China is the world’s most populous country. It has a continuous culture stretching back nearly 4,000 years and originated many of the foundations of the modern world.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949 after the Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang, who retreated to Taiwan, creating two rival Chinese states – the PRC on the mainland and the Republic of China based on Taiwan.
After stagnating for decades under the rigid authoritarian socialism of founder Mao Zedong, China reformed its economy along partly capitalist lines to make it one of the world’s fastest-growing, as well its leading exporter. China is now a major overseas investor, and is pursuing an increasingly assertive foreign and defence policy.
But economic change has not been matched by political reform, and the Communist Party retains a tight grip on political life and much of wider society.
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Xi Jinping came to power in 2012-3 as the hand-picked heir of predecessor Hu Jintao, and is expected to lead China for the next decade.
Since taking over, he has concentrated power in his hands, in a move seen as a turning away from the people’s republic’s traditional system of collective leadership, and has sought to present a modern face to China and the world.
The main themes of his leadership have been economic reform to boost market forces, as well as an anti-corruption campaign that, apart from boosting his popularity, has claimed several potential heavyweight party rivals.
Mr Xi rejects Western ideas of constitutional democracy and human rights as models for China, and his government moved to silence voices critical of one-party rule, especially on social media.
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China is the largest media market in the world, and has the world’s largest online population.
Outlets operate under tight Communist Party control. The opening-up of the industry has extended to distribution and advertising, not to editorial content. However, there is leeway for independent coverage that is not perceived as a threat to social stability or the Party.
Beijing tries to limit access to foreign news by restricting rebroadcasting and the use of satellite receivers, by jamming shortwave broadcasts, including those of the BBC, and by blocking websites. Ordinary readers have no access to foreign newspapers.
With 648 million internet users at the end of 2014 (China Internet Network Information Centre, CNNIC), China has the world’s largest net-using population.
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ca 1700-1046 BC – Shang Dynasty rules northern China – the first Chinese state for which clear written records remain.
221-206 BC – The Chinese heartland is united for the first time under the first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi.
1644 – A Manchu invasion from the north establishes the Qing Dynasty.
1911-12 – Military revolts lead to the proclamation of Republic of China under Sun Yat-sen and the abdication of the last Manchu emperor, but much of the country is taken over by unruly warlords.
1931-45 – Japan invades and establishes a brutal regime of occupation across large parts of China.
1949 1 October – Communist leader Mao Zedong proclaims the founding of the People’s Republic of China after defeat of the nationalist Kuomintang in a civil war.
1958-60 – Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” disrupts agriculture, producing an economic breakdown, and is quickly abandoned after the loss of millions of lives.
1966-76 – Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” produces massive social, economic and political upheaval.
1976 – Mao dies. From 1977 pragmatist Deng Xiaoping emerges as the dominant figure and undertakes far-reaching economic reforms.
1989 – Troops open fire on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds of people.
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