Before China had communist leaders, it had hundreds of emperors.
This age of ancient rulers is known as Imperial China. Spanning millennia, it began in the reign of the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C.E. and lasted until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912 — the year of the founding of the Republic of China (ROC).
The fall of the Qing can be traced back to the Wuchang Uprising, an armed rebellion against the Qing dynasty in Wuchang, Hubei Province, central China. Led by the dynasty’s own New Army, it originated from an unrest over a railway crisis, which eventually ballooned and spread to other parts of the country. These events marked the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution, which soon led to the collapse of the Qing dynasty and proclamation of the Republic of China on January 1, 1912.
As the Chinese Civil War — a conflict between nationalists and communists — ended in 1949, the Republic of China (nationalists) lost control of mainland China and retreated to the islands of Taiwan, Hainan and other surrounding territories. The communists, led by Mao Zedong, then proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on September 21 of that year.
In the years that followed, Mao sought to preserve a true communist ideology in the country. This paved the way for a Cultural Revolution, formally known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, where millions of people suffered persecution between 1966 and 1976. Convinced of its downsides, the Communist Party declared in 1981 that it was “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the country, and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”
These events, among many significant others, burned much if what symbolized Imperial China to prelude the China we know today.
Check out these photos before the country’s communist transformation: