Chinese Dynasty | History From the First to the Last Dynasties

Chinese dynasty

The Whole History of Chinese Dynasty

The Chinese Dynasty correspond to the whole period during which China was ruled by a sovereign bearing the title of Emperor of China. The history of China begins the imperial period in the year around 2205 BC, with the Xia dynasty. But it was not until the Qin dynasty (221 BC) that China experienced strong centralized power, the reign of Qin Shi Huang — considered the “first emperor” — ending centuries of feudalism.

Imperial China lasts until the beginning of the 20th century. After decades of decadence at the end of the Qing dynasty, the Chinese revolution of 1911 dealt a fatal blow to the imperial system and the Republic of China was officially proclaimed on January 1, 1912. The Republic was maintained until 1949 despite an attempt to restoration in 1915-1916, which aimed to establish a new dynasty, called Hongxian.

China is not just an empire, it is a civilization. Therefore, how to dissociate the history of this empire from that of its civilization, that is to say from that of its thought, its religion, its art? let’s read this article!

Ancient Chinese Dynasty

Xia Dynasty 夏朝 (2070 BC – 1600 BC)

Their capital was Luoyang, Dengfeng, Zhengzhou. This is the first dynasty in traditional Chinese historiography.

The earliest historical record is found in the history book Shàngshū which says that the Xià Dynasty had tens of thousands of tribute states, so it is generally considered that the Xià Dynasty was a state formed by a combination of various ethnic groups.

These texts, the oldest in Chinese historiography, concern the politics and administration of the rulers of Chinese antiquity, since Yao. This mythical emperor would have charged Gun (鯀), father of Yu the Great, to fight against the floods. Yu the Great is the first legendary Chinese monarch of the Xia Dynasty, in an area which would correspond, perhaps, today to western Henan and southern Shanxi, that is to say the area which roughly covers the culture of Erlitou. There is also the tourist site of Yu’s tomb in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province.

The Xia dynasty (21st century BC to 16th century BC) is the first dynasty in Chinese history. It has 17 emperors. The regions under its governance corresponded to the south of the province of Shan Xi and the west of the province of Henan.

It has 17 emperors. The regions under its governance corresponded to the south of the province of Shan Xi and the west of the province of Henan.

The founder of this dynasty, Da yu, was a historical hero famous for having put an end to the ravages of the waters of the yellow river. It is said that it was through this feat that he gained the support of many tribes and was able to found the Xia Dynasty. It marked the beginning of slavery in China.

During the last half of the Xia’s rule, the gap between the ruling class and the people grew worse. To make matters worse, the last emperor of this dynasty was a Sybarite. He neglected affairs of state, indulged in amorous pleasures and despised the suffering of the people.

When his ministers reproached him, he had them killed. That is why in the end, all the principalities offered resistance to him. One of them, the principality of Shang, defeated and dethroned him. This is how the Xia dynasty fell.

Given the few historical documents found, the influence of this dynasty is a matter of controversy among scientists. In 1959, Chinese archaeologists began excavating remains in He nan province, at “er li tou”. These are said to be the most reliable sources for studying the Xia Dynasty.

Most of the tools found there are made of stone. Some are made of bone. No large bronze tools were discovered, but small pieces, such as hoes, chisels, and small cooking pots. Decorative jade objects were also found. All these discoveries show the development of craftsmanship at that time.

According to the existing documentation, the most remarkable is the calendar of the time. At the time, the month was already defined according to the position of the Big Dipper. The organization of agricultural work was also based on this calendar.

Shang dynasty 商 (1570-1122 BC)

First dynasty to have historical records remaining. The capital was Anyang.

The Shang Dynasty is the first Chinese dynasty to leave contemporary written documents. Especially the later period of the Shang Dynasty, the Yin Dynasty (殷), has now been very well researched. In total, the names of 30 kings from 17 generations have been handed down. All of these names have also been found on the Yinxu oracle bones, leading most historians to assume that these kings actually lived.

Zhou dynasty 周朝 (1122-249 BC)

Confucianism emerged in this dynasty. The capital was Xi’an, Luoyang.

Mature Chinese philosophy developed during the Zhou Dynasty. The greatest Chinese philosophers were Confucius (Chinese: 孔夫子; pinyin: Kǒng Fūzǐ), founder of Confucianism, and Laozi, founder of Daoism. Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought from the Zhou Dynasty were Mozi (Latin: Micius), founder of Mohism, Mencius (Chinese: 孟子; pinyin: Mèngzǐ), a famous Confucian who expanded upon Confucius legacy, Shang Yang and Han Feizi, responsible for the development of ancient Chinese Legalism (the core philosophy of the Qin Dynasty), and Xunzi.

The Zhou dynasty was the longest-lasting dynasty of all dynasties in Chinese history, and the use of iron was introduced in China from this time. The figure who laid the foundation for the founding of the Zhou Dynasty was Ji Chang (紀昌) or better known as Wen Wang (王文).

Qin Dynasty 秦 (249-206 BC)

First to unite China as a country under an emperor. The capital was Xi’an.

This dynasty was created by the warlord Qin Shi Huang during the Warring States Period and defeated several other states in the area to unite China. The Qin ruled China for only a very short time, during which they built both the Terracotta Army and parts of the Great Wall of China.

The second, and final emperor, Qin Er Shi, was overthrown by a popular rebellion after the first Qin emperor died. It was followed by the Han dynasty. The Han dynasty was founded by Liu Bang in 202 BC. The Qin Dynasty made its mark in China’s history.

Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin Dynasty. Unknown artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Han Dynasty 漢朝 (206 BC-9 AD and 23-220)

The same period as the Roman Empire. The capital was Xi’an, Luoyang.

The Han dynasty came to power in 202 BC, but ruled China from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. They followed the philosophies of Confucianism and legalism. This was called ‘the Han synthesis’.

The first emperor of the Han dynasty is Liu Bang, known in Chinese as Emperor Gaozu of Han.

The new emperor maintained a legalist ideology just like the Qin dynasty but also had ideas of Confucianism to have a centralized system showing benevolence. After eighty years, Emperor Wu of Han launched a period of military expansion. The Han armies controlled many territories, including Silk Road in Mongolia and Xinjiang. The Silk Road  helped make a political, economic, military, and culture center, but it was very expensive to manage and further expansion was cut off. Several factors contributed to the fall of the Han dynasty, including uprisings of desperate and hungry people, the spread of attacks by nomadic groups, and official corruption.

Under this dynasty, China made progress in arts and science. The empire also became larger and larger. China started trading with a number of other countries. They started the Silk Road. Merchants used the Silk Road to reach China. During this dynasty Buddhism was introduced in China. Today, the dominant ethnic group of China calls themselves the Han Chinese since this was the dynasty where many of the norms of Chinese culture found a firm foundation in the culture, including Confucianism and Chinese characters.

Xin Dynasty 新朝 (9-23)

Short period of dynasty. The capital was Chang’an. Chinese dynasty of the 1st century of our era having counted only one emperor. Its founder, Wáng Măng (王莽), a dignitary of the Han dynasty, seized power in 9 AD. He strove to put into practice the social and political ideal of the Confucian classics, an unrealistic project which ended in chaos and the loss of his short dynasty in 23, leaving him with a reputation as a usurper (dictator). In the year 23, Wang Mang dies in the Battle of Kunyang.

During his reign, Wang Mang carried out land reforms and reforms in the currency, fiscal and economic spheres. Many of these reforms, motivated by theoretical rather than practical reasons, created legal uncertainty and allowed officials to abuse. To enhance his reputation, Wang Mang targeted ethnic minorities within the empire, which only further damaged internal relations and the economy. The peasantry continued to deteriorate.

Chinese Dynasty (Imperial China)

Jin dynasty 晉 (265-420)

Frequent regime changes dans cet dinasty. Il ya 2 empereurs: 1er du 265 au 290: Sima Yan et le dernier du 418 au 420: Jin Gongdi. The Jin dynasty is divided into two periods: a Western (from 265 to 316 ) and an Eastern (from 317 to 420)

The Western Jin Dynasty was founded by Emperor Wu (金武帝 / 金武帝, Jìn Wŭdì ) Sima Yan (西马燕 / 司马燕, Sīmǎ Yán ). Their capital was Luoyang.
The Eastern Jin Dynasty was founded by Emperor Yuan (金元帝 / 金元帝, Jìn Yuándì ) Sima Rui (西马瑞 / 斯马瑞, Sīmǎ Ruì ), the capital was in Jiankang (建康, Jiànkāng, today’s city of Nanjing).

Under the Jin dynasty the typical cultural phenomenon was qingtan (清談), the “pure conversation” practiced by aristocratic intellectuals and inspired by Xuanxue (玄學), or Neotaoism , a philosophical current that emerged in the mid- third century , after the fall of Han empire , which followed the fate of the Jin dynasty until the fourth century. The “pure conversation” was associated with an individualistic, hedonistic and nonconformist lifestyle, which had its most famous representatives in the seven sages of the bamboo grove . This current had a notable influence on the art of the literature of the time, and the seven essaysbecame a popular theme in art.

The spread of Buddhism continued under the Jin dynasty ; some monks participated in the qingtan thanks to which Buddhism was able to influence literature. Under the Eastern Jin, the monk of northern origin Huìyuan (慧遠) ( 334 – 416 ), settled on Mount Lushan in southern China, gathering many disciples. In the north occupied by the Sixteen Kingdoms, important works of translation of Buddhist texts were carried out. The monk Fǎxiǎn, who left the kingdom of the later Qin, made a long journey (399 – 414) to the sources of Buddhism, reporting some texts and giving an account of them in the Foguoji (佛 國 記) ( Report on the countries of Buddhism).

Taoism also continued in its development. The burgeoning movement of the Celestial Masters spread south in the wake of the aristocracy. In 399 Sun En (孫恩) and Lu Zhi (盧循), at the end of the Eastern Jin dynasty, gave birth to an attempt at rebellion which provoked a repression of the movement. Meanwhile, the various currents were born that developed later under the Northern and Southern dynasties . In the arts, some personalities emerged including the calligrapher Wang Xizhi (王羲之) and his son Di lui Wang Xianzhi (王獻 之) and the painter Gu Kaizhi (顧 愷 之). The poem remained in the tradition ofHan dynasty , without great originality. Among the different styles and themes, the Taoist-inspired author Tao Yuanming (陶淵明) (365 or 372 – 427) stood out.

Sui Dynasty 隋朝 (589-619)

The Sui dynasty was founded by the general Yang Jian (Sui Wendi) by seizing the throne of the Northern Zhou dynasty, then conquering the Chen dynasty ‘s empire in southern China. He established his capital in the city of Chang’an (present-day Xi’an).

The dynasty was marked by the reunification of southern and northern China and the building of the Grand Canal. Several reforms were made by Emperors Wen and Yang. For example, a system of land division was established to close the social divide. This resulted in improved agricultural productivity. Government power was also centralized and the currency was standardized and unified. The defense got better and the Great Wall was expanded. Buddhism spread thanks to patronage by the imperial court and administration.

Weakened by costly and disastrous military campaigns against Korea in the early 7th century, the dynasty disintegrated as a result of a combination of popular uprisings, assassination, and loss of loyalty to its leaders.

Tang dynasty 唐朝 (619-690 and 705-907)

The capital was Xi’an, Luoyang. It had the only female emperor.

The Tang rulers, of mixed Chinese, Xianbei and Turkic descent, built China into an expansive and cosmopolitan empire. The first emperors extended Chinese power to Korea and Central Asia. The construction of the Grand Canal between the emerging south and the strategically important north, the construction of two major capitals and growing domestic and foreign trade stimulated economic development.

Merchants, scholars and followers of many religions traveled to the Chinese capital via the Silk Road. They enriched Chinese culture with new forms of music and dance. Buddhism, which originated in India, left a large and lasting mark on Chinese culture during the Tang period. The period is also considered one of the pinnacles of Chinese literature. Poets like Li Bai and Du Fuare among the greatest in Chinese history. The invention of block printing ensured a wide distribution of literary and religious texts.

The anarchy in the country eventually heralded the end of the dynasty. This ended when one of the military governors, Zhu Wen (852-912), deposed the last emperor and ascended the throne himself. Thus began the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960). This period, like the last half century of the Tang dynasty, was characterized by a constant struggle for power between the warlords. It took until the seizure of power by the founder of the Song dynasty (960-1279), Zhao Kuangyin (928-976), before peace was restored to the country.

Later Liang 後梁 (Hou Liang) (907-923)

Capitals: Luoyang (907–913) and Kaifeng (913–923).

This is one of the Five Dynasties during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period of China . It was founded by Zhu Wen after he forced (and then killed) the last emperor of the Tang Dynasty to step down in his favour.

The later Liangs controlled most of northern China , although much of Shaanxi (controlled by Qi) as well as Hebei (controlled by the Yan state) and Shanxi (controlled by the Shatuo Turks) remained largely out of the dynasty’s control.

The later Liangs maintained a tense relationship with the Shatuo Turks, due to the rivalry between Zhu Quanzong and Li Keyong, a relationship that had begun at the time of the Tang dynasty. After the death of Li Keyong, his son Li Cunxu continued to expand his Jin status . Li was able to destroy the later Liangs in 923 and founded the later Tangs.

Later Tang 唐 (Hou Tang) (923-936)

It was a short-lived dynasty of the Shato Turkic people from 923 to 936 and one of the Five Dynasties during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Their capital was Luoyang. The empire was originally called Tang (Chinese唐, Pinyin Tang) and later received its current name.

The dynasty was ruled by Li Cunxu in 923 founded, who defeated the Later Liang Dynasty and proclaimed himself Emperor of the Later Tang Dynasty. The dynasty lasted fourteen years and had four rulers. In 936, it was conquered by the Later Jin Dynasty.

They spanned and controlled all of the northern territories controlled much of northern China by the later Liangs as well as their base in Shanxi. They also had control over the areas around Beijing and Shaanxi, which were not entirely under the control of the later Liangs. The greatest expansion of the later Tangs occurred in 925 when they conquered the former state of Shu, centered in today’s Sichuan. However, when the power of the later Tangs was waning, a later Shu state was formed in 934, a year before the fall of the later Tangs.

Later Jin 後晉 (Hou Jin) (936-947)

The later Jin dynasty had often been described as a puppet of the emerging Liao dynasty. The help of their powerful northern neighbors was vital in the formation of the later Jin, and the cession of the Sixteen Prefectures led to their derision as the servants of the Kitai.

Later, the death of the dynasty’s founder, Shi Jingtang, his grandson, adopted son and successor Shi Chonggui challenged the Liao, causing them to invade in 946 and 947, resulting in the destruction of the later Jin.

After the conquest of the later Jin by the Liao, they took Water as the dynastic element, which derived from the Metal dynastic element of the later Jin, according to the theory of the Five Elements (wuxing) or Chinese philosophy virtues.

Later Han 後漢 (Hou Han) (947-951)

Their capital was Bian (now Kaifeng, Henan). The dynasty lasted four years and had two rulers. It was the fourth of the Five Dynasties, and the third consecutive state of Sinized Shatuo ethnicity, however, other sources indicate that the Han emperors later claimed patrilineal Han Chinese ancestry.

The Later Han was among the shortest-lived regimes in the long history of China. Liu Zhiyuan died the year following the founding of the dynasty, to be succeeded by his teenaged son. The dynasty was overthrown two years later when a Han Chinese named Guo Wei led a military coup and declared himself emperor of the Later Zhou.

Later Zhou 後周 (Hou Zhou) (951-960)

It was the last in a succession of five dynasties that controlled most of northern China during the Five Dynasties period and of the Ten Kingdoms, which lasted from 907 to 960 and bridged the gap between the Tang dynasty and the Song dynasty.

The founder of this dynasty was Guo Wei, a Han Chinese, served as deputy military commissioner at the court of the later Han, a regime ruled by the Shatuo Turks. A teenager ascended the throne of the later Han in 948 after the death of the founding emperor, Gaozu. Guo Wei led a successful coup against the teenage emperor and declared himself emperor of the later new Zhou on New Year’s Day 951.

The fall of the later Zhou because of Guo Rong was succeeded by his seven-year-old son upon his death. Shortly thereafter, Zhao Kuangyin usurped the throne and declared himself emperor of the great Song dynasty , a dynasty that would eventually reunite China, bringing all southern states as well as the northern Han under their control by 979.

Song dynasty 宋朝 (960-1115)

It is divided into the “Northern” and “Southern” Song dynasties. The “Northern” (北宋, Běi Sòng ) ruled in Kaifeng from 960–1126 , the “Southern” (南宋, Nán Sòng ) in Hangzhou from 1126–1279.

The Song dynasty ensured rapid economic growth in China (recognizable by the more than doubling of coinage despite the introduction of paper money) and, in connection with this, a unique period of social prosperity at the time. Trade relations with Japan, Southeast Asia and India became more intensive with the development of economic power and deep-sea shipping , the overseas trade, which had previously been largely left to the Muslims, had an economic impact. A vague knowledge of European localities was also noted for the early 13th century, conveyed by Arab seafarers (in the book Chu-fan chih).

Around 1263 the domestic political situation in the agricultural centers south of the Yangtze River became so precarious that collecting taxes became difficult and reforms became unavoidable. The result was coercive measures by Chancellor Jia Sidao (1213–1275). The chancellor was of petty gentry, but his sister was an imperial concubine. He wanted to limit large estates to 27 hectares, buy up the excess land and use the income to cover the tax losses and war costs. Jia Sidao proved to be a ruthless schemer . The resulting clashes in the central administration and the State Council undermined the loyalty of the civil service and ultimately the army leadership on the eve of the Mongol attack.

King Yu of Xia
Song Dynasty depiction (reference conveyed through picture) of Yu the Great. King Yu (禹) as imagined by by Song Dynasty painter Ma Lin (馬麟). Hanging scroll, color on silk. Size 249 x 111.3 cm (height x width). Painting is located in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. (See: Page 93 of 故宮圖像選萃 (Gu gong tu xiang xuan cui) Masterpieces of Chinese Portrait Painting in the National Palace Museum. Taipei: National Palace Museum. 1971.) Ma Lin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Mongols (from 1271 Yuan Dynasty ) had meanwhile established their rule over northern China, shifted the capital to Beijing, and now the conquest of southern China became the goal. After the fall of the Han River forts in 1273 (several years of siege of Xiangyang ), the Mongols advanced to Hangzhou. The capital Hangzhou surrendered in 1276, the last Song adherents lasted until 1279. After losing the Battle of Yamen (崖門戰役 / 崖门战役) on March 19, 1279, one of the greatest naval battles in world history, Prime Minister and imperial adviser Lu Xiufu drowned (陸秀夫 / 陆秀夫, 1232–1279) the 8-year-old heir to the throne Bingand jump into the Pearl River. This ended the Southern Song Dynasty and the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty.

Yuan dynasty 元朝 (1279-1368)

The dynasty was proclaimed in 1271 by Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan. Their capital was Khanbaliq (Beijing), Shangdu (summer capital).

After the Yuan dynasty, the Ming dynasty ruled China. Genghis Khan and his army of Mongols conquered many parts of China. His grandson Kublai Khan added more parts of China to his kingdom. He founded the Yuan dynasty in 1271.

In the year of 1206, Genghis Khan ruled the Mobi tribes(a part of a country) to establish the Mongol country at the Onon River. Jin was the main race in Mongolia, but Jin and Xia were in decline, Mongolia had attacked the Western Xia and Jin in August 1227, and Jin lost, so Mongolia occupied the whole north of China in March 1234.

In 1259, Mongke Khan died after the Song Yuan dynasty war. His brothers all wanted to be king. His fourth brother, Kublai, and his seventh brother, Ali Khan, fought to rule the Mobi tribes. And finally in 1264, Kublai won. Kublai made the name “DaYuan” in 1271 and proclaimed the Yuan Dynasty and said its founder was his grandfather Genghis. In 1276, Yuan ruled southern of Song, so yuan ruled the whole China in this year. In 1279, the Kublai subdued southern Song dynasty. The Yuan dynasty ruled China and brought different parts of China together that had been split since the late Tang dynasty. They were the first foreign dynasty to rule just about all of China.

For centuries, most of what the West knew about China came from the book by Marco Polo about his visit to Kublai’s empire. The Yuan dynasty ended in 1368 when the Ming dynasty took control.

Kublai Khan (September 28, 1215 – February 18, 1294) (Mongolian: Хубилай хаан, Chinese : 忽必烈汗) was the fifth and last great khan (1260–1294) of the Mongol Empire and the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1294). Araniko, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ming dynasty 大明 (1368-1644)

The capital was Nanjing (1368–1644) and Beijing (1403–1644).

The Ming Empire has been described as “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history”. It was the last Chinese dynasty led by the Han Chinese, not counting the short-lived governments of Li Zicheng and Yuan Shikai. It is also famous for its pottery from Jingdezhen in Jiangxi and Dehua in Fujian.

It was China’s last dynasty of domestic origin and was founded by the Zhu family. It was preceded by the Yuan Dynasty of the Mongols and followed by the Qing Dynasty founded by the Manchus.

Strong popular opposition to the “foreign” rulers eventually led to a peasant revolt that drove the Yuan dynasty back to the Mongolian steppes and ushered in the Ming dynasty in 1368. In the early days of the dynasty, culture flourished again. The arts, especially the making of porcelain objects, rose to a previously unattainable level. Chinese traders traveled along the Indian Ocean , and Zheng He traveled as far as Africa. A huge fleet was built, which included four-masted ships that could carry 1,500 tons of cargo. There were over a million soldiers in the army. More than 100,000 tons of iron were produced in northern Chinaper year. Printing presses printed large quantities of literature.

The Ming dynasty perhaps saw fewer advances in science and technology compared to the pace of discovery in the western world . Indeed, the major advances in Chinese science at the end of the Ming dynasty were stimulated by contact with Europe. In 1626, Johann Adam Schall von Bell wrote the first Chinese treatise on the telescope, the Yuanjingshuo (Distant View Optical Glass); In 1634, Emperor Chongzhen acquired the telescope from the lateJohann Schreck (1576-1630).

The downfall of the dynasty began with attacks by the Manchus, to which peasant rebellions were added. Long wars against the Mongols and Japanese attacks on Korea and Chinese coastal cities weakened the Ming dynasty from the end of the 16th century. Internal dissatisfaction with the administration’s inflexibility in issues caused by population growth, among other things, led to rebellions in the early 17th century. Of these , the forces led by Li Zicheng (李自成) succeeded in overthrowing the Ming Dynasty and thus creating a space for the rise of the Manchus and the Qing Dynasty. Chongzhen , the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty, committed suicide on April 25, 1644.

Artistic representation of Zhū Yuánzhāng (Hongwu Emperor 洪武帝), the founder of the Ming dynasty. 明朝画师, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Empress Xiaocigao (Empress Ma 孝慈高皇后) of Ming Dynasty China. She was a Chinese empress consort of the Ming dynasty, married to the Hongwu Emperor and acting as his political adviser, exerting a large amount of influence during his reign. 明朝画师, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Qing dynasty 大清 (1662-1912) The last dynasty of China

This dynasty also called Manchu Dynasty, was the last imperial dynasty of China. The capital was in Beijing. It became the Republic of China in 1912 after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, led by Republican leader of Western education Sun Yat-sen marked the end of China’s 2,000-year imperial history and the birth of modern China.

During this dynasty, the Manchus changed their ways to be more like the Chinese in order to rule them better. The Manchus started wearing Chinese clothes and writing in Chinese. They began to enjoy Chinese food and art. One of the Manchu emperors, Qianlong Emperor, began to worry about how much like the Chinese the Manchus were becoming and he tried to get Manchus to be more Manchu. Qianlong Emperor made Manchus ride horses and shoot bows and arrows so that they would remember where they came from. The Chinese people used different types of clothes like maccukau, konaha, schinin and sakahn.

Flag of China (1889–1912)
Flag of the Qing dynasty from 1889 to 1912. Original : 清朝政府 Vector : Sodacan, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The dynasty was founded by the Yurchen clan from Aisin-Gioro in Manchuria , where in the early 17th century they established a multi-ethnic state with its capital at Mukden . In 1644, taking advantage of the collapse of the Ming dynasty as a result of Li Zicheng ‘s revolt , the Manchu general Dorgon crossed the Great Wall with Chinese help and invaded China, capturing Beijing in 1645. Dorgon proclaimed his nephew Shunzhi emperor of China, which began Qing rule over all of China. The dynasty quickly consolidated its control over China, reaching its peak during the reign of theQianlong emperor (r.1735-1796), after which began a progressive decline.

During the reign of the first Qing emperors, China experienced a period of internal stability and unprecedented demographic, territorial, and economic growth. Qianlong’s conquests expanded the Qing empire throughout Central Asia, doubling its size. The population grew from about 130 million to about 400 million, but taxes and government revenues, set at very low levels, stagnated, leading to a fiscal crisis in the early 19th century. Territorial and demographic growth, affected by the government’s lack of fiscal resources, overwhelmed the government’s ability to effectively control China’s vast territory. Corruption became endemic ; _ successive rebellionsthey tested the legitimacy of the government, and the ruling elites were unable to respond effectively to the growing changes in the world scene, where Western powers increasingly demanded China’s trade opening.

After the First Opium War (1839–1842), Western powers imposed unequal treaties , free trade , extraterritoriality , and ports under foreign control. The Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864) and Dungan Revolt (1862–1877) in Central Asia resulted in the deaths of some 20 million people, most of them in war -caused famines . After the Second Opium War ( 1856 – 1860), the Western powers forced China to partially reform, and helped the Qing government to pacify its internal rebellions. Despite these disasters, in the Tongzhi Restoration of the 1860s, Han elites rallied in defense of the Confucian order and the Qing rulers. The initial gains of the Self -Strengthening Movement were lost in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1895, in which the Qing lost their influence over Korea and possession of Taiwan. The Qing tried to reorganize their armed forces, but the ambitious Hundred Days’ Reformof 1898 was repulsed in a coup by Empress Dowager Cixi , leader of the conservative faction of the government. When fighting for concessions by foreign powers triggered the Boxer Rebellion , foreign powers intervened militarily in China again; Cixi declared war on them, leading to their defeat and the imperial court ‘s flight to Xi’an .

After signing the Boxer Protocol in 1900, the Qing imperial government initiated unprecedented fiscal and administrative reforms, including elections, a new legal code, and the abolition of the millennia-old examination system . Sun Yat-sen and other revolutionaries competed with reforming monarchists such as Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao to transform the Qing Empire into a modern nation. After the death of Cixi and the Guangxu Emperor in 1908, the conservative faction at court tried to obstruct the reforms. The Wuchang Uprising on October 11, 1911 led to the Xinhai Revolution. The last emperor, Puyi, abdicated on February 12, 1912, ending the Empire and ending more than 2,000 years of Chinese imperial tradition.

Territories of Dynasties in China
Areas Controlled by Various Dynasties of China in History. Pojanji, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Epochs of divisions of China

North China:

Shu Han dynasty 漢 (220-265)

The empire was located in the mountainous region of western China (Sichuan), with its capital at Chengdu.

The founder of this kingdom was the famous Liu Bei, belonging to the nobility but from a poor family, known at court as “Uncle Bei”. In 221 , the Shu-Han dynasty was founded by Liu Bei in response to the deposition of the last Han emperor Xian the year before. Liu Bei wanted to restore the Han dynasty, so he named his kingdom “Han”. The desire to free Liu Xie, the last emperor of the Han dynasty and rightful heir to the throne, from the Cao family was given up. Instead, Liu Bei placed himself on the throne and called himself Emperor of the Han.

Because Guan Yu had been executed by Lu Meng of Wu in 219, Liu Bei wanted revenge and went to war in 222 . But in his blind hatred, he made many mistakes and was defeated by the Wu strategist Lu Xun at the Battle of Yiling. Liu Bei died in 223 and was succeeded by his son Liu Shan. This one was much less skilled, and it was Zhuge Liang who actually held sway over Shu.

Zhuge Liang launched six invasions against the Wei Empire, but failed to defeat it. His successor Jiang Wei organized ten invasions, also unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, the empire slowly crumbled from within, as eunuchs gripped Emperor Liu Shan. Thus, he passed his time only in amusement and let others rule for him. As a result, Shu was very badly governed and Jiang Wei was often taken from the front for no reason.

In 263 , Sima Zhao of Wei sent generals Deng Ai (against Liu Shan) and Zhong Hui (against Jiang Wei) to conquer Shu. In 263 or 264 the empire fell to Wei. Liu Shan and his ministers surrendered to Deng Ai. Jiang Wei, after persuading Zhong Hui, tried to start another uprising, but the plot leaked out and the insurgents were killed by Wei’s soldiers. The Shu Empire had existed for 43 years.

Han Zhao 漢 (304–319) and Former Zhao 趙 (319–329)

The dynasty was founded in 304 by Liu Yuan (劉淵, 251-310), who belonged to the Xiongnu and declared himself emperor in 308. The dynasty’s original name Han, and was changed to Zhao in 319 . The empire, at its greatest extent, encompassed the southern part of present-day Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces and parts of Henan and Gansu. The empire’s capital was from 309 Pingyang (平陽, present-day Linfen in Shanxi) and from 319 Chang’an. The dynasty was ousted in 329 by Shi Le (石勒, 274–333), ruler of the Later Zhao, which had seceded in 319.

Because the name of the state was changed to Zhao in 319 and Shi Le also called his state Zhao in 319 , for distinction in Chinese historiography the state of Liu Yao and his predecessors is called “Former Zhao” (Qianzhao , 前趙) and that of Shi Le and his successors “Latere Zhao” (Houzhao , 後趙).

The Xiongnu had been divided into a northern and a southern confederation since 46 (AD). In 52, the southern Xiongnu recognized Chinese suzerainty and became their vassals. They were allowed to settle south of the Great Wall, in the Ordos Territory, on the wastelands between the Chinese peasant settlements.

Some of the Xiongnu resisted the introduction of a Chinese governance structure. They feared that their traditional way of life would be lost. Their vision was most clearly expressed in Shi Le’s behavior while still in the service of Former Zhao. He saw his conquests solely as a means of amassing as much loot as possible without further concern for establishing a government in those conquered territories. For that matter, establishing a governance structure became important to him when he proclaimed his own state (Latere Zhao) in 319.

A ruler’s power among equestrian nations was primarily based on personal authority and respect and did not automatically pass to a successor designated by him. He must have earned that respect himself. For example, with Han-Zhao, every succession was accompanied by violence, whereby the designated heir to the throne was always murdered after an internal power struggle and was succeeded by the most powerful person at the time.

After floods, natural disasters and especially the outbreak of violence of the War of the Eight Princes , many members of the elite and their retinue (客, ke , literally: guests) of farmers, craftsmen, service personnel and soldiers from the Central Plain left for the northeast ( Former Yan ), west ( Early Liang ), and south ( Eastern Yin Dynasty ), where a more stable administration existed. Retarded members of the elite retreated with their retinue to fortified settlements ( wubao, ). They formed the local economic, political, social and military centers. Their leaders retained their position even after a possible conquest by or surrender to the Xiongnu, but were obliged to recognize their suzerainty and were obliged to make contributions. In this way there was indirect government outside the center of power. All this made the governance structure extremely fragile, allowing the state to quickly collapse in the event of a military defeat (such as Liu Yao’s in 328).

Due to the depopulation, there was a severe shortage of farmers, endangering the food supply of the Xiongnu. Massive forced deportations took place from the newly conquered areas to the fallow farmlands around the centers of power. Liu Cong is said to have relocated 80,000 people to the area around his capital Pingyang. Liu Yao did the same around his Chang’an residence. In this way the center of power was assured of food, control and control remained simpler and people could quickly have people available for chores, construction works and (lower) military tasks. On the other hand, mass deportations could lead to instability when authority was weakened, especially if the deportees wanted to return to their original territories.

Later Zhao 後趙 (329-351)

This was a dynasty in northern China of the  4th century , which replaced the Han Zhao dynasty.

A Xiongnu chieftain, Xe Lei, created a kingdom of his own in the region of Siang-kuo (modern Chouen-to) south of Hopei. In 329 Xe Lei dethroned the Xiongnu dynasty Han Zhao and founded a new Xiongnu dynasty of the Later Zhao (c. 330-350). He established the capital at Yé (modern Tchang-to) and Lo-yang as the second capital.

He died around 333 and was succeeded by Xe Hu (334-349), a wild barbarian who his son tried to assassinate, which cost him his life; the son was another monster, which was eaten roasted and served at the table by one of his concubines. His domains had as their capital Tchang-to (Yé) in the north of Honan, and he ruled Shensi (minus Han-tsong which belonged to the southern Han), Shansi (minus Ta-t’ong which was dominated by the T’o -pa), Hopei, Shantung, Honan and the parts north of Kiangsu and Nanghuei.

This large kingdom collapsed at the death of Xe-Hu in 349. His heirs and generals disputed the succession. The mujong of Leao-tong took advantage of the anarchy to seize Hopei (between 350 and 352), Shansi and Shantung and ended up founding the dynasty of the earlier Yen (or earlier Yan).

Earlier Qin 前秦 (351-394)

The earlier Jin dynasty (or earlier T’sin, modern earlier Qin) was a government established in northern China in the 4th century .

After 350 an officer of Xe-hu (last king of the later Chao dynasty ), named P’ou Hong, probably of Mongolian or Tangut ethnicity (from the Tibetan branch) became independent in Shensi with capital in Xangngan . His dynasty was known as the earlier Jin (Ts’in) or Ts’ein Ts’in (350-394). His grandson Fu Kien (357-385) was one of the most important kings of all the Turko-Mongol kings of northern China; he adopted Chinese customs and civilization, was just and compassionate and a protector of Buddhism. He occupied Lo-yang in the mujong (369) and then T’ai-yuan and finally Yé(Tchang-to) the capital, where he took his king prisoner and ended the previous Yen dynasty (370), incorporating his territories (Hopei, Shansi, Shantung and Honan) to those he already possessed from Shensi.

In 376 he seized the small barbarian kingdom of Leang in Kansu. In 382 he sent his lieutenant Lu Kuang to subdue the kings of the Tarim basin, and the sovereigns of Lob Nor, Turfan and Qarashahr submitted; the king of Kudjha (whom the Chinese called Po Xuen) wanted to resist but was defeated and overthrown in 383. Lu Kuang established a garrison at Kudjha, and returned to China with the famous Buddhist monk Kumaradjiva , who was a notable translator of Sanskrit texts into Chinese.

In 383 he decided to attack the Chinese empire of the south but the Huau-ho riverside suffered a serious defeat. Then the mujong, under the direction of Tx’uei, who had served under the orders of Fu Kien, revolted and seized Hopei and the Shantung where he founded a dynasty known as the later Yen dynasty; another Mujong chief also revolted and founded a kingdom in Shansi known as the Western Yen (Si Yen) dynasty. Finally another general of Fu Kien, named Yao Tx’ang, probably a Tibetan, seized Shensi and part of Honan, and founded the later Jin dynasty.

Later Qin 後秦 (394-417)

The dynasty of the later Jin (later T’sin or Heou Tsin, modern later Qin) was a government established in northern China in the 4th century.

In 383 the sovereign Fu Kien of the previous Jin dynasty suffered a serious defeat when he attacked the Chinese empire in the south, on the banks of the Huau-ho river. Then the Mujong revolted and formed two dynasties: the Later Yen Dynasty and the Western Yen Dynasty.

A general of Fu Kien, named Yao Tx’ang, probably Tibetan, seized Shensi and part of Honan , and founded the later Jin dynasty which lasted from 384 to 417 and had as its capital Tsangngan (at that time time called King-chao).

It was eliminated by the tabgatch ( Wei dynasty ) in 417.

Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (417-556)

The Northern Wei Dynasty ( traditional Chinese : 北魏朝,  simplified Chinese : 北魏朝,  pinyin : Běi Wèi Cháo), also known as Tuoba Wei (拓拔魏), Later Wei (後魏), or Yuan Wei (元魏), was a dynasty that ruled China from 386 to 534. It has been described as “part of an era of political turbulence and intense social and cultural change”.

It is perhaps best known for the unification of northern China in 439, but it was also a period when foreign ideas were introduced, and Buddhismwas firmly established. Many antiquities and works of art from this period, both Taoist and Buddhist, have survived. During the Taiho period under Emperor Xiaowen, court advisors instituted extensive reforms and introduced changes that led in AD 494 to the dynasty, moving its capital from Datong to Luoyang.

It was the time of the construction of the Buddhist cave sites from Yungang to Datong in the mid-to-late fifth century, and towards the latter part of the dynasty, the Longmen Caves outside the later capital of Luoyang, in the which have been found more than 30,000 Buddhist images from the time of the dynasty. The dynasty is thought to have originated from the Tuoba clanfrom the non – Han tribes of Xianbei. The Tuoba changed their name to Yuan as part of the systematic Sinicization. Towards the end of the dynasty there was significant internal dissension which resulted in a split between the Eastern Wei Dynasty and the Western Wei Dynasty.

Northern Qi Dynasty 北齊 (551-577), to northeast

Originated in 550, when Gao Yang overthrew the pretend emperor of the Eastern Wei Dynasty Yuan Shanjian, only to create his own dynasty to found. At its founding, it was the strongest of the three states established in China during that era (along with the Northern Zhou and the Chen Dynasties) but it gradually declined until it was conquered by the Northern Zhou in 577.

The Chinese state of Northern Qi was the successor state to the Chinese/ xianbei state of Eastern Wei , and was founded by Emperor Wenxuan . Emperor Wenxuan had a Han Chinese father, Gao Yang, and a Xianbei mother, Empress Dowager Lou Zhaojun. As paramount general of Eastern Wei, Gao Huan was succeeded by his sons Gao Cheng and Gao Yang. He took over the throne from Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei in 550 and established the Northern Qi dynasty as Emperor Wenxuan.

Although Northern Qi was plagued by violence and/or incompetent emperors (Emperors Wenxuan, Wucheng, and Gao Wei ), corrupt officials, and deteriorating armies for most of its existence, when it was established, it was the strongest of the three states. Chinese major states, (along with the Northern Zhou state and the Chen dynasty). Like most imperial dynasties, it gradually declined and was destroyed by the Northern Zhou in 577. Emperor Wenxuan’s son Gao Shaoyi, the Prince of Fanyang, under the protection of the Tujue , later declared himself emperor of Northern Qi in exile, but was handed over by the Tujue toNorthern Zhou in 580 and exiled to modern Sichuan. It is a controversial question whether Gao Shaoyi should correctly be considered a Northern Qi emperor, but in any case the year 577 is generally considered by historians to be the final date of the Northern Qi state.

Northern Zhou dynasty 北周 (556-581), to northwest

The Northern Zhou Dynasty (北周; Běi Zhōu ) was a Chinese dynasty that lasted from 557 to 581 during the Southern and Northern Dynasties.

The dynasty was founded by Yuwen Jue (宇文觉) who was the son of the prominent general Yuwen Tai (宇文泰) of the Western Wei Dynasty . After his father’s death, Yuwen Jue deposed the emperor of the Western Wei Dynasty and in 557 made himself Emperor Xiao Min Di (孝旵帝) of the Zhou Dynasty, which was named by historians the Northern Zhou Dynasty.

Emperor Xiao Min Di was assassinated after only a few months on the throne and replaced by Emperor Ming Di (明帝) (r. 557–560), who in turn was followed by Emperor Wu Di (武帝) (r. 560–578). The economy was focused on military expansion and in 577 the Northern Qi Dynasty was conquered. Emperor Wu Di stopped all ongoing temple construction and banned Buddhism and Daoism, but these religions were allowed again under the dynasty’s last emperor Jing Di (静帝) (r. 579–581). Jing Di was only a child, and the kingdom was effectively ruled by Yang Jian who in 581 took power in the kingdom and founded the Sui Dynasty which came to unify all of China.

Jin dynasty 金朝 (1115-1234)

The Jin dynasty (金, Jīn in pinyin , Anchu in Jurxet ), also known as the Jurxen dynasty , was founded by the Wanyan (完顏Wányán), clan of the Jurxets , the ancestors of the Manchus who established the Qing dynasty 500 years later. The name is sometimes written as Jinn to differentiate it from the earlier Jin dynasty, whose name is the same in the Roman alphabet.

It was founded in 1115 , under the leadership of Wányán Āgǔdǎ (完顏阿骨打), leader of the Wanyan clan, in northern Manchuria , who proclaimed himself emperor of China under the name of Tàizǔ (太祖). Wányán Āgǔdǎ died (1123), his son and successor Wányán Wúqǐmǎi (完顏吳乞買) – who had taken the imperial name of Tàizōng (太宗) – successfully annihilated the Liao dynasty in 1125, who had existed between Manchuria and the northern border of China for centuries. On January 9, 1127, the Jin forces of Wányán Wúqǐmǎi sacked Kaifeng, capital of the Northern Song and captured the new emperor Qinzong, who had ascended the throne after the abdication of his father, Emperor Huizong, seeing the need to confront the Jin army. Following the fall of Kaifeng, the Song, under the leadership of the successor Southern Song dynasty, continued the struggle for more than a decade against the power of the Jin, finally signing a peace treaty in 1141 and ceding all of northern China to the Jin in 1142 to obtain peace.

After dominating northern China, the Jin dynasty gradually adapted to Chinese culture, moving its capital from Huining Fu in northern Manchuria (south of present-day Harbin ) to Zhongdu (present-day Beijing). At the beginning of the 13th century, he began to feel the pressure of the Mongols from the north. In 1214, the Jin Dynasty moved its capital to Kaifeng to escape the Mongols, but under the forces of the Mongol Empire led by Ugedei Khan, the third son of Genghis Khan and his allies from the Southern Song Dynasty, it collapsed in 1234.

In 1616, the Manchus under the leadership of Nurhaci formed the Later Jin Dynasty, taking their name from this dynasty. The Later Jin was renamed the Qing Dynasty in 1636 and continued the conquest of China, becoming the last dynasty of Imperial China.

Yuan dynasty 元朝 (1234-1279)

The Yuan dynasty (in traditional and simplified Chinese : 元朝; in pinyin : Yuán Cháo), also called the Mongol dynasty, reigned in China in the period between 1271 or 1279 and 1368. It was founded by Khubilai Khan. This dynasty continued to progress in the conquest of southern China and annihilated the Southern Song dynasty. From the year 1300 the Yuan dynasty suffered destabilization due to Chinese revolts in response to the Mongol occupation. He followed herMing Dynasty.

Yuan -元- means “first” or “beginning”. According to some historians Khubilai Khan chose the name from a sentence in the Yi Jing , “Book of Changes or Mutations” also known as “Classic of Changes”, a philosophical and oracular book written in 2400 BCE, where there is a paragraph that says: “dà zai Qián Yuán” – 大 哉 乾 元 - which can be translated as “Great is Qian the First!”.

The Yuan dynasty was one of the shortest in Chinese history. It did not last more than 150 years, and is one of the few ruled by a non- Han ethnic group.

According to some historians, its beginning is in 1234, the year in which Ögodei Khan, one of Genghis Khan ‘s sons, conquered the Jin empire in northern China. Others indicate the date of 1279, the year of the fall at the hands of the Mongols of the Song empire in the south of the country, but in China the date most accepted and used to determine the beginning of the dynasty is the year 1271, when Kubilai Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson, proclaimed it with a “Chinese” title: Yuan.

Shun dynasty 大順 (1644-1645)

It was a Chinese imperial dynasty that briefly ruled the country between the Ming and Qing dynasties.

On February 8, 1644, the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar, Li Zicheng, the leader of a great peasant revolt, founded the Xi’an dynasty. Li, however, only took the title of king ( simplified Chinese :王; pinyin : wáng), not that of emperor (simplified Chinese :皇帝; pinyin : huángdì). The capture of Beijing by Shun forces in April 1644 brought the end of the Ming dynasty, but Li failed to consolidate his authority: in late May, Wu Sanguibecause the forces of the Mingtar general and the Manchu prince Dorgon achieved victory in the battle of the Shanhai Pass. On his return to Beijing in early June, Li proclaimed himself Emperor of China and hurriedly left the capital. The Shun dynasty ended in 1645 when Li died.

After the founding of the Shun dynasty, Li Zicheng ordered his soldiers to kill the remaining Ming resisters in Beijing. This led to fierce rebellions by the southern Ming Dynasty forces. Added to this was the struggle for power initiated by the Shun ministers, so that the dynasty lasted less than a year.

Qing dynasty 大清 (1645-1662)

The Qing dynasty (in traditional and simplified Chinese : 清朝; in pinyin : Qīng Cháo; 1644 – 1911 , Qing pronounced as “Txing” and not “Quing”) was the last imperial dynasty that reigned over China, succeeding the last of Chinese origin, that of the Ming. He was of Manchu origin , and they were related to the Jurxets who had conquered China in the 13th century, establishing the Jin dynasty, which is why the first name they adopted was Later Jin.

The dynasty was founded by Aisin Giorio Nurhaci (1559 – 1626) of the Aisin Giorio clan of Manchuria . From 1644, the Manchus, taking advantage of the internal chaos in China due to the internal rebellions that undermined the military forces of the Ming dynasty, took power in China, establishing a new empire, the Empire of Great Qing Founded in 1616, as mentioned before, under the name of the Later Jin dynasty, this name was changed to “Qing”, which means “clear”, or “pure”, from 1636. After seizing Beijing in 1644, the Manchus extended their power to own most of the present-day territory of China. However, the pacification of the country was not completed before 1683.

Throughout the period, the Qing dynasty was strongly associated with Chinese culture. However, their military power weakened in the course of the 19th  century and, faced with international pressure and internal revolts, they suffered several military defeats that resulted in the decline of the dynasty from the second half of the 19th century. During the reign of Emperor Daoguang (1820–1850), China suffered the Opium War (1840) when the United States and the United Kingdomthey imposed the opium trade, previously forbidden by the emperor, and obtained concessions with commercial privileges. Shortly after, the dynasty suffered a series of popular revolts such as the so-called Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) which was a sign of popular discontent. Empress Cixi, concubine of Emperor Xianfeng (1850-1861), was the de facto ruler of the country for 47 years. The Qing dynasty was overthrown as a result of the Xinhai Revolution, when the last emperor, Pu Yi, who was then seven years old, abdicated on February 12, 1912.

South China:

Wu dynasty 東吳 (221-265), southwest

Eastern Wu東吳; in Dōng Wú pinyin , also known as Sun Wu (Traditional Chinese : 孫吳; Sūn Wú in pinyin – was one of the Three Kingdoms (222 – 280) that competed for control of China after the fall of the Han Dynasty in Jiangnan (Yang-Tsé delta) region of China. During its existence, the capital was largely in Jianye (建業, modern Nanjing), but sometimes it was in Wuchang (武昌, in modern Ezhou, Hubei).

During the decline of the Han Dynasty, the Wu region – a region south of the Yangtze River around Nanjing – was under the control of the warlord Sun Quan. Sun Quan succeeded his brother Sun Ce as the lord of the Wu region with a token payment of loyalty to Emperor Xian of Han (which was, at the time, under Cao Cao ‘s control ). Unlike his competitors, Quan actually had no ambition to be emperor of China. However, after Cao Wei ‘s Cao Pi and Shu Han ‘s Liu Beithey both declared themselves as future Emperors, Sun Quan decided to follow their example in 229, claiming the foundation of the Wu dynasty.

Eastern Wu was finally conquered by the first emperor of the Jin, Sima Yan, in 280. Of the Three Kingdoms Sun Wu was the one who had the longest life.

Under Eastern Wu’s rule, South China, considered at the beginning of history as a “jungle” of barbarians, became one of the commercial, cultural and political centers of China. In five centuries, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, the development of southern China had surpassed that of the north. Wu’s achievements marked the beginning of the cultural and political divide between northern and southern China, which appears repeatedly in the history of modern China.

The island of Taiwan may have been covered by the Chinese for the first time during the Three Kingdoms period. Contacts with the native population and the sending of officers to an island called “Yizhou” (夷州) by the Eastern Wu navy may have been in Taiwan, but what Yizhou was is open to controversy, and some historians believe it was Taiwan, while others believe it was the Ryukyu Islands.

Wei dynasty 曹魏 (222-280), southeast

Cao Wei or Wei dynasty was one of the empires that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period. With the capital at Luòyáng, the empire was created by Cao Pi in 220 BC , based on the foundations that his father Cao Cao established. Its name arose from 213, when Cao Cao’s feudal holdings were given the name Wei; historians usually add the prefix Cao (the family name of Cao Cao) to distinguish it from the other states in Chinese history also known as Wei, as with the aboveWei state of the Warring States period, and the later Northern Wei state.

In 220 BC , when Cao Pi overthrew the last emperor of the Eastern Han dynasty , Wei became the name of the new dynasty he founded, which was taken over and controlled by the Sima family in 249 , until it was overthrown. and officially became the Jin dynasty in 265.

Jin dynasty 晉 (265-420)

The Jìn Dynasty ( traditional Chinese : 晉朝, simplified Chinese : 晋朝, pinyin : Jìn Cháo ; Wade-Giles : Chin ch’ao; Mandarin : tɕîn tʂʰɑ̌ʊ̯), was a dynasty in Chinese history , which existed between the years 265 and 420 CE. There are two main divisions in the history of the dynasty, the first being the Western Jin ( x : 西晉, 265–316) and the second the Eastern Jin (x: 東晉 317–420). Western Jin was founded by Sima Yan, with its capital in Luoyang, while Eastern Jin was started by Sima Rui, with its capital at Jiankang . The two periods are also known as Liang Jin (x: 两晋 lit., two Jin) and Sima Jin by scholars, to distinguish this dynasty from other dynasties that use the same Chinese character, such as the Late Jin Dynasty (x:后晋).

The Sima Clan was initially a subordinate clan of the Wei Dynasty , but the clan’s influence and power grew enormously after the Gaoping Tombs Incident in 249. In 265, Sima Yan forced Emperor Cao Huan of Wei to abdicate the throne in his favor, ending the Wei dynasty and beginning that of Jin (as Emperor Wu). He named his dynasty in reference to the Jin state of the Spring and Autumn period that once ruled in Wen County in Henei (present-day Wen County (Henan) where the Sima clan resided. In 280, the Jin conquered Eastern Wuand unified China, but internal strife, corruption, and political turmoil quickly weakened the dynasty, and unification lasted only ten years.

After the arrival of the second emperor of Jin, Emperor Hui, several imperial princes tried to take power in the devastating War of the Eight Princes. The Wu Hu Uprising followed, during which a large number of refugees fled south, while the north was occupied by various nomadic tribes. This marked the end of the Western Jin Dynasty in 316, when the Jin court was evacuated to the region south of the Huai River , and the beginning of the Eastern Jin Dynasty and the Sixteen Kingdoms period.

Southern Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479)

The Liu Song Dynasty ( traditional Chinese : 劉宋朝, simplified Chinese : 刘宋朝, pinyin : Liú Sòng Cháo ; Wade-Giles : Liu Sung Ch’ao), also known as the Song Dynasty (宋朝), Old Song (前宋) , or Southern Song (南朝宋) (420-479 CE), was the first of the four Southern Dynasties in China , succeeding the Eastern Jin Dynasty and continued by the Southern Qi Dynasty .

The dynasty was founded by Liu Yu劉裕 (363–422), whose surname together with “Song” form the most commonly used name for the dynasty, that of Liu Song劉宋. This name is used to distinguish it from a later dynasty of the same name, the Song Dynasty (960–1279), which is much more famous and significant. The Liu Song is also sometimes referred to as the “Southern Song Dynasty” (南宋), as it is one of the dynasties of the Southern Dynasties period , that is, one of those with its capital at Jiankang ( present-day Nanjing ). However, the later Song Dynasty, after 1127, when it moved its capital south to Lin’an (present-day Hangzhou , Zhejiang ), is more commonly known as the “Southern Song Dynasty” (南宋). Therefore, for the shorter-lived dynasty that this article deals with, the term “Liu Song” has become the preferred one in most contexts.

The era of the Liu Song dynasty was a period of much internal turmoil. A series of emperors were incompetent and/or tyrannical, which at least partly led to many military revolts. These rulers included Liu Shao, Emperor Xiaowu, Emperor Qianfei, Emperor Ming, and Emperor Houfei. Emperor Ming was particularly cruel, murdering a large number of his brothers, nephews and other male relatives — many of them children. Such internal instability eventually led to the destruction of the dynasty. However, its founder, Emperor Wu, was considered one of the greatest generals during the period ofNorthern and Southern Dynasties, and the reign of its third emperor, Emperor Wen, is known for its political stability and capable administration; not only of their emperor, but also of their strong and honest officials. This is known as the Yuanjia Reign (425–453) and one of the relative golden ages for the Southern Dynasties.

Originally a peasant from modest origins, Liu Yu joined the army at a young age and quickly distinguished himself in the army and was quickly promoted to the command of an army, the Beifu Corps. Liu Yu was instrumental in the fight against the rebel Huan Xuan. After the fall of Huan Xuan, Liu Yu gained control of the Jin dynasty.

Southern Qi dynasty 南齊 (479-502)

Southern Qi Dynasty (simplified Chinese: 南齐; traditional Chinese: 南齊; pinyin: Nán Qí) (479–502) was the second of the southern Chinese dynasties, followed by the Liang dynasty. Its 23-year history, the dynasty was marked by instability, as after the deaths of Emperor Gao and Emperor Wu , Emperor Wu’s grandson Xiao Zhaoye was assassinated by his cousin Xiao Luan, who took over as Emperor Ming, and proceeded to carry out mass executions of Emperor Gao’s and Emperor Wu’s sons and grandsons, as well as officials he suspected of plotting against him.

The arbitrariness of these executions was exacerbated after Emperor Ming was succeeded by his son Xiao Baojuan, whose actions sparked multiple rebellions, the latest of which, carried out by General Xiao Yan, led to the downfall and succession of the dynasty by the Liang dynasty of Xiao Yan.

Liang dynasty 梁朝 (502-587), in the southwest (557-587)

The Liang Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 梁朝; Pinyin: Liáng cháo ) (502–557), also known as the Southern Liang Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 南梁), was the third of the Southern Dynasties during the Chinese period of Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589). The state was located in eastern China and southern China and was replaced by the Chen dynasty in 557.

The Western Liang dynasty in central China continued to function as a minor rump state of the Liang dynasty until its annexation in 587.

The founder of the dynasty was Xiao Yan (502 – 549), belonging to the ruling family of the previous ruling dynasty in southern China, the Southern Qi Dynasty (479 – 502). He emerged victorious from the fighting that broke out between the members of the Xiao family after the death of Emperor Ming (494 – 498) and in 502 he proclaimed himself emperor, changing the name of the dynasty to Liang, making history as Emperor Wu. The beginning of Wudi’s reign was marked by a war with the Northern Wei Dynasty(386 – 535), dating from the beginning of the Southern Qi Dynasty. In 507 the Liang forces dealt a serious defeat to the Wei dynasty, but the situation of the South worsened when indigenous tribes, led by envoys from the North, raised a rebellion. As a result, the Liang Dynasty’s power over the upper Yangtze River weakened considerably, and the power of the South was more than ever confined to the Nanjing Region . Peace between the two Chinese nations was concluded in 515. Fortunately for the South, the forces of the Northern Wei Dynasty during this period began to undercut the rebellions of the ruling Tuoba leaders.

Wudi’s reign is known primarily for his patronage over Buddhism and literature. As emperor, he was rather not interested in the affairs of the state, leaving power to the court. In 547, one of Tuoba’s chieftains, Hou Jing , tried to forge a private alliance with the Liang dynasty to strengthen his position. However, the ruler of the emerging Northern Qi Dynasty also wanted the alliance (550 – 577), intending to quell the Hou Jing rebellion, and a stalemate arose in the court of Wudi. Hou Jing allied with one of the princes in Liang and attacked the country in 548. The following year he captured the capital and killed Wudi. As a man from the North, however, he did not have sufficient support in the South, and additionally he discouraged court circles with the severity with which he treated those who helped him gain power. In 552 he was defeated by Wudi’s son Xiao Yi, who went down in history as Emperor Yuan (552 – 555).

He was formerly a prince in the Upper Yangtze area, and his followers did not want to move to Nanjing, which was far from the center of their interests. Hence, today’s Hankou became the capital. Yuandi left the eastern territories in the hands of two generals who soon became independent of him. At the invitation and with the support of one of the southern factions, the invasion of the Liang state was made by the army of the emerging Northern Zhou Dynasty (557 – 580) and in 555 captured the capital. It was actually the end of the Liang Dynasty.

Her family princes ruled Hankou as vassers of the North until AD 587, using the title of King (Wang), and their country is known as the Western Liang Dynasty . The claims to imperial power in the south were taken over by the Chen Dynasty (557 – 589), founded by General Chen Baxian (557 – 566).

Chen dynasty 陳朝 (557-589), in the southeast

The Chen dynasty (Chinese: 陳朝) was the fourth and the last of the southern dynasties in China. It was an ethnic Han dynasty.

Few records survive from the time of the Chen dynasty. However, the records that exist say that the dynasty was strong and rich. Legend says that the Chen dynasty had ten times more wealth than Europe at the time. The Chen dynasty’s rulers had a tax system and ruling system similar to the Kang-Qian ‘flourishing age’. (The Kang-Qian age was the last and richest Chinese feudal dynasty).

The Chen dynasty took in an enormous amount of silver, which was used as money at the time. The records that still exist say that the dynasty had as much as 30 million taels of silver in their reserves. (A silver tael weighed about 30 grams). During the Chen dynasty, there was also a huge demand for Chinese silk, spices, porcelain, artwork, and many other products.

In the year 589, the Sui dynasty took over the Chen dynasty after the last Chen Emperor abdicated (gave up his position as Emperor).

Several dynasties have the same name, probably they are being related.

East-Hem 565ad
Asia in 565 BC., showing Chen’s territory. Thomas Lessman (Contact!), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Restoration attempts

General Zhang Xun attempted to restore the monarchy in Beijing in 1917
In the first half of the 20th century there were several attempts to restore the monarchy in China:

In 1915–1916, Yuan Shikai proclaimed himself Emperor of the Hongxian Dynasty .
In July 1917, as part of the fighting between the Northern Militarists of the Peking Army, the last Manchu Emperor, Puyi, was reinstated as Emperor for two weeks.
In 1921, the “white” Russian generals Grigori Mikhailovich Semyonov and Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, who had fled to Mongolia and Manchuria, tried to restore both the Russian and the Chinese monarchy.
In 1928 the warlord Zhang Zuolin is said to have prepared his own coronation (according to notes in Puyi’s autobiography), but fell victim to a Japanese assassination attempt.
1934–1945 Puyi was nominally emperor (“by the grace of Japan”) of Japanese -occupied and dependent, but formally independent, Manchukuo.

Pu Yi, Qing dynasty, China, Last emperor
Photo of Puyi 1930s-40s, Pu Yi as Emperor of Manchukuo, in Manchuria. Emperor of the Qing dynasty. First reign: 2 December, 1908. Last reign: 12 February, 1912. Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Source:

Modern Periods

Republic of China: 1912-1949
People’s Republic of China: 1949-present

Sources: PinterPandai, HistoryHit, Columbia University Asia for Educators, National Geographic

Photo credit: Departure_Herald-Ming_Dynasty.jpg: Anonymousderivative work: LK, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Learn More →