Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present

After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



China, Japan, and Korea

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states -
China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia


Following victory in the civil war, the communists under Mao Zedong took power in China in 1949. In the years that followed, the most populous country on Earth underwent a dramatic transformation. After World War II, Japan transformed itself to become the world's second largest economy, although it has suffered from recession since 1990. Korea broke up into a Communist dictatorship in the North and a republic in the South, which became democratic in 1987.


Mao Zedong Comes to Power in China

Following the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Mao initiated a restructuring of society along communist lines that fundamentally altered China.


After the surrender of Japan in 1945, the united front between the Kuomintang under Chiang Kaishek and the communist troops under Mao Zedong quickly fell apart, and in 1947 civil war broke out. In 1949 the communists occupied Beijing, and within a year a defeated Chiang had fled to Taiwan, where he declared himself president and ruled until his death in 1975.

In Beijing, 1, 5 Mao placed himself at the head of a Central People's Government and on October 1,1949, proclaimed the People's Republic of China (PRC).

He remained state premier until 1959, with 6 Zhou Enlai as his prime minister.

1 Communists marching into Beijing are welcomed by crowds, 1949

5 Mao Zedong proclaims the People's Republic of China, October 1, 1949

6 Prime Minister Zhou Enlai,
Mao's right hand man, 1957

The 2 new regime occupied Tibet in 1950 and a year later annexed it to the PRC; Tibet's Dalai Lama, was exiled in 1959.

Mao introduced a radical domestic political reorganization within the state and society and enshrined the communist monopoly on government in the 4 new constitution of 1954.

Sweeping aside the old elite, the government extended land reform through the 3 collectivization of agriculture.

Existing industries were nationalized and, with Soviet support, a state-led industrialization program was launched. In this period, the economy grew, while education reforms improved literacy levels. The party rapidly came to dominate all aspects of public life through a network that reached even into remote rural areas. The powerful military and security forces were ideologically loyal to the party, which rapidly became synonymous with the state. In 1956-1957 the party leadership asked intellectuals to offer criticism in the "Hundred Flowers Campaign." After a few months in which increasingly hostile critiques were published, the party put an end to the experiment and arrested the disidents.

2 Chinese troops in Tibet, 1950-1951

4 The Central People's Government enacts the new constitution on June 14, 1954

3 A tribunal accuses Huang Chin-Chi of
resisting collectivization



The Dalai Lama

When the Chinese occupiers brutally suppressed an uprising of the Tibetan people in 1959, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled into exile in India.

Since then, the important teacher of Buddhism has gained a large international audience for his pronouncements on world peace. In 1989, he received the Nobel Peace Prize as the exiled leader of a neutral Tibet, despite Chinese protests.

The Dalai Lama in Berlin, 2003




China from the Korean War to the Cultural Revolution

To counter internal party criticism, and in opposition to the Soviet Union, Mao intensified the socialist program from the mid-1950s on. The Cultural Revolution (1966-69) he initiated proved chaotic and ruinous.


The PRC's unsuccessful attempts to achieve the return of Taiwan to the motherland saw tensions with the United States grow, as the United States chose to recognize Chiang Kaishek as the sole legitimate representative of all China. Sino-American relations reached a new low when China entered the Korean War on the side of the North and also became involved in the conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia. After the death of Stalin in 1953, China's relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated, building into an ideological and geopolitical split that remained until the collapse of the USSR. China contested the Soviet claim to leadership of the Communist world, and with the development of its own atomic weapons in 1964, clearly staked its claim to equal status with the two global superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

In 1958 a program of collectivization and indoctrination, or "reeducation," was launched in what was billed as the "Great Leap Forward."

In contrast to the Soviet focus on heavy industry, Maoist policy concentrated on collectivizing the 9 agricultural sector and launching local small-scale steel production.

To this end, the rural population was divided into more than 25,000 "people's communes," and "production brigades" were formed. Together with mass mobilizations for the construction of roads and irrigation systems, this was expected to complete the transition to true communism.

The results of this policy were calamitous, with famines in 1960-1961 killing millions of peasants. As a result, criticism of the leadership grew within the party, particularly from Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who sought a more liberal, technology-focused policy.

Mao Zedong stepped down in 1959 in favor of Liu, although he remained the 12 leading symbol of the party.

With help from his "crown prince" 8 Lin Biao, he turned the people's liberation army into the Maoist Guard and intensified the party struggle against those with "rightist" tendencies.

9 Heroic image of a young Chinese peasant working on a coltective farm, propaganda poster, 1967

12 "Long live our great teacher": Poster of Chairman Mao

8 Mao Zedong, left, together with
his successor, Lin Biao, 1957

Toward the end of 1965, frustrated with the moderate direction of policy under his successor, Mao and his supporters proclaimed the 7 "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" and publicly announced a campaign against representatives of the "capitalist way" and traditional Chinese thinking.

The crusade was accompanied by a 10 ritualized personal veneration of Mao.

The 11 radical student Red Guards became a nationwide spy network.

They terrorized and humiliated Mao's critics and harassed members of local officialdom. As their excesses increasingly grew out of control, the military and the party intervened with the approval of Mao, and by the end of 1967 order had been restored.

The Cultural Revolution led to anarchy, violence, and the displacement of much of the old party cadre. In 1969 Mao officially declared it over. Lin Biao became the designated successor of the increasingly frail Mao.

7 Members of the Red Guard with flags and banners during a mass rally in Beijing, 1960s

10 Propaganda painting of Mao Zedong, 1950s

11 Young members of the Red Guard hold up copies of
Mao's Little Red Book of quotes, Tiananmen Square,
Beijing, 1965


see also: United Nations member states -
China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia



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