The civilization of China dates back about 5000 years – a long and splendid history of unbroken evolution and superior philosophy. The agriculture based society was ruled by successive dynasties of administrators who bound the land with tradition, language, and ideology. Even when China was conquered in the thirteen century, the conquering Mongolians adopted the Chinese culture, language, and lifestyle.
Prehistoric China: The site at Xiaochangliang, Yuanmou, and Lantian go to prove that the history of human inhabitation in China goes back a million years. By about 7000 BC the Chinese had developed agricultural techniques and made cave paintings depicting prehistoric life. It is in the Shanxi Province of China that evidences of the earliest known use of fire by the Homo Erectus are recorded.
Xia Dynasty: The Xia Dynasty was the earliest dynasty of ancient China. The Xia reign lasted from about 2700 BC to about 1600 BC. With over sixteen kings from thirteen dynasties, the Xia Empire was culturally rich. Written records are nonexistent but the splendid architecture of the Henan and Shanxi provinces speak of the advanced lifestyle in the empire.
Shang Dynasty: The Shang Dynasty that ruled China from around 1600 BC to around 1046 BC was founded by a rebel who staged a coup and dethroned the last Xia king. The Shang courts were known for their elaborate rituals. Most of northern China was under the dominance of the Shang kings.
Zhou Dynasty: The Zhou Dynasty ruled China from 1046 BC to 221 BC and the reign ushered in the Iron Age in the country. Thirty-seven emperors ruled Zhou China. While the Western Zhou Dynasty ruled from Fengyi in the Shanxi province and Haojing, the Eastern Zhou Dynasti ruled from Luoyi in the Henan province. In the Spring and Autumn Period from 770 BC to 476 BC, a number of civil wars broke out in Eastern Zhou. The subsequent Warring States Period from 476 BC to 221 BC was also a period of much strife. Both these eras saw much cultural, philosophical, and literary development in China despite the discord.
Qin Dynasty: The Qin dynasty followed the Zhou reign and lasted from 221 BC to 207 BC. The emperors Ying Zheng, Fushu, and Zi Ying were expansionists and stretched the boundaries of the empire to the north and the south. It was during the reign of the Qin emperors that the Great Wall of China was built to protect the empire against the invasion of the Mongols.
Han Dynasty: The Han Dynasty (207 BC to 221 AD) was the first ruling dynasty of China to adopt the Confucian philosophy. Emperor Wu extended the boundaries of Han China to include much of Mongolia. The emperors of the Han Dynasty made the Silk Route a safe passage for traders and maintained excellent trade relations with Rome and the west. The centralized administration of the previous regime was done away with and a number of vassal states came up. After a short interruption the Han Dynasty took over again in 24 AD.
Three Kingdoms: With the collapse of the Han Dynasty in China, three kingdoms, Wei, Shu, and Wu, rose to prominence. The period of the Three Kingdoms (221 AD to 280 AD was marked by much strife and bloodshed. By 263 AD, Shu was conquered by Wei. Wei was overthrown by the rising powers of the Jin in 265 BC. Jin also took over the Wu kingdom in 280 BC.
Jin Dynasty: The Jin Dynasty followed the Three Kingdom period of China from 265 AD to 420 AD. The Western Jin Dynasty had its capital in Luoyang and was founded by Sima Yan. The dynasty reigned from 265 AD to 316 AD. The Eastern Jin Dynasty reigned from 317 AD to 420 AD and had its capital at Jiankang. The dynasty was established by Sima Rui.
Northern and Southern Dynasties: The Northern and Southern Dynasties was the era in Chinese history following the reign of the Jin Dynasty from 420 AD to 589 AD. The southern part of China was ruled by four successive dynasties – the Song Dynasty, the Qi Dynasty, the Liang Dynasty, and the Chen Dynasty. Despite the civil wars that erupted during this era, much cultural and philosophical advancement was achieved in China. Daoism and Mahayana Buddhism spread through the land and the fine arts were encouraged.
Sui Dynasty: The Sui Dynasty reigned less than three decades from about 589 AD to 618 AD. Emperor Wen introduced a number of reforms but his son Emperor Yang was extravagant and putrid. In 618 Emperor Yang was murdered by Jiangdu the general stationed at Taiyuan. Jiangdu established the Tang dynasty of China.
Tang Dynasty: The Tang Dynasty of China reigned from about 618 AD to 907 AD. Established by the Li family, the dynasty ruled from the capital city at Chang’an. The era was a largely peaceful one after many years of rebellion, civil wars, and chaos. Chinese poetry had entered its golden era and Buddhism grew increasingly influential. Except for an interruption by Empress Wu Zetian, China’s only woman regent, who ruled from 690 AD to 705 AD, the dynasty’s rule was a period of undisturbed peace.
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms: The five dynasties that ruled China during this period are the Liang Dynasty (907 AD to 923 AD), Tang Dynasty (923 AD to 936 AD), Jin Dynasty (936 AD to 947 AD), Han Dynasty (947 AD to 951 AD), and the Zhou Dynasty (951 AD to 960 AD). The ten kingdoms established during this period were Wuyue, Wu, Chu, Min, the two kingdoms of Shu, Southern Han, Northern Han, Jingnan, and Southern Tang. The era was again a period of political chaos.
Song Dynasty: The Song Dynasty held sway from 960 AD to 1279 AD. From 960 AD to 1127 AD the Song capital was located in Bianjing. But with the ascendancy of the Jin Dynasty, the Song Emperors were forced to relinquish northern China and move their capital further south to Lin’an (1127 AD – 1279 AD). Despite the loss of land the economy of the Song Empire was buoyant and agriculture and maritime trade boomed during the period. The Song emperors were the earliest in the world to issue paper currency. They also pioneered the use of gunpowder in East Asia.
Yuan Dynasty: The northern regions of China which had been lost to the Jin and the southern regions administered by the Song were both conquered by the Yuan Dynasty. The dynasty was established by Kublai Khan, the grandson of the great Mongol leader, Genghis Khan, in 1271 AD. Yuan China, though a part of the Mongol Empire is also considered a separate entity as the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty adopted the Chinese lifestyle and practices. The empire is also referred to as the Empire of the Great Khan
Ming Dynasty: The Ming Dynasty that ruled China from 1368 AD to 1644 AD. The Ming era was one of the most stable and prosperous in Chinese history. With its capital at Beijing, the Ming Dynasty boasted of a huge army and an indomitable navy. Trade with Spain, Portugal, and Japan prospered and silver filled the royal coffers.
Qing Dynasty: The Qing Dynasty ruled China from 1644 to 1912, the last imperial dynasty to rule China. The emperors of the Qing Dynasty were not the Han Chinese but the Manchu people. By 1683 the Qing emperors had asserted control over most of China. By 1911-1912the Wuchang Uprising brought an end to the long imperial history of the country and China was declared a republic.