Timeline of Modern China (1949-present)

As part of the Visual Timeline series

– (Oct 1) Mao defeats Nationalist army of Chiang-Kai-shek, ending civil war and founds People’s Republic of China
– (Dec) Kuomintang establish Republic of China in Taiwan

Oct49. People’s Liberation Army enters Beijing. Source
1st Oct 1949. Mao proclaims People’s Republic of China. Source

– (Feb) Mao and Stalin sign Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance
– (Nov) China enters the Korea War and drive Allies back to 38th parallel. Fighting continues with more casualties and no major territorial gain on either side for next 2.5 years.

1953: Stalin, whom Mao respected, dies; Mao disapproves of new leader Kruschev

– China-Pakistan Military Aid Pact
– US-Taiwan Defence Treaty; First Taiwan Strait Crisis

1955: US passes Formosa Resolution; allowing US president to use force to defend Taiwan

1956: Hundred Flowers in Mao China; freedom of opinions

1958: Mao China launches “Great Leap Forward”, a 5-year plan to collectivize agriculture and industry; but abandoned after 2 years; economy contracts by 25%, 20m-40m die of starvation making it the largest famine in human history

1958. Employees of the Shin Chiao Hotel in Beijing build a smelting furnace in the hotel’s courtyard to contribute to the Great Leap Forward. Source

1959: Tibet uprising suppressed

1959. Tibetan monks lay down their arms. Source

1960: Soviet Union shifts from being ally to enemy to China

1964: China becomes nuclear power

1965: Tibet War

1966: Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) in Mao China; a sociopolitical movement aimed at purging traditional elements and intellectuals.

1 November, 1967. writings and slogans emblazoned on a wall at the height of the Cultural Revolution. Source

1967: China explodes hydrogen bomb

1969: Sino-Soviet clashes at Xinjiang, but further escalations prevented by diplomacy

– (Jul) US secretary of state Kissinger secretly visits China
– (Oct) Mainland China joins UN while Taiwan is expelled.

1972: (Feb) Nixon visits China spooking Soviet Union and Vietnam

21 Feb 1972. US President Nixon visits China. Source

1974: Terracotta Army discovered (Qin army to guard emperor tomb)

– (Jan) Vice chairman Zhou Enlai dies
– (Sep 9th) Mao dies; “Gang of Four” including Mao’s widow vies for power but are arrested for crimes against the state.

PLA soldiers at Mao’s death. Source

1978: Deng Xiaoping (r. 1978-1991) emerges as China’s leader following Mao’s death in 1976; launches economic reforms (Open Door Policy), starting with agriculture.

– One Child policy in China (1979-2015)
– (Jan) US officially recognizes People’s Republic of China
– (Feb) Deng Xiaoping China invades Vietnam briefly before withdrawing; to deter Vietnam expansionism

1989: (Jun 4th) Tienanmen square protests massacre; student-led democracy movement following death of Hu Yaobang (political leader that pushed for reforms)

May89. Tiananmen Square protests. Source
5th Jun 1989. Tank Man photo in full. Source

1990: Pudong area within Shanghai becomes Special Economic Zone (SEZ) with even more flexibility than the original four SEZs earlier.

Shanghai then vs now. Source

– Jiang Zemin takes over as Chinese Communist Party general secretary.
– Deng Xiaoping tours Southern China to quell influence of Party conservatives opposed to market liberalization
– Falun Gong founded

1995: China tests missiles and holds military exericses in Taiwan Strait.

1996: (Mar) Third Taiwan Strait Crisis: China conducts missile tests to discourage Taiwan from holding referendum; US sends 2 aircraft carriers

– (Feb) Deng Xiaoping dies; separatist terrorist attacks in Xinjiang on Deng’s funeral day
– (1st Jul) China regains sovereignty over HK from UK; One country two systems

– China regains Macau from Portugal
– (May) US Embassy in Beijing attacked by protesters after US (accidentally) bomb embassy in Belgrade during NATO bombing of Yugoslavia – symbolizes rising anti-US sentiment in China

9th May 1999. US embassy in Beijing attacked by protesters. Source

2001: (Nov) China joins World Trade Organization, marking new phase in globalization

11 Nov 2001. China’s minister for foreign trade and economic co-operation at signing ceremony. Source

2002: Hu Jintao succeeds Jiang Zemin as head of Communist Party

– (Mar-Apr) China and HK hit hardest by SARS outbreak
– (Oct) China first manned space flight

May03. Workers disinfect railway station in Beijinga midset SARS outbreak. Source

– (Jul) Three Gorges Dam opens (construction began 1994)
– (Jul) China-Tibet railway opens

Three Gorges Dam. Source

2007: (Feb) China president Hu Jin Tao tours 8 African countries for trade and investment.

– (May) Earthquake in Sichuan kills tens of thousands.
– (Aug) Beijing hosts Olympics, showcasing ‘new China’ to the world
– (Sep) Sanlu (state-run company) contaminated baby milk powder case (300k fall ill)
– (Nov) Chinese govt announces $586b GFC stimulus package.

May08. Sichuan earthquake. Source
2008. Beijing Olympics. Source
Sep08. Sanlu contaminated baby milk powder case (300k fall ill). Source

2009: (Feb) $25b Russia-China deal; Russia supplies oil for next 20 years; China supplies loans.

– (Mar) Google leaves China after its services are blocked; YouTube blocked year before after Tibetan suppression footage uploaded, Facebook blocked after 2009 Urumqi riots
– (Oct) China VP Xi Jinping becomes vice-chairman of Central Military Commission
– (Dec) Activist writer Liu Xiaobo receives Nobel Peace Prize, but is unable to collect it (dies in prison in 2017 after 11 year sentence)

2011: (Jul) High speed rail derails in Wenzhou, highglihting aggressive peace of rail expansion

Jul11. High speed rail derails at Wenzhou. Source
Rail network in 2008 vs 2020

US Treasury holdings throughout the 2010s, and now it’s subsided to levels a decade ago.

China cuts its US Treasury holdings throughout the 2010s. Source

– China launches Belt and Road Initiative.

2013. China launches Belt and Road Initiative. Source

– China starts building artificial islands in South China Sea


– (Mar) Xi Jinping becomes president of China; launches anti-corruption drive and consolidates his power.
– (Dec) China lands robotic rover on moon, first soft landing in 37 years

– (Sep) ‘Umbrella movement’ in Hong Kong, protesting for genuinely representative direct elections, shuts city down for 3 months but ends with no results

2015: (Nov) China’s Xi and Taiwan’s Ma hold historic talks in Singapore, first such meeting since 1949.

– (Jun) New cybersecurity law in China gives government even more control over company data, domestic and foreign.
– (Jul) China issues AI plan
– (Oct) Xi Jinping’s name and ideology amended into constitution, elevating him status on par with Mao’s.

– (Mar) Constitution amendment removes tenure limitations on Chinese presidency, allowing Xi to remain in power indefinitely.
– (Apr) China imposes 25% tariffs on range of US imports in response to similar measures by US.

11 Mar 2018. Constitution amended to abolish term presidential limits. Source

– (Mar19-late20) HK extradition bill protests
– COVID-19 spreads globally from Wuhan

– China enforces strongest COVID-19 lockdowns in world for next 3 years

Chinese leaders since 1949. Source
China is rapidly aging. Source
China’s biggest import partners 2018. Source

See also:

Visual Timeline Series