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  Home China Blog Articles ► Chinese Dynasties & Imperial Rule - A Very Quick Overview

guide to chinese dynasties


Although China has been a republic for roughly a century now it has spent most of it’s history under Imperial rule and many of the great tourist sites visited every year in China are remnants of that Imperial dynastic past. Most China tours are likely to take in places such as the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace - homes to emperors long gone or sites such as the Terra-Cotta Army in Xian where there are great tombs around that housed armies of terra cotta soldiers and courtesans ready to fight and entertain the Emperor on his great journey into the afterlife.

The first Dynasty orginated around 4,00 years ago on the Yellow River

In Chinese mythology the first Dynasty was know as the Xia who emerged some 4000 years ago but the first Chinese dynasty that we have any real proof of is the Shang dynasty that was set up along the Yellow River from the 17th Century BC and had a form of writing that is directly related to the Chinese characters we see these days. The Shang were to be conquered by the Zhou in the 12th Century BC but over the coming centuries their power was to be split over 7 regional kings and by the 5th Century BC these 7 states had formed and went through a 300 year period referred to as the Warring States period that wasn’t ended until one of them finally conquered the others and that would be the head of the Qin state - Emperor Qin Shi Huang. He declared himself Emperor of a united China bringing in a standardized system for language, currency and measurement. His Dynasty was to last only 15 years but is still remembered through the great Terra-Cotta Warriors that were built to protect him on his death.

The prosperity of the Han Dynasty

The Han Dynasty were the next to prosper over a 400 year period starting in 206 BC and it was this dynasty that was to create the Han cultural identity that is still the dominant identity in China today and is the group we think of as Chinese. They expanded China and created the Silk Road and established Confucianism as the key ideology. At this period China became the dominant economy of the world. But they too were to collapse with China splitting into 3 kingdoms that would be reunited under the short lived Sui Dynasty in 581 AD. The Tang Dynasty followed with a shift towards Buddhism but that was to be replaced with the Song Dynasty that oversaw a period of great prosperity and population growth due to the expansion of farming allowing for a great boom in the Arts and the introduction of paper money for the first time anywhere in the world.

The Mongolian invasion and creation of the Yuan Dynasty

The Mongols would cast their grip of power over China next and establish the Yuan Dynasty through Kublai Khan in 1271 but would only last a century before being overthrown by a peasant called Zhu Yuanzhang and he would form the Ming dynasty, moving the capital back to Beijing but this dynasty would fall to the Manchu Qing Dynasty that was to survive up until the beginning of the 20th Century when it was finally deposed and the Republic of China was set up with Sun Yat-Sen at the helm, the man recognised as the father of modern China.

Read more about Chinese History by clicking here and the facts about Chinese History here.

Article posted by Phil Stanley: 3rd January 2014

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