Brill’s Encyclopedia of China

Get access Subject: Asian Studies
Managing Editor English Edition: Daniel Leese

Help us improve our service

Brill’s Encyclopedia of China Online is based on the originally a thousand-page reference work on China with a clear focus on the modern period from the mid-nineteenth century to the 21st century. Written by the world’s top scholars, Brill’s Encyclopedia of China is the first place to look for reliable information on the history, geography, society, economy, politics, science, and culture of China.

Subscriptions: see


(6,300 words)

Author(s): Toyka-Fuong, Ursula
1. Historical Development The oldest preserved ink painting on silk roughly dates back to the mid-1st millennium BCE. A multicolored painting on a silk coffin cover from 172 BCE depicts a "body portrait" of the deceased, surrounded by entwined dragons and mystical creatures. During the course of the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE), burial chambers were decorated with mural paintings that showed scenes of daily life. The style of these colored ink murals is full of verve and is proof of a highly dev…


(2,024 words)

Author(s): Sandschneider, Eberhard | Junhua, Zhang
In order to prevent its downfall, the Qing dynasty in 1905 initiated a constitutional reform. Official delegations were sent to Japan and Western Europe to investigate the legal foundations of a parliament. In 1909, assemblies ( ziyiju) were established at provincial level. A year later, the Provisional National Assembly ( zizhengyuan) was convened in Beijing, consisting of 100 delegates nominated by the emperor and 100 delegates elected by the provincial assemblies. However, the plan to bring about a national parliament on the basis of these t…


(2,715 words)

Author(s): Heberer, Thomas
1. Political Culture and Participation People possess interests that they wish to articulate and realize. For this reason, they contribute to activities that are relevant to a social group. This participation can occur in the family, at the work place, in associations, in the economy, or in politics and concerns both men and women. Activities of individuals or groups of individuals that aim at enforcing or influencing certain goals in public life can be referred to as political participation. Differe…

Peasant Movements

(2,001 words)

Author(s): Christiansen, Flemming
The peasant movements of the 1920s were among the first testing grounds of Communist propaganda. Even during the First United Front with the Guomindang (GMD) from 1923 to 1927, young Communist activists had by and large assumed leadership over the political work in the villages. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had under Chen Duxiu's leadership gradually prepared for revolutionary cooperation between workers and peasants. In Sino-Marxist historiography, peasant uprisings and peasant wars are interpreted as the precursors of the modern revolutions. 1. The Communist Peasant M…


(2,087 words)

Author(s): Christiansen, Flemming
Within the social hierarchy of traditional China peasants ranked second, right below the literati-officials (elites) and still above craftsmen and merchants. In the People's Republic, peasants have similarly received a positive rating as a revolutionary class. These official conceptions, however, stand in stark contrast to reality. While the peasants were at all times praised in terms of ideology, they nevertheless were extensively ostracized in daily life. The term peasantry thus refers to thre…


(562 words)

Author(s): Xiaoqing, Xu
In China this discipline, still relatively young in Europe, made its first appearance around the year 1900. The institutionalization of education during the transition towards modernity, as well as the professionalization of the teaching profession necessitated a systematic debate about educational questions. As a preparation for the institutional and conceptual reforms Luo Zhengyu founded the journal Jiaoyu Shijie ( World of Education) in 1901. It published translated Japanese documents on the modernization of the educational system, as well as Western a…

Penal System

(1,809 words)

Author(s): Dutton, Michael
On December 29, 1994, the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress passed the People's Republic of China Prison Law. For the first time in its post-revolution history, the system of penal detention and correction in China was collectively referred to as a prison system. Certainly, prisons had been mentioned before this, but then the term invariably referred to the older prison buildings in cities that were an inheritance from the pre-Communist government. The penal system, up until 1994, was referred to collectively as the "reform through labor" system (laogai). Th…

People's Armed Police

(831 words)

Author(s): Schoenhals, Michael
Organized and run along military lines, the People's Armed Police (PAP, renmin wuzhuang jingcha budui) emerged in the post-Mao era as an increasingly important safeguard of party rule. Its birth may be traced to the CCP Politburo's decision, in April 1950, to abolish the four so-called "field armies" which had brought the Communists to power, and to re-organize the People's Liberation Army (PLA) into a regular army of national defense and a domestic public security force. Two years later, the PLA Public Security Force (Zhongguo renmin jiefangjun gong'an budui), as it was first call…

People's Liberation Army

(3,142 words)

Author(s): Frankenstein, John
Together with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the state apparatus, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is one of the three pillars of the Chinese regime. In fact, between 1927 and 1949, the party and the "Red Army" (as the PLA was known during that time) were indistinguishable. With China moving towards the goal of becoming a modern state and a modern society, the PLA is also on the road to modernization. 1. Beginnings: The Red Army The CCP and the PLA both have their origin in the fight for order that ensued after the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911. The CCP, …

People's Republic of China

(4,316 words)

Author(s): Domes, Jürgen | Heilmann, Sebastian
The history of the PRC is the history of a state and a society that for the past 50 years have been characterized by a one-party system of the Marxist-Leninist type. Its external signs are mass campaigns, stages of turbulent "building of socialism" marked by five-year plans, and by phases of correction; its internal structural characteristics are intra-elite crises and social conflicts. The proclamation of the People's Republic on October 1, 1949, seemed to signal to many observers that the triu…

Periodization of Chinese History

(2,014 words)

Author(s): Emmerich, Reinhard
From early on, the Chinese system of periodization was based on the reigns of the respective rulers. This system was refined during the early Han dynasty. For instance, since 100 BCE, each emperor chose a reign title ( nianhao), either for the entire duration or a certain part of his rule. The proclamation of a reign title would start the counting of years of a new era. In late imperial times, it became customary for each ruler to announce only one reign title for his entire period of rule (calendar and chronology). Imperial histori…

Periods of Division

(1,026 words)

Author(s): Jansen, Thomas
The Chinese unitary state as the embodiment of a cosmologically founded order was a political ideal which, in principle, was not questioned during the period between the foundation of the empire by the Qin dynasty and the end of the imperial era. Nonetheless, the empire repeatedly fell apart during times of weak central power, strong centrifugal forces, and/or foreign attacks. The first division occurred directly after the demise of the Han dynasty, when three independent kingdoms were able to e…