A Chronology of the Chinese Dynasties
is home of the oldest surviving civilization on earth. For
millennia the Chinese were ruled by various Emperors, whose
families formed the Dynasties. As each new dynasty came to
power it would overthrow the preceeding one, changing the
course of history a century at a time. Some of the early dates
are speculative at best as few of the leading authorities
agree on all but the chronology.
Xia Dynasty: c.2500 - c.1600 B.C.
The most prehistoric of the dynasties which began the evolution
of Chinese civilization. 20th Century archaeologists have
gone a long way toward marrying Xia myth and reality, as many
ancient Chinese texts which pointed to settlements have been
proven to exist by actual excavation with finds of tombs and
Dynasty: c.1700 - c.1050 B.C.
The Shang Dynasty advanced itself through agriculture and animal
husbandry as well as hunting. Bronzework was already in existence
and showed improved workmanship, along with the development
of an early writing system. With civilization comes the need
to honour thy leader, and evidence from royal tombs indicate
a belief in the afterlife. Royals were buried with articles
of value, probably for use in the afterlife, and evidence also
exists for the inclusion of servants, possibly slaves, who were
buried alive in the royal chamber.
c.1027 - 221 B.C.
Western Zhou: C.1027 - 771 B.C.
Eastern Zhou: 770 - 221 B.C.
At 800 years the Zhou (often Chou) Dynasty was the longest lived,
enlarging the empire by conquest and colonization and promoting
philosophy. Confucius (c.551-497BC) was a statesman and advisor
to various feudal lords. He taught the philosophy of co-existence
and mutual duty, which emphasized personal virtue, devotion
to the family, including one's ancestors, justice and diplomacy.
Taoism also has its origins during the sixth century BC, a Chinese
philosophy and religious system based on the teachings of Lao-tse.
The concept of Tao being to reach practical and spiritual harmony
with the universe.
Following invasion in 771 B.C. the empire became increasingly
fragmented as the power behind the Zhou dynasty gradually diminished.
221 - 207 B.C.
Once the last of the Warring States (a sub-period from the last
250 years of the Eastern Zhou) conquered and brought under control
its rival states, the Qin Dynasty was founded. Though short-lived,
the Qin system of hard rule imperialism founded the first real
unified empire and established trade, communication, commerce
and education. To consolidate their position, the kings of Qin
rejected Confucianism, violently persecuting its believers.
Constant vigilance to the north and south kept out the barbarian
invaders and the earlier fortification walls built by the Warring
States along its northern Mongolian border were connected to
create a 2400km defensive wall, commonly known as the Great
Wall of China.
206 B.C. - A.D. 220
The heavy handed rule of the Qin
was replaced by the more lenient Han Dynasties. With relative
freedom, intellectual and literary work flourished. The ideals
of Confucius were adopted by the Han Emperors and Confucian
scholars began to take positions of importance in the civil
The empire grew and frontiers were extended bringing relatively
safe passage for traders from other countries into and out of
China. Most notably, the "silk road" which was the route west
and allowed the export of Chinese silk to ancient Rome. The
other great Chinese inventions, paper and porcelain, also date
from this period.
After 400 years the Han rulers seemed to lose their way and
the empire become the victim of its own success. Either through
corruption, rivalry or greed, the politically complex system
of government collapsed.
Dynasties: 220 - 581
Three Kingdoms: 220-280
Jin Dynasty: 265-420
Six Kingdoms: 420-581 Following the Han Dynasties, a succession
of other Dynasties gradually allowed the Chinese culture and
it's great empire, to fall into decay. I suppose this would
be the equivalent of Europes Dark Ages, a period in our own
history marked by a lack of cultural development.
581 - 618
Although started by the Wei Dynasty from about AD384, it was
the newly founded Sui Dynasty that finally reunited the splintered
Buddhism, first introduced in the 1st Century AD from India,
now took on a new significance and followers flocked to the
new enlightenment, as they also did to Taoism, the philosophy
The Sui Dynasty created economic stability along with a centralized,
stable government and the empire again prospered. Political
meddling and dubious military campaigns into Korea by the Emperors
son, who rose to power on the death of his father, brought down
the government and the Dynasty.
618 - 960
The Tang Dynasty ruled over a golden
age in the field of art and literature, and a great expansion
in trade occurred out as far as India and the Middle East. Probably
the most creative period in Chinese history, with large quantities
of surviving pottery, displaying a wide variety of techniques
and colours. The capital Changan became a famous cosmopolitan
This higher culture included poetry and the Buddhist arts, which
flourished. With the invention of block printing, suddenly the
written word became available to many more citizens of the empire
at a time when education would equal social status and wealth.
The Tang only ruled up to 907, following defeat by northern
invaders, fragmentary dynasties ruled from 907 - 960.
Song) Dynasty: 960 - 1279
Northern Sung: 960 - 1127 & Southern
Sung: 1127 - 1279
Under Sung rule, peace was restored
and China achieved one of its highest levels of culture and
prosperity. The empire was united under one Emperor instead
of a plethora of governorships and this led to greater stability
for the people and more power for the Emperor.
The Sung sub-periods occurred when repeated invasions from the
north forced the Sung court to move south. Soon the building
of new cities from which to oversee the empire and the opening
up of trade routes with the rest of the world, rewarded a much
higher percentage of the population with financial independence
from the state.
A renewed interest in Confucianism combined intellectuals with
art, literature and poetry, philosophers with government office,
and the merchants with hard-paste porcelain which could be exported
to the interior and the world.
The Mongol leader Genghis Khan captured Beijing in 1215 and
following the completion of "The Quest of China", Kublai Khan
(grandson of Genghis Khan) brought the Sung Dynasty to an end
1279 - 1368
Yuan Dynasty, a Mongol Dynasty, enjoyed an enviable success
rate on the battlefield which it could not sustain during peace
time. Financial demands on the population resulted in peasantry
and famine, which, along with natural disasters, notably flooding,
produced numerous and sustained uprisings in almost every province.
Eventually the rebels began to stand their ground and were winning
more and more influence in the provinces. It was the rebel leader,
Zhu Yuan-chang, a former Buddhist monk, who eventually proclaimed
himself leader and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368.
1368 - 1644
1382, Zhu Yuan-chang had driven the Mongols out of Beijing(1371)
and unified most of China. The arts flourished and periods of
foreign trade began as the first European seafarers reached
China from Portugal, England, France and the Dutch East India
Top of the list was the distinctive blue-and-white porcelain
which began a new period in Chinese ceramic history.
An Imperial factory, built in the Kiangsi province would produced
prolific quantities of blue-and-white and fine enamel-painted
porcelain, firstly for the court and later for general use and
then export, at which point Ming pottery became very famous
Ch'ing or the Manchu Dynasty: 1644 - 1911
The Manchu Dynasty, a northern people, took Beijing from the
Ming in 1644 and became the last ruling dynasty of China. A
long dynasty of relative stability, but isolation, cultural
stagnation, and generally weakened by rebellion, the government
began to lose its grip. The Manchurians suffered several military
defeats toward the end of the 19th Century and following a popular
revolution, Dr.Sun Zhongshan, a revolutionary leader, inaugurated
a republic in 1912.
The days of Dynasty rule were over.