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!