China has long been marked by its many dynasties – families that rule a particular area for long periods.
The Qin dynasty united China and launched some of its most impactful programs, such as building the Great Wall. Their first emperor was interred alongside thousands of life-size statues known as terracotta army to mark his burial.
The Xia Dynasty
Although no hard evidence has yet surfaced to prove the existence of the Xia Dynasty, many scholars still hold it to exist and claim it ruled from 2070 BCE to 1600 BCE as the precursor of more powerful Shang dynasties that followed it.
Legend holds that Yu the Great (Da Da Yu) founded the Xia Dynasty. Shun had asked Yu to control floodwaters that inundated Yellow River valley every year and help control them effectively, which brought great wealth and prestige. Thanks to him, his success allowed Xia people to expand their crop farms and thrive economically. Yu then assumed power, taking control over other clans before adopting Hereditary System that passed power from father to son.
After Yu’s death, his son Qi took over as ruler. Qi ruled with both prosperity and turmoil for many years; at times he was seen as the first “philosopher king,” caring for his people while looking out for their best interests; later his rule began to crumble due to scandals involving himself as well as bad personal behavior (sex, alcohol consumption and harsh treatment of opponents) becoming too much to bear for some people in power; eventually Jie would come along and bring down the Xia Dynasty forever.
The Qin Dynasty
Qin (pronounced like “chin”) emerged in 221 BCE following Qin Shihuang’s conquest of several feudal states involved in fighting during the Warring States Period and declared himself Shi Huangdi (“first Emperor”). Thus unifying China for the first time.
His kingdom under his leadership completed major projects like the Wei Canal and Dujiangyan that helped extend his empire, using forceful recruitment of soldiers as needed. Furthermore, he instituted a single system of weights and measures as well as standard writing system in China at this time.
Qin was an advocate of Legalism, an ideology which asserts that society should be led and organized by an authoritative figure who could punish rulebreakers while rewarding those who obeyed. To this end, he established both a law code applicable to everyone as well as an organization dedicated to its enforcement.
He greatly weakened nobles by taking their land away so they would not join together to revolt against him, while also censoring books and burning what he considered useless information. But all his good works were undone by mistreatment of his family, prompting an uprising led by peasants that ousted him in 207 BCE; remaining members of Qin dynasty were massacred, while Liu Bang became founder of Han dynasty.
The Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty China experienced unprecedented economic prosperity and technological innovation from 960-1279 AD, as it witnessed a period of renewed Confucian practices, the development of scholarly culture, advances in agriculture, metallurgy, paper money production, gunpowder invention, urban center growth, and dynamic society formation.
Taizu was an outstanding military leader who skillfully led Song to relative peace. Among his many innovative reforms was introducing merit-based civil service examinations; applicants were tested on their knowledge of Confucian classics, history and poetry for admission. This system allowed more individuals to become scholars-bureaucrats while weakening aristocratic grip over government power.
However, Song China became vulnerable to northern threats by the 13th century due to an increasingly ineffective bureaucracy. Taizu’s successors maintained an uneasy peace with Khitan kingdom of the north which conducted aggressive campaigns into Song territory annually.
Song emperors attempted to retain control of the Sixteen Prefectures, an area north of Yellow River traditionally belonging to China proper, through trade with northern rivals to avoid conflict; eventually their forces were crushed by Genghis Khan’s Mongol forces.
The Yuan Dynasty
The Yuan Dynasty (Yue wan lu) was an imperial dynasty founded and led by Kublai Khan of Borjigin clan of Mongolia from 1271-1368, succeeding Song but preceding Ming Dynasty. It lasted from 1271-1368. It lasted 1271-1368.
The Yuan Empire had control of an immense portion of Eurasian landmass, from Mongolia to Siberia in the north, parts of Xinjiang Province in northwest China and Yunnan Province in southern China; their influence even reached south Japan and parts of Korea.
Kublai Khan initiated a policy of Sinicization during his rule and implemented laws from Mongolia and Han China together in their laws of Mongolia. Furthermore, the Yuan’s emperors reinstated Confucian imperial civil-service examination system as well as codifying laws as well as publishing or translating classic works of Chinese culture and philosophy from within their empire.
Contrary to earlier dynasties, Yuan rulers did not prohibit non-Chinese from holding government positions and even employed many merchants and travelers from other cultures; among these was Marco Polo from Italy. Although Tibetan Buddhism was practiced widely within their society, they also accepted other faiths such as Christianity or Hinduism.
Yuan culture was distinguished by the rise of folk arts such as operatic art and the qu poetic form. Additionally, this period saw vernacular literature such as Outlaws of the Marsh and Romance of the Three Kingdoms being written. Emperors were also open to religious diversity, encouraging Christianity’s growth within China.
The Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was China’s first native dynasty to rule all of their nation following three hundred years of at least partial alien control. Led by military genius Zhu Yuanzhang, known as Hongwu (the Ming Emperor) implemented policies of centralization designed to diminish regional warlords and aristocrats who had previously dominated previous dynasties, while at the same time reorganizing administrative systems with provinces, prefectures and counties with appointed officials for efficient administration.
Ming achievements included the restoration of the Great Wall to its former glory, large naval expeditions around the globe, vibrant maritime trade and an economy heavily monetized with debt. Furthermore, they encouraged artistic development with exquisite porcelains and paintings produced; flourishing literary scene thanks to books like Journey to the West, Romance of Three Kingdoms and Water Margin; as well as papermaking technology which spread literacy throughout their empire.
The Mings were not immune from the problems that have dogged Chinese regimes throughout history. Corruption was rampant and powerful people took advantage of their positions to gain wealth and influence. Taxes, crop failures and famine further deepened poverty among peasants who revolted in 1644 under Li Zicheng. A rebel army under Li captured Beijing before Ming Emperor Yuan Zhong died of suicide while semi-nomadic Manchus established their own Qing dynasty.
The Qing Dynasty
The Qing Dynasty was China’s last imperial dynasty. It ruled over an extensive territory and its people enjoyed unprecedented prosperity during its eighteenth century rule due to an influx of New World crops like potatoes and peanuts that allowed farmers to cultivate more than just rice and wheat; they were growing cash crops as part of an active trading network within Asia as well as globally.
Though the Qing government tried its best to enforce laws evenly throughout their empire, this wasn’t always easy due to China’s vast and varied geography: coastal regions versus inland ones; provinces that only engaged in agriculture as opposed to those which provided services beyond agriculture alone.
To address this challenge, the Qing emperors introduced an elite class called Bannermen who could wield political influence and power on an unprecedented scale. At first, these bannermen consisted solely of Manchu warriors but over time their membership expanded to include Han Chinese and Mongol soldiers – creating multiethnic banners.
During the Boxer Rebellion, Empress Dowager Cixi encouraged her group to attack Western interests in China. When forced to sign the Boxer Protocol allowing foreign troops into Beijing and executions of government officials providing aid to rebels; shortly afterwards the Qing dynasty crumbled and Republic of China emerged.