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Territories occupied by different dynasties as well as modern political states throughout the history of China
History of China
History of China
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2100–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty 1045–256 BCE
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn Period
   Warring States Period
Qin Dynasty 221 BCE–206 BCE
Han Dynasty 206 BCE–220 CE
  Western Han
  Xin Dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu & Wu
Jin Dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin 16 Kingdoms
  Eastern Jin
Southern & Northern Dynasties
Sui Dynasty 581–618
Tang Dynasty 618–907
  ( Second Zhou 690–705 )
5 Dynasties &
10 Kingdoms

Liao Dynasty
Song Dynasty
  Northern Song W. Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan Dynasty 1271–1368
Ming Dynasty 1368–1644
Qing Dynasty 1644–1911
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic
of China

of China


Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers both along the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era. The written history of China can be found as early as the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1700 BCE – ca. 1046 BCE).[1] Oracle Bones with ancient Chinese writing from the Shang Dynasty have been carbon dated to as early as 1500 BCE.[2] The origins of Chinese culture, literature and philosophy, developed during the Zhou Dynasty (1045 BCE to 256 BCE).

The Zhou Dynasty began to bow to external and internal pressures in the 8th century BCE. The ability of the Zhou to control its regional lords lessened, and the kingdom eventually broke apart into individual smaller states, beginning in the Spring and Autumn Period and reaching full expression in the Warring States period. In 221 BCE, Qin Shi Huang united the various warring kingdoms and created the first Chinese empire. Successive dynasties in Chinese history developed bureaucratic systems that enabled the Emperor of China to directly control vast territories.

The conventional view of Chinese history is that of a dynasty alternating between periods of political unity and disunity and occasionally becoming dominated by other inner Asian peoples, most of whom were in turn assimilated into the Han Chinese population. Cultural and political influences from many parts of Asia, carried by successive waves of immigration, expansion, and cultural assimilation, are part of the modern culture of China.



What is now China was inhabited by Homo erectus more than a million years ago.[3] Recent study shows that the stone tools found at Xiaochangliang site are magnetostratigraphically dated 1.36 million years ago.[4] The archaeological site of Xihoudu in Shanxi Province is the earliest recorded use of fire by Homo erectus, which is dated 1.27 million years ago.[3] The excavations at Yuanmou and later Lantian show early habitation. Perhaps the most famous specimen of Homo erectus found in China is the so-called Peking Man discovered in 1923-27.

Three pottery pieces were unearthed at Liyuzui Cave in Liuzhou, Guangxi Province dated 16,500 and 19,000 BCE.[5]



The Neolithic age in China can be traced back to between 12,000 and 10,000 BCE[6] Early evidence for proto-Chinese millet agriculture is carbon-dated to about 7,000 BCE.[7] The Peiligang culture of Xinzheng county, Henan was excavated in 1977.[8] With agriculture came increased population, the ability to store and redistribute crops, and to support specialist craftsmen and administrators.[9] In late Neolithic times, the Yellow River valley began to establish itself as a cultural center, where the first villages were founded; the most archaeologically significant of those was found at Banpo, Xi'an.[10] The Yellow River was so named because of the loess that would build up on the bank and down in the earth then sink, creating a yellowish tint to the water.[11]

The early history of China is complicated by the lack of a written language during this period coupled with the existence of documents from later time periods attempting to describe events that occurred several centuries before. The problem in some sense stems from centuries of introspection on the part of the Chinese people which has blurred the distinction between fact and fiction in regards to this early history. By 7000 BCE, the Chinese were farming millet, giving rise to the Jiahu culture. At Damaidi in Ningxia, 3,172 cliff carvings dating to 6,000-5,000 BCE have been discovered "featuring 8,453 individual characters such as the sun, moon, stars, gods and scenes of hunting or grazing." These pictographs are reputed to be similar to the earliest characters confirmed to be written Chinese.[12][13] Later Yangshao culture was superseded by the Longshan culture around 2500 BCE.

Ancient era

Xia Dynasty (ca. 2,100-ca. 1,600 BCE)

The Xia Dynasty of China (from ca. 2,100 BCE to 1,600 BCE) is the first dynasty to be described in ancient historical records such as Records of the Grand Historian and Bamboo Annals.[1][14]

Although there is disagreement regarding the actual existence of the dynasty, there is some archaeological evidence pointing to its possible existence. The historian Sima Qian (145 BCE-90 BCE), who wrote the Shiji or Records of the Grand Historian and the so-called Bamboo Annals date the founding of the Xia Dynasty to 4,200 years ago, but this date has not been corroborated. Most archaeologists now connect the Xia to excavations at Erlitou in central Henan province,[15] where a bronze smelter from around 2000 BCE was unearthed. Early markings from this period found on pottery and shells are thought to be ancestors of modern Chinese characters.[16] With few clear records matching the Shang oracle bones or the Zhou bronze vessel writings, the Xia era remains poorly understood.

According to mythology, the dynasty ended around 1600BC due to the Battle of Mingtiao.

Shang Dynasty (ca. 1700-1046 BCE)

Remnants of advanced, stratified societies dating back to the Shang found in the Yellow River Valley

The earliest discovered written record of Chinese past dates from the Shang Dynasty in perhaps the 13th century BCE, and takes the form of inscriptions of divination records on the bones or shells of animals—the so-called oracle bones. Archeological findings providing evidence for the existence of the Shang Dynasty, c 1600-1046 BCE are divided into two sets. The first set, from the earlier Shang period (ca.1750-1045 BCE) comes from sources at Erligang, Zhengzhou and Shangcheng. The second set, from the later Shang or Yin (殷) period, consists of a large body of oracle bone writings. Anyang, in modern-day Henan, has been confirmed as the last of the Shang's nine capitals (c 1300-1046 BCE). The Shang Dynasty featured 31 kings, from Tang of Shang to King Zhou of Shang. In this period, the Chinese worshiped many different gods - weather gods and sky gods - and also a supreme god, named Shangdi, who ruled over the other gods. Those who lived during the Shang Dynasty also believed that their ancestors - their parents and grandparents - became like gods when they died, and that their ancestors wanted to be worshipped too, like gods. Each family worshiped its own ancestors.

Around 1500 BCE, the Chinese began to use written oracle bones to predict the future. By the time of the Zhou Dynasty (about 1100 BCE), the Chinese were also worshiping a natural force called tian, which is usually translated as Heaven. Like Shangdi, Heaven ruled over all the other gods, and it decided who would rule China, called the Mandate of Heaven. The ruler could rule as long as he or she had the Mandate of Heaven; it was believed that the emperor or empress had lost the Mandate of Heaven when natural disasters occurred in great number, and when, more realistically, the sovereign had apparently lost his concern for the people. In response, the royal house would be overthrown, and a new house would rule, having been granted the Mandate of Heaven.

The Records of the Grand Historian states that the Shang Dynasty moved its capital six times. The final (and most important) move to Yin in 1350 BCE led to the dynasty's golden age. The term Yin Dynasty has been synonymous with the Shang dynasty in history, although it has lately been used to specifically refer to the latter half of the Shang Dynasty.

Chinese historians living in later periods were accustomed to the notion of one dynasty succeeding another, but the actual political situation in early China is known to have been much more complicated. Hence, as some scholars of China suggest, the Xia and the Shang can possibly refer to political entities that existed concurrently, just as the early Zhou is known to have existed at the same time as the Shang.

Written records found at Anyang confirm the existence of the Shang dynasty. However, Western scholars are often hesitant to associate settlements contemporaneous with the Anyang settlement with the Shang dynasty. For example, archaeological findings at Sanxingdui suggest a technologically advanced civilization culturally unlike Anyang. The evidence is inconclusive in proving how far the Shang realm extended from Anyang. The leading hypothesis is that Anyang, ruled by the same Shang in the official history, coexisted and traded with numerous other culturally diverse settlements in the area that is now referred to as China proper.

Zhou Dynasty (1066-ca. 221 BCE)

Bronze ritual vessel (You), Western Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou Dynasty was the longest dynasty in Chinese history, from 1066 to approximately 221 BCE. By the end of the 1st millennium BCE, the Zhou Dynasty began to emerge in the Yellow River valley, overrunning the Shang. The Zhou appeared to have begun their rule under a semi-feudal system. The Zhou were a people who lived west of Shang, and the Zhou leader had been appointed "Western Protector" by the Shang. The ruler of the Zhou, King Wu, with the assistance of his brother, the Duke of Zhou, as regent managed to defeat the Shang at the Battle of Muye. The king of Zhou at this time invoked the concept of the Mandate of Heaven to legitimize his rule, a concept that would be influential for almost every successive dynasty. The Zhou initially moved their capital west to an area near modern Xi'an, near the Yellow River, but they would preside over a series of expansions into the Yangtze River valley. This would be the first of many population migrations from north to south in Chinese history.

Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 BCE)

Chinese pu vessel with interlaced dragon design, Spring and Autumn Period.

In the 8th century BCE, power became decentralized during the Spring and Autumn Period, named after the influential Spring and Autumn Annals. In this period, local military leaders used by the Zhou began to assert their power and vie for hegemony. The situation was aggravated by the invasion of other peoples from the northwest, such as the Qin, forcing the Zhou to move their capital east to Luoyang. This marks the second large phase of the Zhou dynasty: the Eastern Zhou. In each of the hundreds of states that eventually arose, local strongmen held most of the political power and continued their subservience to the Zhou kings in name only. Local leaders for instance started using royal titles for themselves. The Hundred Schools of Thought of Chinese philosophy blossomed during this period, and such influential intellectual movements as Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism and Mohism were founded, partly in response to the changing political world. The Spring and Autumn Period is marked by a falling apart of the central Zhou power. China now consists of hundreds of states, some only as large as a village with a fort.

Warring States Period (476-221 BCE)

After further political consolidation, seven prominent states remained by the end of 5th century BCE, and the years in which these few states battled each other are known as the Warring States Period. Though there remained a nominal Zhou king until 256 BCE, he was largely a figurehead and held little real power. As neighboring territories of these warring states, including areas of modern Sichuan and Liaoning, were annexed, they were governed under the new local administrative system of commandery and prefecture (郡縣/郡县). This system had been in use since the Spring and Autumn Period and parts can still be seen in the modern system of Sheng & Xian (province and county, 省縣/省县). The final expansion in this period began during the reign of Ying Zheng, the king of Qin. His unification of the other six powers, and further annexations in the modern regions of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong and Guangxi in 214 BCE enabled him to proclaim himself the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huang).

Imperial era

Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE)

Historians often refer to the period from Qin Dynasty to the end of Qing Dynasty as Imperial China. Though the unified reign of the Qin Emperor lasted only 12 years, he managed to subdue great parts of what constitutes the core of the Han Chinese homeland and to unite them under a tightly centralized Legalist government seated at Xianyang (close to modern Xi'an). The doctrine of legalism that guided the Qin emphasized strict adherence to a legal code and the absolute power of the emperor. This philosophy of Legalism, while effective for expanding the empire in a military fashion, proved unworkable for governing it in peace time. The Qin presided over the brutal silencing of political opposition, including the event known as the burning and burying of scholars. This would be the impetus behind the later Han Synthesis incorporating the more moderate schools of political governance.

The Qin Dynasty is well known for beginning the Great Wall of China, which was later augmented and enhanced during the Ming Dynasty. The other major contributions of the Qin include the concept of a centralized government, the unification of the legal code, written language, measurement, and currency of China after the tribulations of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods. Even something as basic as the length of axles for carts had to be made uniform to ensure a viable trading system throughout the empire.[17]

Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE)

A Han Dynasty oil lamp with a sliding shutter, in the shape of a kneeling female servant, 2nd century BCE

The Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) emerged in 206 BCE, with its founder Liu Bang proclaimed emperor in 202. It was the first dynasty to embrace the philosophy of Confucianism, which became the ideological underpinning of all regimes until the end of imperial China. Under the Han Dynasty, China made great advances in many areas of the arts and sciences. Emperor Wu consolidated and extended the Chinese empire by pushing back the Xiongnu (identified with the Huns) into the steppes of modern Inner Mongolia, wresting from them the modern areas of Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai. This enabled the first opening of trading connections between China and the West, the Silk Road. Han Dynasty general Ban Chao expanded his conquests across the Pamirs to the shores of the Caspian Sea.[18] The first of several Roman embassies to China is recorded in Chinese sources, coming from the sea route in 166, and a second one in 284.

Nevertheless, land acquisitions by elite families gradually drained the tax base. In CE 9, the usurper Wang Mang founded the short-lived Xin ("New") Dynasty and started an extensive program of land and other economic reforms. These programs, however, were never supported by the land-holding families, for they favored the peasants. The instability brought about chaos and uprisings.

Emperor Guangwu reinstated the Han Dynasty with the support of land-holding and merchant families at Luoyang, east of Xi'an. This new era would be termed the Eastern Han Dynasty. Han power declined again amidst land acquisitions, invasions, and feuding between consort clans and eunuchs. The Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in 184, ushering in an era of warlords. In the ensuing turmoil, three states tried to gain predominance in the Period of the Three Kingdoms. This time period has been greatly romanticized in works such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Wei and Jin Period (265–420 CE)

After Cao Cao reunified the North in 208 CE, his son proclaimed the Wei dynasty in 220 CE. Soon, Wei's rivals Shu and Wu proclaimed their independence, leading China into the Three Kingdoms Period. This period was characterized by a gradual decentralization of the state that had existed during the Qin and Han Dynasties, and an increase in the power of great families. Although the Three Kingdoms were reunified by the Jin Dynasty in 280 CE, this structure was essentially the same until the Wu Hu uprising.

Wu Hu Period (304–439 CE)

Taking advantage of civil war in the Jin Dynasty, the contemporary non-Han Chinese (Wu Hu) ethnic groups controlled much of the country in the early 4th century and provoked large-scale Han Chinese migrations to south of the Chang Jiang. In 303 the Di people rebelled and later captured Chengdu, establishing the state of Cheng Han. Under Liu Yuan the Xiongnu rebelled near today's Linfen County and established the state of Han Zhao. His successor Liu Cong captured and executed the last two Western Jin emperors. Sixteen kingdoms were a plethora of short-lived non-Chinese dynasties that came to rule the whole or parts of northern China in the 4th and 5th centuries. Many ethnic groups were involved, including ancestors of the Turks, Mongolians, and Tibetans. Most of these nomadic peoples had to some extent been "Sinicized" long before their ascent to power. In fact, some of them, notably the Ch'iang and the Xiong-nu, had already been allowed to live in the frontier regions within the Great Wall since late Han times.

A limestone statue of the Bodhisattva, from the Northern Qi Dynasty, 570 AD, made in what is now modern Henan province.

Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589 CE)

Signaled by the collapse of East Jin Dynasty in 420, China entered the era of the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The Han people managed to survive the military attacks from the nomadic tribes of the north, such as the Xian Bei, and their civilization continued to thrive.

In Southern China, fierce debates about whether Buddhism should be allowed to exist were held frequently by the royal court and nobles. Finally, near the end of the Southern and Northern Dynasties era, both Buddhist and Taoist followers compromised and became more tolerant of each other.

In 589, Sui annexed the last Southern Dynasty, Chen, through military force, and put an end to the era of Southern and Northern Dynasties.

Sui Dynasty (589–618 CE)

The Sui Dynasty, which managed to reunite the country in 589 after nearly four centuries of political fragmentation, played a role more important than its length of existence would suggest. The Sui brought China together again and set up many institutions that were to be adopted by their successors, the Tang. Like the Qin, however, the Sui overused their resources and collapsed. Also similar to the Qin, traditional history has judged the Sui somewhat unfairly, as it has stressed the harshness of the Sui regime and the arrogance of its second emperor, giving little credit for the Dynasty's many positive achievements.

Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE)

A Chinese Tang Dynasty tri-colored glaze porcelain horse (ca. 700 CE)

On June 18, 618, Gaozu took the throne, and the Tang Dynasty was established, opening a new age of prosperity and innovations in arts and technology. Buddhism, which had gradually been established in China from the first century, became the predominant religion and was adopted by the imperial family and many of the common people.

Chang'an (modern Xi'an), the national capital, is thought to have been the world's largest city at the time. The Tang and the Han are often referred to as the most prosperous periods of Chinese history.

The Tang, like the Han, kept the trade routes open to the west and south and there was extensive trade with distant foreign countries and many foreign merchants settled in China.

The Tang introduced a new system into the Chinese government, called the "equal-field system". This system gave families land grants from the Emperor based on their needs, not their wealth.

From about 860 the Tang Dynasty began to decline due to a series of rebellions within China itself, and in the previously subject Kingdom of Nanzhao to the south. One of the warlords, Huang Chao, captured Guangzhou in 879, killing most of the 200,000 inhabitants including most of the large colony of foreign merchant families there.[19] In late 880 Luoyang surrendered to him and on 5 January, 881 he conquered Chang'an. The emperor Xizong fled to Chengdu and Huang established a new temporary regime, which was eventually destroyed by Tang forces, but another time of political chaos followed.

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907–960 CE)

The period of political disunity between the Tang and the Song, known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, lasted little more than half a century, from 907 to 960. During this brief era, when China was in all respects a multi-state system, five regimes succeeded one another rapidly in control of the old Imperial heartland in northern China. During this same time, 10 more stable regimes occupied sections of southern and western China, so the period is also referred to as that of the Ten Kingdoms.

Song Dynasty and Liao, Jin, Western Xia (960–1234 CE)

Homeward Oxherds in Wind and Rain, by Li Di, 12th century

In 960, the Song Dynasty (960-1279) gained power over most of China and established its capital in Kaifeng (later known as Bianjing), starting a period of economic prosperity, while the Khitan Liao Dynasty ruled over Manchuria, present-day Mongolia, and parts of Northern China. In 1115 the Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) emerged to prominence, annihilating the Liao Dynasty in 10 years. Meanwhile, in what are now the northwestern Chinese provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, and Ningxia, there emerged a Western Xia Dynasty from 1032 up to 1227, established by Tangut tribes.

The Jin Dynasty also took power over northern China and Kaifeng from the Song Dynasty, which moved its capital to Hangzhou (杭州). The Southern Song Dynasty also suffered the humiliation of having to acknowledge the Jin Dynasty as formal overlords. In the ensuing years China was divided between the Song Dynasty, the Jin Dynasty and the Tangut Western Xia. Southern Song experienced a period of great technological development which can be explained in part by the military pressure that it felt from the north. This included the use of gunpowder weapons, which played a large role in the Song Dynasty naval victories against the Jin in the Battle of Tangdao and Battle of Caishi on the Yangtze River in 1161. Furthermore, China's first permanent standing navy was assembled and provided an admiral's office at Dinghai in 1132, under the reign of Emperor Renzong of Song.

The Song Dynasty is considered by many to be classical China's high point in science and technology, with innovative scholar-officials such as Su Song (1020–1101) and Shen Kuo (1031–1095). There was court intrigue with the political rivals of the Reformers and Conservatives, led by the chancellors Wang Anshi and Sima Guang, respectively. By the mid to late 13th century the Chinese had adopted the dogma of Neo-Confucian philosophy formulated by Zhu Xi. There were enormous literary works compiled during the Song Dynasty, such as the historical work of the Zizhi Tongjian. Culture and the arts flourished, with grandiose artworks such as Along the River During Qingming Festival and Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute, while there were great Buddhist painters such as Lin Tinggui.

Yuan Dynasty (1234–1305 CE)

Yang Guifei Mounting a Horse, by Qian Xuan (1235-1305 CE).

Jurchen tribes' Jin Dynasty, whose names are also rendered "Jin" in pinyin, was defeated by the Mongols, who then proceeded to defeat the Southern Song in a long and bloody war, the first war where firearms played an important role. During the era after the war, later called the Pax Mongolica, adventurous Westerners such as Marco Polo travelled all the way to China and brought the first reports of its wonders to Europe. In the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols were divided between those who wanted to remain based in the steppes and those who wished to adopt the customs of the Chinese.

Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, wanting to adopt the customs of China, established the Yuan Dynasty. This was the first dynasty to rule the whole of China from Beijing as the capital. Beijing had been ceded to Liao in CE 938 with the Sixteen Prefectures of Yan Yun. Before that, it had been the capital of the Jin, who did not rule all of China.

Before the Mongol invasion, Chinese dynasties reportedly had approximately 120 million inhabitants; after the conquest was completed in 1279, the 1300 census reported roughly 60 million people.[20] The 14th century epidemics of plague (Black Death) is estimated to have killed 30% of the population of China.[21][22]

Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE)

Court Ladies of the Former Shu, by Ming painter Tang Yin (1470-1523).

Throughout the Yuan Dynasty, which lasted less than a century, there was relatively strong sentiment among the populace against the Mongol rule. The frequent natural disasters since the 1340s finally led to peasant revolts. The Yuan Dynasty was eventually overthrown by the Ming Dynasty in 1368.

Urbanization increased as the population grew and as the division of labor grew more complex. Large urban centers, such as Nanjing and Beijing, also contributed to the growth of private industry. In particular, small-scale industries grew up, often specializing in paper, silk, cotton, and porcelain goods. For the most part, however, relatively small urban centers with markets proliferated around the country. Town markets mainly traded food, with some necessary manufactures such as pins or oil.

Despite the xenophobia and intellectual introspection characteristic of the increasingly popular new school of neo-Confucianism, China under the early Ming Dynasty was not isolated. Foreign trade and other contacts with the outside world, particularly Japan, increased considerably. Chinese merchants explored all of the Indian Ocean, reaching East Africa with the voyages of Zheng He.

Zhu Yuanzhang or (Hong-wu, the founder of the dynasty, laid the foundations for a state interested less in commerce and more in extracting revenues from the agricultural sector. Perhaps because of the Emperor's background as a peasant, the Ming economic system emphasized agriculture, unlike that of the Song and the Mongolian Dynasties, which relied on traders and merchants for revenue. Neo-feudal landholdings of the Song and Mongol periods were expropriated by the Ming rulers. Land estates were confiscated by the government, fragmented, and rented out. Private slavery was forbidden. Consequently, after the death of Emperor Yong-le, independent peasant landholders predominated in Chinese agriculture. These laws might have paved the way to removing the worst of the poverty during the previous regimes.

Ming China under the reign of the Yongle Emperor

The dynasty had a strong and complex central government that unified and controlled the empire. The emperor's role became more autocratic, although Zhu Yuanzhang necessarily continued to use what he called the "Grand Secretaries" (内阁) to assist with the immense paperwork of the bureaucracy, including memorials (petitions and recommendations to the throne), imperial edicts in reply, reports of various kinds, and tax records. It was this same bureaucracy that later prevented the Ming government from being able to adapt to changes in society, and eventually led to its decline.

Emperor Yong-le strenuously tried to extend China's influence beyond its borders by demanding other rulers send ambassadors to China to present tribute. A large navy was built, including four-masted ships displacing 1,500 tons. A standing army of 1 million troops (some estimate as many as 1.9 million) was created. The Chinese armies conquered Vietnam for around 20 years, while the Chinese fleet sailed the China seas and the Indian Ocean, cruising as far as the east coast of Africa. The Chinese gained influence in Eastern Turkestan. Several maritime Asian nations sent envoys with tribute for the Chinese emperor. Domestically, the Grand Canal was expanded, and proved to be a stimulus to domestic trade. Over 100,000 tons of iron per year were produced. Many books were printed using movable type. The imperial palace in Beijing's Forbidden City reached its current splendor. It was also during these centuries that the potential of south China came to be fully exploited. New crops were widely cultivated and industries such as those producing porcelain and textiles flourished.

In 1449 Esen Tayisi led an Oirat Mongol invasion of northern China which culminated in the capture of the Zhengtong Emperor at Tumu. In 1542 the Mongol leader Altan Khan began to harass China along the northern border. In 1550 he even reached the suburbs of Beijing. The empire also had to deal with Japanese pirates attacking the southeastern coastline;[23] General Qi Jiguang was instrumental in defeating these pirates. The deadliest earthquake of all times, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556 that killed approximately 830,000 people, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor's reign.

During the Ming dynasty the last construction on the Great Wall was undertaken to protect China from foreign invasions. While the Great Wall had been built in earlier times, most of what is seen today was either built or repaired by the Ming. The brick and granite work was enlarged, the watch towers were redesigned, and cannons were placed along its length.

Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 CE)

"The reception of the Diplomatique (Macartney) and his suite, at the Court of Pekin". Drawn and engraved by James Gillray, published in September 1792.
Territory of Qing China in 1892

The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) was founded after the defeat of the Ming, the last Han Chinese dynasty, by the Manchus. The Manchus were formerly known as the Jurchen. When Beijing was captured by Li Zicheng's peasant rebels in 1644, the last Ming Emperor Chongzhen committed suicide. The Manchu then allied with Ming Dynasty general Wu Sangui and seized control of Beijing, which became the new capital of the Qing dynasty. The Manchus adopted the Confucian norms of traditional Chinese government in their rule of China proper.

The Manchus enforced a 'queue order' forcing the Han Chinese to adopt the Manchu queue hairstyle and Manchu-style clothing. The traditional Han clothing, or Hanfu was also replaced by Manchu-style clothing Qipao (bannermen dress and Tangzhuang). Emperor Kangxi ordered the creation of the most complete dictionary of Chinese characters ever put together at the time. The Qing dynasty set up the "Eight Banners" system that provided the basic framework for the Qing military organization. The bannermen were prohibited from participating in trade and manual labour unless they petitioned to be removed from banner status. They were considered a form of nobility and were given preferential treatment in terms of annual pensions, land and allotments of cloth.

French political cartoon from the late 1890s. A pie representing China and is being divided between UK, Germany, Russia, France and Japan.

Over the next half-century, the Qing consolidated control of some areas originally under the Ming, including Yunnan. They also stretched their sphere of influence over Xinjiang, Tibet and Mongolia. But during the nineteenth century, Qing control weakened. Britain's desire to continue its opium trade with China collided with imperial edicts prohibiting the addictive drug, and the First Opium War erupted in 1840. Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking.

A large rebellion, the Taiping Rebellion (1851–1864), involved around a third of China falling under control of the Taiping Tianguo, a quasi-Christian religious movement led by the "Heavenly King" Hong Xiuquan. Only after fourteen years were the Taipings finally crushed - the Taiping army was destroyed in the Third Battle of Nanking in 1864. The death toll during the 15 years of the rebellion was about 20 million.[24]

In addition, more costly rebellions in terms of human lives and economics followed with the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars, Nien Rebellion, Muslim Rebellion, Panthay Rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion.[25] In many ways, the rebellions and the unequal treaties the Qing were forced to sign with the imperialist powers are symptomatic of the Qing's inability to deal with the new challenges of the 19th century.

By the 1860s, the Qing Dynasty had put down the rebellions at enormous cost and loss of life. This undermined the credibility of the Qing regime and, spearheaded by local initiatives by provincial leaders and gentry, contributed to the rise of warlordism in China. The Qing Dynasty under the Emperor Guangxu proceeded to deal with the problem of modernization through the Self-Strengthening Movement. However, between 1898 and 1908 the Empress Dowager Cixi had the reformist Guangxu imprisoned for being 'mentally disabled'[citation needed]. The Empress Dowager, with the help of conservatives, initiated a military coup, effectively removed the young Emperor from power, and overturned most of the more radical reforms. He died one day before the death of the Empress Dowager (some believe Guangxu was poisoned by Cixi). Official corruption, cynicism, and imperial family quarrels made most of the military reforms useless. As a result, the Qing's "New Armies" were soundly defeated in the Sino-French War (1883-1885) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895).

At the start of the 20th century, the Boxer Rebellion threatened northern China. This was a conservative anti-imperialist movement that sought to return China to old ways. The Empress Dowager, probably seeking to ensure her continued grip on power, sided with the Boxers when they advanced on Beijing. In response, a relief expedition of the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded China to rescue the besieged foreign missions. Consisting of British, Japanese, Russian, Italian, German, French, US and Austrian troops, the alliance defeated the Boxers and demanded further concessions from the Qing government.

Modern era

Republic of China

Frustrated by the Qing court's resistance to reform and by China's weakness, young officials, military officers, and students—inspired by the revolutionary ideas of Sun Yat-sen —began to advocate the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the creation of a republic.

Sun Yat-sen, founder and first president of the Republic of China.

Slavery in China was abolished in 1910.[26]

A revolutionary military uprising, the Wuchang Uprising, began on October 10, 1911 in Wuhan. The provisional government of the Republic of China was formed in Nanjing on March 12, 1912 with Sun Yat-sen as President, but Sun was forced to turn power over to Yuan Shikai, who commanded the New Army and was Prime Minister under the Qing government, as part of the agreement to let the last Qing monarch abdicate (a decision Sun would later regret). Over the next few years, Yuan proceeded to abolish the national and provincial assemblies, and declared himself emperor in late 1915. Yuan's imperial ambitions were fiercely opposed by his subordinates; faced with the prospect of rebellion, he abdicated in March 1916, and died in June of that year. His death left a power vacuum in China; the republican government was all but shattered. This ushered in the warlord era, during which much of the country was ruled by shifting coalitions of competing provincial military leaders.

In 1919, the May Fourth Movement began as a response to the terms imposed on China by the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I, but quickly became a protest movement about the domestic situation in China. The discrediting of liberal Western philosophy amongst Chinese intellectuals was followed by the adoption of more radical lines of thought. This in turn planted the seeds for the irreconcilable conflict between the left and right in China that would dominate Chinese history for the rest of the century.

In the 1920s, Sun Yat-Sen established a revolutionary base in south China, and set out to unite the fragmented nation. With Soviet assistance, he entered into an alliance with the fledgling Communist Party of China. After Sun's death from cancer in 1925, one of his protégés, Chiang Kai-shek, seized control of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party or KMT) and succeeded in bringing most of south and central China under its rule in a military campaign known as the Northern Expedition. Having defeated the warlords in south and central China by military force, Chiang was able to secure the nominal allegiance of the warlords in the North. In 1927, Chiang turned on the CPC and relentlessly chased the CPC armies and its leaders from their bases in southern and eastern China. In 1934, driven from their mountain bases such as the Chinese Soviet Republic, the CPC forces embarked on the Long March across China's most desolate terrain to the northwest, where they established a guerrilla base at Yan'an in Shaanxi Province.

During the Long March, the communists reorganized under a new leader, Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). The bitter struggle between the KMT and the CPC continued, openly or clandestinely, through the 14-year long Japanese occupation (1931–1945) of various parts of the country. The two Chinese parties nominally formed a united front to oppose the Japanese in 1937, during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), which became a part of World War II. Following the defeat of Japan in 1945, the war between the KMT and the CPC resumed, after failed attempts at reconciliation and a negotiated settlement. By 1949, the CPC had occupied most of the country. (see Chinese Civil War)

At the end of WWII in 1945 as part of the overall Japanese surrender, Japanese troops in Taiwan surrendered to Republic of China troops giving Chiang Kai-shek effective control of Taiwan.[27] When Chiang was defeated by CPC forces in mainland China in 1949, he fled to Taiwan with his government and the remnants of his army, along with most of the KMT leadership and a large number of their supporters.

1949 to Present

With the CPC's victory, and their proclamation of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, Taiwan was again politically separated from mainland China, and continues to be governed by the Republic of China to the present day. No peace treaty has ever been signed between the two opposing parties. For the history of the People's Republic of China since 1949, see History of the People's Republic of China. For the history of the Republic of China since 1949, see Republic of China on Taiwan (1949-present).

See also


  1. ^ a b "Cultural History and Archaeology of China". Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. State Department. Archived from the original on 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2008-01-12. 
  2. ^ Henry Cleere. Archaeological Heritage Management in the Modern World. 2005. Routledge. p. 318. ISBN 0415214483.
  3. ^ a b Rixiang Zhu, Zhisheng An, Richard Pott, Kenneth A. Hoffman (June 2003). "Magnetostratigraphic dating of early humans of in China" (PDF). Earth Science Reviews 61 (3-4): 191–361. 
  4. ^ "Earliest Presence of Humans in Northeast Asia". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2007-08-04. 
  5. ^ "The discovery of early pottery in China" by Zhang Chi, Department of Archaeology, Peking University, China
  6. ^ "Neolithic Period in China". Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 2004. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  7. ^ "Rice and Early Agriculture in China". Legacy of Human Civilizations. Mesa Community College. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  8. ^ "Peiligang Site". Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China. 2003. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  9. ^ Pringle, Heather (1998). "The Slow Birth of Agriculture". Science. p. 1446. 
  10. ^ Wertz, Richard R. (2007). "Neolithic and Bronze Age Cultures". Exploring Chinese History. ibiblio. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  11. ^ "Huang He". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). 2007. 
  12. ^ BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Chinese writing '8,000 years old'
  13. ^ "Carvings may rewrite history of Chinese characters". Xinhua online. 2007-05-18. Retrieved 2007-05-19. 
  14. ^ "The Ancient Dynasties". University of Maryland. Retrieved 2008-01-12. 
  15. ^ Bronze Age China at National Gallery of Art
  16. ^ Scripts found on Erlitou pottery (written in Simplified Chinese)
  17. ^ "Book "QINSHIHUANG"". Retrieved 2007-07-06. 
  18. ^ Ban Chao, Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  19. ^ Kaifung Jews. University of Cumbria.
  20. ^ Ping-ti Ho, "An Estimate of the Total Population of Sung-Chin China", in Études Song, Series 1, No 1, (1970) pp. 33-53.
  21. ^ "Course: Plague". 
  22. ^ "Black Death - Consequences". 
  23. ^ "China > History > The Ming dynasty > Political history > The dynastic succession", Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2007
  24. ^ Userserols. "Userserols." Statistics of Wars, Oppressions and Atrocities of the Nineteenth Century. Retrieved on 2007-04-11.
  25. ^ Damsan Harper, Steve Fallon, Katja Gaskell, Julie Grundvig, Carolyn Heller, Thomas Huhti, Bradley Maynew, Christopher Pitts. Lonely Planet China. 9. 2005. ISBN 1-74059-687-0
  26. ^ "Commemoration of the Abolition of Slavery Project". 
  27. ^ Surrender Order of the Imperial General Headquarters of Japan, 2 September 1945, "(a) The senior Japanese commanders and all ground, sea, air, and auxiliary forces within China (excluding Manchuria), Formosa, and French Indochina north of 16 degrees north latitude shall surrender to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek."


From hunter-gatherers to farmers

  • Magnetostratigraphic dating of early humans in China, by Rixiang zhu, Zhisheng An, Richard Potts, Kenneth A. Hoffman. [1]
  • he Discovery of Early Pottery in China, by Zhang Chi, Department of Archaeology, Peking University, China. [2]


  • Discovery of residue from fermented beverage consumed up to 9,000 years ago in Jiahu, Henan Province, China. By Dr. Patrick E McGovern, University of Pennsylvania archaeochemist and colleagues from China, Great Britain and Germany.

Xia Dynasty

  • David S. Nivison (1993), “Chu shu chi nien”, Early Chinese Texts: a bibliographical guide (editor—Loewe M.) p. 39–47 (Berkeley: Society for the Study of Early China).
  • James Legge (1865), The Chinese Classics III: The Shoo King Prolegomena (Taipei: Southern Materials Center). (This contains an English translation of the Bamboo Annals.)

Shang Dynasty

  • Stephen W. Durrant (1995), The Cloudy Mirror: Tension and Conflict in the Writings of Sima Qian. Albany : State University of New York Press.

Han Dynasty

  • de Crespigny, Rafe. 1977. The Ch’iang Barbarians and the Empire of Han: A Study in Frontier Policy. Papers on Far Eastern History 16, Australian National University. Canberra.
  • de Crespigny, Rafe. 1984. Northern Frontier. The Policies and Strategies of the Later Han Empire. Rafe de Crespigny. 1984. Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University. Canberra.
  • de Crespigny, Rafe. 1989. "South China under the Later Han Dynasty" (Chapter One from Generals of the South: the Foundation and early history of the Three Kingdoms state of Wu by Rafe de Crespigny, in Asian Studies Monographs, New Series No. 16 Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra 1989)[3]
  • de Crespigny, Rafe. 1996. "Later Han Military Administration: An Outline of the Military Administration of the Later Han Empire." Rafe de Crespigny. Based on the Introduction to Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling being the Chronicle of Later Han for the years 189 to 220 CE as recorded in Chapters 59 to 69 of the Zizhi tongjian of Sima Guang, translated and annotated by Rafe de Crespigny and originally published in the Asian Studies Monographs, New Series No. 21, Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra 1996. [4]
  • Dubs, Homer H. 1938. The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku. Vol. One. Baltimore. Waverly Press, Inc.
  • Dubs, Homer H. 1944. The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku. Vol. Two. Baltimore. Waverly Press, Inc.
  • Dubs, Homer H. 1955. The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku. Vol. Three. Ithaca, New York. Spoken Languages Services, Inc.
  • Hill, John E. (2009) Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty, 1st to 2nd Centuries CE. John E. Hill. BookSurge, Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-4392-2134-1.
  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West from the Weilue ?? by Yu Huan ??: A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between CE 239 and 265. Draft annotated English translation.Archive copy at the Internet Archive
  • Hirth, Friedrich. 1875. China and the Roman Orient. Shanghai and Hong Kong. Unchanged reprint. Chicago, Ares Publishers, 1975.
  • Hulsewé, A. F. P. and Loewe, M. A. N. 1979. China in Central Asia: The Early Stage 125 BCE – CE 23: an annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. Leiden: E. J. Brill.
  • Twitchett, Denis and Loewe, Michael, eds. 1986. The Cambridge History of China. Volume I. The Ch’in and Han Empires, 221 BCE – CE 220. Cambridge University Press.

Jin, the Sixteen Kingdoms, and the Northern and Southern Dynasties

  • de Crespigny, Rafe. 1991. "The Three Kingdoms and Western Jin: A History of China in the Third Century AD." East Asian History, no. 1 June 1991, pp. 1–36, & no. 2 December 1991, pp. 143–164. Australian National University, Canberra. [5]
  • Miller, Andrew. 1959. Accounts of Western Nations in the History of the Northern Chou Dynasty. University of California Press.

Sui Dynasty

  • Wright, Arthur F. 1978. The Sui Dynasty: The Unification of China. CE 581-617. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. ISBN 0-394-49187-4 ; 0-394-32332-7 (pbk).

Tang Dynasty

  • Benn, Charles. 2002. China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517665-0.
  • Pelliot, Paul. 1904. "Deux itinéraires de Chine en Inde à la fin du VIIIe siècle." BEFEO 4 (1904), pp. 131–413.
  • Schafer, Edward H. 1963. The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A study of T’ang Exotics. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 1st paperback edition. 1985. ISBN 0-520-05462-8.
  • Schafer, Edward H. 1967. The Vermilion Bird: T’ang Images of the South. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles. Reprint 1985. ISBN 0-520-05462-8.
  • Shaffer, Lynda Norene. 1996. Maritime Southeast Asia to 1500. Armonk, New York, M.E. Sharpe, Inc. ISBN 1-56324-144-7.
  • Wang, Zhenping. 1991. "T’ang Maritime Trade Administration." Wang Zhenping. Asia Major, Third Series, Vol. IV, 1991, pp. 7–38.

Song Dynasty

  • Ebrey, Walthall, Palais (2006). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Shiba, Yoshinobu. 1970. Commerce and Society in Sung China. Originally published in Japanese as So-dai sho-gyo—shi kenkyu-. Tokyo, Kazama shobo-, 1968. Yoshinobu Shiba. Translation by Mark Elvin, Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan.

Ming Dynasty

  • Duyvendak, J.J.L. China’s Discovery of Africa (London: Probsthain, 1949)
  • Sung, Ying-hsing. 1637. T’ien kung k’ai wu. Published as Chinese Technology in the seventeenth century. Translated and annotated by E-tu Zen Sun and Shiou-chuan Sun. 1996. Mineola. New York. Dover Publications.

The Social and Political Systems

Further reading

  • Abramson, Marc S. (2008). Ethnic Identity in Tang China. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. ISBN 978-0-8122-4052-8.
  • Ankerl, G. C. Coexisting Contemporary Civilizations: Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. INU PRESS Geneva, 2000. ISBN 2-88155-004-5.
  • Creel, Herrlee Glessner. The Birth of China. 1936.
  • Fairbank, John King, China : a new history, Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992. ISBN 0674116704
  • Feis, Herbert, The China Tangle: The American Effort in China from Pearl Harbor to the Marshall Mission, Princeton University Press, 1953.
  • Hammond, Kenneth J. From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History. The Teaching Company, 2004. (A lecture on DVD.)
  • Giles, Herbert Allen. The Civilization of China. Project Gutenburg e-text. A general history, originally published around 1911.
  • Giles, Herbert Allen. China and the Manchus. Project Gutenberg e-text. Covers the Qing (Manchu) dynasty, published shortly after the fall of the dynasty, around 1912.
  • Korotayev A., Malkov A., Khaltourina D. Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends. Moscow: URSS, 2006. ISBN 5-484-00559-0 [6] (Chapter 2: Historical Population Dynamics in China).
  • Laufer, Berthold. 1912. JADE: A Study in Chinese Archaeology & Religion. Reprint: Dover Publications, New York. 1974.
  • Terrill, Ross, 800,000,000: the real China, Boston, Little, Brown, 1972
  • Wilkinson, Endymion Porter, Chinese history : a manual, revised and enlarged. - Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University, Asia Center (for the Harvard-Yenching Institute), 2000, 1181 p., ISBN 0-674-00247-4; ISBN 0-674-00249-0

External links

This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

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This is the first unit of Chinese History

Subject Materials

  • Unit Guide

Unit Outline

  • Week 1 & 2:
    • Introduction and Prehistory
  • Week 3 & 4:
    • Xia Dynasty
  • Week 5 & 6:
    • Shang Dynasty
  • Week 7 & 8:
    • Zhou Dynasty
  • Week 9 & 10:
    • Spring and Autumn Period
  • Week 11:
    • Warring States Period
  • Prehistory
  • The Three Traditional Dynasties (Xia, Shang and Zhou)
  • Spring and Autumn Period
  • Warring States Period


Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection


Ancient China


The geography of Ancient China is often described by geologists in a system of three steps:

The first step is to the far west near present day Tibet. With the highest mountains on earth around here the climate is quite cold and in the summer quite warm this place is widely considered inhospitable, from -40℃ (-40 F) in the winter to 37℃ (100 F) in the summer. Due to this there aren’t many villages and when found villages are quite small.

The next step is the middle of China. It’s covered with desert and a small amount of grassland. People here raise grazing cattle (Yak). There are some low hills but no snow. With cold winters and hot summers this area was never densely populated.

The final step is the East. This area is accounts for circa, 95% of modern and Ancient Chinese population. Two long rivers flow through here the Yellow and the Yangtze River. Here there was plenty of water for crops and agriculture flourished. In the North wheat was the main crop and in the South rice was more frequent.


Ancient China had a very unique way of showing different time periods; each stage of China or each family that was in power was a distinctive dynasty. Also between each dynasty was an unstable age of divided provinces. The most well known of these periods was the Three Kingdoms epoch taking place for 60 years between the Han and the Jin Dynasty. During these periods fierce warfare took place between many nobles fighting for the throne. The Three Kingdoms was one of the bloodiest eras in Ancient China’s history thousands of people died fighting to sit at the highest seat in the grand palace at Xi’an.

The first dynasty was the Shang Dynasty it lasted from 1766 to 1122 BC some 600 years which was quite long for a dynasty. During this age the central government was weak and unstable. During this era Ancient China couldn’t officially be called a civilization due to the fact that some emperors reverted the country to nomad based from agriculture based due sometimes just because the emperor didn’t enjoy farming and wanted his people to hunt like him, but by the last 100 years of the Shang dynasty the country was fully agriculture supported.

The next dynasty was the Zhou dynasty. The Zhou people came from the west and overthrew the Shang, it lasted from 1122 BC to 256 BC near a thousand years making it the longest dynasty in history! During this time 2 out of the three greatest philosophers were born: Kong Fuzi (Confucius) founder of Confucianism and Laozi founder of Daoism. Also during this period iron was first used in China written script on bronze tablets first appeared though it was not the clerical script of the Han dynasty it was a great improvement of early writing in the Shang Dynasty. During this age the Mandate of Heaven was first implemented a King or Queen’s right to rule was supported by the Mandate of Heaven which was the notion that the ruler was the divine son of heaven but his dethronement would signal the people that he had lost his divine right to rule and was now not worth fighting for.

After the Shang came the Qin Dynasty which lasted a mere 20 years (221 to 206 BC). This era was a big change for china during the Qin Dynasty man was considered a beast that needed to be strictly controlled which led to an age in which legalism a branch of Confucianism dominated. All people were strictly kept in order and any crimes were not tolerated. This era’s simply put “claim to fame” was that it was the first centralized dynasty and marked the beginning of imperial china. At the Qin Dynasties height it had a population of over 40 million people, which was huge compared to the Shang or early Zhou Dynasties.

The Qin dynasty ended in 206 BC and there began the Han Dynasty. The Han dynasty was known for being a great period for the Ancient Chinese culture; music, drama and literature flourished during this time. A new system of government emerged during this time, a system of civil servants. Every half-year a great test was held at the palace in the capital city the most promising young scholars gathered to take the test that would decide what kind of job they got in the government. The highest scorers were given jobs at the palace itself whereas the lowest were sometimes failed or sometimes put in low level jobs at the local level. Cheating was punished severely because of the importance placed on these tests. The Civil Servants that this test placed would oversee the construction of roads, canals and schools. The local civil servants would record trade population and decide where crops should be sent and how much to store. The position of Civil Servant was coveted. During this period Chinese culture spread throughout Mongolia, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Also during this epoch the Silk Road became a major source of income for the merchant class (the Shang). The end of the Han dynasty came from a peasant rebellion because of corruption in government. This led to the Three Kingdoms period.

The Next three dynasties the Sui, Tang, Song and Yuan were insignificant compared to the other dynasties and merely different royal families the only real development came in the Song dynasty when Chinese scientists discovered Steel.

The Ming and Qing dynasty lasted from 1368 -1911 and was an era in which the Mongolians ruled China besides that not many cultural developments were made.


During the Bronze Age most of China worshipped many gods and spirits. The most important of these being Ti or “Deity Above” He was believed to punish those that pleased him and punish those that didn’t. Ti was in charge of all the gods and goddesses in the pantheon. The gods and goddesses all represented something in nature for example the “God of Soil”, etc. Some of the Emperors brought their servants with them to the after life. Priests and Priestess’s main job was to act as mediums between the Gods and Goddesses and the worshippers they specialized in sacrificing and ceremonies of specific Gods and Goddesses. A special type of medium was an Augur. An Augur asked questions of the Gods and Goddesses or read oracle bones.

After the Bronze Age, Three Doctrines or Ideologies became important Chinese Religions. Taoism and Confucianism were native to China and developed in isolation. The Three ideologies can also be viewed as philosophies but they also have a spiritual element, which is why they are classified as religions. The Third Doctrine, Buddhism was brought from China by travelling monks from India.

Confucius was alive during when the Chou dynasty (a part of the Zhou Dynasty) was decaying it was riddled with corruption. Confucius experienced the corruption first hand as he held a position in government. He believed that decline was because the Chinese had abandoned old traditions and old concepts of honor, politeness morality and social roles had been forgotten; this is the base of Confucianism.

Confucianism filtered into different aspect of Chinese culture Confucius’ teachings became the basis for education in China and his writings became the classics that every child in China reads.

The basis of Taoism is the concept of Tao. Tao is translated as “the path” or “the way.” The term has no conclusive definition it refers to a wide force in nature and is the source of all things.

Taoism in its purest form calls followers to pursue Tao. This means he or she should not try to alter nature or force it to do what it was not meant to do. A follower must remain inactive and not make plans. A follower must not do anything contrary to Tao for example building a house or damming a river. Taoists were members of the educated wealthy elite. Some of the less privileged did learn about it but altered it to be more about magic and alchemy than the purest form of Taoism.

Siddharta Gautana founded Buddhism around 500 BC; He was later called The Enlightened One or the Buddha. Buddhism spread to China via the Silk Road. When it first arrived it was considered part of Taoism because of how similar Taoism and Buddhism are. How ever a number of Buddhist monks came from India to China and kept the religion from being incorporated into Taoism. Buddhism encourages followers to throw off self-interest. Through meditation and right living, a Buddhist can reach Nirvana or absence of suffering which was a similar concept to Tao.

All three religions were not intolerant of each other although they did not always agree. Many people were subscribers of more than one religion and all three subtly influenced each other.

Contributions to Society

The earliest inventions were the abacus, shadow clock, kites and Kongming Lantern. As an astronomically advanced civilization the Ancient Chinese first recorded observations of comets, solar eclipses and supernovae. The 4 greatest inventions of the Ancient Chinese were printing, paper making, gunpowder and the compass. Ancient Chinese made great advances in metallurgy, For example 2300 years ago no one in Europe or the Middle East could melt one ounce of iron the meanwhile the Chinese were casting multi-ton iron objects it was not until the 1200s that the British were able to replicate this feat. More inventions of the Ancient Chinese include: The Compass (invented in china used to apply Feng Shui to buildings (Ba BooHua)) Paper (the first paper made by pounding linen) gunpowder (made by shamans trying to find a stone of immortality). The Chinese also learned how to drill for natural gas. They invented row crop farming, silk, porcelain, rudders, wheelbarrows and umbrellas.


In Chinese architecture the visual impact of the width of the buildings was very important but the most important is the emphasis on the horizontal axis.

The projected hierarchy and importance and uses of buildings in traditional Chinese architecture are based on placement of buildings in a property/complex buildings with doors facing the front of the property are considered more important than those faces the sides.

For the commoners their houses tended to follow a set pattern: the centre of the building would be a shrine for the deities and the ancestors, which would also be used during festivities. On its two sides were bedrooms for the elders; the two wings of the building were for the junior members of the family, as well as the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen, although sometimes the living room could be very close to the centre.

Certain architectural features that were reserved solely for buildings built for the Emperor of China one example is the use of yellow roof tiles yellow having been the Imperial colour, yellow roof tiles still adorn most of the buildings within the Forbidden City. Only the Temple of Heaven, however, uses blue roof tiles to symbolize the sky

Buddhist architecture follows the imperial style. A large Buddhist monastery normally has a front hall, housing the statue of a Bodhisattva, followed by a great hall, housing the statues of the Buddhas. Accommodations for the monks and the nuns are located at the two sides. Some of greatest examples of this come from the 18th century temples of the Puning Temple and the Putuo Zongcheng Temple. Buddhist monasteries sometimes also have pagodas, which may house the relics of the Gautama Buddha; older pagodas tend to be four-sided, while later pagodas usually have eight-sides.

Vegetarianism is not uncommon or unusual in China, though, as is the case in the West, it is only practiced by a relatively small proportion of the population. The Chinese vegetarians do not eat a lot of tofu. Most Chinese vegetarians are Buddhists, following the Buddhist teachings about minimizing suffering. Chinese vegetarian dishes often contain large varieties of vegetables (e.g. bok Choy, shiitake mushroom, sprouts, corn) and some imitation meat.

Pork is generally preferred over beef in Chinese cuisine due to economic and aesthetic reasons; the pig is easy to feed and is not used for labor, and is so closely tied with the idea of domesticity that the character for "home" depicts a pig under a roof.

In most dishes in Chinese cuisine, food is prepared in bite-sized pieces (e.g., vegetable, meat, doufu), ready for direct picking up and eating. Traditionally, Chinese culture considered using knives and forks at the table barbaric due to fact that these implements are regarded as weapons. It was also considered ungracious to have guests work at cutting their own food. Fish are usually cooked and served whole, with diners directly pulling pieces from the fish with chopsticks to eat, unlike in some other cuisines where they are first filleted.


"Ancient China." Link.

"Ancient China: Environment." Ancient China. Link.

"Ancient China: Religon." Link.

"Ancient China." Wikipedia. Chinese architecture.

Carr, Karen. "Ancient China: Environment." History for Kids. 20 Feb. 2008 Link.

"China Religon." Link.

"China." World Book Encyclopedia.

Deedrick, Tami. Ancient Civilizations: Ancient China. Austin, New York: Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publisher, 2001.

"Geography of Ancient China." Link.

"Geography of Ancient China." Wikipedia. Geography of China.

Landau, Elaine. Ancient China with Elaine Landau. New York City: Alfred a. Knoph, 2003.

Shuter, Jane. Ancient China. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2006.

Simple English

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Ancient China (also referred to as Anchient or Anciente China in earlier translations) is a very old civilization. People wrote about the history of China 3500 years ago. China is one of the world's oldest continuous (still alive) civilizations. Turtle shells with writing like ancient Chinese writing from the Shang Dynasty (商朝) have been carbon dated to about 1500 BC. They say that China began as city-states in the Yellow River valley. Many people say that China became a big Kingdom or Empire in 221 BC. The Qin (秦) emperor Qin Shi Huang made everyone write the same way. He also had ideas about the state which he based on legalism and fought Confucianism. This began what we call the Chinese civilization. Ancient China fought wars and Civil wars and was also sometimes conquered by other people.


  • 3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors - 50,000-2000 BC
  • Xia Dynasty - 2000 - 1600 BC (not sure, Xia Dynasty did not have words)
  • Shang Dynasty ( or Yin Dynasty) - 1600 - 1046 (not sure)
  • Zhou Dynasty -
    • Western Zhou -1046 - 771 BC
    • Eastern Zhou-
      • Spring and Autumn period - 771- 481 BC
      • Warring States period - 481- 221 BC
  • Qin Dynasty -221-206 BC
  • Han Dynasty -206 BC - AD 220
    • Western Han - 206 BC - AD 8
    • Xin Dynasty - 8 - 23 AD
    • Eastern Han - 25 - 220 AD
  • Three Kingdoms -
    • The Kingdom of Wei - 220 - 265 AD
    • The Kingdom of Shu - 221 - 263 AD
    • The Kingdom of Wu - 229 - 280 AD
  • Jin Dynasty -
    • Western Jin - 265 - 316 AD
    • Eastern Jin - 317 - 460 AD
  • The Sixteen Kingdoms -
    • "Former Zhao" or "Han Zhao"- 304 - 329 AD
    • "Cheng Han" or "Former Shu"- 306 - 347 AD
    • Former Liang - 314 - 376 AD
    • "Later Zhao" or "Shi Zhao" - 319 - 351 AD
    • Former Yan - 334 - 3701 AD
    • "Former Qin" or "Fu Qin" - 351 - 394 AD
    • Later Yan - 384 - 409 AD
    • "Later Qin" or "Iau Qin" - 384 - 417 AD
    • Western Qin - 385 - 431 AD
    • "Later Liang" or "Lu Liang" - 389 - 403 AD
    • Southern Liang - 397 - 414 AD
    • Southern Yan - 398 - 410 AD
    • Western Liang - 400 - 421 AD
    • Northern Liang - 401 - 439 AD
    • "Xia" or "Hu Xia" - 407 - 431 AD
    • "Northern Yan" or "Feng Yan" - 409 - 436 AD

The countries below are not included in the sixteen kingdoms:

    • Former Chouchi - 296 - 371 AD
    • Later Chouchi - 385 - 443 AD
    • Dai - 315 -376 AD
    • Ran Wei - 350 - 352 AD
    • Western Yan - 384 -394 AD
    • Zhai Wei - 388 - 392 AD
    • Western Shu - 405 - 413 AD
    • Yuwenbu - 302 - 344 AD
    • Duanbu - 310 - 357 AD
    • Tuguhun - 313 - 633 AD
  • Southern and Northern Dyanasties -
    • Southern Dynasties -
      • Song - 420 - 479 AD
      • Chi - 479 - 502 AD
      • Liang - 502 - 557 AD
      • Chen - 557 - 589 AD
    • Northern Dynasties -
      • Northern Wei - 386 - 534 AD
      • Eastern Wei - 534 - 550 AD
      • Western Wei - 535 - 557 AD
      • Northern Chi - 550 - 557 AD
      • Northern Chou - 557 -581 AD
  • Sui Dynasty - 581-618 AD
  • T'ang Dynasty - 618-907 AD
    • Tang Dynasty had been interrupted by Wu Chou - 690 - 705 AD
  • Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms -
    • Five Dynasties -
      • Later Liang - 907 - 923 AD
      • Later Tang - 923 - 936 AD
      • Later Jin - 936 - 947 AD
      • Later Han - 947 - 950 AD
      • Later Chou - 951 - 960 AD
    • Ten Kingdoms -
      • Wu Yue - 904 -978 AD
      • Min (changed its name to Yin at 943 AD) - 909 - 945 AD
      • Jinnan - 907 - 963 AD
      • Chu - 897 - 951 AD
      • Wu - 904 - 973 AD
      • Southern Tang - 937 - 975 AD
      • Southern Han - 917 - 971 AD
      • Northern Han - 951 - 979 AD
      • Former Shu - 907 - 925 AD
      • Later Shu - 934 - 965 AD
    • And other regimes -
      • Dingnan Jiedu - 881 - 982 AD
      • Fongshang Jiedu (or Chi) - 887 - 924 AD
      • Lulong Jiedu (or Yan) - 897 - 913 AD
      • Chender Jiedu (or Zhao) - 883 - 921 AD
      • Yiwu Jiedu - 900(?) - 922 AD and 928 - 929 AD
      • Wuping Jiedu (or Hunan Jiedu) - 950 - 963 AD
      • Chinyuan Jiedu - 946 - 978 AD
      • Hexi Regime - ?
  • Song Dynasty -
    • Northern Song - 960 - 1127 AD
    • Southern Song - 1127 - 1279 AD
  • Liao Dynasty (or Khitan) - 907 - 1125 AD
    • After the Gin Dynasty ends the Liao Dynasty, Yelü Dashi, an aristocrat of Liao, rebuilded the Liao Dynasty, we call it Western Liao, also known as Kara-Khitan Khanate - 1132 - 1218 AD
  • Gin Dynasty - 1115 - 1234 AD
  • Western Xia - 1038 - 1227 AD
  • Yuan Dynasty (Actually the Mongolia) - 1279-1368 AD
  • Ming Dynasty - 1368 - 1644 AD
  • Qing Dynasty - 1636 - 1912 AD
  • The Republic of China - 1912 AD - now (It only ruled mainland China until 1949. It lost in the Chinese Civil War, so now it only rules Taiwan, Penghu, Kingmen, Mazhu, the Taiping Island and the Dongsha Island. The Republic of China after 1949 is actually Taiwan.)
  • The People's Republic of China - 1949 AD - now

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