As you see on the news that China is rising rapidly economically and militarily with the US and other countries concerned. China, under a communist government, had done alot lift the nation towards a superpower status. It can easily be seen like rising military budget, growing exports, full labor force in factories, growing foreign influence (eg helping Africa) and many technological developments and breakthroughs at the cost of being accused as copycats by the West. So was it true that China was once a powerful nation?
Yes, China was once a powerful empire that stretched through Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang. The Qing Dynasty saw the peak in Chinese Empire expansion. The Chinese empire was one of the richest places in the world with living conditions being one of the best at the time. European contact became a fatal impact for the Chinese. By early 1800s, Europeans were interested in Chinese goods like tea, silk, etc. The Chinese were not interested in European products but the only thing they could accept is silver. The Europeans did not want a trade deficit so they decided to import opium. The Chinese refused opium by any means even if it meant war. This led to the humiliating defeat of the Chinese military as their army was outdated unlike the British Army's muskets and cannons. The Chinese Navy still had wooden ships which were destroyed by the Royal Navy's ironclad ships armed with cannons. This resulted in a peace treaty that allowed the opium imported, Hong Kong given to the British and an unlimited amount of european goods into China. The unlimited amount of cheap european goods imported into China resulted in Chinese businesses unable to compete and go out of business. This resulted in more unemployment and poverty.
The Qing Dynasty produced weak emperors until it was overthrown in 1911 with a revolution led by Sun Yatsen. The Nationalist Party (Guamindang) was formed. Eventually, the Russian Revolution brought communism to China with Mao Zedong's quote:
"The gunfire of the Russian Revolution brought Marxism to China"
The Nationalists were led by Chiang Kaishek who was obsessed with getting rid of the Communists. The Japanese invasion in China exposed Chiang's weakness as the Communists had sit back and watched the Japanese destroyed the Nationalists. Eventually, the Communists and Nationalists formed a temporary alliance to fight the Japanese seeing that this is their main priority if they ever want to rule China. After the Japanese surrender, the civil war raged on. The Nationalists were corrupt as they used US aid money (billions) for themselves and were living in rich palaces while the Communists lived among the peasants. The Nationalists had a variety of weapons from the US like tanks, artillery, fighter planes, bombers, etc while the Communists almost had nothing and conducted guerrilla warfare. The Nationalists completely underestimated the Communists while they had excellent tacticians like Lin Biao. In October 1 1949, the Communists marched into Beijing while the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan which as of today still make their final stand. The Communists not only shared their hardships with the peasants but were also brave. They conducted amphibious assaults on Nationalist held territories with only wooden boats and paddles (unlike the Allied D-Day assault on metal ships) with Nationalist artillery pounding around them. Once they got onto the beaches, the disembarked and all charge at the Nationalists. The Communists were about to invade Taiwan but had to deal with Korea as they did not want the Americans at their front door so they helped North Korea and used it as a buffer zone. After the Korean war, the Chinese communist army had no weapons or strength to attack Taiwan. When Mao Zedong met with Japanese officials, they gave him an official apology about their invasion on China. Mao refused to accept their apology and instead thanked them for their invasion as it crippled the Nationalists that enabled the Communists to win the Chinese Civil War.
After Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping opened China to world including trade which meant massive economic reforms. This meant that goods and services like jeans, McDonalds and Coca-Cola were visible around the country. Keeping up with the latest technologies saw the Chinese people's obsession with Apple products. Example - a boy decided to sell one of his kidneys online so he could buy an iPad 2. When he got it, his parents were puzzled as they never had the money for that kind of electronics. Eventually the boy confessed and the parents contacted the hospital which they denied as organ donation is illegal. His actions made it to world headlines.
Censorship came into place in 2003 when the Chinese Government wanted to cover up it's dark days by censoring websites containing human rights, free Tibet, etc like Youtube, Facebook, etc. 1989 saw communism took a major downfall with the USSR and east European nations switching to democracy. Chinese students and workers protested and camped in Tiananmen Square demanding freedom and democracy only to be massacred by the army.
The advance in Chinese society had seen some setbacks like censorship. In 2003, a censorship law was in place. It meant that topics like Tibet, Tiananmen Square protests, human rights, Dalai Lama, East Turkestan are censored. It also meant that the government deployed thousands of internet police officers to find and censor the sensitive websites. Google had been censored while Youtube, Itunes and Facebook had been banned as they contained content of human rights, free Tibet, etc. If any hollywood films or games insulted China, it would be banned and the film and game would not be able to make the profit it wants from the 1.3 billion people. Censorship occured as the Communist Government never wanted to expose it's deadly past and wanted to keep strong support from the people. Another setback is pollution. Factories are needed to help create jobs for the 1.3 billion people at the cost of pollution at which there is smog covering the skies blocking sunlight. This was a problem during the Beijing 2008 Olympics as not only did the smog made Beijing look bad but was dangerous for marathon runners who breathe heavily while running.
So how does China's advancements concern the West? China has nuclear weapons and a rapidly developing military power which is a concern to it's neighbors. Japan is concerned as it has disputed islands with China and the hatred received from invading China and the atrocities (eg-Nanking massacre). South Korea is concerned as China is North Korea's key ally. Taiwan is also concerned as the Nationalists are still in their final stand and if the Chinese military invades them, the US will back them and this is something the Chinese don't want to be involved in as they do not yet have the military power to take on the US.
Other countries in the South China Sea are also concerned about China's advancements like Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. The reason is because China had made a claim that the South China Sea belong to them and to back that up, China also claimed that it historically owned and ruled the South China Sea. You may think it's lame to rule an empty sea but the South China Sea contains alot of minerals and oil that China needs to fuel it's hungry economy. China wanted to mine the minerals and fuel with it's Navy protecting the resources. This caused concern as China's claim also include other countries exclusive economic zones. China's rise in military power meant that those countries are no match against it and that is when the US is involved. So here you see the US willing to help it's old foe, Vietnam.
Countries had been concerned about China's upcoming aircraft carrier as it will enable them to launch it's planes further and also the long range stealth J-20.
The West had been economically concerned about China as it violated copyright rules. China had been copying Russian weapons, vehicles, etc. In other words, China just cloned a foreign product (added improvements) and just changed the branding of the products. There are other economic controversies like dangerous chemicals on toothpaste, lead paint on toys, baby milk powder poisoned, reused cooking oil from sewers and suicides from Foxconn factory that produces Apple products like IPhone, IPod and IPad.
The rise of China is not always a bad thing. It employed a full work force in factories (eg toys, clothes, electronics, cars, etc) so it can be exported to overseas (at the cost of low wages). China had hosted major events that stunned the world like the Beijing Olympics, the Shanghai Expo, etc. Maybe in the future, the FIFA World Cup will be hosted by China. China also made advancements in space technology as not only they sent satellites to the moon but also became the third nation in the world to conduct a space walk on board the Shenzhou 7. Not only does China have a seat in the United Nations Security Council but also helped poor countries like Africa. China had been deploying peace keepers as part of the UN to poor countries in Africa to help build roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc in exchange for oil and minerals unlike European nations that buy them with cash and rely on organisations like the Red Cross or World Vision to provide the aid that Chinese engineers and peacekeepers are bringing to Africa.
China had been accused of helping Sudan in a series of genocides by suppying weapons to the regime. Satellite images showed new Q-5 fighter jets being given to the Sudanese Air Force which they used to bomb civilians while Western journalists found Chinese military trucks used in conducting massacres. In 2012, China built a new headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the African Union at the cost of nothing. In other words, the Chinese paid everything and built the new headquarters for the African Union for free.
Human rights organisations had complained about China having more executions than the rest of the world combined. This is because the Communist government is tough on crime and terrorism. Smuggling drugs into China or Singapore can easily get you a death penalty regardless if you are a Chinese/Singapore citizen or not. Human rights organisations also complain about the lack of freedoms and the control of Tibet which they see as illegitimate.
Imagine if the US Government told their people that shows like American Idol, Jersey Shore, Two and a half men, etc had been cancelled. That is what Hu Jintao had been doing in 2012. Over 2/3 of China's TV shows were taken off as Hu described it as capiltalizing and dividing the Chinese people. Any TV shows with inappropriate or vulgar content was taken down.
Of course, the Chinese Government did alot of hard work to unite China as one nation. If the US invade and take out China, it will break apart with Tibet and Xinjiang being free while Inner Mongolia returns to Mongolia. At that point China would have been at it's lowest since the downfall of the Opium war.
China is not 100% communist. It has a one country, two system type. This meant that the mainland is communist while Hong Kong and Macau are capitalists. Why? Hong Kong and Macau under foreign rule had enjoyed over a century of freedom and private ownership. After returning to Chinese rule, both Hong Kong and Macau stayed as capiltalists as turning communist overnight would be a complete nightmare.
Overall, China is currently in the progress of rising to become a superpower at all costs as it does not want to go through rough times like before.