China is the world’s oldest surviving civilisation. The modern state of the People’s Republic of China covers an immense region of the far east, some 9,600,000square miles, the third largest country in the world, and has the largest population of any country, 1,273,112,000 people. The history of China is such a massive topic, covering such a long period, over such a large area, lived by so many people of different ethnic, religious and cultural groups, that to do justice to such a subject in a single entry, or indeed in a single book, would be impossible. This entry seeks to meerly outline and characterise some of the major periods of Chinese history so that some broad (but thin) overview might be achieved.
The history of China is such a massive topic, covering such a long period, over such a large area, lived by so many people of different ethnic, religious and cultural groups, that to do justice to such a subject in a single entry, or indeed in a single book, would be impossible. This entry seeks to meerly outline and characterise some of the major periods of Chinese history so that some broad (but thin) overview might be achieved.
China was the world’s third great civilisation, following the Egyptian – Mesopotamian and the Indus Valley cultures into the Bronze Age and the Agricultural revolution. However, despite a rapid comunication of technologies from the ‘fetile cresent’ by mid-third millenium BCE China became isolated from these other cultures by two things. Firstly Geography – China was not only distant from the other centres but those vast distances were hard terrain; deserts, mountains and tretcherous seas, creating a physical buffer between China and the West. Secondly, there was a cultural buffer also – those vast desert wastes of Siberia, Turkestan and Transoxiana were populated not by ‘civilised’, urbane or farming peoples but by nomadic cultures through whose territory communication of technology, ideas, news or goods was, at best difficult and hostile.
So for 3000 years China grew within a sphere of her own. United agaist her ‘barbarian’ neighbours, and insulated by them against threats from their Imperial equals in the west, China enjoyed a stability that no other culture has known. Though not free from the usual up’s and downs of politics and civic society – shifting centres of power, occasional threats of invasion, civil wars and governmental breakdown and China’s perennial enemy – famine – China was culturally stable. While no society is free from social and technological ups and downs, in China there has been no Dark Age, just a long slow development and maturing of it’s culture, beliefs and society, and it is fair to say, some stagnation as a result also.
Civilised before the existance of Carthage, Greece or Rome, China was practically unknown to the west until 300 years ago. Despite it’s post renaisance momentum Europe was still not as advanced as China at that time, but that momentum would see the West overtake and eclipse China during the long period of Mongol rule and a combination of stagnacy and expliotation would hold China back as a layer on the world stage. Now after the miraculous advances and terrible setbacks since the Communist revolution China may now emerge again as the worlds dominant and most civilised culture.
Chinese history is commonly divided into dynasties, according to which family of Emporors ruled the region. Sometimes the dynasties overlap a little during periods where China’s rule was divided.Early Chinese Civilization
1500 – 1122 BCE Shang Dynasty
1122 – 256 Zhou Dynasty
403 – 222 Warring States Period
221 – 206 Qin Dynasty
206 BCE – 220 CE Han Dynasty
220 – 280 Three Kingdoms Period
266 – 420 Jin Dynasty
420 – 588 Southern Period
581 – 618 Sui Dynasty
618 – 907 Tang Dynasty
907 – 960 The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
960 – 1279 Sung Dynasty
1122 – 1234 Jin Dynasty
Late Chinese Civilisation
1279 – 1368 Yuan Dynasty
1368 – 1644 Ming Dynasty
1644 – 1911 Manchu Dynasty
1911 – 1949 Intermediate Republic
1949 – Present The People's RepubilicShang Dynasty
The Chinese people did not come fresh to civilisation with the Shang Dynasty, but this, the first dynasty from which record survives was based upon an earlier pre-dynastic neolithic period of growth, which blossomed into this first flower of Chinese culture. In the mid-third millenium BCE despite their remoteness China enjoyed a full range of neolithic technologies, and there was a regular comunication of technologies between the Chinese region and civilisations of the ‘fertile cresent’ of the middle east and the Indus valley. As bronze working developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia the Chinese took this technology and moved straight into a Bronze Age, without the intemediary copper / stone phase of other cultures. Similarly writing was introduced with the Chinese languages being written in a variant of the Near Eastern Cuniform script.
Bronze Working -
Writing - unification
Zhou Dynasty(or Chou)
Warring States Period
ConfuciousQin Dynasty(Or Chin Period)
Great Wall of ChinaHan DynastySons of Han
Infrastructure – Roads, way stations, postal service. Tang DynastyPrinting
TradeSung Dynasty(Or Song)
Bank notesYuan Mongols
Kublai Khan 1260 - 1290Ming DynastyPorcelain
Peking built 1402 – 7
Chen Ho’s first voyage
Potuguese at Canton 1514Manchu Qing DynastyMongols
First Opium War 1839 - 42
Second Opium War 1858 – 60
Port control Hong Kong Maccau
Boxer Rebellion 1900The Intermediate RepublicSun Yat-sen
May Fourth Movement
May 30th Movement
Japanese War 1937
WWIIThe Peoples RepubilicSino Soviet treaty 1950
KMT - Taiwan
Korean War 1950 - 53
Great Leap Forward
Return to FeudalismThe Future?