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 NEOLITHIC PERIOD (ca 8000-2000 B.C., 6000 years)

"Evidence of pottery making appears during the Early Neolithic period with the rise of agriculture and sedentary living. As villages develop into settled cultures, discrete ceramic traditions evolve that show a distinctive Chinese approach to form, decoration, and technique, leading to the identification of more than thirty Late Neolithic cultures throughout China. Other artifacts include the earliest multinote instrument (flute) and reveal evidence of the earliest uses of lacquer, writing, and the themes of the tiger and dragon. Objects made of jade are thought to have played a ceremonial role in Late Neolithic cultures." Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

 XIA (ca 2205-1766 B.C., 440 years)
Although archaeological evidence is not as compelling as that of Shang Dynasty, findings from recent excavations support the view that Xia is China's first dynasty.  Activities centered around the juncture of present-day Henan, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces.  People formed agricultural society, possessed water management skills, and created a primitive lunar calendar.  Bronze was used to make vessels for rituals and weapons.  Territorial boundaries of China began to take shape.

 SHANG (1766-1122 B.C., 645 years )

Also known as Yin.  Much of the information available on Shang society comes from inscriptions made on the shoulder-blades of oxen and shells of turtles, known as the "oracle bones".  Over 150,000 fragments of oracle bones have now been identified.  Together with the Zhou Dynasty that followed, referred to as the Bronze Age of China.
 ZHOU (1122-221 B.C., 902 years)
Developed iron tools, society, money and written laws.  Together with the preceding Shang Dynasty, referred to as the Bronze Age of China.

Confucius lived approximately 551-479 BC.  About 300 years after his death, Confucius' teachings were made the dominant creed of the Han dynasty, and have since influenced the thought and behavior of the people in China, Japan, Korea and other parts of Asia.  Among his teachings: "Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire." 

(Confucius, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad: Buddha, originally Siddhartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism, lived in India at about the time of Confucius.  Jesus, founder of Christianity, was born in Bethlehem in Judea about 500 years after the time of Confucius and Buddha.  Muhammad, founder of Islam, lived about 600 years after the time of Jesus.)

   QIN (221-206 B.C., 16 years)
King Zheng was born in 259 and died in 210 B.C. at age 50.  After having annexed six other independent kingdoms of the Warring States Period, in 221 B.C. he founded the first unified feudal empire in Chinese history and began the Qin Dynasty.  He proclaimed himself "Shihuang Di", meaning, "the First Emperor".  Though the dynasty lasted only 15 years, many of the institutions of later Chinese imperial governments first took shape in this period.
 HAN (206 B.C.-220 A.D., 426 years )
Art, literature, philosophy, music and statecraft flourished in the golden age of Han.  Paper first mentioned in 105 A.D.  Confucius' teachings were made the dominant creed and cornerstone of Chinese thought.  Buddhism from India was introduced to China. (The Roman Empire was found during the Han dynasty, which ended before the Tang Dynasty.)

 PERIOD OF DISUNITY (220-589, 370 years

For 370 years following Han's collapse, a number of kingdoms and dynasties emerged and fought each other for domination.  The regimes emerged in this period include: the Three Kingdoms of Wei, Shu and Wu (220-280), the Jin Dynasty (265-420), and the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589).  Prolonged fighting caused much suffering among the people.  Against this background, popularity of Buddhism and Taoism grew substantially.
 SUI (581-618, 38 years)
Reunification, major civil service reforms, victory in taming the Turks of Central Asia, fortified the Great Wall, rebuilt the capital city of Luoyang, completed Grand Canal, the longest man-made river in the world.

 TANG (618-907, 290 years)

The second emperor, Li Shimin, an exceptionally talented statesman and military strategist, started his reins in 627 and made Tang probably the most glorious dynasty in Chinese history.  Empire greatly expanded; period of excellence in sculpture, painting and poetry; oldest extant printed book published in 868; influence by Central Asia in dance and music.  Japan copied much of Tang culture and institutions, and adopted Chinese characters as her form of written language.  The capital city of Chang'an was a cosmopolitan city of wealth and splendor unparallel in the world.


Tang's collapse was followed by fifty-some yeas of chaos.  In this period, known as the Age of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, fifteen regimes emerged in quick succession.  First use of paper money was reported.

  SONG (960-1279, 320 years)

Enjoyed calm and growth between 960 and 997, a new class of wealthy common people emerged, and  printing (movable type) invented.  Zhu Xi synthesized Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism into a new ideology.  In the next 200 years Song was beleaguered by invasions from three formidable ethnic minority kingdoms: Liao of the Khitan, Xia of the Tibtan/Tangut, and Jin of the JurchenTartarss tribes.  Mongols first annexed northern China, and in 1279  exterminated Song.  Historians divide Song into two periods, Northern Song (960-1126, capital in the north) and Southern Song (1127-1279, capital in the south).  In the Southern Song period, China's inventions - gunpowder, the compass, pottery, porcelain, and printing technology - began to spill into Europe via sea route.

  YUAN (1271-1368, 98 years)

Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the Mongol conqueror, united the Mongol tribes, annexed northern China, central Asia, Iran, southern Russia, eastern Europe and created the largest empire in history.  In 1279 Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, exterminated Song and established the Yuan dynasty with its capital in Beijing.  This is the first alien regime to rule China.  Kublai Khan kept Chinese government institutions intact, continued the Confucian ideology and restored the civil service examination.  He also facilitated commercial and cultural exchanges between China and the outside world.  Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant, spent 20 years in China (1275-1295).  His travelogue was the only account of the Far East available to Europeans until the 17th century.

  MING (1368-1644, 277 years)

Mongols were driven out. The third emperor of Ming, Zhu Di, ordered the construction of The Forbidden City and moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1421.  Under the reign of Zhu Di, admiral Zheng He led his fleet to explore the world in seven voyages between 1405 and 1433.  Some believe the fleet reached as far as Europe and Americas. "With hindsight we can see that the Ming dynasty, whose emperors had ruled China since 1368, was past its political peak by the early seventeenth century; yet in the years around 1600, China’s cultural life was in an ebullient condition that few, if any, other countries could match."  Jonathan Spence

  QING (1644-1911, 267 years)

Ming conquered by nomads from Manchuria, China once again under non-Chinese rule; culture flourished, but conservatism eventually led to the dynasty's demise; western powers, Russia and Japan defeated China to impose their requests for trade and other advantages; nationalistic revolutionaries led by Sun Yatsen overthrew Qing in 1911 and ended the last dynasty of China.

"Thus ended the world’s most remarkable span of imperial history. It was 2133 years since Shi Huangdi had first unified China. His hope of countless emperors from his own line had been soon frustrated, but the generations of rulers following him on that same imperial throne had been as near to countless as history is likely to come. One loses a normal sense of time in writing or reading of China. Comparison with two of the world’s other great empires can serve perhaps to put her dynasties into some sort of perspective. The Roman Empire was founded during the Han dynasty and came to an end in the gap between the Han and the Tang. The British Empire began early in the Qing dynasty and barely survived it." Bamber Gascoigne

    REPUBLIC OF CHINA (1911-     )

Partly due to the efforts and revolutionary zeal of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his followers, the Qing emperor abdicated and the dynasty ended in 1911.  Intense struggles by diverse elite groups to refashion China into a modern state followed; chaos and wars among local warlords and political factions; bitter strife between the Nationalists (led by Chiang Kai-shek) and Communists (led by Mao Zedong).  Full-scale war of resistance against invasion by Japan from 1937 to 1945 when Japan was defeated by the U.S. and surrendered.  The struggle between the Nationalists and Communists restarted.  Defeated by the Communists in 1949, the Nationalists evacuated to the island of Taiwan and has since developed Taiwan into one of the most prosperous economies in Asia.


The Communists defeated the Nationalists and founded the People's Republic of China in 1949.  As of this update in 2016, China has emerged as the second largest economy in the world.