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Historical Periods in Chinese History

This page is intended as a list of all major historical periods (incl. imperial dynasties) in China's history. By clicking on the name or icon for a particular period or dynasty, you will be directed to a page with a detailed narrative overview of that period. If you already have a specific imperial dynasty/historical period in mind that you want to learn more about, then you can also find and access the narrative overview of that period directly by using the page menu on the left.

These narrative overviews contain maps and many illustrations and are not meant to explore every single event that happened in Chinese history, list the name of every emperor and the date of every battle. Instead, the focus of these pages and the Chinese History Digest website in general is to present the major historical developments in the form of an interesting and easily-understandable narrative story.

Certain pages about some of ancient China's dynasties include the narrative for sub-periods when the said dynasty was interrupted or came to an end before the next dynasty was established. In this way, the page about the Zhou dynasty includes the narrative for the Spring and Autumn Period as well as the Warring States Period. In the same fashion, there are a few other pages that include sub-periods in the narrative along with the respective major dynasty that the page is primarily dedicated to.


paleolithic prehistory of China

Paleolithic Period

This section about the paleolithic period in prehistory focusses on the various sites in China where remains of Homo erectus (the predecessors of anatomical modern humans) were discovered. The most notable of these hominid ancestors have been popularly nicknamed Yuanmou Man, Lantian Man and Peking Man.

neolithic prehistory of China

Neolithic Period

The neolithic prehistory section takes a close look at some of the most important archeological discoveries that were made in different regions about various neolithic cultures. Specifically, it explores what was learned of the Peiligang, Yangshao, Longshan, Liangzhu and Daxi cultures from the pottery they left behind.

Imperial Dynasties in China's History

Xia dynasty (ca. 2100 – ca. 1600 BC)

Xia Dynasty

Chinese dynastic history started with the Xia dynasty. Once thought to be mere myth but now proven to have existed, it lasted approximately from 2100 BC until 1600 BC. The Erlitou culture and its palace architecture as well as the historical figure of Yu the Great hold an important place in the history of ancient China.

Shang dynasty (ca. 1600 – 1046 BC)

Shang Dynasty

The Shang dynasty succeeded the Xia dynasty around 1600 BC when Cheng Tang overthrew King Jie, the 17th King of the Xia. It is the earliest dynasty in Chinese history of which there are written records. These exist in the form of oracle bones that bear inscriptions. Tens of thousands such bones were found near Anyang.

Zhou dynasty (1046 – 256 BC)

Zhou Dynasty

Even though the Zhou dynasty occupies a large part of the history of ancient China, it was very unstable in its later years that are now referred to as the Spring and Autumn Period (771-476 BC) and the Warring States Period (476-221 BC). However, it was during these times that the Hundred Schools of Thought proliferated.

Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BC)

Qin Dynasty

The Qin dynasty plays a very important role in the history of ancient China. Its founding ruler Qin Shi Huang was the first who managed to unify the country and consequently became the first emperor. The terracotta warriors still give silent testimony of the short-lived strength of this dynasty in China's history.

Han dynasty (202 BC – AD 220)

Han Dynasty

Like many other dynasties in the history of ancient China, the founding of the Han dynasty was preceded by a period of military struggle. This chapter in Chinese history begins with the first Han emperor Liu Bang. Emperor Wu's reign marks its strongest period whereas the Wang Mang Interregnum preceded its downfall.

Sui dynasty (AD 589 – 618)

Sui Dynasty

In the history of ancient China, the Sui dynasty is mainly known for its short-lived reunification of the country. It was a period of manifold military conflicts that ultimately led to its breakdown into chaos and rebellion. However, it is also remembered favorably in China's history for its reforms and public works projects.

Tang dynasty (AD 618 – 907)

Tang Dynasty

Empress Wu Zetian and concubine Yang Guifei were two important women that left their mark during the Tang dynasty. The cultural Guwen Movement, a Buddhist purge and the An Lushan Rebellion also shaped this dynasty that was followed by the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (AD 907 – 960).

Song dynasty (AD 960 – 1279)

Song Dynasty

China was reunited during the Northern Song Period before being divided again during the Southern Song Period. The Song dynasty is also remembered for the remarkable economic development that occurred during these centuries as well as for outstanding achievements in art and philosophy.

Yuan dynasty (AD 1271 – 1368)

Yuan Dynasty

The Mongol conquests that started under Genghis Khan ultimately built a huge Mongol Empire that included large parts of ancient China under Kublai Khan's Yuan dynasty state. Although it was a relatively short-lived dynasty in China's history, it nevertheless left a strong legacy in the fields of art and philosophy.

Ming dynasty (AD 1368 – 1644)

Ming Dynasty

The Ming dynasty's great achievements include the construction of the Forbidden City and Admiral Zheng He's exploratory sea voyages that established trade links between ancient China and faraway lands. It is also remembered for violent purges and revolts as well as for unprecedented economic growth.

Qing dynasty (AD 1644 – 1912)

Qing Dynasty

The Qing dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of ancient China. It experienced its strongest period under the successive leadership of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperor. More than 2000 years of imperial leadership in Chinese history ended with the abdication of the last emperor Puyi in February 1912.

Post-Imperial Period

Republic of China (AD 1912 – 1949)

Republic of China

The Republic of China was founded in 1912 and strongly influenced by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek and Yuan Shikai. The victory of the communist Red Army during the Chinese Civil War marks the end of this period that was plagued by near-constant strife and a lack of necessary reforms.

People's Republic of China (events between 1949 – 1989)

People's Republic of China

This chapter explores all relevant events that occurred between the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989 such as the socialist land reform, Deng Xiaoping's economic and societal reforms and the Great Leap Forward & the Cultural Revolution.