ĦĦĦĦThe earliest histories say that the people living on the Central Plains in the Yellow River valley were called the Xia. In the area from the Huaihe River to Mount Taishan in the east lived the Dongyi; in the Yangtze valley in the south, the people were called Sanmiao; in the area beyond the Yellow River to the Huangshui River in the northwest were those called the Qiang; and in the area around the northern deserts were people called the Hunzhou (including the Shanrong and Xianyun). The Xia people established links with the people of other nationalities in their vicinity.

      From the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties to the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (16th century-221 B.C.), closer contacts developed among these ethnic groups. Alliances were formed between the Shang and Zhou groups and those of the Dongyi and Daoyi in the east, Sushen in the northeast, Nanman in the south, and the Di, Rong and Kunyi in the west and north, leading to mutual influence and eventual merging. During this period the Huaxia nation came into existence, through a merger of the Xia, Zhou and Shang with the Qiang, Rong, Kunyi, Miao and Man peoples.

      The Spring and Autumn (770-476 B.C.) and Warring States (475-221 B.C.) periods saw a transition of various states on the Central Plains from slave system to feudalism. It is said that there were 1,800 "states" during the Zhou Dynasty (11th century-771 B.C.), but through war and absorption, the number dwindled to 100 by the Spring and Autumn Period. Of the hundred states, only seven remained in central China through the Warring States Period.     The First Emperor of Qin, following his unification of the country in 221 B.C., centralized the multi-national state under a feudal autocracy. The Dongyis living along the Huaihe River, the Nanman in the Yangtze valley, the Baiyues living in present-day Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian and Zhejiang, the Zhurongs in the western part of the country and such various ethnic groups as the Ze, Bu and Yanlang, all came under the rule of the Qin emperor. Within his domain he instituted prefectures and counties directly under central authority, establishing for the first time in China a central feudal state power. But in some places there remained rival powers, leading to lengthy, serious conflicts. Under the brief Qin rule, some small states developed among the Xiongnu (Huns) living in the north and the Wusuns in the northwest, as well as among the Qiangs living in the western part of the country and the Donghu, Xianbeis, Wuhuan and Yufu groups living in the northeast.

      During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), the country became further unified as the Huaxia absorbed many other tribes to become one nation known as the Han.

      By the end of the second century B.C., the Han Dynasty had brought the Qiang of the northwest under control; by the year 119 B.C., the Wusun came into the empire, followed by the Man people on Hainan Island in the south in 110 B.C., and the southern Xiongnu in 91 B.C. The northern Xiongnu, meanwhile, began a migration into Europe that would end with numerous wars between the tribe under its leader Attila and local powers.

      In 60 B.C., the Han Dynasty established a regional government in what is today Xinjiang, a step that led to the merger of more than 30 small city states. For a while, the Xianbei people, who had taken over the territory abandoned by the northern Xiongnu, posed a threat to the dynasty; after a period of internecine struggle, its chief, Budugeng, led most of the Xianbei people into an alliance with the Eastern Han.

      During the Wei, Jin and Southern and Northern dynasties (A.D. 220-581) the various major powers in China fought through 300 years of factionalism, marked by wholesale migrations and national annexation and assimilation. Toward the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, people of many ethnic minority groups moved across the Great Wall to live co-mingled with the Han people on the Central Plains. The population thus formed consisted half of the Hans and half of the Rong and Kunyi tribes.

      The years following the demise of Western Jin (A.D. 265-316) saw another period of fragmentation, with 23 local powers and seven ethnic groups rising in the northern part of the country and Sichuan, known in old histories as a period of "Five Tribes and Sixteen States." Living in the northeast at this time were the Fuyu and Yilou people; the Rouran, Tiele and Turk tribe were active in the north and northwest, and the Tuguhun and Di people lived on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Closer contacts and assimilation took place among the various tribes as a result of migration into the Central Plains. A great number of Han war refugees moved southward into the Yangtze and Pearl River valleys and northward beyond the Great Wall.

      By the Sui and Tang dynasties (A.D. 581-907), China was reunited. Political, economic and cultural contacts between the ethnic groups were strengthened and developed as never before. Following the demise of the Sui (A.D. 581-618), the Tang Dynasty in A.D. 630 conquered the Eastern Turks living both south and north of the Gobi Desert, and in A.D. 657 the Western Turks in modern Xinjiang and Central Asia. Tang armies followed up with conquest of the Gaochang, Yanqi, Guizi, Shule and Yutian regimes formerly allied to the Western Turks. Later, after the Uygur grew strong on the former land of the Turk, the local rulers were given the titles "Governor of Hanghai" and "Huairen Khan" by the Tang government.

      In 713, the ruler of the state of Zhen, established in the northeast by the Sumo and Mohe tribes, was given the titles "Dashing Grand General of the Left Guard" and "Prince of the State of Bohai" by the Tang government.

      In the Nenjiang and Heilong river valleys, the Shiwei tribe early pledged their allegiance to the Tang court. Established in present-day Yunnan Province, a strong local power called the Southern Zhao formed an alliance with the Wuman tribe, the Baiman and other related tribes, their chieftains being respectively accorded the titles "Imperial Inspector," "King of Yunnan" and "King of the Southern Zhao." Living in the southwest and in south central China, the Li, Liao, Wuximan, Siyuanman and Moyao tribes also came within the jurisdiction of prefectures, counties and dao (circuits) of the Tang court.

      Prefectures and sub-prefectures were likewise established in most of the border areas of the ethnic minorities. Tribal chiefs were set up as governors and imperial inspectors, and were granted hereditary offices and empowered to rule in the capacity of local authorities. Under the governors' offices local census lists were developed and independent taxes were collected at prefectural, subprefectural and county levels beyond the jurisdiction of the central treasury. There was then a system of 856 prefectures, sub-prefectures and counties established throughout China, forcing closer ties between the central Tang government and the country's multiple nationalities.

      During the Five Dynasties and Ten States period (A.D. 907-979), China was again plunged into 70 years of fragmentation. These rival powers were established mainly by the Han; the Later Tang was the only dynasty created by a minority people, the Shatuo of the Turkic people. Along with these rival powers existed the State of Qidan (Khitan, later renamed the State of Liao) established by the Qidan tribe, the State of Dali formed by the Baiman tribe and many other small states of the Uygur, Tufan, Di and Qiang.

      In the Song, Liao and Kin time (960-1234), an end was put to the separatist regimes. The Song (960-1279) rose in the south in direct opposition to the Qidan State of Liao (916-1125) and Nuzhen's State of Kin (1115-1234) in the north. During the Song era the Dangxiang of the Qing tribe established the Daxia (Western Xia) regime (1032-1227), subjecting China to another 300 years of fragmented rule.

      In 1206, Genghis Khan consolidated all the Mongol tribes. A Mongolian empire was created by his conquest of the Gaochang-Uygur, Western Liao, Western Xia, Jin, Dali and Tufan states, renamed in 1271 the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). By 1279 the country was brought under a centralized rule of the Yuan following the final collapse of the Southern Song (1127-1279). Under Yuan rule "provincial governments" were instituted and empowered to administer areas where the minorities lived in the Northeast, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan and Guizhou; special administrative departments were established to take charge of affairs in Tibet, and Penghu and Taiwan. Moreover, tribal chiefs were granted hereditary offices as local rulers and vested with administrative powers to draft soldiers, conscript labor, collect tax and exact tributes on behalf of the court. These measures brought the various localities of the minority nationalities under closer central control than they had known during the Tang and Song period of prefectures and sub-prefectures.

      Provincial governments were instituted, consisting of co-administrations by local officials with hereditary titles and officials sent by the Yuan court. Above this level were posts manned by court officials, and direct control imposed by the court through officials either centrally dispatched or recruited from the ethnic chiefs.

      During the rule of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), centralized control further eroded the powers of the individual tribal chiefs. By tightening control of the border areas and paving the way for increased commerce between various tribal groups, the Ming rulers succeeded in bringing about the collapse of the feudal economy in China as a whole. In some minority areas, however, truly feudal economic structures persisted until, and even beyond, the liberation in 1949.

      In 1616, Nurhachi, a tribal chief of the Manchus, annexed the various groups of the Nuzhen tribe and established in 1635 the state of "Later Kin," which was renamed "Qing" in 1636. The years after the downfall of the Ming Dynasty saw the various nationalities further unified. In the north, the Qing unified the three Mongol groups -- Southern Mongolians, Northern Mongolians (Khalthas) and Western Mongolians (Eleuts or Qirats) -- living respectively south, north and west of the Gobi Desert. By putting down rebellions of the Mongolian Jungar tribe, reactionary elements among the Huis (Uygurs) and the upper classes of Tibet collaborating with the Mongolians in Xinjiang and Tibet, the Qing government consolidated its control of these areas and maintained the unity of the country.

      In the process of repelling an invasion by Tsarist Russia, the Qing government strengthened its control in the northeast, especially among the ethnic minorities in the Heilong River drainage. The Qing government also set up a provincial government and county administrations on the island of Taiwan, finally establishing sovereignty over the whole of China and bringing all peoples of the Chinese nation under centralized rule.

      Though feudal autocratic rule bore little hope for a thorough elimination of divisions within China, the struggle for unification always stood as a central task. In the country's recorded history two thirds of the time was devoted to the establishment and preservation of unity, whereas one third was spent fragmented. With each new step toward unification, the various ethnic groups and their economy and culture progressed, forging a closer relationship among them.