China has had about 30 dynasties since 2070 BC, but there were seven that contributed more to make China what it is today: the Zhou (1046-771 BC), Qin (221-206BC), Han (206 BC-220AD)), Tang (618-907AD), Sung (960-1279AD), Ming (1368-1644AD), and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911AD).
Although China’s civilization survived, the country’s history is rampant with rebellions, palace coups, corruption among palace officials, and insurrections. Between the longest dynasties, the country usually fell apart into warring regions as it did after 1911.
The most successful emperors managed to stabilize the country while leading wisely as the Communist Party has done since 1976. There will be some who’ll disagree, but results are hard to ignore. In the last few decades since Mao died, China is responsible for 90 percent of the world’s reduction in poverty while avoiding potential leaders like Donald Trump.
The first emperor, who conquered and unified China, was Qin Si Huangdi of the Qin Dynasty.
Emperor Han Wudi (ruled 141 – 87 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty was fifteen when he first sat on the throne.
Wudi is considered one of the greatest emperors in China’s history. He expanded the borders, opened the early Silk Road, developed the economy, and established state monopolies on salt, liquor and rice.
After the Han Dynasty collapsed, China fell apart for almost 400 years before the Tang Dynasty was established (618 -906). The Tang Dynasty was blessed with several powerful emperors.
The first was Emperor Tang Taizong, who ruled from 627-649.
Wu Zetain (624 to 705 AD), China’s only woman emperor, also ruled wisely. She was married to two emperors before becoming one.
Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, Zetain’s grandson, ruled longer (712 – 756) than any Tang emperor (43 years) and the dynasty prospered during the first half of his reign but declined after the Anshi Rebellion (755 – 763).
After the Tang dynasty fell, there would be a short period of about 60 years before the Sung Dynasty reestablished order and unified the country again.
The second emperor of the Sung Dynasty, Sung Taizong (ruled 976 – 997) reunified China after defeating the Northern Han Dynasty. The third emperor, Sung Zhenzong (ruled 997-1022) also deserves credit for maintaining stability.
The Sung Dynasty then declined until a revival by Sung Ningzong, who ruled from 1194 to 1224 AD. After he died, the dynasty limped along until Kublai Khan defeated its last emperor in 1279.
After conquering all of China, Kublai Khan founded the Mongol, Yuan Dynasty (1277-1367). Not long after he died, his dynasty was swept away in 1368, when a peasant rebellion defeated the Yuan Dynasty and drove the Mongols out of China to establish the Ming Dynasty (1271 – 1368) known for rebuilding, strengthening and extending the Great Wall tourists visit today.
Historical records show that under the third Ming Emperor, Ming Chengzu (ruled 1403 – 1424), China was prosperous.
After Chengzu, the dynasty would decline until 1567 when Emperor Ming Muzong reversed the decline. His son, Emperor Ming Shenzong, also ruled wisely from 1573 to 1620.
After Shenzong’s death, the Ming Dynasty quickly declined and was replaced by the Manchurian Qing Dynasty in 1644.
The Opium Wars started by England and France, and the Taiping Rebellion led by a Christian convert in the 19th century, contributed to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.
The Qing Dynasty was fortunate to have three powerful, consecutive emperors: Emperor Kangxi (1661 – 1722), Yongzhen (1722-1735), and Qianlong (1735-1796). Under these three leaders, for one-hundred-and-thirty-five years, China remained strong and prosperous.
After Dr. Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, the republic he was building in southern China fell apart when Chiang Kai-shek broke the coalition that Sun Yat-sen had formed between the Nationalist and Communist Parties. The Communist Party survived due to Mao’s famous Long March.
Japan invaded China in 1937 more than four years before bombing Pearl Harbor. It’s estimated that 15-20 million Chinese died because of the Japanese invasion. When the World War ended in 1945, the Civil War continued until the Communists led by Mao defeated the Nationalists in 1949.
The victory was made possible because the Communists were supported by China’s peasants that hated, despised and distrusted the Nationalist Party, which represented China’s ruling elite that had mistreated and abused them for centuries.
The Communists gained the support of the peasants by treating them with respect and promising land reforms. After the Civil War, Mao delivered on that promise. Although China suffered through Mao’s Cultural Revolution, today China is an emerging modern nation with a middle class of about 300 million, and many Chinese that can afford to travel internationally have the freedom to go. In fact, more than 100 million leave and return annually.
In addition, Barrons.com reported, “In 2013, nearly 32%, or 225,474, of Chinese students going abroad went to the U.S, according to UNESCO’s latest data. After the U.S., students from China went to Japan (13%), Australia (12%) and the U.K. (11.5%).” The Chinese Ministry of Education reported that 523,700 Chinese students went abroad to study in 2015. Today, regardless of Western criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese people have had more freedom with a better quality of life than at any time in their country’s history.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline