Deng Xiaoping and Jimmy Carter sign accords


Year
1979
Month Day
January 29

On January 29, 1979, Deng Xiaoping, deputy premier of China, meets President Jimmy Carter, and together they sign historic new accords that reverse decades of U.S. opposition to the People’s Republic of China.

Deng Xiaoping lived out a full and complete transformation of China. The son of a landowner, he joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1920 and participated in Mao Zedong’s Long March in 1934. In 1945, he was appointed to the Party Central Committee and, with the 1949 victory of the communists in the Chinese Civil War, became the regional party leader of southwestern China. Called to Beijing as deputy premier in 1952, he rose rapidly, became general secretary of the CCP in 1954, and a member of the ruling Political Bureau in 1955.

A major policy maker, he advocated individualism and material incentives in China’s attempt to modernize its economy, which often brought him into conflict with Mao and his orthodox communist beliefs. With the launch of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Deng was attacked as a capitalist and removed from high party and government posts. He disappeared from public view and worked in a tractor factory, but in 1973 was reinstated by Premier Zhou Enlai, who again made him deputy premier. When Zhou fell ill in 1975, Deng became the effective leader of China.

In January 1976, Zhou died, and in the subsequent power struggle Deng was purged by the “Gang of Four”–strict Maoists who had come to power in the Cultural Revolution. In September, however, Mao Zedong died, and Deng was rehabilitated after the Gang of Four fell from power. He resumed his post as deputy premier, often overshadowing Premier Hua Guofeng.

Deng sought to open China to foreign investment and create closer ties with the West. In January 1979, he signed accords with President Jimmy Carter, and later that year the United States granted full diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China.

In 1981, Deng strengthened his position by replacing Hua Guofeng with his protege, Hu Yaobang, and together the men instituted widespread economic reforms in China. The reforms were based on capitalist models, such as the decentralization of various industries, material incentives as the reward for economic success, and the creation of a skilled and well-educated financial elite. As chief adviser to a series of successors, he continued to be the main policy maker in China during the 1980s.

Under Deng, China’s economy rapidly grew, and citizens enjoyed expanded personal, economic, and cultural freedoms. Political freedoms were still greatly restricted, however, and China continued as an authoritative one-party state. In 1989, Deng hesitantly supported the government crackdown on the democratic demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. Later that year, he resigned his last party post but continued to be an influential adviser to the Chinese government until his death in 1997.

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1 million people attend funeral of Mao Zedong

Year
1976
Month Day
September 18

More than one million people gather at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for the funeral of Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and chairman of the People’s Republic of China since 1949.

Mao, who died on September 9, 1976, at the age of 82, was born on December 26, 1893, to a peasant family in the Hunan province of central China. Trained to be a teacher, he helped found the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. After they claimed victory in a civil war with the nationalist party following WWII, Mao founded the People’s Republic of China and became its leader.

During an eight-day mourning period after his death, more than 1 million people paid their respects, as Mao’s body, in a flag-draped coffin, lay in state. At the start of the 30-minute public funeral in Tiananmen Square, a three-minute moment of silence was observed in honor of the leader, with reports that nearly all of China’s 800 million residents stood in silent tribute.

The ceremony included music from an army band that played a funeral march, China’s national anthem and the Communist “Internationale” and was televised live to the nation, which was a Chinese broadcast first. No foreign leaders were allowed to attend the service or the mourning period.

Hua Guofeng, China premier and Communist party first vice chairman who served as Mao’s immediate successor, delivered the eulogy. “It was under Chairman Mao’s leadership that the disaster-plagued Chinese nation rose to its feet,” he said. “The Chinese people love, trust and esteem Chairman Mao from the bottom of their hearts.” 

READ MORE: What Was Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution? 

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Britain agrees to return Hong Kong to China


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Year
1984
Month Day
December 19

In the Hall of the People in Beijing, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang sign an agreement committing Britain to return Hong Kong to China in 1997 in return for terms guaranteeing a 50-year extension of its capitalist system. Hong Kong–a small peninsula and group of islands jutting out from China’s Kwangtung province–was leased by China to Great Britain in 1898 for 99 years.

In 1839, in the First Opium War, Britain invaded China to crush opposition to its interference in the country’s economic, social, and political affairs. One of Britain’s first acts of war was to occupy Hong Kong, a sparsely inhabited island off the coast of southeast China. In 1841, China ceded the island to the British with the signing of the Convention of Chuenpi, and in 1842 the Treaty of Nanking was signed, formally ending the First Opium War. At the end of the Second Opium War (1856-1860), China was forced to cede the Kowloon Peninsula, adjacent to Hong Kong Island, along with other area islands.

Britain’s new colony flourished as an East-West trading center and as the commercial gateway and distribution center for southern China. On July 1, 1898, Britain was granted an additional 99 years of rule over the Hong Kong colony under the Second Convention of Peking. Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese from 1941 to 1944 during World War II but remained in British hands throughout the various Chinese political upheavals of the 20th century.

On December 19, 1984, after years of negotiations, British and Chinese leaders signed a formal pact approving the 1997 turnover of the colony in exchange for the formulation of a “one country, two systems” policy by China’s communist government. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called the agreement “a landmark in the life of the territory, in the course of Anglo-Chinese relations, and in the history of international diplomacy.” Hu Yaobang, the Chinese Communist Party’s secretary-general, called the signing “a red-letter day, an occasion of great joy” for China’s one billion people.

At midnight on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was peaceably handed over to China in a ceremony attended by numerous international dignitaries, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A few thousand citizens of Hong Kong protested the turnover, which was otherwise celebratory and peaceful. The chief executive of the new Hong Kong government, Tung Chee Hwa, did enact a policy based upon the concept of one country, two systems, thus preserving Hong Kong’s role as a principal capitalist center in Asia. 

Massive anti-government protests in Hong Kong began in June 2019, when more than 1 million people marched to protest a bill that would allow the extradition of people to mainland China to stand trial. The bill was later dropped, but anti-government unrest remains. 

READ MORE: How Hong Kong Came Under ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Rule

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Soviets declare war on Japan; invade Manchuria

Year
1945
Month Day
August 08

On August 8, 1945, the Soviet Union officially declares war on Japan, pouring more than 1 million Soviet soldiers into Japanese-occupied Manchuria, northeastern China, to take on the 700,000-strong Japanese army.

The dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima by the Americans did not have the effect intended: unconditional surrender by Japan. Half of the Japanese inner Cabinet, called the Supreme War Direction Council, refused to surrender unless guarantees about Japan’s future were given by the Allies, especially regarding the position of the emperor, Hirohito. The only Japanese civilians who even knew what happened at Hiroshima were either dead or suffering terribly.

Japan had not been too worried about the Soviet Union, so busy with the Germans on the Eastern front. The Japanese army went so far as to believe that they would not have to engage a Soviet attack until spring 1946. But the Soviets surprised them with their invasion of Manchuria, an assault so strong (of the 850 Japanese soldiers engaged at Pingyanchen, 650 were killed or wounded within the first two days of fighting) that Emperor Hirohito began to plead with his War Council to reconsider surrender. The recalcitrant members began to waver.

READ MORE: The Hiroshima Bombing Didn’t Just End WWII—It Kick-Started the Cold War

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Dalai Lama begins exile

Year
1959
Month Day
March 31

The Dalai Lama, fleeing the Chinese suppression of a national uprising in Tibet, crosses the border into India, where he is granted political asylum.

Born in Taktser, China, as Tensin Gyatso, he was designated the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940, a position that eventually made him the religious and political leader of Tibet. At the beginning of the 20th century, Tibet increasingly came under Chinese control, and in 1950 communist China invaded the country. One year later, a Tibetan-Chinese agreement was signed in which the nation became a “national autonomous region” of China, supposedly under the traditional rule of the Dalai Lama but actually under the control of a Chinese communist commission. The highly religious people of Tibet, who practice a unique form of Buddhism, suffered under communist China’s anti-religious legislation.

After years of scattered protests, a full-scale revolt broke out in March 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee as the uprising was crushed by Chinese troops. On March 31, 1959, he began a permanent exile in India, settling at Dharamsala in Punjab, where he established a democratically based shadow Tibetan government. Back in Tibet, the Chinese adopted brutal repressive measures against the Tibetans, provoking charges from the Dalai Lama of genocide. With the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, the Chinese suppression of Tibetan Buddhism escalated, and practice of the religion was banned and thousands of monasteries were destroyed.

Although the ban was lifted in 1976, protests in Tibet continued, and the exiled Dalai Lama won widespread international support for the Tibetan independence movement. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet.

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Chairman Mao’s widow sentenced to death


Year
1981
Month Day
January 25

Jiang Qing, the widow of Chinese leader Mao Zedong, is sentenced to death for her “counter-revolutionary crimes” during the Cultural Revolution.

Originally an actress in Communist theater and film, her marriage to Mao in 1939 was widely criticized, as his second wife, Ho Zizhen, was a celebrated veteran of the Long March who Mao had divorced while she lay languishing in a Moscow hospital. His first wife, Yang Kaihui, was killed by the Nationalists during the Chinese Civil War.

Jiang Qing was ordered to stay out of politics, and she did so until the 1960s, when she openly criticized traditional Chinese opera and the bourgeois influences in Chinese arts and literature. In 1966, Mao made her first deputy head of the Cultural Revolution and gave her far-reaching powers over China’s intellectual and cultural life. The Cultural Revolution was Mao’s attempt to revolutionize Chinese society, and Jiang proved adept at manipulating the media and the young radicals known as the Red Guards. The movement was characterized by terror and purges in which tens of thousands were killed and millions suffered.

In the late 1960s, the Cultural Revolution waned, and Jiang faded from the public eye. However, after her husband’s death in 1976, she and three other radicals who had come to power in the revolution were singled out as the “Gang of Four.” Jiang was arrested and in 1977 expelled from the Communist Party. Three years later, the Gang of Four were put on trial. Jiang was held responsible for provoking the turmoil and bloodshed of the revolution, but she denied the charges and denounced China’s leaders. She was found guilty and sentenced to die. On January 25, 1983, exactly two years after she was condemned, the Chinese government commuted her sentence to life imprisonment. In 1991, she died in prison of an apparent suicide.

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China invades Vietnam


Year
1979
Month Day
February 17

In response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, China launches an invasion of Vietnam.

Tensions between Vietnam and China increased dramatically after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Attempting to expand its influence, Vietnam established a military presence in Laos; strengthened its ties with China’s rival, the Soviet Union; and toppled the Cambodian regime of Pol Pot in 1979. Just over a month later, Chinese forces invaded, but were repulsed in nine days of bloody and bitter fighting. Tensions between China and Vietnam remained high throughout the next decade, and much of Vietnam’s scarce resources were allocated to protecting its border with China and its interests in Cambodia.

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Last emperor of China abdicates


Year
1912
Month Day
February 12

On February 12, 1912, Hsian-T’ung, the last emperor of China, is forced to abdicate following Sun Yat-sen’s republican revolution. A provisional government was established in his place, ending 267 years of Manchu rule in China and 2,000 years of imperial rule. The former emperor, only six years old, was allowed to keep up his residence in Beijing’s Forbidden City, and he took the name of Henry Pu Yi.

READ MORE: China: A Timeline

Pu Yi was enthroned as emperor in 1908 after his uncle, the Kuang-hsu emperor, died. He reigned under a regency and underwent training to prepare him for his coming rule. However, in October 1911, his dynasty fell to Sun Yat-sen’s revolution, and four months later he abdicated. The new Chinese government granted him a large government pension and permitted him to live in the imperial palace until 1924, when he was forced into exile.

After 1925, he lived in Japanese-occupied Tianjin, and in 1932 Japan created the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria under his rule. In 1934, Henry Pu Yi was enthroned as K’ang Te, emperor of Manchukuo. Despite guerrilla resistance against his puppet regime, he held the emperor’s title until 1945, when he was captured by Soviet troops.

In 1946, Pu Yi testified before the Tokyo war crimes tribunal that he had been an unwilling tool of the Japanese and not, as they claimed, an instrument of Manchurian self-determination. Manchuria and the Rehe province were returned to China, and in 1950 Pu Yi was handed over to the Chinese communists. He was imprisoned at Shenyang until 1959, when Chinese leader Mao Zedong granted him amnesty. After his release, he worked in a mechanical repair shop in Peking.

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Japan launches its first satellite


Year
1970
Month Day
February 11

From the Kagoshima Space Center on the east coast of Japan’s Ohsumi Peninsula, Ohsumi, Japan’s first satellite, is successfully launched into an orbit around Earth. The achievement made Japan the world’s fourth space power, after the Soviet Union in 1957, the United States in 1958, and France in 1965.

Two months after Japan’s launching of Ohsumi, China became the world’s fifth space power when it successfully launched Mao 1 into space. The satellite, named after Mao Zedong, the leader of communist China, orbited Earth broadcasting the Chinese patriotic song The East Is Red once a minute.

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USS Panay sunk by Japanese


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Year
1937
Month Day
December 12

During the battle for Nanking in the Sino-Japanese War, the U.S. gunboat Panay is attacked and sunk by Japanese warplanes in Chinese waters. The American vessel, neutral in the Chinese-Japanese conflict, was escorting U.S. evacuees and three Standard Oil barges away from Nanking, the war-torn Chinese capital on the Yangtze River. After the Panay was sunk, the Japanese fighters machine-gunned lifeboats and survivors huddling on the shore of the Yangtze. Two U.S. sailors and a civilian passenger were killed and 11 personnel seriously wounded, setting off a major crisis in U.S.-Japanese relations.

Although the Panay‘s position had been reported to the Japanese as required, the neutral vessel was clearly marked, and the day was sunny and clear, the Japanese maintained that the attack was unintentional, and they agreed to pay $2 million in reparations. Two neutral British vessels were also attacked by the Japanese in the final days of the battle for Nanking.

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