The Chronology of Chinese Dynasties
| China 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 bronze implements.
Shang 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.
Zhou Dynasty: 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.
Qin Dynasty: 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.
Han Dynasty: 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 service.
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.
Various 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.
Sui Dynasty: 581 - 618
Although started by the Wei Dynasty from about AD384, it was the newly founded Sui Dynasty that finally reunited the splintered empire.
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 of nature.
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.
Tang 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 centre.
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.
Sung (or 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 in 1279.
Yuan Dynasty: 1279 - 1368
The 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.
Ming Dynasty: 1368 - 1644
By 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 Company.
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 abroad.
Qing, 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.
Author: Phil Chave
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