China - A Dark History

China - A Dark History : From Ancient Dynasties to the Communist Party

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The history of China is rich in episodes of slaughter, sometimes perpetrated by invaders like the Manchu, or by the Mongols in the 13th century, or much later by the Japanese at Nanking in 1937. China was capable of drumming up darkness of its own, too. An entire era of early Chinese history is known as the time of the Warring States on account of its chronic civil strife. The so-called 'Three Kingdoms' period was even worse. Then there was a bitter and bloody civil war between Communists and Nationalists in the mid-20th century, while Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward (1958-62) and the famine it brought with it cost tens of millions of lives.
China: A Dark History offers an uncompromising and entertaining account of one of the oldest and most enduring civilisations in the world, from the cruel King Zhou of the Second Millennium BCE to the suppression of the Uighur minority today. In between the author covers everything from barbarian invasions, the Battle of the Red Cliffs and foot binding to the Opium Wars, the last emperor Puyi and internet censorship in the 21st century.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 224 pages
  • 192 x 250 x 23mm | 926g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 180 photos and artworks; 180 Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1782749012
  • 9781782749011
  • 1,448,629

Table of contents


1. China Before China
China's prehistory is 'dark' chiefly in the sense that it is almost completely obscure, while its early written history is strongly tinged with myth.
Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BCE).
Qin Dynasty (221-206BCE) - The Unification of China

2. Imperial Power
Building of parts of the Great Wall. Designed to protect the agriculturalists on the southern side from the incursions of nomadic pastoralists from the northern steppes. Slave labour and forced labour of criminals was used to build sections.
Qin's Terracotta Army and the grand mausoleum - in which the concubines and craftsman were buried so that the secrets of the complex wouldn't escape. With the death of Qin, a rebellion broke out, toppling the dynasty.
Han Dynasty (206BCE-220CE) - Fighting Xiongnu nomads. Annexing Korean peninsula. With immense disparity between rich and poor, frequent rebellions and violent deaths at court, the Han collapsed in 220CE.
A rebellion by starving peasants following a flood led to the defeat of the emperor.

3. Accomplished in Cruelty
Tang Dynasty (618-907 BCE).
Foot-binding spread during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and didn't fall out of popularity until the 20th century.
Genghis Khan and the Mongols: conquering of China in the 13th century. Before the Mongol invasion, the population of Song China was 120 million citizens; this was reduced to 60 million by the time of the census in 1300.
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) - after a Mongol invasion of northern China, the Ming Great Wall was built (1450s). This is most of the Great Wall that survives today. Western contact: Overseas trade was deemed illegal by the state, leading to the Portuguese navy being repulsed (1521-22). Later, Wokou pirates attacked the southern coastline.
1556: Shaanxi Earthquake - deadliest earthquake of all time killed about 830,000 people.

4. A World of Worries
Prosperous and powerful, Qing China could take pride in its self-sufficiency. But it was becoming hard to keep the outside world at bay.
Qing China (1636-1912).
Taiping Rebellion (1850-64) and Dungan Revolt (1862-77) led to deaths of some 20 million people, mostly through famine caused by war.
China and Western Imperialists: Trade and the Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-60) First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) fought largely over influence of Korea
The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901)
Wuchang Uprising (1911).
Xinhai Revolution overthrows the Qing Dynasty

5. Into the Fire
Unstable government and Qin government restored for a time.
1928 Chiang Kai Shek overthrows central government and establishes a new nationalist government.
Chinese 1930s flood and famine
Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek. Communist, People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Long March 1934-36.
Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. Japanese occupation and Rape of Nanjing.

6. Not a Dinner Party
'Some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history...' And such was the political philosophy of Chairman Mao.
Kuomintang retreats to Taiwan.
Mao proclaims the establishment of the People's Republic of China.
Reform. Mass execution of more than 1 million landlords as land is redistributed to peasants.
Great Leap Forward: agricultural reforms led to starvation of an estimated 45 million people in 1960 famine.
Cultural Revolution 1968-76 - political recrimination and social upheaval The Vietnam War - China backing North Vietnam; Nixon in China. Supporting the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Sino-Vietnamese War 1979.

7. From Mao to the Market
State capitalism today.
Tiananmen Square 1989: students protesting for democracy, freedom of the press and freedom of speech were suppressed. With support swelling, martial law was imposed. A number were killed, with estimates ranging from 180 to 10,454. Pollution from heavy industry
2008 Sichuan Earthquake
Human rights: Censorship of the Press and Internet, censorship of publishers; criticisms of human rights violations such as detention without trial, forced, abortions, torture, excessive use of the death penalty.
Suppression in Tibet and Xinjiang
Tensions with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.


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About Michael Kerrigan

Michael Kerrigan was educated at St. Edward's College and University College, Oxford, England. He is the author of The History of Death, A Dark History: The Roman Emperors, Ancients In Their Own Words, World War II Plans That Never Happened, and American Presidents: A Dark History. He is a columnist, book reviewer, and feature writer for publications including the Scotsman and the Times Literary Supplement. Michael Kerrigan lives with his family in Edinburgh.
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