Ancient China had a very unique way of showing different time periods; each stage of China or each family that was in power was a distinctive dynasty. Also between each dynasty was an unstable age of divided provinces. The best-known of these periods was the Three Kingdoms epoch taking place for 60 years between the Han and the Jin Dynasty. During these periods fierce warfare took place between many nobles fighting for the throne. The Three Kingdoms was one of the bloodiest eras in Ancient China’s history thousands of people died fighting to sit at the highest seat in the grand palace at Xi’an.
The first recorded dynasty was the Shang Dynasty, lasting from 1766 BC to 1122 BC, this 600 years being was quite long for a dynasty. During this age the central government was weak and unstable, and China couldn’t officially be called a united civilization. Some emperors reverted much of the country to nomadic life and away from agricultural settlements. But by the last 100 years of the Shang dynasty, agriculture was fully supported throughout the country.
The next dynasty was the Zhou dynasty. The Zhou people came from the west and overthrew the Shang, it lasted from 1122 BC to 256 BC near a thousand years making it the longest dynasty in history! During this time 2 out of the three greatest philosophers were born: Kong Fuzi (Confucius), founder of Confucianism and Laozi, founder of Daoism (Taoism). Also during this period iron was first used in China written script on bronze tablets first appeared though it was not the clerical script of the Han dynasty it was a great improvement of early writing in the Shang Dynasty. During this age the Mandate of Heaven was first implemented a King or Queen’s right to rule was supported by the Mandate of Heaven which was the notion that the ruler was the divine son of heaven but his dethronement would signal the people that he had lost his divine right to rule and was now not worth fighting for.
After the Zhou came the Qin Dynasty which lasted a mere 20 years (221 to 206 BC). This era was a big change for China during the Qin Dynasty. Man was considered a beast that needed to be strictly controlled which led to an age in which legalism, a branch of Confucianism, dominated. All people were strictly kept in order and any crimes were not tolerated. This era’s simply put “claim to fame” was that it was the first centralized dynasty and marked the beginning of imperial China. At the Qin Dynasties height it had a population of over 40 million people, which was huge compared to the Shang or early Zhou Dynasties.
Rebellions arose from all across China. The two most powerful rebels, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, fought each other after ending the Qin dynasty in 206 BC. Liu won and there began the Han Dynasty (206BC to 220AD). The Han dynasty was known for being a great period for the Ancient Chinese culture; music, drama and literature flourished during this time. During Emperor Wu of Han's reign, a new system of government emerged during this time, a system of civil servants. Every half-year a great test was held at the palace in the capital city the most promising young scholars gathered to take the test that would decide what kind of job they got in the government. The highest scorers were given jobs at the palace itself whereas the lowest were sometimes failed or sometimes put in low level jobs at the local level. Cheating was punished severely because of the importance placed on these tests. The Civil Servants that this test placed would oversee the construction of roads, canals and schools. The local civil servants would record trade population and decide where crops should be sent and how much to store. The position of Civil Servant was coveted. During this period Chinese culture spread throughout Mongolia, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Also during this epoch the Silk Road became a major source of income for the merchant class (the Shang).
Near the end of the Western Han Dynasty, Wang Mang snatched the throne and started the Xin Dynasty. The dynasty was quickly destroyed by two major armies. After a brief period of chaos, Liu Xiu, a descendant of the Western Han Dynasty, became the emperor. The empire rose again for a short period of time, but then the emperor's mother and her relatives started grabbing the power. The emperor fought back by allying with their eunuchs. Then the emperor died, his son became emperor and his wife began grabbing the power. This continued for a couple hundred years until Cao Cao, whom the Emperor had given too much power, held the emperor hostage and became the real person in charge of China. His son forced the last emperor to abdicate and the Three Kingdoms period began.
The Three Kingdoms were Wei, Wu, and Shu, in the end, they were all subjugated into the Jin Empire(265AD to 420AD). The Western Jin Empire was invaded by barbarians, so they moved to the South, starting the Eastern Jin Empire. The North were controlled by around individual 16 barbarian states during the Eastern Jin dynasty. The Jin Dynasty was then taken over by the Song Dynasty, which were then taken over by the Qi Dynasty, which turned into the Liang Dynasty and finally, the Chen Dynasty. Around the same time Jin turned into Song, the North was unified by Northern Wei, which split into Eastern and Western Wei. Eastern Wei became Northern Zhou, and Western Wei became Northern Qi. Then Western Wei conquered Northern Qi, and Northern Qi later turned into Sui.
Amidst the chaos, the Sui dynasty (581 to 618) rose and successfully reunited China. Within 50 years, the empire fell into rebellion and chaos after the harsh rule of the Sui emperors and the wars between Sui and Goguryeo that virtually drained the country's resources. The Tang(618 to 907) and Song (960 to 1279) dynasties that followed were important and significant ages were the Chinese experiences yet another golden age, after the Han dynasty. Many discoveries were made, and the arts flourished. The Tang ruled a strong dynasty with a powerful army and rich country. They seized control of the Silk Road an controlled the foreign trade. The Song, although not as powerful, was the time were arts and literature reached its peak.
Chinese dynasties always had a problem with their northern neighbors, the Mongols, but they often put down the rebellions and raids their neighbors put out. It was not only until the 1100s did the Chinese really start to fear the growing power of the Mongols, under their leader, Genghis Khan. The Song dynasty managed to survive in the south for another 100 years, until the Mongols, under Kublai Khan, successfully invaded and conquered the Song. This is when Kublai Khan began the Yuan dynasty(1271 to 1368), which lasted for about 100 years, and stretched further on all sides than modern China today.
After several years, the Yuan dynasty began to weaken, and the Chinese also began to rebel against their foreign lords. They made the Mongols flee back to their homeland, and so began another Chinese, in fact the last native Chinese dynasty, the Ming(1344-1614). Under the Ming, relations with the Western world began to increase, but the conservative Chinese government was not that warm in welcoming these foreigners, and they had a reason. Ming China that time was far more populous, wealthy, powerful, and technologically advanced than any Western power had been during that time.
All dynasties had an end, and the Ming's end was just about to begin. War with the Japanese invading Joseon Korea, high expenses paid to keep the Great Wall in line, and growing Manchu power eventually led to a coup that ended with the Manchus completely overtaking Ming China. This started the Qing dynasty(1644 to 1911), which was ruled by Manchu emperors. Though they were not ethnically Chinese, they kept most the Chinese traditions in place. During this time, the empire spread its borders to almost what modern China is today. The dynasty began to weaken during the 1800s, where most emperors were weak or selfish, and the Western world was getting stronger through technological advancements, especially in warfare.
In 1911, Sun Yat-sen and the Kuomintang overthrew the Qing government and started the Republic of China. The Kuomintang grew increasingly unpopular, and the Communist Party, after a long period of contention, took over and founded the PRC.