China: A short power point about an enormous country! Alison Bencivenga Fulbright-Hays China Seminar June 2010 GEOGRAPHY AND EARLY HISTORY The geography of China is as varied as you would expect from a country that covers 3,705,405 square miles and includes southern borders within the tropics and northern borders well into the temperate zones. It includes mountains and glaciers… …as well as fertile valleys, deserts, and an extensive network of rivers; many of which were linked as part of the Grand Canal, started in the 5th century BC to link regions to the Emperor’s capital. The Great Wall consists of many walls that were constructed over time to protect the empire from invasion. The Wall extends for over 5,000 miles! Invasions from Mongol or Hun tribes in the North were ultimately successful and some assimilation of culture took place in the 1200s. The Mongols were largely nomadic, moving through the northern plains regions with their portable, traditional dwellings known as “yurts.” Their horsemanship was well known. Religion China was ruled for centuries by a series of dynasties. The Emperor was both the political and religious leader, and he was believed to be divine. His prayers were believed to influence the success of the harvest. As he walked to the temple he would enter through the center gate—the others were for officials of lesser status. Such prayers would have been offered at the Temple of Heaven. The Emperor’s throne in the Forbidden City was believed to be the most holy place in China, and the “heart line,” which extended through much of China, led to the throne. (When the Olympic site was selected in Beijing, planners were careful to align it with the “heart line,” believing it would contribute to the “feng shui” that would guarantee the event’s success.) The philosophies of Confucius, a teacher who lived about 500 B.C., became widely accepted throughout China. Taoism, based on the teachings of Lao-tzu, also encouraged the Chinese to follow the examples of nature in their approach to life. Shrines and temples for the practice of Confucianism existed throughout China. Buddhism arrived in the 400s, and became widely accepted. The Songzanlin lamasery, dedicated to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, dates back to the 1600’s. There are more than 800 lamas in residence. Modern China This is the stairway (494 steps!) to the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, who is credited with being the “Father of Modern China.” As China’s Emperors seemed less and less able to avoid foreign control, faith in dynastic rule and divine right declined. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen led the Chinese toward a government controlled by the people. In 1949, the civil war between the Communists and Kuomintang resulted in Communist control of China, led by Chairman Mao Zedong. Mao’s rule was characterized by extreme initiatives, including the Cultural Revolution and the OneChild Policy. Religion was outlawed. Although many of the initiatives caused death and upheaval throughout China, he is still revered today as having made it possible for China to enter the modern age. Large universities now educate Chinese students. Entrance requirements are highly competitive, and are often limited to the children of city dwellers who are members of the Communist party. The large majority of Chinese are still craftspeople and farmers. In a country that must create 25,000,000 new jobs each year to maintain the same rate of employment, labor-saving devices are not a priority. Physical labor is common. Working conditions are not well-regulated, and wages are low. In agricultural regions many still live in poverty. The government limits mobility, so life in the city and access to quality education are not universally available. The 2008 Olympics brought world-wide attention to China. This is the famous “Birds’ Nest” stadium. A major concern was the impact of Beijing’s air pollution on the performance of the athletes. Historically, China has burned coal for energy, but is moving toward other technologies that will improve air quality. Nuclear, solar, and hydroelectric power are all in evidence. Humorists say that the “crane” is the national bird of China, and it is true that construction is everywhere! After centuries of isolation, signs of contact with the West are everywhere. Even this lama, dedicated to a holy life, has modern eyeglasses, evidence of dental work and a cell phone! China’s enormous population presents tremendous obstacles – but also represents hope for the future. China has made tremendous strides in entering the global economy, and will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come!