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The Growth of Civilization in Early China

In the same way that important ancient civilizations grew out of small beginnings in the valleys of the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates and the Indus, so another great civilization of Early times — that of China — was cradled in the valley of the Yellow River. To be sure, China’s civilization did not commence as early as did Egypt’s, Mesopotamia’s, or India’s. The ancient Egyptian and the Mesopotamian kingdoms lost their power many centuries ago and early India never became completely united under one empire. China therefore has had a longer national life than any other ancient or modern state. It is the oldest of today’s nations. 1. How Did Early China Develop Under Various Ruling Families? China is dominated by three great rivers. China’s life, today as in olden times, centres in three river valleys. The great Hwang-Ho, Chinese for Yellow River, rises in the lofty mountains of Tibet. Winding its way slowly across the wide plain of North China, it flows into the Yellow Sea, so called because of the yellow soil the great river empties into it. Unlike Egypt or India, the North China plain has a climate like that of southern Canada, with warm summers and severe winters. The wind storms, disastrous dry spells and terrifying floods often bring destruction and misery to its inhabitants. Farther to the south is the valley of the Yangtze River. The Yangtze is one of the longest rivers in the world. In all, it flows nearly 4000 miles on its way to the sea. Still farther south is the Si, or West River. The climate of South China is warm and there is a heavier rainfall there than in North China. Many of China’s good ports are located along the southern coast. A Bronze Age civilization appeared first on the North …

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The Thaw in the Cold War 1953-1959

Khrushchev

Stalin had left behind him a world of suspicion, distrust and fear. Suspicion, distrust and fear were as great in his own country as anywhere else, for he had ruled as a dictator and had never set up a definite procedure for transferring power to another leader. Immediately after his death, a five-man presidium, or council, took over the rule of the Soviet Union. The presidium chose Georgi Malenkov, who had been Stalin’s right-hand man, as the new premier, but a number of factions were struggling for control of the government and one of them was led by Lavrenti Beria, the chief of the secret police. He was a serious threat that at one point tanks were called out to prevent the secret police from seizing the government. On July 10, 1953, Beria was charged with treason; six months later he was shot. In 1955, Malenkov himself was removed from office and Marshal Nikolai Bulganin became premier. It was plain that the real power in the Soviet Union was Nikita Khrushchev, the moonfaced, elderly chairman of the Communist party. On February 24, 1956, Khrushchev made a speech before the Twentieth All-Union Party Congress, a meeting of Communist party delegates from all parts of the Soviet Union. Representatives of almost every Communist party in the world were also present. It was the first such congress since Stalin’s death and the delegates knew they had been summoned to Moscow to hear something of great importance. Even so, none of them were prepared for what they heard that day. For Khrushchev’s speech was a direct and merciless attack on Stalin and Stalin’s policies. For years, Communists throughout the world had insisted that Stalin was a great teacher and humanitarian, a father of peoples, a leader who was showing mankind the way to a …

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War in Korea 1945-1953

korea

Although the cold war was the most important fact in the politics of the post-war world, few persons could have foreseen that it would lead to fighting in the small, remote country of Korea. Yet, as small and remote as it was, Korea had a strategic location. It was near three large powers — Russia, China and Japan — and the Japanese said it “points like a dagger at the heart of our country.” The Japanese won control of Korea in the Russo-Japanese War and by 1905 they ruled it as part of their empire. During World War II, the Allies promised that “in due course Korea shall become free and independent.” When Japan surrendered, they agreed that Russian troops would occupy Korea north of the thirty-eighth parallel and American troops would occupy Korea south of the thirty-eighth parallel. A provisional government would then be set up and after a period of no longer than five years, Korea would govern itself as an independent nation. The occupation of Korea was carried out as it had been planned, but the United States and the Soviet Union could not agree on a provisional government. Each set up a provisional government friendly to itself and in 1947 the United States brought the dispute before the United Nations General Assembly. The Assembly decided to hold elections in Korea, but the Soviet Union refused to allow United Nations representatives to enter its occupation zone. Elections were held outside the Russian zone and in 1948 the Korean Republic was established in South Korea. The city of Seoul was made the capital and Syngman Rhee was elected president. Thirty-two nations, including the United States, recognized the new government; the Russians and “their supporters did not. Instead, the Soviet Union helped to set up a new and separate …

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“My Name Will Stand Forever” 1933 – 1938

adolf hitler

ABOVE THE German town of Berchtesgaden, in a large, imposing house in the mountains, a man stared out a window. It was a fine February day in the winter of 1938 and the snow-covered peaks of the Alps glistened in the clear air. The man at the window seemed not to see the peaceful mountains. Berchtesgaden was close to the border of Austria and he seemed to see beyond the mountains into the heart of Austria itself — an Austria filled with marching troops‚ cheering crowds and the swastika banners of the Nazis. Staring at this vision, he smiled — for he was Adolf Hitler and he had many reasons to be pleased with himself. He remembered how he had arrived in Austria after World War I. He had been a vagabond — unknown, shabby, dirty, penniless. Now he was dictator of Germany, the ruler of millions of people. He had come to power in 1933 and looking back on the five years that had passed since then, he smiled again. Things had gone well for him — very well indeed. From the beginning, Hitler had been determined to smash the Versailles Treaty, which Germany had been forced to accept after its defeat in World War I. The treaty compelled Germany to disarm and give up some of its territory. Quietly and secretly, Hitler had begun to re-arm and when word of this reached the Allies, the nations which had fought Germany, they did nothing. Among the territories that had been taken away from Germany was the Saar region. Small, but important because of its coal mines, the Saar had been governed by a commission of the League of Nations. In 1935, under the conditions of the Versailles Treaty, the League held a plebiscite, a vote of the people living …

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The Meaning of Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism

So it happened that in many parts of the world people were living under a system of government that came to be called totalitarianism. There were differences in the governments of the totalitarian countries, but they were alike in certain important ways. In each of them, the government was controlled by one political party, usually under a dictator and no other political parties were allowed. The ruling party was not satisfied to control the government; its aim was total control of the life of its people. It controlled the courts and the armed forces, labour and industry, science and the arts. In some countries, it controlled religion completely; in others, religious groups were allowed to exist so long as they did not challenge the power of the government. To keep their strict control of the people, the totalitarian governments set up a secret police and totalitarian countries were often called “police states.” The people had no civil liberties and no part in the governing of the country. They had to obey and do as they were told. If they did not, they risked prison, concentration camp, torture and death. As totalitarianism spread widely over the world, men began to wonder what had made it possible. The reasons were not too difficult to find . The end of World War I had left many countries, especially those that had been defeated, divided and disorganized. Their weak governments could not solve the problems that faced them. This gave “strong men” the chance to take over the government. Another important reason was the great depression that began around 1929. Business seemed to come to a standstill. Unsold goods piled up in warehouses, while factories shut down and millions of people were thrown out of work. Hungry people were willing to listen to anyone …

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The Powers Carve Up China 1841 – 1914

opium

China, that immense portion of East Asia bounded by the chilly Amur River and the hot jungles of Indo-China, by the Pacific Ocean and the Himalaya Mountains, was the most populous country on earth. For thousands of years, China had had a highly developed civilization. Its people thought of their land as the world itself; to them, it was the Middle Kingdom between the upper region, heaven and the lower region, hell, which was made up of all other lands. They considered foreigners nothing but barbarians. Only a few Europeans had entered China since the Middle Ages and the Chinese had scornfully refused to trade with them. The Europeans remembered China, from accounts like those of the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, as a land of fabulous wealth. They longed to lay hands on this wealth and during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the imperialist powers managed to get some of it. Despite its size, China was very weak. In the family of nations it was like a fat old grandfather whose head was so full of old-fashioned actions that he could not understand the boisterous young people around him. The old man was sick, too — with “internal disorders.” For the Chinese were more and more discontented with their Manchu emperors. The Manchus were the latest imperial dynasty in a line stretching back over two thousand years. Their ancestors from Manchuria had conquered China in the seventeenth century and many of their subjects still thought of them as foreign barbarians. From time to time, the Chinese rebelled against them and tried to drive them out. China had troubles of its own even before the foreign imperialist came. The greatest uprising against the Manchus was the Tai-Ping Rebellion of 1850. Twenty million people died — as many as lived in …

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The Race for Empire 1870-1914

imperialism

While the peoples of the West were concerned with the problems that grew out of industrialization, their governments were taking part in one of the greatest land grabs in history. By the end of the nineteenth century they had brought within their grasp most of the earth’s land surface and half its inhabitants. This development created new empires and enlarged old ones, it was called imperialism. Imperialism came about in many ways, from armed invasions to polite talks that led native rulers to place their countries under the protection of an imperialist power. It took many forms, from colonies which one power ruled outright, to “spheres of influence,” in which one power enjoyed rights, particularly trading rights, denied to other powers. So, it arose from many causes — economic, political and cultural. Empire-building was not new; it was as old as civilization. In ancient times, the Romans had built a vast empire that ruled peoples in Europe, Asia and Africa. In the fifteenth century, European nations had colonized the Americas and conquered the Indians. Elsewhere they had not challenged native rulers, being content to set up trading posts, where they bought native wares for resale at home. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, most of British North America became independent, as did the United States. In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, almost all of Latin America won its freedom from Spain and Portugal. During the next half-century, while industry went through its first slow stage of growth, goods circulated freely throughout the world and governments cared little about building up their empires. The French, to be sure, occupied Algeria, the British strengthened their hold on India, the Dutch developed the East Indies and the western powers, including the United States, opened Japan to trade and started …

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Prince Henry’s School 1415 – 1499

Vasco da Gama

IN 1415, WHEN ALL OF CHRISTENDOM belonged to one church and Christians battled pagan Turks instead of one another, a force of Portuguese marines set sail for the coast of Africa. They planned to attack a town called Ceuta. A stronghold that guarded the narrow passage connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic, Ceuta was the end link in the chain of fortresses and well-armed ports that the Turks had tightened around the southern and eastern boundaries of Europe. Held in by this chain, European merchants could not trade in the luxury-filled markets of the east, pilgrims could not journey to Jerusalem and missionaries could not carry the word of God to the countless “lost souls” of Africa and the Indies. While the Turks held Ceuta, it was dangerous for the merchants of northern and southern Europe merely to trade with one another. So the king of Portugal sent out an expedition of his toughest marines. At their head he placed his own son, Prince Henry, who was young but skilled in the tactics of war. With a favourable wind driving his ships at top speed, Prince Henry caught the Turks by surprise. He sank their fleet, destroyed their docks‚ burned their town and triumphantly sailed home to announce that the sea routes were free once more. The king rewarded his son by naming him master of the Naval Arsenal at Sagres, the port of Lagos and all of the Cape of St. Vincent, the rocky headland that jutted like a pointing finger from southern Portugal into the Atlantic. Prince Henry was delighted. Ships and the sea were his love and his life and he had many ideas for the fleet that now was his to command. These ideas were the beginning of a great age of exploration. They would …

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The Warrior’s Take Over A. D. 1150 – 1336

shogun

BY THE middle of the twelfth century, Kyoto was no longer the real center of power in Japan. The old forms of government were kept unchanged. The emperor was still, supposedly, the source of all authority. The aristocrats wanted to enjoy the excitement of the Fujiwara court and they left their poorer relatives at home to manage their estates. The young men who were given this responsibility did not mind. Indeed, they welcomed it, for it was their only chance to get rich. So the Japanese aristocracy was divided between great nobles at the court and lesser nobles in the country. While the great nobles led lives of pleasure, the lesser nobles led a more useful existence. At the court, what mattered was to wear the right clothes, to talk wittily and to invent clever verses. In the country, the main thing was to get as much rice as possible out of the land. To do this, the estate managers had to win the loyalty of their farmers. Thus loyalty came to be the most honored of all virtues in rural Japan. Next to loyalty came bravery, for the estate managers often tried to add to their holdings by making war on their neighbours and their success depended on how bravely their men fought. The most important fighters wore armour and rode on horseback. They were much like the knights who were fighting in far-off Europe at that time. Japanese knights used bows and arrows  and swords. Each knight was attended by a few followers on foot. He was called a samurai. To the refined ladies and gentlemen of the court, the battles which raged in the countryside throughout the Fujiwara Period seemed too brutal and too far away for them to take any notice. They were in for a …

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Japan’s Change and Slow Growth A.D. 838-1150

japanese

BETWEEN THE ninth and twelfth centuries, Japan developed at a slower pace. It was as if the people knew that they needed time to digest what they had learned. After 838, the government sent no more official missions to China. The Japanese continued to value Chinese civilization as highly as ever, but they went about things in their own way. Slowly, Japan became thoroughly Japanese. Prince Shotoku’s dream of a strong central government had come true. In time, however, the same evils that plagued Chinese dynasties in their later stages began to plague Japan. Thanks to their high positions at court, the noble landowners did not have to pay taxes. As a result, they grew richer and were able to buy more land. Although more Japanese land was being farmed all the time, less and less of it could be taxed. The government’s income fell while its expenses rose. Naturally, the government tried to make the landowners pay taxes. This move was bound to fail, for the officials who were supposed to carry out the order were the very men who profited most from not having to pay taxes. It was like asking them to pick their own pockets. Failing in this attempt, the government raised the taxes of landowning peasants instead. To escape paying these taxes, some peasants put themselves under the protection of the nearest great landowners, while the more adventurous headed north for the thinly settled Ainu country of North Honshu. Either way, their taxes were lost to the government, which became weaker and weaker. In China, a foreign invader or a rebel leader would have overthrown the sickly government and made himself ruler. In Japan, nothing of the sort happened. For one thing, there was no enemy at Japan’s borders, only miles and miles of empty …

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