Like Egypt, China is one of the most recognized ancient civilizations. Chinese history is traceable to the written records of the Shang Dynasty which existed between 1700-1046 BC. Records of the Xia, Shang, Zhou, Xingjian, and Qin dynasties are more authentic and well preserved. No civilization can survive for such a long period without leaders with great qualities. Chinese history is full of love-hate relationships among different segments or smaller kingdoms, and it is simultaneously a history of great united empires. Chinese history is also filled with the mention of warlords and war tactics. In order that a civilization may flourish, it has to take care of the basic elements of education, craftsmanship, and decency in all walks of life reflected through its collective culture. The cultural heritage of China is very rich, and it is one of the oldest civilizations on Earth which has not only survived but is also progressing at a steady pace. The Chinese are emerging as one of the greatest nations in the world today. Chinese history has undergone a period of hibernation and drowsiness, but now it is passing through a period of wakefulness and exemplary progress.
1. Mao Tse-tung
Mao Tse-tung, better known as Chairman Mao, was born to a peasant family in Shaoshan, Hunan, China on December 26, 1893 and died in Beijing on September 9, 1976. He received his early education at a rural primary school followed by his education in the Chagsha School located in the capital of Hunan. He graduated from the First Provincial Normal School of Hunan. Mao created the awareness of the real nature of revolution among the masses by saying, ‘Revolution is not a dinner party nor an essay nor a painting nor a piece of embroidery. It cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained, and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.’ Mao created the Red Army and, using revolutionary terrorism tactics, established the Soviet Republic of China and became its elected President. In 1948, Mao Tse-tung ordered the People’s Liberation Army to starve the Kuomintang occupants of Changchun city through a siege of the city which continued for five months and caused as many fatalities as were caused by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
2. Sun Wu
Sun Wu, also known as Sunzi, was born in 544 BC and died in 496 BC. He was a general of King Helu of Wu and was best known as the military strategist who authored The Art of War. Whereas the book found popularity in ancient China, it also found popularity in Asian and Western cultures during the 19th and 20th centuries. The period from 475 to 221 BC was a period of war between seven nations in order to seize the most fertile land of Eastern China. The Art of War was the most popularly read book during this warring period. Sun Bin, a descendant of Sun Wu, was a scholar of high renown and had written books on military arts.
3. Sun Yat-sen
Sun Yat-sen was born in Xiangshan, Guangdong, China on November 12, 1866 and died in Beijing on March 12, 1925 at the age of 58. He led the Kuomintang Party, and through his successful revolution brought about the downfall of the Manchu Dynasty. He was known as the ‘Father of the Revolution,’ and he desired to unite all segments of China under a stable government. However, the warlords did not allow him to settle properly, and he had to live in exile on a few occasions. He formed a weak alliance with the Communists which could not be sustained after his death. He is respected throughout China and known as the ‘Father of the Nation.’ He believed in and pronounced three principles as his political philosophy which were: nationalism, democracy, and the people’s livelihood.
4. Chiang Kai-shek
Chiang Kai-shek was born in Fenghua, Zhejiang, Qing Empire on October 31, 1887 and died in Taipei, Taiwan on April 5, 1975 at the age of 87. After the death of Sun Yat-sen, he became the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party. Chiang Kai-shek is most known for the defeat of his Kuomintang Party by the Communists who exiled him to Taiwan. He established his government in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, where he led his government in exile till his death in Taipei. His predecessor, Sun Yat-sen was favored by the Communists, but Chiang Kai-shek, being of conservative thoughts, could no longer maintain friendly relations with the Communists.
5. Jiang Zemin
Jiang Zemin was born in Yangzhou, Jiangsu, China on August 17, 1926. He came into power in 1997 after the death of Deng Xiaoping. He held very important positions for a very long period; therefore, he is sometimes referred to as the ‘Core of the Third Generation’ of Communists. During his governmental rule, Hong Kong was returned to China by the United Kingdom and similarly Macau was returned from Portugal. While the Communist Party kept tight control over the government, he managed to improve relationships for China with the outside world.
6. Deng Xiaoping
Deng Xiaoping was born in Guang’an, Sichuan, China on August 22, 1904 and died of Parkinson’s disease in Beijing, People’s Republic of China, on February 19, 1997 at the age of 92. After the death of Mao Zedong, he became the leader of China and ran the affairs in a style quite different from Mao’s, though he had been his old and loyal colleague since the event of the long march. He started reforming the country with a focus to bringing prosperity, modernity, and power to the country. To achieve his objectives he opened the country to foreign investment and established ties with the U.S. Time magazine named him twice as the Man of the Year.
7. Zhu Rongji
Zhu Rongji was born in Changsha, Huan, China on October 23, 1928 and was Premier of the People’s Republic of China from March 25, 1988 to March 5, 2003. He is best known as a great economic reformer who, as a mayor of Shanghai, revived the city. China progressed prominently in his time. He is known as a tough administrator particularly in reference to the eradication of corruption from government offices. He was therefore a popular leader among the masses.
8. Chou En-lai
Chou En-lai was born in Huai’an, Jiangsu in China’s Qing Dynasty on March 5, 1898 and died in Beijing, People’s Republic of China on January 8, 1976 at the age of 77. He was the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China and remained in office from October, 1949, till his death in January, 1976. He attended the 1954 Geneva Conference and leveled the way for Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Chou En-lai is regarded as the nearest aide of Mao Tse-tung for the longest time. Both had different personalities, and this created a synergistic effect. Chou En-lai died eight months before the death of Mao, and the nation mourned and was grief stricken over his death. Deng Xiaoping led the country after the death of Mao.
9. Lin Biao
Lin Biao was born in Huangang, Hubei, China on December 5, 1907 and died in Ondorkhaan, Mongolia on September 13, 1971 at the age of 63. He was the most important Communist military leader who attained a great victory for the Communist Party during the Chinese Civil War. He was regarded as one of the closest persons to Mao and finally was promoted to the position next to Mao. However, he had certain reservations about Mao’s actions against a few colleagues. Lin died in an airline crash in Mongolia in September, 1971. After the death of Mao, he was regarded by the Communist Party as a traitor. Lin was censored in China for quite some time, and it was only recently that his name has started to reappear in China.
10. Hua Guofeng
Hua Guofeng was born in Jiaocheng, Shanxi, China on February 16, 1921 and died in Beijing, People’s Republic of China on August 20, 2008 at the age of 87. Mao Tse-tung had nominated him as his successor to be Paramount Leader of the Communist Party of China. He was best known for being loyal to Mao. After the death of Chu En-lai, Hua Guofeng became the Premier of the People’s Republic of China.
Chinese history is very vibrant and full of events which from time to time have caused great turbulence in the country. Whereas there have been revolutions, wars, and natural calamities, there has been remarkable reforms and famous Chinese that kept the wheel moving in the right direction and never let it become static. It is the patriotism, hard work, and the will of the Chinese to excel that has earned their country a prominent position amongst the greatest nations of the world in modern times.