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Chinese ancient History

ChinaFirst dynasty in China

(ca. 2100-1600 BCE) Xia (Hsia) Dynasty

The dynasty was founded by Yu the Great who worked relentlessly for thirteen years to control the flooding of the Yellow River which routinely destroyed the farmer’s crops. He was so focused on his work that it was said he did not return home once in all those years, even though he seems to have passed by his house on at least three occasions, and this dedication inspired others to follow him. After he had controlled the flooding, Yu conquered the Sanmiao tribes and was named successor (by the then-ruler, Shun), reigning until his death. Yu established the hereditary system of succession and, so, the concept of dynasty which has become most familiar. The ruling class and the elite lived in urban clusters while the peasant population, which supported their lifestyle, remained largely agrarian, living in rural areas. Yu’s son, Qi, ruled after him and power remained in the hands of the family until the last Xia ruler, Jie, was overthrown by Tang who established the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE).


Age of art flourishing

1600-1050 BCE Shang Dynasty ca.

Tang was from the kingdom of Shang. in the kingdom of Shang who, around 1600 BCE, led a revolt against Jie and defeated his forces at the Battle of Mingtiao. The extravagance of the Xia court, and the resultant burden on the populace, is thought to have led to this uprising. Tang then assumed leadership of the land, lowered taxes, suspended the grandiose building projects begun by Jie (which were draining the kingdoms of resources) and ruled with such wisdom and efficiency that art and culture were allowed to flourish. Writing developed under the Shang Dynasty as well as bronze metallurgy, architecture, etc.

Bronze Metallurgy Architecture


Age of war and philosopher

ca. 1046-256 BCE Zhou (Chou) Dynasty: Western Zhou (ca. 1046-771 BCE), Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE)

Around the year 1046 BCE, King Wu, of the province of Zhou, rebelled against King Zhou of Shang and defeated his forces at the Battle of Muye, establishing the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046- 226 BCE). 1046-771 BCE marks the Western Zhou Period while 771-226 BCE marks the Eastern Zhou. The Mandate of Heaven was invoked by the Duke of Zhou, King Wu’s younger brother, to legitimize the revolt as he felt the Shang were no longer acting in the interests of the people. The Mandate of Heaven was thus defined as the gods’ blessing on a just ruler and rule by divine mandate. When the government no longer served the will of the gods, that government would be overthrown. Further, it was stipulated that there could be only one legitimate ruler of China and that his rule should be legitimized by his proper conduct as a steward of the lands entrusted him by heaven. Rule could be passed from father to son but only if the child possessed the necessary virtue to rule. This mandate would later be often manipulated by various rulers entrusting succession to unworthy progeny.

A Man in a Chariot

Under the Zhou, culture flourished and civilization spread. Writing was codified and iron metallurgy became increasingly sophisticated. The greatest and best known Chinese philosophers and poets, Confucius, Mencius,Mo Ti (Mot Zu), Lao-Tzu, Tao Chien, and the military strategist Sun-Tzu (if he existed as depicted), all come from the Zhou period in China and the time of the Hundred Schools of Thought.

The system eventually broke down into a competition for power between rival semi-autonomous states in what became known as the Spring and Autumn period (ca. 770-475 BCE) and the Warring States (ca. 475-221 BCE) period. It was tumultuous times that Confucius (551-479 BCE) lived.

Jade Pendants Tiger form

Jade pendants tiger-form in Zhou


A New Era of Unification

221-206 BCE Qin (Ch'in) Dynast

Shi Huangti

Shi Huangti (which means first emperor) established the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE) ,the Imperial Era in China. He ordered the destruction of the walled fortifications which had separated the different states and commissioned the building of a great wall along the northern border of his kingdom. Though little remains today of Shi Huangti’s original wall, The Great Wall of China was begun under his rule.

With his harsh methods of rule, including the suppression of dissenting thought. a unitary state by imposing a centralized administration and by standardizing the writing script, weights and measures, an era since then came into being, it had laid the foundation for 2000 years China feudal society.

Terracotte Warriors


Consolidation of the Imperial Order

The Chu-Han Contention & Han Dynasty: Western/Former Han (206 BCE-9 CE) and Eastern/Later Han (25-220 CE)

With the fall of the Qin Dynasty, China was plunged into chaos. Two generals emerged among the forces which rebelled against the Qin, Prince Liu-Bang of Hanzhong and King Xiang-Yu of the state of Chu, who fought for control of the government. Xiang-Yu, who had proven himself the most formidable opponent of the Qin, awarded Liu-Bang the title of `King of the Han’ in recognition of Liu-Bang’s decisive defeat of the Qin forces in the final battle.

The two former allies quickly became antagonists, however, in the power struggle known as the Chu-Han contention until Xiang-Yu negotiated the Treaty of Hong Canal and brought a temporary peace. Xiang-Yu suggested dividing China under the rule of the Chu in the east and the Han in the west but Liu-Bang wanted a united China under Han rule and, breaking the treaty, resumed hostilities.

At the Battle of Gaixia in 202 BCE, Liu-Bang’s great general, Han-Xin, trapped and defeated the forces of Chu under Xiang-Yu and Liu-Bang was proclaimed emperor (known to posterity as Emperor Gaozu of Han). He pushed back the nomadic Huns tribes, who had been making incursions into China, and made peace with the other states which had risen in rebellion against the failing Qin Dynasty. The Han Dynasty (which derives its name from Liu-Bang’s home in Hanzhong province) would rule China, with a brief interruption, for the next 400 years, from 202 BCE to 220 CE.

The Han Dynasty Modified and consolidated the foundation of the imperial order. Confucianism was established as orthodoxy and open civil service examinations were introduced. Han power reached Korea and Vietnam. Records of the Historian, which became the model for subsequent official histories, was completed.

Silk Road

Silk Road


Period of Disunity-Political chaos and civil War characterized times

220-589 CE Tree Kingdoms And Six Dynasties Period

It is a period of disunity and instability following the fall of the Han; Buddhism introduced to China.

During that the Wei conquered the Shu kingdom in 265 and the Western Jin dynasty was founded. This was a dynasty built on family patronage and led to revolts between the leading families. The weakness of the state was exploited by tribes to the north. Liu Yuan of the Xiongnu tribe led a revolt and brought the Western Jin to an end. The north then broke into small kingdoms and fiefdoms of which 16 are significant and so is called the 'Sixteen Kingdoms'. The northern Tuoba tribe part of the Xianbei formed the Northern Wei dynasty in 386. The Northern Wei (386-534) split into Eastern (534-550) and Western Wei (535-557) and then Northern Qi (550-577) and Northern Zhou (557-581), these five are collectively referred as the 'Northern Dynasties'. Although the term ‘dynasty’ is used, these short-lived epochs do not represent unified central control, they are just convenient labels for a period of time. The customs and traditions of these northern tribes were gradually assimilated into Chinese culture. Contact with the Roman (Da Qin) and Persian Empires continued in the westernmost kingdoms. Parallels are often drawn between this period and the 'European Dark Ages ‘following the fall of Rome. In general, China suffered less trauma and the seeds of a second re-unification were already sown, Chinese language and civilization were never swamped by invasions as they were in Europe. Gradual cultural development continued despite the lack of centralized leadership.

The empire was fragmented. The North was dominated by invaders from the borderland and the steppes. The South was ruled by successive "Chinese" dynasties.

Chinese Warrior Мiew of the Сity from the top


China reunified

581-618 CE Sui Dynasty

It was Yang Jian (541-604) an official of the Northern Zhou kingdom who established the first re-unification of China - the Sui dynasty in 581. He reigned with the title Wendi Literary Emperor and started to rebuild a country torn by division. He used his strong Buddhist views to justify conquest on the basis of defending the Buddhist faith. He re-united the northern and southern halves of the country in 589 founding a new capital at Daxing  now named Xi'an. The civil service was enhanced by requiring tough examinations in law and Confucian philosophy so that appointments were again made on merit rather than patronage. Each province were ordered to put forward their students of outstanding talent to take the exams. Administration was instituted under the ancient ‘Three Administrators’ model (secretariat; privy council and cabinet) and Six Ministries following the model of the Qin-Han period. The ruling family were from the Xianbei ➚ tribe rather than Han Chinese although they soon took to Chinese culture. Many of the private armies that had fueled the incessant warfare between kingdoms were disbanded. Large construction projects were initiated such as the building of the Grand Canal. The canal enabled grain (mainly rice) from the southern provinces to be safely transported to the north in vast quantities. Another large engineering project was the strengthening of the Great Wall. Large state granaries were built and filled to give a reliable food supply for a burgeoning population.

Maijishan Grottoes


The Golden Age Of China – A Time Of Great Accomplishments And Innovations

618-906 Tang (T'ang) Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) is considered the `golden age’ of Chinese civilization. Gao-Tzu prudently maintained, and improved upon, the bureaucracy initiated by the Sui Dynasty while dispensing with extravagant military operations and building projects. With minor modifications, the bureaucratic policies of the Tang Dynasty are still in use in Chinese government in the modern day. Despite his efficient rule, Gao-Tzu was deposed by his son, Li-Shimin, in 626 CE. Having assassinated his father, Li-Shimin then killed his brothers and others of the noble house and assumed the title Emperor Taizong. After the bloody coup, however, Taizong decreed that Buddhist temples be built at the sites of the battles and that the fallen should be memorialized. Continuing, and building upon, the concepts of ancestor worship and the Mandate of Heaven, Taizong claimed divine will in his actions and intimated that those he had killed now were his counselors in the afterlife. As he proved to be a remarkably efficient ruler, as well as a skilled military strategist and warrior, his coup went unchallenged and he set about the task of governing his vast empire.

Ming Huang Shu in Travel


An era of significant economic and social changes

960-1279 Song (Sung) Dynasty: Northern Song (960-1127) and Southern Song (1127-1279)

Following the fall of the Tang Dynasty, China enters a chaotic century (period of the Five dynasties, 907-960). The Song Dynasty brings about military unification of most of the territory. It is divided in two halves :  the Northern Song (960-1126) succeeded by the Southern Song (1127-1279).

Despite the loss of the extensive lands to the west the Song dynasty represented another blossoming of prosperity and cultural endeavor. The founder of the dynasty, Zhao Kuangyin (aka Taizu), took the best parts of the existing administrative system and ditched others; for example it was no longer a capital offense to disagree with the Emperor. He came to power apparently reluctantly, being pushed forward by military commanders as their leader in a move reminiscent of the ascension of Roman Emperor Claudius . He reduced the power of provincial governors and disbanded the army that had brought him to power. By his death in 976 he ruled most of southern China except for Fujian and Zhejiang with very little armed conflict. To remove the usual instability brought about by reigns of child Emperors the throne passed to his brother not his son. During the dynasty, the population rose to over 100 million; great cities with over one million people were founded and others extended. The capital Kaifeng became even more populous than the former Tang capital of Chang'an. Painting; calligraphy and philosophy achieved new levels of sophistication; and the Emperors themselves became skilled in these arts. At this time industry, commerce and agriculture in China were far in advance of the rest of the World. Blast furnaces produced quality iron; gunpowder started to be used in weaponry; water mills powered textile mills. Paper money, controlled by the state, was printed for the first time. Song porcelain remains the most highly prized of ceramics of all time. Five able Southern Song emperors ruled the empire wisely. The nation no longer saw itself as purely agrarian, it was developing new technologies and commercial activities.

Su Shi water tune songChinese Tea


Cosmopolitan era with a great mingling of cultures

1279-1368 Yuan Dynasty

MongolFounded by the Mongols as part of their conquest of much of the world. Beijing was made the capital. Dramas, such as the famous Story of the Western Wing, flourished.

The Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) saw a diversification and richness in cultural traditions. The development of a rich culture all throughout the Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271-1368) was similar to the other periods of rule in China. Considered a major cultural achievement was that drama and the novel-writing were developed. There was an increase in the usage of the written native language. Cultural exchanges were made through the several Mongols contacts in West Asia and Europe. During the time, the Chinese performing arts were enhanced through the introduction of the musical instruments of the West. The period of the Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271-1368) was when the conversion of Central Asian people into Islam was started. There was a significant increase in the number of Chinese in the southwest and northwest areas of the country. There was some degree of toleration for nationalism and Roman Catholicism. Persecutions by Mongols saw the endurance of Taoism and the Tibetan Lamaism as well as the native Buddhism flourished throughout the period of the Yuan Dynasty. Confucian ideals were again instituted by the Mongols to maintain over the Han people their rule.


Re-establishment of rule by Han ruling house

1368-1644 Ming Dynasty

The Ming Dynasty was marked by the wide range of public works and accomplishments.

The first Ming emperor, Hongwu, laid the basis of an authoritarian political culture. Mongols were driven out. The third emperor of Ming, Zhu Di, ordered the construction of The Forbidden City and moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1421.  Under the reign of Zhu Di, admiral Zheng He led his fleet to explore the world in seven voyages between 1405 and 1433.  Some believe the fleet reached as far as Europe and Americas.

"With hindsight we can see that the Ming dynasty, whose emperors had ruled China since 1368, was past its political peak by the early seventeenth century; yet in the years around 1600, China’s cultural life was in an ebullient condition that few, if any, other countries could match”

Jonathan Spence

Forbidden City

The Ming Dynasty was marked by the wide range of public works and accomplishments. Apart from the repair of the Great Wall of China and the establishment of the Forbidden City, separation of cities and rural areas were also pushed to create an increase in production for Chinese farms to be used for storage and trade. By the turn of the 16th century, China’s economy was fueled by trade with various countries and nationalities, some of which are the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese.

Chinese TripodJade Dog

A Manchu dynasty, the last dynasty in the Chinese history

1644-1912 Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty Last emperor in Chinese history

The 5th biggest empire in the history of mankind with a 14.7 million kilometer square of conquered lands around the world. Its authoritarian structure was subsequently unable to meet the military and cultural challenge of an expansive West.

Last China Emperor

The Qing Dynasty also known as Manchu dynasty was the last dynasty in the Chinese history. It began during the fall of the 276 year old Ming dynasty in 1644 and ended in 1912 though it was attempted to be restored to no avail in 1917. The end of Qing dynasty was known as the beginning of the Republic of China.

A Port in Qing Dynasty

A Port In Qing Dynasty

Known for its monarchic nature, the Qing Dynasty was established by the Manchu Clan Aisin Gioro within the archaic Manchuria (now known as Northeast China). It was originally founded as the Later Jin Dynasty but was renamed Qing in 1636 which literally translates to “clear”. This era was also said to be the time of the introduction of a new system of faith to the Chinese locals by the Westerners.

Imperial Garden summer palace

Imperial Garden-summer palace in spring

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