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The Chinese Dynasties: Part 1; Historical China

 Chinese Dynasties

China is one of the ancient cities which have existed during the BC era. It has a rich history, which dates back to the prehistorical times about 1700000 years ago to the establishment of the Xia Dynasty in the 21st century BC, the Stone Age. A dynasty is a succession of rulers from the same family.

Xia Dynasty is one of the first dynasties to rule over China in the 21st century BC. The Xia Dynasty lasted nearly 500 years, including the reigns of 17 emperors. It is believed that most of the Xia people might have inhabited the western area of Henan Province and southern Shanxi Province. Yu the Great was the first leader of the Abdication System (choosing the leader according to their ability), after his death, his son Qi broke the system when he made himself the emperor which gave way to the Hereditary System. During this Dynasty people lived mainly through agriculture and used stone or bone made tools. The Jade ware and bronze vessels were one of the things made during this period, and commodity exchanges developed. A calendar system was devised which used both lunar and solar movements. Xia ended under the reign of Jie. Most of the Xia Dynasty history is not recorded as archaeologists haven’t found much evidence of their existence.

Moving from the prehistorical era, China entered the Imperial era where three dynasties make up this era (2200-256BC). The Shang Dynasty, Zhou Dynasty and Qin Dynasty succeeded the Xia Dynasty. The Shang Dynasty (also known as Yin dynasty) was one of the first dynasties to rule during the imperial era, it was established by King Tang in 1675 BC, they ruled in the Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC from the 21st-17th century BC. Tang implemented a serial publication of innovative steps with the aid of his masses. He abolished the persecution and subjugation of the people carried out by Jie. Bronze, technology and written language evolved during this era and the belief in ancestor worship dates from this epoch. Great achievements were built during his ruling, from economy to culture. Shang Dynasty flourished through the reign of the ninth emperor, during the tenth emperor conditions began to deteriorate and there were multiple attempts by the emperor’s own family to overthrow him and take command of the kingdom. Social problems began to emerge and the emperor’s power gradually declined.

Zhou Dynasty originated from the Zhou clan, which existed during Shang Dynasty ruling and they ruled from the 17th century. They ruled from 1046-256 BC, they were the longest ruling dynasty in China. The history of the Zhou Dynasty is normally divided in two different periods: Western Zhou (1046-771 BCE) and Eastern Zhou (770-256 BCE). The Zhou people were not invaders; they were Chinese-speaking people descended from the Longshan Neolithic culture. During the course of several centuries, the Zhou moved away from barbarian pressures, migrating towards the western most agricultural basin of North China, the lower Wei River valley, present-day Shaanxi province. The era witnessed discoveries in iron smelting, medicine and an increase in trade and diplomacy. Intellectually, this was a critical time. Traditional beliefs began to give way in favour of new ideas based on the writings of Confucius, a scholar who codified relationships between rulers and ruled a central cultural ethic of China and many other Asian countries up to the present.


The Qin Dynasty was the first dynasty to reign during the Imperial epoch, they ruled from 221-206 BC. They were the first dynasty to unite China. Qin Shi Huang is regarded as China’s first emperor; he was a ruthless leader and destroyed ancient practices and literature not corresponding to his ideas. His dynasty lasted for 15 years, and had an impact on Chinese culture. The feudal system was introduced which became a central feature of imperial China. Despite its military strength, the Qin dynasty did not last long. When the first emperor died in 210 BC, his son was placed on the throne by two of the previous emperor’s advisers, in an attempt to influence and control the administration of the entire dynasty through him. The advisors squabbled among themselves, which resulted in both their deaths and that of the second Qin emperor. Weights and measures, currency and the written language were all standardised, setting the stage for lasting economic cohesion. Huge infrastructure projects were completed, including a road system and an early version of the Great Wall. One of the most impressive artefacts from the Qin period is the Terracotta Army guards the Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in Xian. The Qin was known for great construction projects. Major projects that strengthened the state where the Wei Canal that was completed in 246 BC and Dujiangyan and it allowed irrigation of the Sichuan plain that was built in 256. 

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