Today China is a modern country with a population of over a billion people. It is a world leader in trade and industry and the standard of living for many Chinese people is getting better, but about 100 years ago life was very different in China.
For thousands of years, China was ruled by emperors. The emperor, his family and a small number of people were very rich while most of the people were poor. The rich people lived in beautiful big houses and many of the poor people worked as their servants without being paid. The rich people owned all the land and the poor worked on small pieces of land as farmers. They had to work very hard to make enough food for their families and they also had to give some of the food they produced to the rich land owners.
In old China, the family was the most important thing. Children usually lived with their parents, even after they got married and had children of their own. The head of the family was the father. He made all the decisions, and everyone in the family had to do what he said. When the father died, his oldest son took his place. Children did not go to school. In a rich family, the boys learned to read and write at home. They did not learn to write with a pen or pencil, but with a little brush. They also had to study old books. If they wanted to get a good position in society, they had to pass a very difficult examination. In this examination, they were asked to read and write poems and they were asked questions about the old books. Women did not have an important place in old China. Girls did not learn to read or write and the daughters of rich families could not go out to work. They only learned to look after the family. When they were very young, their parents found husbands for them. When they grew up, they were married and they went to live with their husband’s family.
In 1911 the poor began to fight against their leaders. They won the war and the rule of the Chinese emperors came to an end. After that, the Communist Party started to become powerful, and China became a communist country in 1949. Communism meant that all people had a say in making decisions, not just a few rich people. Life got a lot better for the working people and there was not such a big difference between rich and poor.
Under communism, women in China gained more freedom. Girls went to school and universities. They became teachers, soldiers or farmers. Some worked in offices and some worked in factories. Some drove trucks and some were doctors. Women continued to work after they were married and had children. Because both husbands and wives worked during the day, they could not look after their children. So they left their children at special places where they were looked after. In 1979, China started the One Child Policy to try to reduce the size of the population.
China continues to change especially in the large cities, but some of the old ways of life are still found in the smaller villages and country areas.
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