CHINA. The Communist Party Congress, which convened Oct. 25 in Peking, will lay out goals for China's future. Chinese policies, however, reflect the nation's geography and long, tumultuous history.

THE ROAD TO MODERN CHINA Opium War (1839-42) The Ching Dynasty government attempted to suppress the burgeoning sales of opium by British traders to China. Imports of the drug reached 40,000 chests a year by 1839, causing a massive outflow of China's silver reserves.

That year, China demanded the surrender of all British opium and destroyed 20,000 chests of it, prompting the British to send in an expeditionary force in 1840. The British blockaded ports along the Chinese coast, besieged the southern city of Canton, and occupied Shanghai. The Ching government yielded to British demands for huge indemnities and the extension of trade to a number of ports. Opium sales continued. Boxer Rebellion (1900)

This was a popular, anti-foreign uprising led by a traditional Chinese secret society named I-ho Ch'uan (Righteous and Harmonious Fists) in the late 19th century.

In June 1900, the Boxers besieged foreign legations in both Tianjin and Peking. The Ching Dynasty government declared war against foreign powers when they mounted a relief expedition. The international force entered Peking and Tianjin later that summer and carried out punitive expeditions in North China cities. It eventually negotiated a settlement, which extracted staggering indemnities from China. 1911 Revolution

A revolt led by Sun Yat-sen, this brought down China's last dynasty. It was prompted by widespread resentment over decades of imperialist aggression, the emergence of mass communication, and liberal ideas transplanted by students educated abroad.

The Ching Dynasty considered reforms to defuse the atmosphere of revolt, which by 1911 had brought 10 revolutionary outbreaks.

But an uprising on Oct. 10 in Hangkow (Hangzhou) sparked widespread revolutionary unrest, backed by military governors commanding the Army and provincial assembly leaders. The Ching Dynasty collapsed and Sun was inaugurated as president of a new republic on Jan. 1, 1912. Communist-Nationalist split (1927)

Communists and the Kuomintang (Nationalists) joined in 1923 to combat ``imperialism.'' Moscow backed the alliance, viewing it as a way to nurture the Communist Party until it could discard Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists.

By April 1927, Chinese antipathy toward foreign aggression peaked. Communist-led labor unions seized Shanghai and, confronted by foreign troops and warships, complied with Moscow's orders and awaited Chiang as an ally.

Chiang, however, attacked the unions, set up his capital in Nanking, and launched a nationwide terror to quash the nascent communist revolution. Long March

The Chinese Communist Party embarked upon a 6,000-mile epic journey in 1934 when the anticommunist campaign of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) Army had succeeded in dislodging it from its base in the southern province of Jiangxi.

The march officially began Oct. 15, 1934, with some 86,000 men and women and ended a year later when Mao Tse-tung and about 4,000 survivors arrived to establish a new Communist base in Shaanxi Province. Civil War (1945-49)

Renewed, large-scale hostilities between Communist forces and Nationalist troops broke out in 1945 in areas formerly occupied by the Japanese. United States Gen. George Marshall, trying to bring the antagonists together in a coalition government, secured a cease-fire in 1946. But fighting erupted again within months.

The Nationalists, weakened by 10 years of hyperinflation and outclassed in military tactics and propaganda, retreated to Taiwan. Mao Tse-tung declared the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949. Great Leap Forward (1958)

Announced in 1958, Mao Tse-tung's utopian Great Leap Forward used political exhortation to attempt a massive increase in China's industrial capacity, which was expected to surpass that of Britain in 15 years. By the fall of 1958, 600,000 backyard steel furnaces had sprung up throughout the country. Industrial output, though low in quality, rose sharply.

But the dislocation of labor, combined with bad weather, soon created an agricultural crisis and famine. The work force collapsed in apathy and exhaustion, and the Communist Party denounced Mao's policy as a debacle in 1959. Sino-Soviet split

Serious ideological sparring between the communist neighbors began in 1956 with Nikita Khrushchev's secret denunciation of Joseph Stalin at the Soviet Union's 20th Communist Party Congress, at a time when China was still invoking Stalin's name. Moscow attacked Mao's Great Leap Forward and commune policies as dangerous fanaticism.

In 1959, Moscow rescinded a promise to provide Peking with nuclear weapons assistance and in 1960 suddenly withdrew thousands of technicians from China. Tensions culminated in armed clashes at the Ussuri River and other spots along the Sino-Soviet border in 1969. Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)

Mao Tse-tung, incensed by increasing bureaucratic conservatism and the ``bourgeois'' and ``revisionist'' traits of materialism, purged the party of opponents. Purges were accomplished through mass organizations, particularly the 11 million-member Red Guard Youth.

Widespread civil violence erupted as local leaders competed for power. Mao purged Deng Xiaoping. An attack on civil power strengthenend the role of the Army. Normalization of US-China relations

``Ping-pong diplomacy'' and secretive missions by Henry Kissinger in 1971 cleared the way for a visit by then-President Nixon in 1972. Mr. Nixon signed the Shanghai Communiqu'e, acknowledging that Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait believed there was one China and that Taiwan was part of China.

The communiqu'e also advocated that any reunification efforts be peaceful. US withdrawal from Vietnam removed the major obstacle for improved relations. The two countries normalized ties on Jan. 1, 1979, and Washington cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

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