMT party controlled only part of China, with Warlords dominating various other parts of the country. When Sun Yat Sen died in 1925, the KMT was led by Chang Kai Shek. With some aid from outside powers, including the Soviet Union, Chang Kai Shek made great advances into crushing the warlords and bringing Chinese territory back into central government authority. However, Chang Kai Shek suspected that the Communist faction, with Soviet help, were plotting to take over the Republic, and so in 1927, he struck out at the communists, arresting and killing thousands of them, leading to the Chinese Civil War.

Japanese Invasion
In 1931, taking advantage of the Republic's internal strife and China's long standing weakness, Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria, founding the puppet state of Manchukuo with Puyi as its puppet Emperor in 1932. The KMT, focused on fighting its Communist enemy, put up little in the way of effective resistance to this land grab by the Japanese.

Chinese Civil War and Second Sino-Japanese War
In 1934, Chang Kai Shek enjoyed some success against the Communists when he drove them out of the Jiangxi–Fujian Soviet in 1934. However, he failed to follow up on this success by hunting down and destroying communist forces. The Communist escape, known as the 'Long March' would later enter Communist Lore as a triumph against the Nationalist forces. Three years later, war between China and Japan broke out again. Once more, Chiang Kai Shek chose to focus much of his efforts against the Communists, rather than the Japanese, describing the Japanese forces as a 'disease of the skin', whereas the Communists were a 'disease of the heart', more deadly and therefore worthy of prioritisation.
Chinese forces nevertheless engaged in heavy fighting with the Japenese, who found the Chinese tougher opponents than expected, and devoted most of their ground forces to combat throughout World War II, until the Japanese were defeated by the allies in 1945.
The Soviet Union had been a late entrant into the war, commencing involvement only weeks before the final Japanese surrender, but the Soviet intervention proved to be a decisive one for subsequent Chinese history. The Soviets captured large amounts of arms from the Japanese, and many of these were handed over to Mao Zedong's Red Army, this provided him with the Armaments needed to make a push for taking over the whole of mainland China.

People's Republic of China
A short post-war truce fell apart in June 1946, and fighting between the KMT and the Communists resumed. Despite heavy American material and logistical support, the Communists enjoyed better support amongst the rural peasantry, and the Communists eventually gained the upper hand. By 1949, the KMT had been defeated and driven from the Mainland. The remnants of Chang Kai-Shek's defeated forces evacuated to Formosa (Taiwan), which is still known as the Republic of China today, and which still officially regards itself as the legitimate government of all of China.

Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong was now leader of almost all of China (except Formosa) and secured his power by instigating 'struggle sessions' against his opponents, which involved public humiliation in front of crowds with accusations of counter-revolutionary and criminal acts. Many of those victimised were then executed. Many people accused of being 'kulaks' in Mao's intended agrarian people's republic were similarly persecuted.
The 'Great Leap Forward', instigated in 1958, contributed to a huge man-made famine resulting in millions of deaths, as agriculture was neglected or perverted to free up labour for other projects, such as an attempt increase in steel production by smelting iron in rudimentary furnaces. Statistics on the achievements of these policies were exaggerated or fabricated by local officials in order to curry favour with the central Government, giving the Government a false idea of the abundance of available produce, which was taken away by the Government leaving many to starve. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, instigated by Mao Zedong as an attempt to reassert his authority as well as destroy anything considered to represent capitalism and 'Old China', resulted in more atrocities, this only came to an end in 1976, when Mao Zedong died.

Modern PRC
After the death of Mao, Deng Xiaoping emerged as leader of the PRC. He turned China away from Maoism, and his policies, as well of those of his successors essentially turned China away from de-facto communism and more towards capitalist economy, presided over by an authoritarian government. Deng negotiated for the return of Hong Kong and Macau to Chinese control under a '1 country 2 systems' policy, agreeing to give the former colonies internal autonomy for at least 50 years. He did not live to see this come to pass however as he died in February 1997, before the scheduled handover of Hong Kong later that year.
Today, China is one of the world's fastest growing economies, and is popularly perceived to be a future superpower that will one day challenge the US as the world's most powerful country.

Chinese Coins
China is thought by some to have been the first country to invent coinage, and as far back as the 8th Century BC, manufactured objects (such as bronze cowrie shells) were being used as mediums of exchange. However, circular 'cash' coins were first issued in about the 4th Century B.C.
Similar bronze cash coins were struck until as late as the early 20th Century. They were typically blank on one side, with a legend on the other, and were holed in the centre so that they could be hung from a string.
From the 17th Century onwards, Spanish silver coins were often used for trade with China, and being the local monetary standard, China was an avid consumer of world silver production. Spanish and other dollar type coins from this period are often found with 'chop' marks engraved by local chinese merchants in order to attest to their good silver content.
The Chinese instituted their own silver dollar, known as the Yuan, in the late 19th Century. The silver Yuan was used as internal and external currency until the 1930s, when silver was demonetised and private ownership banned. During the turmoil of China's early 20th Century, many different provinces, ruled by various warlords and governments each issued their own version of the Yuan.
Today, the Yuan (divided into 100 Fen and 100 Jiao) is also known as the Renminbi (People's Currency). Coins of 1, 2 and 5 Fen are issued in aluminium, 1, 2, and 5 Jiao in brass and 1 yuan in cupro-nickel. The Fen (1,2 and 5) was discontinued, only to remerge in 2005 for use in coin sets. They are not typically seen in circulation however.

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