The Dynasties of China
Xia(c. 2200 – 1766BCE)
Chinese oral tradition describes Yu the Great, who organized the people to build canals that stopped flooding and created great prosperity. Most historians once believed the Xia to be a mythical dynasty, but recent archaeological findings seem to verify their existence.
Shang (1766 – c.1040BCE)
Excavations have confirmed descriptions in ancient Chinese literature of a highly developed culture. In addition to developing a writing system still in use today, the Shang created a lunar calendar consisting of twelve months of 30 days each. The Shang were distinguished by an aristocratic government, great artistry in bronze, an agricultural economy, and armies of thousands whose commanders rode in chariots.
Zhou (c.1040 – 256BCE)
The nomadic Zhou people from northwestern China overthrew the Shang kings. The Zhou developed a feudal society in China, but slowly lost power to local warlords.
The Age of Warring States (c.481- 221BCE)
Many regional states formed as the Zhou Dynasty the Mandate of Heaven. This is why the Zhou Dynasty overlaps the Age of Warring States for more than two centuries.
Weights and measures, and the Chinese writing system were unified under the Qin. Chinese defenses against nomadic warriors were strengthened by creating the Great Wall.
Han (206BCE – 220CE)
During the Han Dynasty, the Chinese invented paper, recorded the history of their land, and first learned of Buddhism. The Han is often compared to the Roman Empire of the same age. Today the Chinese word for Chinese person means “a man of Han."
The short-lived Sui dynasty reunified China after four hundred years of fragmentation. During Sui rule, a Grand Canal links northern and southern China.
Considered the “Golden Age of China," the Tang Dynasty made China the largest, wealthiest, and the most populous nation of their time. Tang rulers based their laws on based on Confucian thought.
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960)
Several rival states vied for control of China during a brief period of disunity.
The Song Dynasty reunified China and ruled for 300 years. Paper money was introduced during the Song dynasty.
Yuan (The Mongols) (1279-1368)
Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty after his Mongol tribes defeated China. The Yuan encouraged Europeans to travel overland to China; Marco Polo was the most famous of the early Europeans to make the journey.
– As famine and plague swept China, the Mandate of Heaven passed to Zhu Yuanzhang, who led a peasant army to victory over the Mongols. The Ming were known for orderly government and control over Chinese peasants.
Qing (Manchus) (1644-1911)
Founded by conquerors from Manchuria in 1644, the Qing was the last imperial dynasty of China. Decades of upheaval led to the fall of the Qing.
The Republic of China (1912-1949)
A series of weak governments followed the fall of the Qing. In 1931, Japan seized Manchuria in northeast China and formed the puppet state of Manchuko.
The People’s Republic of China (1949-present)
A Communist revolution led by Mao Zedong captured control of China in 1949. The communists continued to rule long after Mao’s death in 1976.