KEY POINTS across East Asia—by Era

20th CENTURY 1950-2000


  • When WW II ended in 1945 with Japan's defeat in China, the Nationalists and the Communist forces fought a civil war for control of China. The Communists were victorious in 1949 and the Nationalists left the mainland of China and established a rival government on the island of Taiwan. (The rival governments continue to exist today as the People's Republic of China on the mainland and the Republic of China on Taiwan.)
  • In October 1949, Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China and proclaimed that "the Chinese people have stood up" after 100 years of subjugation by foreign powers on China's soil.
  • Mao and his particular vision of communism in China dominate from 1949 until his death in 1976. The Maoist period was characterized by mass mobilization and the prominence of ideology. The Great Leap Forward of 1956-58 and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 were Maoist campaigns designed, in the first instance, to bring China up to the level of the developed nations by an economic "great leap" and, in the second instance, to rid Chinese culture of impediments to the communist society Mao envisions. The Great Leap Forward resulted in an estimated 30,000 deaths from famine; the Cultural Revolution pitted Chinese against Chinese in brutal persecution.
  • After Mao's death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping introduced the "Open Door" policy of economic liberalization with elements of a market economy that brought China into the global economy and led to rapid economic modernization in China.
  • Despite the continued expansion of a market economy in China, the Chinese Communist Party still governs China with few signs of political liberalization. The suppression of the 1989 student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square testifies to this, as does the continued imprisonment of political dissidents and political activists promoting a multi-party system.
  • China in the 21st century is resuming its historical position as a dominant force in Asia and in the world. It is a multi-ethnic society with urban and rural areas and different regions of the country profiting from economic changes at varying rates. Knowledge about China's large population, economic growth, cultural, artistic, and technological achievements, and political developments is important for all.


  • The Allied Occupation of Japan (1945-1952), headed by General Douglas MacArthur and the American forces, leads to the third major historical instance in which Japan deliberately borrows and adapts from other countries. (The first is in the 6th - 8th centuries when Japan looks to China for models during Japan's classical period; the second instance is in the late 1800s when Japan looks to the West as it seeks to modernize under the Meiji Restoration.)
  • Japan renounces the use of force in Article 9 of the postwar constitution (referred to as the “1947 Constitution.”) Strong public opinion prohibits the visits to Japanese ports of ships carrying nuclear weapons. As the only country in the world to have experienced the impact of an atomic bomb, Japan is said to have a "nuclear allergy." Japan is protected, by treaty, under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
  • Japan is a liberal democracy and a major economic power in the world economy; as of 2020 it was the third largest economy in the world, surpassed only by the U.S. and China.
  • Japanese society is undergoing constant change, as is any society, while unique cultural patterns from the past continue in a modern context.
  • Japan continues to search for an international role commensurate with its enormous economic power.
  • The bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Japan, their close economic and political relationship, is of central importance to both countries and to their diplomacy in Asia and the world.


  • 1953–Korea War ends; Korea divided on the 38th Parallel
    • Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north (North Korea)
    • Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south (South Korea)
  • At the end of the Korean War in 1953, both Koreas lay utterly devastated. In addition to the loss of millions of lives, the two Koreas were beset with a ruined economic infrastructure, millions of displaced persons, and hundreds of thousands of war orphans.
  • The two Koreas had no official contact with each other for almost twenty years. In 1972, secret negotiations between officials of both governments led to a joint communiqué on peaceful unification.
  • Korea's division was a product of the cold war, but continued long after the global cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union ended in 1991. What began as a temporary expediency to effect the surrender of Japan in Korea at the end of World War II has become an enduring national division. In some ways, North-South Korean division has been more complete and hostile than the divisions between East and West Germany, North and South Vietnam, or China and Taiwan. Divided Korea is an anomaly in today's post-cold war world. More than 50 years after the country was occupied by the allied powers, the two Korean states remain bitter rivals and are officially still at war with each other.
  • The two Koreas have developed drastically different economic and political systems.
    • The Republic of Korea/ROC (South Korea) today is a prosperous nation with a per capita annual income of around $US 28,000 in 2020, putting it in the middle ranks of developed nations–less affluent than the United States, Japan, or Germany, but on par with Portugal, Spain, and Greece. It is also a developing democracy, having thrown off military rule in the early 1990s and maintaining a representative civilian democratic government. South Korean popular culture – including film, music, and TV dramas – has gained large audiences around the world. Korean popular music or “K-Pop” became a global phenomenon in the 21st century.
    • The Democratic People's Republic of Korea/DPRK (North Korea), although ahead of the South economically until the early 1970s, has suffered great economic hardship in recent years, and went through a period of severe famine in the mid-1990s. North Korea's government is a single-party state established along Leninist principles borrowed from the Soviet Union, and was under the leadership of one family dynasty since 1948. It is also now a nuclear power.
  • Korea is not a small country: South Korea alone is larger than an average European nation. In land area North and South Korea together are about the size of Britain. The combined population of North and South Korea is over 75 million, as of 2020, larger than Britain or France and slightly smaller than Germany. (See for current figures).
  • Both North and South Korea insist that their ultimate goal is a unified Korea. The long history of political, cultural, and linguistic unity on the Korean peninsula up to the twentieth century suggests that, at some point in the future, unification is probably inevitable. But as long as both regimes remain in place, the two Koreas will most likely continue to work at a gradual reconciliation, leading toward some form of unification that cannot be foreseen at present.


**Since the history of different parts of what we today call “Vietnam,” we are using a chart to convey developments in different regions over time:


1802-1945, Nguyen dynasty unites entire country

• established by Nguyen Anh, a southern prince, who fought and defeated the Tay Son to become the Gia-long Emperor; moved the capital to Hue in the center of the country.
• the second Nguyen ruler adopts a Chinese bureaucratic model, with scholar-officials chosen by examinations in the Confucian classics.

1862-1945, French control Vietnam, dividing it into three "pays" (countries)




Hanoi is capital of French Indochina, including Laos and Cambodia
• Romanized script, "Quoc ngu," developed in the 17th century by missionaries to write Vietnamese language, is made official; literacy rate increases


Tax revolt in Annam


• Phan Chu Trinh dies
• Phan Boi Chau on trial
• Student activism begins


Indochinese Communist Party formed by Ho Chi Minh to oppose colonial rule

1940-1945, Japanese Invasion and domination

1941: League for the Independence of Vietnam formed by Ho Chi Minh ("Viet Minh")


1945, Japanese defeat

Ho Chi Minh declares Vietnam independent;
Establishes government in the north

French return after Japanese defeat;
United States and Britain support the French


• French defeated at Dien Bien Phu;
• Ho Chi Minh takes control of the north;
• Geneva conference;
• Vietnam divided into North and South;
• elections proposed for 1956 but never held.

1956-1975, Vietnam War

1965: United States involvement in South Vietnam replaces that of the French
1968: Tet offensive

1975, United States and all foreign support leave Vietnam

• North Vietnam takes control of South Vietnam and establishes a unified country
• Name of Saigon changed to "Ho Chi Minh City," after Ho, who died in 1969 before the country united

1976, Socialist Republic of Vietnam proclaimed; capital Hanoi

1978 Vietnam invades and occupies Cambodia
1979 Sino-Vietnamese border war
• 1985-89 Vietnam removes troops from Cambodia; 1991 formal end
1988 Beginning of economic and institutional reforms
1995 U.S. and Vietnam establish diplomatic relations
1996 Vietnam joins the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
2007 Vietnam joins World Trade Organization (WTO)