Chinese History for Beginners

Chinese History for Beginners

Spanning 4000 plus years the history of China is epic in its breath and scope. From 2000BC to the present, the history of China can be classified into 4 broad time periods: The Origins of Chinese Civilization (2000BC-221 BC), The Early Empire (221 BC - AD 589), The Second Empire (589 – 1644) and The Birth of Modern China (1644 – present). These time periods can be broken down into unique dynasties and governmental ruling parties.

The Origins of Chinese Civilization (2000 BC-221 BC)

Oral tradition recognizes Xia (2000-1750BC) as China’s first dynasty. The Xia dynasty predates China’s written history. Tradition states that the Xia dynasty was founded by Yu the Great. He is revered for developing flood control freeing the Chinese people from recurring devastation due to flooding.

The Shang Dynasty (1750-1040BC) was the next to develop. Jie, the last emperor of the Xia dynasty was hated by the Chinese people for his selfish desire to build places for himself causing great hardship. Shang Tang led the revolt that freed the Chinese from Jie’s oppressive rule becoming the first Shang emperor. Under the Shang civilization, the Chinese developed a written language, bronze tools and an organized religious system.

Western Zhou (1100 - 771BC) The Zhou were a nomadic people that settled in Shang territory in the Wei River valley. They build a permanent capital in Xi’an. Eventually they grew more powerful than the Shang and with the aid of other city states chafing under Shang rule, under the leadership of Wu Wang the Zhou took control. Wu Wang was the first Chinese leader to govern under The Mandate From Heaven. Under Zhou leadership prosperous cities developed, iron tools were used, coins were first minted, the philosophies of Confucius, Lao Zi and Taoism developed.

Eastern Zhou, Spring &Autumn Period and the Warring States (771 – 221BC) During the peace of the Western Zhou dynasty, Chinese culture moved south toward the Yangtze River and eastward to the Yellow Sea. After 300 years the power of the emperor began to diminish and the city states on the boarder of the Zhou territory began to fight among themselves. The Spring and Autumn Period marked the rise of warlords and the development of the feudal system in China. As regional warlords continued to expand their power by engulfing weaker cities, this period in Chinese history know was the Warring States period. It was during these historic periods the Chinese developed both an infantry and cavalry and iron working become a valued skill. The Art of War still in publication today was written during the Warring States period.

The Early Empire: 221 BC - AD 589

Qin (221-206BC) After defeating 6 other war lords, Shi huangdi declared himself Emperor and unified China for the first time under one ruler. In his 15 years as ruler, Shi set the organizational structure that would govern China for centuries. The Great Wall was build during this period.

The Period of Disunion (206 BC- AD 589) This turbulent period in China’s history saw the kingdom split into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The Northern kingdom was continually troubled by nomadic raiders each in turn setting up a short lived dynasty. The Southern kingdom was ruled by series of short lived dynasties. This period is marked by political instability and unrest. Buddhism became established as the dominate religion in China during this time.

The Second Empire (589 – 1644 AD)

Sui (589 – 618 AD) The Northern and Southern Kingdoms were once again united. During the Sui dynasty the Grand Canal was build the Great Wall repaired and Confucianism regain popularity

Tang (618 – 907 AD) The Tang Dynasty developed the first codified system of Chinese law. The land redistribution plan allowed peasants to support themselves and to pay taxes. Rice production increased during this time becoming an economically important crop.

Northern and Southern Song (960 – 1279AD) The most notable advancement made during the Song Dynasty was the improvements made both in the production and distribution of food. China had its first navy during this period.

Yuan (Mongol) (1279 – 1368) AD Genghis Khan led his troops into China in 1211. Before his death in 1227 he had conquered Northern and Western China and Mongolia. His grandson Kublai Khan was appointed governor of the area and in 1279 declared himself to be the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. Kublai Khan went to war with the Southern Song. He defeated them in 1279. China was once again unified. Marco Polo traveled to China during this time.

Ming (1368 – 1644AD) As is the pattern with most dynasty, the Yuan dynasty became burdensome to the Chinese people. Zhu Yaunzhang led a 4 year present revolt that ended in 1368, with Zhu declaring himself to be emperor. The Ming Dynasty is the last of the imperial dynasties. Zhu lowered the tax burden on presents, rebuild and repaired The Great Wall. The art of porcelain design reached new heights under Ming rule.

The Birth of Modern China (1644 – present)

Qing (Manchu) (1644 – 1911) The Manchu, a Tungusic people from Manchuria, north of China, was the last dynasty to rule China. Under Manchu rule, China’s boarders expanded, trade and farm production grew. The written arts: poetry, short stories and novels all flourished. Contact with Europe expanded; bringing in some Western ideas, trade and vices such as opium. Then the government tried to ban opium, it lead to war.

The People’s Republic of China (1911 – 1949) Put under Japan’s control after WWI by the Treaty of Versailles, students began to rebel against the government. Rival parties with differing foreign allies vied for control of China. By the end of WWII there were two parties fighting each other for control, the Nationalists and the Communists. Having defeated the Nationalist Mao Zedong announced the formation of People's Republic of China. He is remembered for supporting the Red Guard and the Great Leap Forward.

The People's Republic of China (1949 – present) China is a nation of a billion plus people. It has a one party governmental system the Chinese Communist Party. Because of the high level of control of the government over daily life, crime is low in China and there is little need for criminal background checks. Since the economic reforms of the 1980’s, the people of China have experienced an increasing standard of living. Tiananmen Square and the2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games are a few of the historic events that mark China in this period. The Summer Olympic was China’s opportunity to present itself as a major world power. The Olympics were a stunning success. With excellent facilities and traffic control, the memorable opening and closing ceremonies, China demonstrated how the economic reforms of the 1980’s have transformed the nation. To ensure safety at the Beijing Olympic the government did extensive background checks of all participates, visitors’ and reporters attending the event. Modern China may be the next world super power.