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All You Need to Know About The Chinese Dynasties

Which Chinese dynasty invented gun powder? Which dynasty was the best? The Han, The Ming, The Sui? Each Chinese dynasty has its secrets and success. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Chinese dynasties –but never dared to ask– are in this awesome timeline.

Check out this timeline that suggests a real insight of dynasties of China. All your questions questions about which dynasty has invented this or that will be answered if you take a look at our Chinese dynasties list.

The most legendary of the Chinese dynasties: The Xia 夏朝 xià cháo

The Xia dynasty is the first Chinese Dynasty in the History of China. They ruled from 2100 BC to 1600 BC and laid the foundations for the next 5000 years of China’s evolution. The Xia dynasty is said to descend from the Yellow Emperor, Huángdì, a ancient tribe leader who won many battles. Huángdì was said to be the son of a dragon who has inherited from its powers. The Xia rulers founded by Yu the Great, descendant of Huángdì who was born in 2059, said they had special powers too. Their powers consisted in stopping floods.

Their accomplishments: The Xia dynasty produced cast bronze and had strong armies. But their number one accomplishment was to be the first dynasty ever in ancient China: they created the dynasty succession policy.


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The most creative of the Chinese Dynasties: The Shang 商朝 shāng cháo

The Shang dynasty ruled during the Bronze Age from 1600 B.C to 1066 B.C. The Shangs were the first dynasty to unite a large part of the current China under one Emperor. This dynasty succeeded in domesticating horses, to help them on a everyday basis. Genius!

Their accomplishments: The Shang’s greatest accomplishment is undoubtedly creating the first Chinese writing system. The writing system they developed was composed of over 2000 symbols written on silk, bamboo sticks, stones bronze items and bones. Researchers also found also writings on “Oracle bones” — Feeling perplexed right now by the term? Oracle bones were ox bones and tortoise shells on which symbols were written for divination. Considering the Chinese characters we are now learning and are used throughout China come from these ancient symbols; the Shang undoubtedly deserve to be awarded the “most creative” title of all the Chinese dynasties.

The most philosophical of the Chinese Dynasties: The Zhou 周朝 zhōu cháo

The Zhou followed The Shang dynasty and also ruled during the Bronze Age, from 1066 B.C to 256 B.C. They’re not very well-known in the Western world, contrary to other more famous dynasties, but they deserve to be more known. It was during the Zhou dynasty that a popular Chinese philosophical movement was created.

Their accomplishment: Chinese philosophies that are still very popular nowadays, such as Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism were developed under the Zhou dynasty. See, the Zhou era was full of conflicts, and many Chinese philosophers therefore emerged during the Zhou era with the aim to restore order and peace to society.

At the origin Confucianism, in its beginning, was all about being committed to one’s family and being filial to one’s family remains a core teaching of the Confucianism movement. Taoism was also about achieving peace, by following the Tao principles.
Legalism, on the other hand, considered people to be born naturally evil and claimed they needed to be punished to restore order and bring piece.
It’s therefore essential to remember the Zhou were fine philosophers in their day. Their teachings are still an essential part of the Chinese way of thinking nowadays.

The builders that unified China: The Qin dynasty 秦朝 qín cháo

The Qin dynasty brought a lot to China. They may have ruled only for a short period, from 255 B.C to 206 B.C, but they still found time to develop and invent many things as well as unify the whole country that was scattered into kingdoms till then. Did you know they built new roads and irrigation systems? These irrigation systems were big improvements, as the Zhengguo Canal and the Lingqu Canal brought lots of water to farms and fields. The Qin dynasty also built an amazing archaeological site you’ve most likely heard of in Xi’an: the famous terracotta army. You can still visit this place nowadays and we strongly recommend it!

Their great accomplishment: The Qin have done a lot for China, but their greatest accomplishment has to be unifying China! After lots of conquests, they finally managed to unify the whole country. How huge and groundbreaking is that!?

The artists: The Han dynasty 汉朝 hàn cháo

Emperor Han Gaozu (256 or 247 – 1 June 195 BC)

Emperor Han Gaozu (256 or 247 – 1 June 195 BC)

The Han dynasty ruled from 206 B.C to 220 A.D. They are one of the best known Chinese dynasties and today yet, the Han Ethnic Group is still the biggest ethnic group in China (92%). Do you want to know why they were most famous for?

Their most amazing accomplishment: You certainly wonder which dynasty has invented paper. Well, it’s the Han dynasty. Don’t be mistaken, this was not the white, thin paper you know today but it was definitely the paper we all use today’ ancestor. At the time, paper was thicker and not particularly white.It was made from pounded and disintegrated hemp fibers. Around 105 A.D, a new kind of paper made of rags, fishnets, wheat stalks and other thick materials was enforced. As it was of a poor quality, it was way cheaper than the first one. The invention of paper made writing a lot easier than have to carve your text on hard surfaces, and led The Han to also invent ink and to write poems. What artists, those Hans!

The most chaotic of the Chinese dynasties: the Jin 晉朝 jìn cháo

Ruling from 265 to 420, many of The Jin rulers were incompetent and plunged the empire in civil wars. The Empire was divided between the members of the family and the civil war between the 9 Princes started. Regicides and abdications marked the decline of this dynasty.

Their accomplishment: There is not much to remember about this dynasty except years and years of chaos and conflicts. Let’s call that, their greatest accomplishment.

The Chinese Gutenbergs: The Sui dynasty 隋朝 suí cháo

The Sui dynasty ruled from 581 to 618 AD. They were known for their love for the arts, poetry and music. Researchers found porcelain pieces dating from the Sui dynasty, so we can easily say they invented porcelain made with jade at that time. The Sui Dynasty wasn’t all about love, poetry and the arts, however. This dynasty also was hugely unpopular because of the taxes they imposed and had to face many discontents and rebellions.

Their greatest accomplishment: The Sui dynasty invented block printing. How smart! The Block printing they invented was used as a mean of typesetting and helped reduce the number of workers. The Sui can easily be dubbed the Chinese Gutenbergs. As you can guess, they used this invention mainly… to print lots of poetry.

The golden Chinese dynasty: The Tang 唐朝 táng cháo

Ruling from 618 to 907, the Tang dynasty is well known for expanding the reach of the Chinese economy through the development of trades routes, especially along the silk road, which was at its peak at that time. They also helped Chinese medicine evolve slowly.

Their two main accomplishments: The Tang dynasty brought a lot to Chinese arts.For example, the first opera troupe appeared under their era. So if you’re a Beijing Opera fan, you have the Tang to thank for.
Another of the Tang’s great accomplishments is the creation of the first Chinese criminal code in 624 AD. The code was was divided into 500 articles dealing with different crimes and penalties such as penal servitude, execution, exile and other punishments. This criminal code served as a basis for later dynastic codes in China but also in all parts of Asia.

The Song dynasty 宋朝 sòng cháo: a dynasty of bankers

The Song dynasty ruled from 960 to 1279. This era was full of conflicts and the Song had to face them all. Two others dynasties were challenging them at that time, but we’ll talk about those later.

Their greatest accomplishment: The Song were the first government in the world to invent and use banknotes. Before banknotes were introduced, the Chinese used a currency made of copper but it lacked practicality. They decided, then, to produce banknotes, which is why they were awarded “the banker” title.

The farmers: The Liao dynasty 辽朝 liáo cháo

The Liao dynasty ruled from 916 to 1125. Yes, that was partly at the same time as the Song. How was that possible? Well, they fought a lot with the Song dynasty and conquered a few lands in the North: once again the country was divided and the Qin’s great achievements a thousand years before were undone. The Liao kingdom was established by the Khitan tribe, a tribe well-known for their farming capacities.

Their accomplishment: Aside from contributing to divide the country, the Liao was a great farming dynasty and contributed a lot to agricultural methods in China. When they started ruling, the Liao established a new way of living, by expanding crops and growing new types of food such as watermelon and chickpea. They also developed animal farms with sheeps and horses.

The unknown Chinese dynasty: The Jin 金朝 jīn cháo

Jin Dynasty was also founded by an ethnic minority, known as the Nuzhen. The Nuzhen came from the Changpai Mountain area. This dynasty ruled from 1115 to 1234 AD and also overlapped with the Song. As you can guess, they also fought with the Song dynasty for lands. Due to Song’s civil wars, the Jin were victorious.

Their accomplishment: There are no particular accomplishments to note during the Jin dynasty. Perhaps, the Chinese people remain thankful to them for winning over the Song and their bad rulers.

The Mongol Chinese Dynasty: The Yuan 元朝 yuán cháo

Who said all the Chinese dynasties were Chinese? Ruling from 1271 to 1368, the Yuan dynasty is mostly known because of its Mongol origins. The Great Mongol ruler, Genghis Khan and his sons founded the Yuan dynasty in China and introduced Mongol customs and traditions into China.

Their biggest accomplishment: Gunpowder bombs were created under the Yuan dynasty, after China failed in invading Japan. At first, Large barrels of gunpowder would be lit with fire, which led to explosions. They then cleverly reduced the shape of the barrels and bam! Gunpowder bombs were created.

The most famous Chinese dynasty: The Ming 明朝 míng cháo

Emperor Xizong Zhu Youxiao (1605-1627) of the Ming Dynasty

Emperor Xizong Zhu Youxiao (1605-1627) Ming Dynasty

The Ming is probably the most famous Chinese Dynasty that ruled from 1368 to 1644. Have you ever heard of Ming porcelain vases? Of course you have. Then you’ve heard of the Ming. The Ming dynasty invented the famous white and blue porcelain you see in every Chinese shop. These vases were Ming’s signature but not their only notable accomplishments. The Ming era is marked by its many achievements in machinery, inventing in particular cotton and silk looms.

Their greatest achievement: Guess which dynasty built the Grand Canal? The Ming’s greatest achievement has to be the restorations of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal, both major architectural feats that were repaired by the Ming dynasty. If you go to the Great Wall nowadays, what you’ll see was rebuilt by the Ming dynasty and mostly left untouched since that Ming dynasty.

The last and longest Chinese dynasty: The Qing 清朝 qīng cháo

Often called the last dynasty of China, the Qing, who ruled from 1644 to 1912, were also known as great warriors.

Their biggest accomplishments: The Qing greatly improved soldiers’ equipments, and notably found solutions to military problems they had, such as how to make the armor lighter to move faster, and increasing the use of gunpowder. They also used swords with longer blades to stab enemies easily. They also created the first machine gun that could hold up to 28 bullets. Trust men you did not want to be these guys enemies! Their decline was due to many rebellions.

Final words: 14 great Chinese dynasties

As you can see, the 14 major dynasties of China were all pretty great! They all made contributions to build the China we all know today! Considering the first dynasty started in 2100 B.C, that’s pretty fantastic, don’t you think?

Make sure to keep this timeline close to you when going to China. Now you know everything about the Chinese dynasties and how they brought knowledge, science et technology to China. All the dynasties made a contribution to build the China we all know today! Fantastic!
The Nincha team hopes this guide will help you understand Chinese culture and its traditions better. Bookmark the timeline and the guide so you become a Chinese dynasty expert. And, in case you’re afraid you can’t remember all the dynasties of China, you can use this Chinese dynasties song to remember the order of the greatest Chinese dynasties.

Do you have a fave dynasty? Or one you find particularly cool? Let us know in the comments! And if you have any question or remark about the dynasties and the Chinese timeline, we’re happy to read them below in the comments.

The Nincha Team

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