China is a country that is known for its rich culture and heritage. It is a civilization that dates back thousands of years and is at present one of the emerging superpowers of the world. This has been a result of the efforts and achievements of several people of the country who have helped put China on the world map.
“One lesson that every nation can learn from China is to focus more on creating village-level enterprises, quality health services and educational facilities.”
―Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam (President of India: 2002 to 2007)
China is situated in the continent of Asia, and is currently the world’s most populous country. It is a civilization that dates back thousands of years, and is at present one of the emerging superpowers of the world. China has a history of imperialism, and more recently, it went on to adopt communism. Several people, over the decades, have played an important role in making China the nation it is today. People from China have made a name for themselves and their country in various fields, like philosophy, science, sport, etc.
Chairman Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)
Mao was a Chinese communist leader and the founder of the People’s Republic of China. He was responsible for the disastrous policies of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’. The communists under Mao and the KMT under Chiang Kai-shek were temporarily allied against Japan during World War Two, but afterward, civil war broke out between them, which ended with the communists as victors. Mao declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Although initially loved by most people across the nation, his unrealistic policies of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and ‘Cultural Revolution’ caused the deaths of millions of people and the destruction of the cultural heritage of China, leading to widespread anarchy.
Confucius/Kung Fu Tzu (551 – 479 BC)
Confucius was a prominent teacher, politician, and philosopher in ancient China. Historians have been unable to validate facts on much of his life. However, his philosophy has been widely documented, which mainly emphasizes on the morality, sincerity, and justice of people in administrative and social relationships. Confucianism supported a lot of the traditional Chinese beliefs such as loyalty to family, worship of elders, ancestors, and gods. After the fall of the Qin Dynasty this thought process was sanctioned officially as a system called Confucianism. The teachings do not have any particular rules, rather it emphasizes on building the personality, morals, and skill of judgment in a person. Confucius thought that politics too should be run under similar principles. He believed that ruling the populace through morality is better than bribes and corruption, and that a ruler should always lead by example. These teachings had an immense influence upon people across China, and its effects are felt even today.
Sun Yat-sen (1866 – 1925)
Dr. Sun Yat-sen who is known as the father of modern China, is remembered as a prominent revolutionary who brought down the Qing Dynasty and set the foundations for the formation of the Republic of China. Sun Yat-sen felt that the Qing Dynasty was holding the country back in comparison to other countries that were more technologically advanced, due to its conservative ideologies. Therefore, he founded the Chinese Nationalist Party, became the first president of the republic and was the de facto ruler of the country until his death. He brought about many revolutionary changes in industry, and with the help of allies in Japan, Russia, and the west, he turned the nation into a significant power. He based his rule upon the ideals of nationalism, democracy, and the regulation of money and land rights.
Deng Xiaoping (1904 – 1997)
Deng Xiaoping was a very prominent communist leader in the People’s Republic of China from the 1970s till his death in 1997. He worked to organize the political and military administration of Mao Zedong from the 1920s to 1950s. However, due to the increasing differences between the ideologies of the two men, he was attacked by supporters of Mao and removed from his post of power from the party. He returned to power in 1977 after the death of Mao Zedong, after which he made several economic and social reforms. Among these reforms the most prominent ones were a family-planning program to control the ever-increasing population of the nation, and decentralizing the economy to control it more easily and make it more efficient. His reforms greatly increased agricultural production across the country and made good inroads to tie up with the west, by allowing Chines industrialists to make good foreign investments. His work freed China from the shackles of the Cultural Revolution and made the country into a major power in world economy and greatly increased the standard of living for the citizens of the country.
Qin Shi Huang (259 – 210 BC)
Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China. He is primarily remembered for building the Great Wall of China, and his tomb with the terracotta army. Being the first emperor, he greatly influenced the history and culture of the newly formed nation. He changed many systems of administration and worked on the concepts of agriculture and economy by standardizing the currency, laws, education, taxation, and trade values. He built the Great Wall of China to repel the barbarian invasions from the north, build great networks of roads and fortification all across his kingdom. However, he is also known to be a cruel and dictatorial king in many cases, such as ordering the destruction of all books and manuscripts which originated in previous regimes across the nation. He also killed or banished anyone who opposed his point of view. When archaeologists excavated his tomb in 1974 they unearthed thousands of terracotta soldiers and war horses form the site. This is now a national monument of modern China.
Chiang Kai-shek (1887 – 1975)
Chiang Kai-shek was a Chinese military and political leader who was the head of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) and he also led the Chinese Nationalist government between 1928 and 1949. He was an extremely prominent person in the history of 20th century China. He is primarily credited in reunifying most of the Chinese lands under various warlords, as well as, fighting the Japanese and communism during the period of the second world war. He also made minor reforms on education, finance, and infrastructure of the country, along with reviving Confucianism. His government in the region of Taiwan was recognized by many countries across the globe as the official government of China even after he was exiled from the mainland by the communists in 1949. Chiang Kai-shek’s wife, Soong Mei-ling, became a significant political persona. She addressed the Congress in 1943, and was given the moniker “Madame Chiang”. She wrote many articles on China for the American press.
Laozi, Zhou Dynasty (5th – 4th Century BC)
He was a Chinese philosopher who is widely considered to be the founder of Taoism. His existence is often debated, but it is thought that he lived during 4th century BC. He authored the Tao Te Ching, which is the basis for the philosophies of Taoism. Taoism is essentially a philosophy that stresses the need to live in harmony with the Tao. Tao refers to the energy which is the driving force behind everything that exists.
Zhang Ziyi (1979 – )
Zhang Ziyi is an actress well-known in the west for her roles in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha and Rush Hour 2. She has been nominated for the Golden Globe and BAFTA awards. She initially studied dance at the Beijing Dance Academy and later took up acting.
Yao Ming (1980 – )
One of China’s most-recognizable athletes and an icon for youth, Yao Ming played in the Nation Basketball Association (NBA) and for China at international events. He was born in 1980 in Shanghai. Both his parents were professional basketball players as well. He began playing for the Houston Rockets in 2002 and had a highly successful career. Due to foot and ankle injuries, he announced his retirement in 2011. At 7 feet 6 inches, he was the tallest player in the NBA during his final season, and the third tallest in the history of NBA.
Hu Jintao (1942 – )
Hu Jintao was the president of the People’s Republic of China from 2003 to 2013. Not only this. He held many important positions in the Chinese government all his life, notably, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission, Chairman of the PRC Central Military Commission, First Secretary of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, and First Secretary of the Communist Youth League of China. He is widely credited for overseeing China’s consistent economic growth for a decade, that even did exceptionally well during the global financial crisis, which has made it the major world power that it is today. His administration was responsible for the modernization of a lot of infrastructure in the country, and even sent up the country’s first manned spaceprobe. Internationally, his government was seen as over-aggressive as far as exerting its power was concerned, especially with its neighbors in South-east Asia.
Lu Xun/Zhou Shuren (1881 – 1936)
Lu Xun is the pen name of Zhou Shuren, who was one of the most famous Chinese authors. He was the first to write his works in the modern, colloquial medium of language, most of which is read and influences people even today. Some of his literature is used in Chinese schooling too. In his writing he criticized tradition and advocated people to embrace modernization. Some of his most acclaimed works include ‘A Madman’s Diary’ and ‘The True Story of Ah-Q’, which are widely ready even today. Mao Zedong and the modern communist party of the country had embraced his works. He widely encouraged young writers and artists, and he was very interested in woodblock printing which showed the problems and suffering of the society.
Qian Xuesen (1911 – 2009)
Scientist, Father of China’s missile and space technology program
Qian Xuesen was a rocket scientist, whose immense contributions to China’s missile programs earned himself the name as the ‘Father of China’s missile and space technology program’. At the young age of 20 he was teaching at High profile American institutes such as MIT and Caltech, where he started experimenting in the nascent field of rocketry. His work was used to develop the ‘jet-assisted take off technology’ for the US Bombers in World War Two. He also helped the US to create their first solid fuel propellant missile. He also made notable contributions towards the ‘Manhattan Project’. He helped in the interrogations of Nazi scientists in technical matters. Later, his ideas would greatly influence the building of the first US space shuttle. Despite all of his good work, he was detained and deported to China in the 1950s on the suspicion of being a communist sympathizer, which was later considered to be a great mistake by most people. This loss of the USA was China’s gain, because now he used his knowledge in greatly furthering China’s ballistic missile plans which resulted in the success of the Dongfeng nuclear missile in 1964 and successive versions. His work also help China launch its first satellite into orbit. His research was also instrumental in the success of the nations first manned space flight. With all this China had announced itself as a superpower.
Yuan Longping (1930 – )
Professor Yuan Longping was given the moniker ‘Father of hybrid rice’ in 1974 after he genetically engineered a high yielding variety of rice plant. After a terrible famine in the 1960s he has constantly worked on improving the yield and quality of the rice crop. Currently more than half the rice grown in China is of this variety, which gives around 40% more yield than regular rice crops. Yuan has primarily focused on increasing the yield of rice rather than the taste, although quality was not completely ignored. His success in this field has made him into one of the richest men in China. He started the Yuan Longping Foundation to provide support to people working in researching agriculture. Recently his work has been adopted by many other nations across the world. For his efforts he was awarded the World Food Prize in 2004. It is his dream to have a world where no one will suffer from a shortage of food.
Yang Liwei (1965 – )
Yang Liwei, was the first person from China to be sent into space. He joined the People’s Liberation Army in 1983 and is now Deputy Director of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center and also Deputy Director General of China’s manned space program. On October 15, 2003, he was launched into space on board the Shenzhou V, bringing China into the small group of countries to have accomplished this feat. On this mission Yang traveled 500,000 kilometers and orbited the earth fourteen times. After returning to Earth he was given the rank of Vice Commander in Chief to the manned space flight project of the country. He played an prominent role in the planning phase of the second manned space flight mission. Recently he was promoted to become a Major General. He ranks among the best astronauts that China has ever trained, and it is his dream that he can inspire Chinese youth to participate in space related professions.
Cai Lun (50 – 121 AD)
He is credited with having invented the paper which was similar to the current form of paper that we use. He also went on to improve the paper-making process by using various materials to improve the quality of paper. Cai Lun was born around 50 AD and served as a court eunuch during the Han dynasty.
Wu Zetian (624 – 705 AD)
Wu Zetian was the only woman emperor in Chinese history. She ruled from the year 690 to 705. She was a competent yet shrewd ruler who went to great lengths to stay in power. Her reign is often criticized, however this is seen as a result of her having been a woman who held a powerful position.
Li Shizhen (1518 – 1593)
He was a herbalist and a medical expert. He is credited with having compiled information about the various traditional Chinese medicines into one book called Bencao Gangmu. The book took him nearly three decades to compile and it is considered one of the greatest works on traditional Chinese medicine. However, he passed away before it was published officially. He was born in 1518 and died in 1593.
Zhu Yuanzhang (1328 – 1398)
During the reign of the Ming dynasty, China is believed to have seen one of the most organized, stable and influential phases in its history. Zhu Yuanzhang was a peasant who rose to power and became the founder as well as the first emperor of the Ming dynasty in 1368. He continued his reign till his death in 1398.
Kangxi Emperor (1654 – 1722)
Kangxi Emperor ruled over China for the longest period in Chinese history, from 1661 to 1722. He was the second ruler from the Qing dynasty to rule China. He is widely regarded as a great emperor under whose rule the kingdom stabilized and prospered for several years.
Charles K. Kao (1933 – )
He is a physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 2009, for contribution to works related to “transmission of light in fibers for optical communication”. He was born in Shanghai in 1933 and in his teenage years moved to Hong Kong. He went on study at the University of Greenwich and University College of London. He currently hold citizenship for United States and United Kingdom.
Liu Xiang (1983 – )
He is the first Chinese to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field. He achieved this feat at the 2004 Athens Olympics at the age of 21. He also held the record for fastest time in 110 meter hurdles from 2006 to 2008. He is thus a source of pride for China. He has endorsed several brands like Nike, Coca Cola, etc.
Through this list, we can gauge from the names mentioned and their work, the variety of domains in which people from China have excelled through the ages. Be it the ancient philosophy of Confucius, or the modern-day athletic brilliance of Liu Xiang, Chinese people have made a mark through the ages. These people help to remind us of the cultural contributions that the Chinese civilization has made to the world.