Dynasties of Ancient China

Dynasty means rulers of the same family who rule for generations to come. It also means an era during which that family ruled. Several dynasties ruled China for over 3000 years

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There were 13 dynasties that ruled ancient China. They are as follows:


1. Xia dynasty


Xia dynasty is considered to be the first dynasty in ancient China which lasted for almost 500 years including the rule of 17 emperors. This dynasty was set up by Yu the great under the system of choosing emperors based on their abilities. Such a system was called Abdication system. After his death, his son Qi took over the throne by breaking the abdication system. It was from that time on that abdication system gave way to hereditary system.

After Qi’s demise, his 15 kids succeeded him one after the other. Amongst all his kids, Shaokang and Huai greatly contributed to the development of Chinese society. During this period there were also some dictatorial emperors like Taikang, Kongjia, and Jie. During the rule of Xia dynasty, people’s source of livelihood was agriculture. Agricultural tools were made of stone and bone. Also during this period, bronze was produced on a large scale.

Emperor Yu - Xia dynasty

The last emperor of the Xia dynasty was Emperor Jie. He was a tyrannical emperor. He lived an extravagant life with no thought for his country. He killed many of his ministers who came up with good advises. All his actions enraged the people and therefore they finally became followers of leader Tang who was the chief of the Shang tribe which later on set up the Shang dynasty by throwing away the Xia.

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2. Shang dynasty


Shang dynasty lasted for around 600 years and was led by 30 different emperors. It is also called the Yin dynasty. Tang was the founder of this dynasty. Tang brought in lot many new changes with the help of his two ministers.

He governed his people with kindness and compassion. It was under his rule that people remained happy and the country also prospered. Things went fine till the ninth emperor, after which came the downfall of the Shang dynasty. Family members of the tenth emperor made several attempts to overthrow him and take charge of the throne. However this led to social issues and gradually emperor’s power declined.

Despite the social problems and country’s havoc, Emperor Zhou (the last emperor of Shang dynasty) tortured his people and led a luxurious life. Soon he was thrown and the empire was taken over by Wuwang chief of Chou dynasty.

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3. Chou(Zhou) dynasty


The founder of this dynasty was Wuwang. He made Haojing its capital. This dynasty ruled for the longest period of over 800 years under the rule of 37 different emperors. The Chou dynasty is classified into two periods i.e. the Western Chou and the Eastern Chou.

It is so divided because the capital cities in the Western Chou of Fengyi and Haojing lie to the west of the Eastern Chou's capital of Luoyi. While the Eastern Dynasty is divided into the Spring and Autumn Periods (770 BC-476 BC), and the Warring States Period (476 BC - 221 BC). Each of these periods saw stormy wars.

It was in the year 221 BC, when Qin defeated the other six states which existed during the Warring States Period and combined China. This led to the rise of new dynasty called the Qin dynasty.

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4. Qin dynasty


The Qin existed during the Warring States Period and came to power as a dynasty (221 BC-207 B.C.) by combining China under its first emperor, Shi Huangdi. The dynasty ruled over China only for 15 years but in spite of such a short duration, it played an important role in Chinese history.

Emperor Qin in order to strengthen the unity of the nation and to maintain the Qin Dynasty he carried out many reforms in politics, economy, military affairs, and culture.

It was he who he standardized weights and measures and he insisted that the round coin with square hole (Ban Liang Coin) should be the coin used in the country. Also one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Great Wall of China was built under his order.

Emperor Shi Huangdi-Qin dynasty

Only two emperors after Shi Huangdi came to power, after which the Han dynasty took over. Emperor Yingzheng was the successor to the throne after Shi Huangdi. Under his rule, lot many improvements were made for the country’s development.

He was succeeded by Hu Hai. It was due to his negligence that a revolt took place between Chen Sheng and Wu Guang. Later the revolt was led by Xiang Yu and Liu Bang. In 207 BC, Xiang Yu's army defeated the Army of Qin and Liu Bang moved into the capital, thereby ending the Qin Dynasty.
At the end of the Qin Dynasty in 207 BC, war broke out between Liu bang and Xiang Yu.

It was known as the Chu-Han war, and it lasted for four years. The war ended with the victory of Liu Bang, who later established the Western Han Dynasty.

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5. Han dynasty


Han consisted of two dynasties: the Western Han (206 BC - 24 AD) and the Eastern Han (25 AD – 220 AD). During the period there were 24 emperors on the throne. Many were excellent contributing to the prosperity of the country with Emperors Gaozu, Wen, Jing and Wu among them.

The Han Dynasty was a period of peace and prosperity as many effective measures were taken by the emperors during their rule.

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6. Six dynasties


Six dynasties have got its name for the six successive dynasties that appeared in Southern China during the period. This period immediately followed the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD, and was a period of time where China was not united under a single leader. The 6 dynasties that held power during the three and a half centuries were:


• Wu (222 AD–280 AD)
• Dong (Eastern) Jin (317 AD–420 AD)
• Liu-Song (420 AD–479 AD)
• Nan (Southern) Qi (479 AD–502 AD)
• Nan Liang (502 AD–557 AD)
• Nan Chen (557 AD–589 AD)
The period ended when Emperor Wen of Sui reunified Southern and Northern China and the Sui Dynasty began.

 

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7. Sui dynasty


The Sui Dynasty lasted for only 38 years and had only three emperors during its tenure. Sui united China again under one rule. They also expanded the Great Wall and built the Grand Canal.

The decline of the Sui Dynasty started from the second monarch, Emperor Yang, who was a tyrant. He as a son showed no respect for his parents, slaughtered people and grabbed the throne. Emperor Yang led a luxurious and corrupt life.

When Emperor Yang was killed by one of his subordinates, the dynasty completely collapsed.

 

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8. Tang dynasty


After Emperor Yang was killed by his chancellor, Yuwen Huaji, Li Yuan took the chance to proclaim himself as the emperor and changed the state title into Tang, continuing to keep Changan as the capital city.

The rule of Tang dynasty is sometimes known as the Golden Age of Ancient China. Arts, literature, and technology all flourished.

In 907 AD, the last Tang emperor, Emperor Ai was forced to resign by Chancellor Zhu Quanzhong, who later changed the state title into Liang. Thus, putting the powerful and mighty dynasty to an end.

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9. Five dynasties


The period of the five dynasties lasted for only 53 years, from 907 AD to 960 AD. The Five Dynasties comprised a string of dynasties in northern China that succeeded one another from 907 AD to 960 AD.

The Five Dynasties are the Later Liang Dynasty, Later Tang Dynasty, Later Jin Dynasty, Later Han Dynasty, and Later Zhou Dynasty.
After the death of the Later Zhou emperor and the forced resignation of his son, the Song dynasty came into power.

 

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10.  Song dynasty


Song dynasty was founded by General Zhao Kuang-yin. This first emperor of the Song dynasty was put on the throne by his own troops in Kaifeng. He slowly reconquered all of China. First he defeated the empire Chu, then Shu in Szechuan, next south China and in the 970s the other small empires.

Thus unification was completed in 979 AD, with the conquer of the northern Han empire.China became a world leader in science and technology and also inventions such as   typography and compass were made.

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11. Yuan dynasty


After the Mongols defeated the people of Song dynasty in a long war, Kublai Khan, a Mongol leader, established the Yuan dynasty.

 

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12. Ming dynasty


The last of the great Chinese dynasties, the Ming dynasty finished the Great Wall and built the Forbidden City, an enormous palace for the Emperor. The Ming dynasty came into power by overthrowing the rule of the Mongols.

 

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13. Qing dynasty


The last emperor of the Ming dynasty hanged himself when army of peasants led by Li Zicheng entered Beijing. The Manchus invaded China in 1644 AD and defeated the army led by Li Zicheng.

This way Manchus set up a new dynasty called the Qing dynasty. This dynasty ruled China for the next 300 years. Qing dynasty was succeeded by Republic of China thus ending the period of ancient dynasties.

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