As one of the four oldest civilizations in the world, China has a history of over 3,000 years, which dates back to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC). China’s history can be divided into four main sections: Ancient China lasted from c. 1600–221 BC, Imperial China lasted from 221 BC – 1912 AD, the Republic of China era lasted from 1912 to 1949, and 1949 to the present day has been the modern China era. For most travelers, learning more about the imperial era’s history is helpful because almost all of the ancient Chinese architectural structures were built in that period.
Timetable of Chinese History
|c. 2070–1600 BC||Xia Dynasty||Yangcheng, Yangzhai, Zhou, Shangqiu, and Lucheng||The Yellow River civilization|
|c. 1600–1046 BC||Shang Dynasty||Yin (Anyang, Henan Province)||Inscriptions on bones and bronze objects|
|1045–221 BC||Zhou Dynasty||Gaojing and Luoyi (later known as Luoyang)||Confucianism and Daoism|
|221–206 BC||Qin Dynasty||Xianyang||The Terracotta Army and the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang|
|206 BC – 220 AD||Han Dynasty||Chang’an (later known as Xi’an), Luoyang, and Xuchang||The Silk Road|
|220–265||Three Kingdoms Period||Luoyang, Chengdu, and Jianye (later known as Jiankang)||A short but romantic and important juncture in Chinese history|
|265–420||Jin Dynasty||Luoyang||Celadon porcelain wares|
|420–589||Northern and Southern Dynasties||Jiankang, Pengcheng (later known as Xuzhou), Luoyang, Yecheng, and Chang’an||Epoch of breaking up and the great merger of Chinese nationalities|
|581–618||Sui Dynasty||Daxing and Luoyang||The Grand Canal and the rebuilding of the Great Wall|
|618–907||Tang Dynasty||Chang’an and Luoyang||Poetry, tricolored glazed pottery, and traditional Chinese paintings|
|960–1279||Song Dynasty||Kaifeng||The most flourishing age of a commodity based economy, cultural education, and scientific innovation in Chinese history|
|1279–1368||Yuan Dynasty||Beijing||The first foreign-led dynasty in China|
|1368–1644||Ming Dynasty||Beijing||The Forbidden City|
|1644–1912||Qing Dynasty||Beijing||The last dynasty of China’s feudal system|
|1912–1949||The Republic of China||Nanjing||The transition period from feudal to modern society|
|1949–present||People’s Republic of China||Beijing||A new start in Chinese history|
Top 5 Influential Dynasties in China’s History
The top five dynasties are based on the period from the Qin Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. In fact, most of China’s territory had been occupied since the end of the Warring States Period. The First Emperor – Qin Shi Huang – unified seven states, and then the Chinese governments began to control the country as a whole.
5. The Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD)
- Founder: Liu Bang
- Duration: 215 years
The Han Dynasty had a great influence on the Chinese nation since it was founded by Liu Bang. Its four greatest achievements are detailed below.
- Emperor Wu of Han ousted Taoism and declared China to be a Confucian state. The Chinese people were expected to embrace and learn Confucianism.
- The Han regime conquered a vast territory containing North Korea in the east, the Baiyue (Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, and Guangdong provinces) in the south, Dawan (Russia’s Fergana Basin) in the west, and they defeated the Hun people in the north.
- The peak economic period known as the Rule of Wen and Jing was created.
- Most of the Chinese ethnic groups were influenced by the Han Dynasty and were collectively called the Han nationality.
4. The Qing Dynasty (1644–1912)
- Founder: Hong Taiji
- Duration: 268 years
The Qing Dynasty was a controversial age. The “Kang-Qian Flourishing Age” began with the reign of Emperor Kangxi and reached its peak during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Emperor Kangxi and Russia signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk while the handicraft industry had almost reached the highest level in the world under Emperor Qianlong’s reign.
However, the late Qing Dynasty reign was despotic and cowardly. Many people regarded it as one of the darkest times of Chinese history and regretted the end of China’s feudal system. A series of dishonorable treaties were signed, such as the Boxer Protocol of 1901 and the Treaty of Shimonoseki.
3. The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)
- Founder: Zhu Yuanzhang
- Duration: 276 years
The Ming Dynasty was a starry age without the need for rulers of minority nationalities to get married in order to keep peace at the borders, without payments of silver being made to powerful countries, and without any recreance.
Many celebrities in Chinese history were from the Ming Dynasty, such as the great politician Zhang Juzheng, and the military leaders Qi Jiguang. Different from the ending of many other dynasties, the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty was frugal and diligent while some of the Chinese people were loyal and even died for their country.
2. The Tang Dynasty (618–907)
- Founder: Li Yuan
- Duration: 289 years
The Tang Dynasty is recognized as being one of the most powerful dynasties in Chinese history. The territory of the Tang Dynasty was vast: its western and northern occupied areas were beyond the borders of modern China.
The culture of the Tang Dynasty surpassed any other cultures in the world at that time. The most famous poets were Li Bai and Du Fu while the leading calligraphers were Yan Zhenqing and Liu Gongquan. The artistic pottery and porcelain created during the Tang Dynasty is highly praised today. As the Tang Dynasty had such a great influence on the rest of the world, many overseas regions referred to Chinese people as the Tang people. Chinatown in numerous destinations around the world has also become synonymous with Chinese streets.
1. The Song Dynasty (960–1279)
- Founder: Zhao Kuangyin
- Duration: 319 years — the Northern Song Dynasty lasted from 960 to 1127 and the Southern Song Dynasty lasted from 1127 to 1279
Many historians believe that China’s renaissance period started from the Song Dynasty. The economy was very prosperous and it’s said that the Song Dynasty’s GDP was 80% of the world’s GDP. As well as that, the agricultural industry, silk industry, papermaking technology, and printing technology all had great breakthroughs. Moreover, trade occurred with countries in many parts of the world during the Song Dynasty because foreign trade was developed.