Brill’s Encyclopedia of China

Purchase Access
Subject: Asian Studies

Managing Editor English Edition: Daniel Leese

Brill’s Encyclopedia of China Online is based on the originally a thousand-page reference work on China with a clear focus on the modern period from the mid-nineteenth century to the 21st century. Written by the world’s top scholars, Brill’s Encyclopedia of China is the first place to look for reliable information on the history, geography, society, economy, politics, science, and culture of China.

Subscriptions: see


(2,162 words)

Author(s): Kubin, Wolfgang
China has rightly been characterized as a "realm of the poetic arts." For more than 3000 years the form of the poem ( shi) was the most elegant vehicle for the expression of the Chinese intellect. Especially the classical poetry of the Tang era created a wealth of poetic images which is unsurpassed not only in China. Until 1911 no other literary genre in the Middle Kingdom could compete with the poetic arts in terms of significance, spiritual richness, and expressive powers. However, this changed with the decline of the monarchy. Since the onset of modernity, poetry in China, as in We…


(1,012 words)

Author(s): Dutton, Michael
On November 1, 1949, the Ministry of Public Security was established. Led by Luo Ruiqing, armed with their own version of the mass line, and dominated by a myriad of party committees offering comprehensive leadership, the central concern of this ministry was to defend both party and state. It is clear, however, that party defense dominated the agenda. Party leadership is maintained within the force through a shadow structure of party committees that parallel each level of the public security str…

Political Culture

(2,212 words)

Author(s): Pye, Lucian W.
The political culture of contemporary China is a blend of traditional Confucian-Daoist precepts, the lingering ideology of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, and the practical rules of how to get ahead in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and how to find security in an authoritarian system. Indeed, a great deal of Chinese behavior at the elite and mass levels still conforms to many of the basic dimensions of traditional Confucian-Daoist culture, even though the participants may not be awa…

Political Decision-Making Process

(2,788 words)

Author(s): Scharping, Thomas
1. Transformation of Formal and Informal Principles In its Constitution as well as in countless other normative regulations and political guidelines, the PRC acknowledges the leadership monopoly of the Communist Party in state, economy, and society. This leadership monopoly is realized through the cadre system (cadres), which is characterized by the frequent overlapping of positions and by the principle of democratic centralism, that is: strict discipline within the party hierarchy, elections that are …

Political Parties

(1,817 words)

Author(s): Gottwald, Jörn C. | Sandschneider, Eberhard | Junhua, Zhang
1. The Development of Political Parties in China In China, political parties are a phenomenon of the 20th century. The first parties were founded during the late 19th and early 20th century, most of them during the Revolution of 1911. During this time, China became a Republic and, for the first time, provided an environment in which diverse political parties could flourish. Between 1911 and 1914, there were more than 300 politically active parties (or organizations with characteristics of parties) in China, among these the Chinese Socialist Party ( Zhongguo shehuidang), the Republica…

Political Science

(479 words)

Author(s): Hintzen, Geor
In the PRC it is often difficult to distinguish exactly between political science and ideology. Before 1949, China possessed a Chinese Association of Political Science (CAPS) as well as political science departments at universities. The latter either characterized by Western (Qian Duansheng) or Marxist approaches (Deng Chumin). Until 1980, the ideologies of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought presented the only officially accepted scientific theories of politics. However, three factors compe…

Political System

(6,437 words)

Author(s): Emmerich, Reinhard | Cabestan, Jean Pierre | Heilmann, Sebastian | Schubert, Gunter
1. Imperial Period For over 2000 years, the Chinese seriously questioned the concept of the empire neither in political theory nor in practice, and the imperial period (221 BCE to 1911) is thus by far the longest era of Chinese history. The following sketched generalizations, however, must not conceal the fact that China's political system, here understood in the restricted sense of "system of government", underwent considerable historical changes. These changes took place essentially because the I…

Popular Literature

(2,504 words)

Author(s): Cremerius, Ruth
In Chinese literary studies, the Chinese words for folk or popular literature ( su wenxue, tongsu wenxue, minjian wenxue, qunzhong wenxue) encompass all areas which are not part of the orthodox literary canon. This includes the oral tradition of popular myths, stories of saints and miracles, songs, poems, riddles, as well as the prose literature of later periods. They served the readers' edification and entertainment. This differentiation from pure literature (chun wenxue, ya wenxue) has been subject to numerous re-definitions throughout the 20th century. These re-de…

Popular Religion

(3,150 words)

Author(s): Schipper, Kristofer
1. Definition and Scope "Popular religion", or "folk religion", is a modern Western construct. Introduced by European sociologists as a scientific alternative to earlier terms such as "superstitions", "folklore", or "natural religion", the concept has been gradually introduced in China, but has not yet been generally adopted. It also has been subject to divergent interpretations. Literally translated as minjian zongjiao, the Chinese term not only refers to the "popular" aspect of the traditional observances of the common people, but also stresses their …


(3,414 words)

Author(s): Scharping, Thomas
1. Data Situation The limits of the traditional census system and the micro-data handed down at the family level allow only for rough estimates of the development of the population during past centuries. Only from 1905 onwards, modern economic and social statistics with better demographic data developed, albeit slowly (statistics). More reliable data on the population of the whole of China has only been available since the 1953 census and very good data only since the 1982 census. Under the influen…

Population Policy

(2,693 words)

Author(s): Scharping, Thomas
1. Traditional Ideals In early Chinese texts on political philosophy, dating back to the 7th to 1st centuries BCE, population policy played an important role. A large population was generally considered a sign of good governance. Rulers were advised to promote population growth in order to be able to cultivate the land, enhance defensive powers, and increase tax revenues. The dominant pro-natalism found its expression in suggestions to promote marriages through state-administered match-making, whil…


(1,071 words)

Author(s): Monschein, Ylva | Pennarz, Johanna
Hunger and impoverishment, frequently triggered by natural disasters, have been leitmotifs of China's history. During the Shang period, they were still seen as punishment from heaven. In the 2000-year imperial era alone, over 1800 major famines were recorded. The relationship of the state to its poor was always seen as an indication of whether the government still ruled with the "Mandate of Heaven", for whether food shortages resulting from floods or droughts actually led to mass suffering rested ultimately on the effectiveness and integrity of the current government. For the Chine…

Preface to the English Edition

(1,347 words)

Author(s): Leese, Daniel
In an article on the development of encyclopedias in China published in the Journal of World History in 1966, German Sinologist Wolfgang Bauer (1930-1997) characterized the fundamental aim of encyclopedic writing as transmitting a "sphere of knowledge" defined by a group of specialists for the purpose of general education. Within the Chinese tradition, encyclopedias have occupied a most important position and were often compiled on imperial command. It was especially during the Song and Qing dynasties that works of truly awe-inspiring scope were created, such as the Taiping Yulan o…

Preface to the German Edition

(1,737 words)

Author(s): Staiger, Brunhild
Since China dedicated itself to policies of reform and openness in the late 1970s, the country has been undergoing profound transformation, far exceeding the mere renunciation of the Maoist model of development and the construction of market-economy structures. The China-Lexikon seeks to contribute to an understanding of this complex process of transformation, with its wide-ranging implications for social, economic, and cultural life in China, and at the same time to meet the need for information which has, in general, grown in conse…

Prehistory and Protohistory

(1,127 words)

Author(s): Bumbacher, Stephan Peter
Paleolithic: Homo erectus and the associated lithic industry ("scree tools", so-called Olduvai) appear in East Africa about 2 million years BCE - about 500,000 years after the first appearance of hominids of the species Homo. H. erectus then seems to have spread beyond Africa in the course of approximately 200,000 years. The fossil find of Dmanisi (Georgia) is dated at 1.7 million years BCE. H. erectus should have reached Java (Indonesia) between 1.8 and 1.6 million years BCE, though the dating is still controversial. In the course of this expansion he presum…


(3,532 words)

Author(s): Klaschka, Siegfried
1.The Press in Traditional China The first printed newspaper in history appeared during the Northern Song dynasty. It bore the title Di Bao ( Court Report), and was the official organ of the Song administration. It served to inform officials and to facilitate communication between central administration and the bureaucracy in the capital and provinces. Di Bao appeared daily, and reached a circulation of several thousand. It contained reports on ceremonial activities of the ruler and Imperial audiences, as well as reproducing edicts and informing read…

Price System

(1,731 words)

Author(s): Bohnet, Armin
Since 1978, China has fundamentally changed its price system. Where formerly there was an all-encompassing system of state-imposed fixed prices, the state has, over the course of the years of reform, withdrawn more and more from the process of price setting and has by now largely handed it over to vendors and consumers of goods and services. However, the pricing of some goods and services has remained under the control of the state. Among these are certain staple foods and raw materials, e.g. grain , cotton, energy sources, public transport, gas and water utilities, housing , to some exte…

Primitive Religions

(949 words)

Author(s): Bäcker, Jörg
"Primitive religions", in Chinese most often called yuanshi zongjiao (archaic religions), is a collective designation for religious forms characterized by a close relationship with surrounding nature. They developed already in early tribal societies but did not diminish in importance in the Chinese central state, especially for the rural population. Primitive religions represent the oldest layer of local Chinese religion. Mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, stones, fire, and the stars are considered to be …

Printing and Publishing

(1,772 words)

Author(s): Neder, Christina
1. The Early History of Printing and Publishing Before the invention of paper, written documents were mainly recorded on tortoise shells, bones, stones, metals, wooden boards, silk, and bamboo strips. The historical sources date the development of paper from raw hemp, bark fibers, and rags to 105 CE. Archaeological finds show, however, that paper produced from plant fibers already existed during the Western Han period (206 BCE to 25 CE). In the early stages of printing, seals engraved in jade, metal, ivory, or stone were used for name stamps as well as for prints …

Private Economy

(1,410 words)

Author(s): Heberer, Thomas
The term private economy, in contrast to public (state or collective) economy, refers to the sector that is based on the private property of one or more individuals. In contemporary China, this sector includes the registered private small, medium, and large companies, enterprises run with foreign capital, as well as private traders and craftsmen, but also enterprises which have, for various reasons, been registered under false ownership forms (collective and state firms that are de facto privately run), as well as non-registered private companies (shadow economy). 1. Private Econ…
▲   Back to top   ▲