Centuries ago China was a world leader in the arts and sciences, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries began to fall behind as a result of civil instability, famines, military defeats and foreign interference.
In 1949, following the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong proclaimed the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC). His autocratic, socialist government re-established China’s sovereignty, at the cost of personal freedoms and huge loss of life. In 1959, Mao stepped down following a series of disastrous economic failures, but he re-emerged in 1966 amid a power struggle in the Party, to launch the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.
After 1978, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China moved towards a market economy. Agriculture and industry were privatised, and over the past 25 years GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 7.4%. China has become one of the world’s top exporters and foreign investment in and out of the country is worth billions. In 2001, China joined the World Trade Organisation, and in 2006 became the world’s second largest economy after the United States. However, the economic reforms have resulted in a large wealth disparity between coastal regions and the interior, and 100 to 150 million surplus workers.
And there has been little political reform. In 1989, troops were used to crush student protests in Tiananmen Square, drawing international condemnation and sanctions. The Communist leadership continues to exercise strict control and has been known to treat harshly ethnic minorities and outspoken critics of one-party rule.
President Hu Jintao has held office since March 2003. He promised to fight against corruption and spend more on rural health and education.
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China is located in Eastern Asia between North Korea and Vietnam. It shares land borders with 14 countries, including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Russian; and its coastline borders the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea.
It has an area of 3.7 million sq miles, making it slightly smaller than the United States and the world’s fourth largest country. Terrain in the west is a mixture of mountains, high plateaus and deserts, and in the east hills and the Yang Ze and Huang He deltas. 14.8% of the land is arable. China shares with Nepal the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.
Economic development and the demand for energy have taken their toll on the environment; air and water pollution, water shortages, deforestation, and desertification are among the problems facing the government.
China has an extremely diverse climate: the south is tropical, the north sub-arctic. China has its share of typhoons and floods; and there is also a risk of tsunamis, earthquakes and droughts.
More on: Geography of China
China has almost a quarter of the world's population. Around 92% are Han Chinese and the remainder is made up of 55 other ethnic groups. Mandarin Chinese is the official standard language and is spoken by 885,000,000 people. The Chinese language is written in characters and requires no punctuation. A typical well-educated Chinese person would know around 6,000-7,000 characters. The characters originally were simplified images of what they represent, but have become highly abstract today. It takes Chinese children about two years longer to learn their writing system, than Western children learning our alphabet. Foreigners use the modern pinyin system which is a translation into Roman letters, to memorise the sounds. These words use four different types of strokes to show the speaker which tone to use. ‘Ma’ can mean both mother and horse depending on how way you say it!
Food is very important in China and Chinese cusine is popular in many countries throughout the world. The Chinese symbol for the family is in fact a rice pot and when friends meet, after they say hello, they normally ask“Have you eaten”.
China celebrates New Year between 21 January and 20 February, according to the lunar calender, with each year having an animal of the zodiac assigned to it. 2009 is the Chinese Year of the Ox! New year celebrations are the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays lasting for 15 days and ending on a full moon. People sweep there houses before the new year comes to get rid of any ill-fortune and decorate their house with red. On the eve of the Chinese New Year, families sit down for a feast and on New Year’s Day children will greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year and receive money in red paper envelopes.
When the communists came to power in 1949, they set up a centrally planned economy based on the Soviet system, which was a great economic and humanitarian failure.
Economic liberalisation began in 1978 with a move to a market-oriented mixed economy, based on private property ownership. Farms were privatised to increase productivity, and a wide variety of small-scale enterprises were encouraged; while the government relaxed price controls and promoted foreign investment. Inefficient state-owned enterprises were restructured by introducing western-style management system and the unprofitable ones were closed, resulting in massive job losses.
China’s economy has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its economic success has been primarily due to manufacturing as a low-cost producer. This is attributed to a combination of cheap labor, good infrastructure, medium level of technology and skill, relatively high productivity, favorable government policy, and some say, an undervalued exchange rate. Major industries include;Toys, airplanes & aeronautics, automobiles, computers & telecommunication equipment, textiles, paper-making, daily-use mechanical devices, foodstuffs.
Around 10% of the Chinese population live below the poverty line (down from 64% in 1978), while lfe expectancy has increased dramatically. Today, more than 90% of the population is literate, compared to only 20% in 1950.
The urban-rural income gap is getting wider. Development has also been mainly concentrated in the eastern coastal regions while the remainder of the country is left behind. The economy is also highly energy-intensive and inefficient – it uses 20%-100% more energy than OECD countries for many industrial processes. It has now become the world's second largest energy consumer behind the US but relies on coal to supply about 70% of its energy needs. Coupled with a lax environmental regulation, this has led to a massive water and air pollution (China has 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities).
A stone tablet found near Xi’an records how Assyrian Christians brought the gospel to China in 635 AD. Monastic remains also near Xi’an suggest a Christian community existed there in the 8th century, while Christians served in the court of Kublai Khan when he conquered China in 1287.
Robert Morrison was the first protestant missionary to China in 1807. He translated the Bible but saw only 10 Chinese people come to faith. In the 1840's, with the opening up of coastal cities to foreign trade, the number of Western missionaries grew rapidly. In 1905, Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission had over 800 workers and was responsible for 125,000 converts.
In the early years of the PRC, religion was discouraged or actively persecuted. When it proved impossible to destroy the church, the government created the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) as a way of controlling it. During the Cultural Revolution, when even the TSPM was banned, the house church movement began. In the 1970's, the TSPM was reinstated and Christianity saw significant growth. In 1949, there were around one million believers; today estimates range from 40 million to a staggering 150 million. However the government still exercises tight control, periodically harassing and persecuting unregistered groups.
PCI has a long history of involvement in China. Between 1869 and 1951, a total of 91 Irish Presbyterian missionaries worked in Manchuria, in the Northeast, close to China's borders with Mongolia, Russia and Korea. Facing the challenge of an inhospitable climate and difficult language, the Irish missionaries perservered to establish nine main mission stations, each with 20 to 30 outstations.
Through wars, famines and pestilience they built churches, hospitals and schools, transforming this northeastern region. A triple strategy of interlinking church, hopsital and school, served the PCI mission well with dedicated ministers, doctors, nurses and teachers all playing a vital role in building up the Church in Manchuria.
Despite the expulsion of all foreign missionaries in the early 1950's, the theological college founded by PCI in Manchuria kept going throughout the Cultural Revolution. In the years since, the Church in China has continued to grow and, in Manchuria, many of the congregations started by PCI missionaries are now flourishing with, in some cases, membership numbering several thousands.
More recently PCI has partnered with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese Christian development organisation, in providing cash-strapped schools and colleges with teachers of English.
More on: Christianity in China