Continuing the Journey...
Student Text Page No. 2: "Within Its Region"
A camel caravan in China, 650 CE: Its riders head east, careful to avoid the forbidding Taklimakan Desert. They're tired but eager to reach Chang'an, where they can trade their gold and wool for silk and porcelain.... The leader glances at the Buddhist monks and Persian astronomers who joined them last night. He thinks: It must be true, that all scholars come to the Middle Kingdom....
Today, the "Silk Road" trade routes that once encircled the Taklimakan are overlaid by road and rail lines. Chang'an once China's capital is now called Xi'an. And the Taklimakan is no longer avoided. Recent discoveries of its gas reserves and other resources have drawn many engineers to this part of Northwest China.... As always, China's land influences its people's challenges and choices.
Zhongguo. In overview, China's landform resembles a huge open-ended stadium. Its "top tiers" curve along the nation's southern and western borders, embracing the tall Himalaya Mountains and high plateaus. From there, the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers plunge through China's hills (the "lower tiers"), then flow across its fertile eastern lowlands. Indeed, the lower Yellow River valley is where Chinese culture began to flourish. And it is where China's earliest political states took form, 5,000 years ago.
From there, China's agricultural society
slowly spread south and west. Then, in 221 BCE, two dynasties turned China
into an empire: The Qin unified China under a strong central government
with a uniform written language. The Han made knowledge of Confucian philosophy
a requirement for government officials. China became known far and wide
as Zhongguo the "Middle Kingdom."
Crisis. By the time the Qing (Manchu) dynasty came to power in 1644, China stretched from Mongolia to Tibet, and from Taiwan to Central Asia. Its huge population included dozens of ethnic groups. And Chinese culture was admired worldwide as were its inventions: the compass, paper, movable type.... In the 19th century, however, Britain and other Western nations pressured the Qing to grant them exclusive trade rights in China's key ports. And at that, many Chinese rebelled. After several uprisings, the last Qing ruler abdicated. A new republic was formed in 1912.
Civil war. At the outset, two Chinese parties Nationalists and Communists shared common goals: national integrity, democracy, and economic security. But in 1927, the Nationalists attacked the Communists, thus sparking a civil war that outlasted invasion by Japan and even World War II. The Communist Party of China (CPC) helped defeat Japan, then won the civil war (1949). But when it formed the new People's Republic of China (PRC), many Nationalists fled to Taiwan (a Chinese island province), where they set up their own government. (Taiwan has never declared independence.) The PRC has proposed a "one country, two systems" plan for reunification, but they remain apart.
For the Record.... Since its formation, the PRC has focused on restoring China's traditional borders. But it tries to handle such issues in a way that benefits all sides as it did, when it signed recent trade and border agreements with India, for example. As a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China supports Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia in fighting terrorism. It plays a key role in the "six-party" talks concerning North Korea's nuclear program. And it has treaties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to develop a free-trade zone between itself and ASEAN's 10 nations. Is China reviving the "Middle Kingdom"? Or (as State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan once suggested), is it encouraging a "collective win"? One sure thing: China's journey to the future will be Asia's, too....
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