The following is copied word for word from the exhibit “The Road to Rejuvenation” at The Chinese National Museum in Beijing (and as far as I know has not been published online prior to this). The exhibit focuses on China’s history from 1840 to the present. The Chinese National Museum reopened in March 2011, offering the most official and most recent account of China’s history as told by the Communist Party (for more on the museum I recommend this excellent NYT piece about the difficulties the Party had in agreeing on how the past should be portrayed). This is the story taught to hundreds of millions of Chinese students; it shapes every discussion of China’s future.
I hope this series of posts will help foster discussions of China’s history and how it is used to consolidate power. Also, as I think you will see, what is left in is just as interesting as what has been left out.
The Chinese nation is a great nation whose people are industrious, courageous, intelligent and peace-loving and have made indelible contributions to the progress of human civilization. For generations and generations, the Chinese people have been pursuing a dream of national strength and prosperity.
“The Road to Rejuvenation” is a permanent exhibition showcasing the explorations made by the Chinese people from all walks of life who, after being reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society since the Opium War of 1840, rose in resistance against humiliation and misery, and tried in every way possible to rejuvenate the nation. The Exhibition also highlights the glorious history of China under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in which all the ethnic groups joined forces to achieve national independence and liberation and strove to build a strong and prosperous country for the well-being of the people. The exhibition therefore clearly demonstrates the historical course of the Chinese people of choosing Marxism, the CPC and the socialist road and the reform and opening-up policy, and China’s firm determination in building socialism with Chinese characteristics, through adherence to this great banner, this specail road and this theoretical system.
Today, the Chinese nation is standing firm in the east, facing a brilliant future of great rejuvenation. The long-cherished dream and aspiration of the Chinese people will surely come to reality.
The world and China before the Opium War 1.1
Beginning in the 17th century, with the occurrence of the bourgeois revolution and then the Industrial Revolution, Western Capitalist countries developed rapidly and entered into a period of large-scale expansion and plundering. At this time, China’s feudal society was enjoying its last hurrah during the reigns of emperors Kangxi and Qianlong before its final decline. The Qing court closed the country to the outside world and became ossified, with the result that production methods became antiquated, society stagnated and class conflicts were exacerbated. China was best by crises, and the gap between it and the Western powers constantly grew wider.
The invasion of China by imperialist powers 1.2
After Britan started the Opium War in 1840, the imperial powers descended on China like a swarm of bees, looting our treasures and killing our people. They forced the Qing government to sign a series of unequal treaties that granted them economic, political and cultural privileges and sank China gradually into a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society. The contradictions between imperialism and the Chinese nation and between feudalism and the broad masses of the people became the primary contradictions in modern Chinese society. Achieving national independence and liberation of the people, and making the country strong and prosperous and the people happy became the two great historic missions of the Chinese nation throughout its modern history.
The struggle and the awakening of the Chinese people 1.3
In order to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and defend the nation’s dignity, the Chinese people unflinchingly attacked the foreign invaders, foiling the imperialist powers’ plot to subjugate China. The national crisis and the people’s misery constantly deepened which spurred Chinese people of insight to ponder the nation’s future and the country’s fate and search for a path to salvation.
Early attempts to find a way out for the country 2.1
Faced with national crises and social conflicts of an unprecedented severity, all strata of Chinese society began to look for a way out for the people and the country. The peasant class launched armed struggles to overthrow the feudal rulers and foreign invaders; the feudal ruling class tried to consolidate their rule by making limited changes, and the bourgeois sought to strengthen the country through political reform. All these efforts had positive effects to varying degrees, but none of them succeeded due to historical and class limitations.
The revolution of 1911 overthrows the feudal monarchy 2.2
Different from other efforts, the bourgeois revolutionary faction led by Sun Yat-Sen realized that revolution is the only way out for China. The bourgeois revolutionaries raised the flag of the national democratic revolution, launched an armed uprising and drew up a plan to establish a bourgeois republic. The overthrew the Qing Dynasty, putting an end to more than two thousand years of feudal monarchy, and established the first bourgeois republic in China’s history. This was the first massive change China underwent in the 20th century.
The failure of the Revolution of 1911 and the rise of the New Culture Movement 2.3
With the support of foreign imperialists and domestic reactionary forces, Yuan Shikai, leader of the Northern warlords, usurped the fruits of the Revolution of 1911, and established a reactionary government, which represented the interests of large landowners and comprador bourgeoisie. The bourgeois revolutionary faction’s repeated efforts to restore the republic were frustrated. The fact that the Revolution of 1911 did not change the nature of Chinese society shows that in the historical conditions of the time, the bourgeois reformist faction was unable to complete the task of overthrowing imperialism and feudalism. Subsequently, the New Culture Movement, which took democracy and science as its basic motto, arose and gave birth to a number of schools of thought that formed a current of liberated thinking.
To be continued