Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
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Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
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Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
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Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

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.


China 1969-1989

The power struggle between Mao and the reformers around Deng, only ended with the death of the iconic leader. The group led by Deng then began to introduce reforms.


After the Cultural Revolution, the moderate faction within the Communist party once again gained strength. Mao Zedong remained the highest authority in the state despite serious illness, although numerous party functionaries who had been expelled during the Cultural Revolution were rehabilitated.

Following the unexplained death of Lin Biao in 1971, pragmatic forces within the party led by Premier Zhou Enlai and his protege 1 Deng Xiaoping emerged victorious for the first time.

However, only after the deaths of Zhou and Mao in 1976 were the reformers around Deng finally able to have their way.

The radical left-wing group called the "Gang of Four," including Mao's widow 5 Jiang Qing, was stripped of power and condemned by a special court in 1981.

Mao's successor as party chairman was Premier 6 Hua Guofeng, while economic policies were decided by Deng.

1 Deng Xiaoping

5 Mao's widow, Jiang Qing, during her trial in Beijing, 1981

6 Hua Guofeng, Mao Zedong's
successor as party leader

After , 4 Deng was the primary influence on the party, and he established new international economic ties.

In June 1981 one of Deng's proteges, the reformer 7 Hu Yaobang, replaced Hua as party chairman, thus clearing the path for Deng's new political direction.

Deng then introduced economic modernization and liberalization in virtually all areas of society, and from 1979 he opened the nation to international trade with the establishment of "special economic zones."

Deng also strove for a socialist but 2 market-oriented economy, in which wage differences could exist and in which achievement had priority over other considerations.

4 Deng Xiaoping is driven past a parade of Chinese soldiers

7 The reformer Hu Yaobang, June 16, 1986

2 Tianjin, in the northeast of China, the second largest
trading port in the world; in 1984 it became an "open city"
for foreign investors, October 2001

The country also liberalized politically. Everyday life became less and less dominated by ideological dogma and a Western-influenced legal system was slowly established, although freedoms of speech and assembly were forbidden and a move toward elections was not on the agenda.

In foreign policy as well, the pragmatic line held the upper hand.

After serious border conflicts with the Soviet Union in 1969, a foreign political detente was evident through the admission of the People's Republic into the United Nations in 1971 and a 3 visit from US President Nixon to China in 1972.

Negotiations with the Soviets in 1982 led to a normalization of diplomatic relations and the reopening of their respective embassies in 1986. Regarding the question of Taiwan, however, the People's Republic remained adamant that only Beijing had the political right to represent China internationally and refused to recognize the government established on the island.

3 Mao Zedong greeting Nixon, the first US
president to visit China, 1972



China since 1989

The refusal to allow political freedoms culminated in the massacre of Tiananmen Square in 1989. Despite worldwide protest, China held to the strategy of economic liberalism without a parallel political liberalization and refused to let Western demands shape its policy.


The easing of restrictions in the economy and lifestyle in China led to the growth of 8 demands for a political voice for the people of China, particularly by students and intellectuals, and from both within and outside the party.

8 Chmese students demonstrating for freedom
and democratic reforms, June 1989

The party's internal conflict concerning its future direction became more intense. In January 1987, following student protests, General Secretary Hu was dismissed as too liberal and was replaced by the previous premier of the State Council. Zhao Ziyang; the new premier was Li Peng. In May 1989 in a number of cities, particular-ly in Beijing, students and civil rights activists demonstrated for freedom, civil rights, and democracy. Zhao was open to dialogue, but he was dismissed in June, and the hard line of Deng and Li triumphed. The months of peaceful protest in Beijing's Tiananmen Square were terminated on June 3-4,1989, with the deployment of troops and tanks. The worldwide condemnation of this crackdown went largely unheeded and, despite economic sanctions against China from the majority of Western nations, death sentences and long prison terms were conferred on the leaders of the protests.

Li and the new party general secretary, 12 Jiang Zemin, guaranteed the continuation of Deng Xiaoping's economic policies in the succeeding years and even after his death in 1997.

They also held onto the right of exclusive power for the party, which was expressly confirmed in 1990.

The hard line taken against members of the 9 Falun Gong religious sect in 1999-2000 showed that the party's claim to power was unbroken.

12 Jiang Zemin, who continued Deng's economic reforms

9 Falun Gong protest over
the persecution of their
Chinese members, 2001

The creation of a "socialist market economy" was concluded in 1993, and economic and trade relations with the Western industrial nations were intensified. A new generation appeared in the political leadership in March 2003 with Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao. who has been general secretary of the party since November 2002.

In view of the enormous 10, 11, 13 economic potential of China, Western voices critical of the human rights situation have been muted.

In foreign affairs, China's tense relations with its neighboring states of Vietnam, Laos, and Japan were normalized between 1990 and 1993 via treaties and frontier agreements. The tone of comments relating to Taiwan became more severe after 1996; the possibility of an official Taiwanese declaration of independence has led to military threats from the People's Republic since 2004. The former British colony of Hong Kong was reintegrated into China on July 1,1997. The fear of political pressure and the risk of a flight of capital from the financial center city prior to the handover was countered by China with the concession of special "Western" rights for Hong Kong, although there have been protests for greater democratic freedoms.

10 The entrance to the Chinese stock exchange in Shanghai

11 Chinese commuter sends a text message on his mobile phone

13 Luxury apartments in the city of Shanghai, 2005


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



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