|ca. 2100-1600 BCE
||Xia (Hsia) Dynasty
|ca. 1600-1050 BCE
One of the Three Dynasties, or San Dai (Xia, Shang, and Zhou), thought to mark the
beginning of Chinese civilization: characterized by its writing system, practice of
divination, walled cities, bronze technology, and use of horse-drawn chariots.
|ca. 1046-256 BCE
Zhou (Chou) Dynasty: Western Zhou (ca. 1046-771 BCE), Eastern
Zhou (771-256 BCE)
A hierarchical political and social system with the Zhou royal house at its apex: power
was bestowed upon aristocratic families as lords of their domains or principalities.
Although often compared to European "feudalism," what actually gave the system
cohesion was a hierarchical order of ancestral cults. The system eventually broke down
into a competition for power between rival semi-autonomous states in what became known as
the Spring and Autumn period (ca. 770-475 BCE) and the Warring States (ca. 475-221 BCE) period. It was
during these tumultuous times that Confucius (551-479 BCE) lived.
Qin (Ch'in) Dynasty
Created a unitary state by imposing a centralized administration and by standardizing
the writing script, weights and measures. Known for its harsh methods of rule, including
the suppression of dissenting thought.
|206 BCE-220 CE
Han Dynasty: Western/Former Han (206 BCE-9 CE) and Eastern/Later Han (25-220 CE)
Modified and consolidated the foundation of the imperial order. Confucianism was
established as orthodoxy and open civil service examinations were introduced. Han power
reached Korea and Vietnam. Records of the Historian, which became
the model for subsequent official histories, was completed.
"Period of Disunity" or Six Dynasties Period
The empire was fragmented. The North was dominated by invaders from the borderland and
the steppes. The South was ruled by successive "Chinese" dynasties. Buddhism
Tang (T'ang) Dynasty
A time of cosmopolitanism and cultural flowering occurred. This period was the height
of Buddhist influence in China until its repression around 845. Active territorial
expansion until defeated by the Arabs at Talas in 751.
Song (Sung) Dynasty: Northern Song (960-1127) and
Southern Song (1127-1279)
An era of significant economic and social changes: the monetization of the economy;
growth in commerce and maritime trade; urban expansion and technological innovations. The
examination system for bureaucratic recruitment of neo-Confucianism was to provide the
intellectual underpinning for the political and social order of the late imperial period.
Founded by the Mongols as part of their conquest of much of the world. Beijing was made
the capital. Dramas, such as the famous Story of the Western Wing, flourished.
The first Ming emperor, Hongwu, laid the basis of an authoritarian political culture.
Despite early expansion, it was an inward-looking state with an emphasis on its agrarian
base. Gradual burgeoning of the commercial sector; important changes in the economy and
social relations in the latter part of the dynasty; also a vibrant literary scene as
represented by publication of the novel Journey to the West.
Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty
A Manchu dynasty. Continued the economic developments of the late Ming, leading to
prosperity but also complacency and a dramatic increase in population. The acclaimed novel Dream of the Red Chamber was written in this period.
Strains on the polity were intensified by a rapid incorporation of substantial new
territories. Its authoritarian structure was subsequently unable to meet the military and
cultural challenge of an expansive West.
Weak central government following the collapse of the dynastic system in 1911-12;
Western influence was shown by the promotion of "science" and
"democracy" during the New Culture Movement. The attempt of the Nationalist
government (est. 1928) to bring the entire country under its control was thwarted by both
domestic revolts and the Japanese occupation (1937-45). The Nationalists fled to Taiwan
after defeat by the Communists.
People's Republic of China
Communist government. The drive for remaking society ended in disasters such as the
Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Economic reform and political retrenchment
since around 1978.
|Prepared by Michael Tsin, previously assistant professor
of Chinese history, Columbia University; currently associate professor of Chinese history, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Text ©1995 Columbia University, Asia in Western and World History: A Guide
(Ainslie Embree and Carol Gluck, eds., Armonk, NY: M. E.
Sharp Inc. 1995).