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China Brief Timeline to 20th Century



PREHISTORIC

  • Yellow River

  • Neolithic societies

  • Pottery

  • Yangshao (painted pottery), Longshan (black pottery)

  • Southern settlements Yangtze

  • Based on cultivation of rice rather than dry crops (millet, barley, wheat)

XIA

  • Legendary founder and ruler, Yu,

  • credited with introducing irrigation an draining the floodwaters that threatened flood

SHANG (ca 1700-1046 BC)


  • Capital Anyang

  • First Chinese state in which clear records remain (First recorded dynasty)

  • Religion:

  • Oracle Bones

  • Ox, chicken, turtle shells used for divination and to communicate with gods.

  • Inscriptions are earliest known form of Chinese writing (logographic, characters were complete words, not phonetic)

  • Supreme sky god known as Di​

  • Veneration of ancestors

  • ​Who intervened with Di, cursed humans, created dreams, helped king with battles

  • King

  • ​Served as high priest

  • Intermediary between heaven and earth

  • performed sacrifices to ancestors

  • Royalty buried in tombs (like Lady Hao, one of wives of Wu Ding, ca. 1200 BC)

  • ​Tombs filled with vessels, weapons, jade and ivory ornaments

  • and human sacrifices to serve as servants in after world

  • Technology: Masters of production of bronze, bronze-tipped spears gave Shang advantage over less technologically advanced groups, chariots (1200 B.C.)

  • Unites much of northern China

ZHOU (ca 1045 BC- 256 BC)


  • Longest dynasty (800 years)

  • Capital Xian, later Luoyang to east (est. pattern of east/west capitals)

  • Important rulers

  • King Wen ("cultured" king)

  • King Wu ("martial" king, conquered Shang- don't confuse with King Wu of Han Dynasty)

  • Duke of Zhou (Wu's brother who helped consolidate conquest, regent of Wu's heirs)

  • Mandate of Heaven

  • Zhou innovation, justified Zhou conquest of Shang

  • Heaven (impersonal law of nature rather than deity) maintained order in universe through Zhou king (who ruled as representative of Heaven but not as divine being, king selected to rule because of his talent and virtue, duty to appease the gods in order to protect the people from natural calamities, if he failed, he could be overthrown and replaced by new ruler)

  • Book of Documents (ca. 900 BC)

  • Described Zhou conquest of Shang as just and noble

  • Book of Songs (ca. 900 BC)

  • Book of poetry, hymns, folk songs

  • Well-field system

  • Division of land into 9 segments

  • Each family tilled out plot, together tilled inner plot for hereditary lord

  • Government

  • ​Decentralized feudal system.

  • 771 BC Zhou king killed by alliance of Zhou vassals and non-Chinese, his son put on throne

  • Capital moved to Luoyang for safety

  • Revived Zhou Dynasty never fully regained control over vassals - no strong central power.

  • Technology: Iron plowshares, natural fertilizers, collar harness, wet rice, silk, jade

  • ​Iron technology promoted economic expansion

  • Decline 6th c. power of central govt. disintegrated, bitter internal rivalries

WARRING STATES PERIOD (known as Eastern Zhou) 403-221 BC


  • Chinese states fought one another until only one state was left standing (Qin)

  • New weaponry, technology and tactics

  • Bronze trigger crossbow 350 BC

  • Armor and helmets made of iron

  • Cavalry reduced need for chariot-riding aristocracy

  • "Art of War" (453-403 BC) by Sun Tzu (Sun Wu)

  • Discipline is essential

  • Soldiers have to follow orders of commanders without questioning them

  • Deceit is okay.

  • Social changes

  • Serfdom declined

  • Rulers weakened power of lords over subjects to get direct access to peasants labor.

  • Hundred schools:

  • Confucianism

  • Analects

  • Five relationships (King to subject, husband to wife, parents to children, siblings, friends)

  • Filial piety (children should honor parents)

  • Daoism (Lao Tzu, Dao De Jing, wuwei, inaction),

  • Mencius

  • Legalism (harsh laws)

QIN (221-206 BC) (source of name "China")

  • Founder: Qin Shi Huangdi

  • Capital: Xianyang

  • Religion/Philosophy: Legalism (ruthless)

  • Government: Absolute monarchy under Qin Shi Huangdi

  • Highly centralized (first time heartland was truly unified)

  • Roads, weights and measures and coins standardized

  • Attempt to eliminate power of landed aristocrats

  • Nobles were required to live in Xianyang so court could monitor their activities)

  • Fiefs abolished - land divided into 36 regions, each governed by a centrally appointed official

  • Burned books and buried scholars (so no opposing perspectives)

  • Outlawed the teaching of history

  • Li Si

  • Minister to the emperor responsible for most of the radical innovations.

  • Merchants seen as parasites

  • Sima Qian, historian

  • Builds first Great Wall of China

  • Nomads, Xiongnu, north of China

  • Terra Cotta soldiers

  • End:

  • ​After death of Qin Shi Huangdi, administrators squabbled.

  • Popular uprising

HAN (206 BCE – 220 CE)

  • Founder: Liu Bang

  • Capital Chang’an

  • Government

  • ​Divided (civilian, military, censorate)

  • Headed by “grand council” including representatives from all three segments.

  • First Chinese cultural “golden age”

  • Religion: Confucianism as state religion

  • First civil service exams.

  • Major expansion of trade (Silk road)

  • New technology:

  • Paper making

  • First north-south lodestone compass for divination (not navigation)

  • Rudder, fore-and-aft rigging

  • ​Allowed ships to sail into wind for first time

  • Use of negative numbers

  • Han Wudi (“Martial Emperor”) 141-87 BC

  • Buddhism makes first inroads

  • Decline:

  • Eunuchs caused disorder in the courts.

  • Wang Mang, reformist troubled with plight of peasants, seized power from Han court, declared foundation of Xin dynasty, tried to confiscate great estates but he alienated powerful interest who conspired to overthrow him, killed in coup in 23.

  • Late Han: weak rulers isolated in imperial chambers. Problems with Xiongnu beyond Great Wall. Division and civil war.

China is in disorder under warring tribes.

Era of six dynasties

SUI (short-lived) (581-618)


  • Founder: Unified by Yan Jian (aka Sui Wendi), succeeded by son, Sui Yangdi

  • Capital: Chang’an

  • Religion:

  • Sui brought back Confucian examination system for civil serve

  • Buddhism increased in popularity during this period.

  • Technology

  • ​Public works projects like the Grand Canal connecting Yellow and Yangtze and Great Wall were revived.

  • Dragon boats

  • End:

  • Sui end immediately after Sui Yangdi’s death

TANG (618-907)


  • Founder:

  • One of Sui Yangdi’s generals, Li Yuan, took advantage of instability and declared foundation of new dynasty, Tang.

  • Expansion:

  • Expanded northwest (Xinjiang or “new region”)

  • Silk Road

  • China power in Tibet for first time

  • Southern provinces below Yangtze fully assimilated

  • Diplomatic relations with Southeast Asia

  • Tang conquered Korea for a while

  • ​But found it difficult to rule

  • Korean Silla dynasty made regular payments of money and goods (tribute) to China.

  • And culturally borrowed from China (Confucianism, books, technology, writing, Buddhism, fashion, architecture)

  • Empress Wu (r. 960-705)

  • Selected by emperor Tang Taizong as concubine

  • After his death she rose to supreme power at court, 690 became empress of China

  • Only self-ruling empress

  • Religion:

  • Official government rejection of Buddhism

  • Restoration of Confucianism (neo-Confucianism)

  • Government:

  • Confucian system of civil service exams continued

  • Government bureaucracy more complex than in Sui.

  • Census to count people (50 million people, highest population of any civilization in the world at that time).

  • Raised taxes on cloth and grain to pay for its operations and expansion

  • Culture: Apogee of poetry, art, sculpture and learning

  • ​Glazed porcelain horses and other figures in great demand along Silk Road.

  • Capital: Chang’an (modern Xi'an) back to glory

  • Technology:

  • Earliest wood block printing

  • First use of gunpowder (used for explosives and flamethrowers)

  • Use of “flying money” (credit)

  • Silk Road expanded

  • Had declined 4th-6th c. because of collapse of Han and Roman Empires.

  • Much of trade by Turkic-speaking Uighurs on Bactrian camels

  • End of Tang

  • ​Xuanzong (712-756) court dominated by concubine Yang Guifei

  • Caused rise of internal dissension

  • An Lushan rebellion 755 – briefly seized Chang’an

  • Tang never recovered

  • 907 border troubles with nomadic Khitan,

  • Tang asked Uighurs (Turkish speaking who had taken over routes of Silk Road) for help, then Kirghiz defeated Uighurs and turned on Tang.

SONG (960-1279)


  • Founder: Emperor Song Taizu

  • Weaker than Tang militarily and politically

  • Culture:

  • High point in Chinese culture

  • Religion/philosophy: Neo-Confucianism

  • Used for Civil Service exams, scholar-gentry

  • Philosophy became more of a religion promising eternal reward (cultural blending with Buddhism)

  • Social

  • ​Status of women reduced

  • Foot binding popular ("lotus feet").

  • Unable to defend north from Khitan,

  • capital moved from Kaifeng south to Hangzhou

  • Technology

  • First use of gunpowder as weapons/bombs

  • ​Improvement in irrigation techniques (like chain pump)

  • Compass used for navigation (1100s)

  • Movable type printing

  • New strain of quick-growing rice from Southeast Asia (Champa, Vietnam)

  • = growth in pop.

  • Southern Song (1127-1279)

  • Song lost Tibet,

  • Economic expansion, prosperity, cultural achievement, but never able to surmount external challenge from north.

  • End:

  • Forced to pay tribute to Jurchen from Manchuria, then Song formed alliance with Mongols who became more serious threat and turned on China

YUAN (1271-1368)


  • Mongols, founded by Khubilai Khan

  • Pax Mongolica (by bringing much of Eurasian landmass under single rule, encouraged long-distance trade particularly along Silk Road)

  • Marco Polo and other Westerners visit

  • Beijing (Khanbaliq) becomes capital

  • End:

  • Excessive spending on foreign conquest, inadequate tax revenues, internal instability

MING (1368-1644)

  • Founded by Zhu Yuanzhang, Ming “bright”

  • Emperor Yongle (1402-1424) strengthened Great Wall, pacified nomadic tribes

  • Turn to traditional Confucian institutions.

  • Zhenghe: in 1405 Emperor Yongle sent fleet of Chinese trading ships under eunuch admiral Zhenghe. Venture discontinued because of threat from north, back to traditional emphasis on agriculture

  • Religion

  • Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary

  • First European in Forbidden City 1601

  • Invited by Wanli Emperor as court astronomer

  • Converted some prominent Chinese officials to Catholicism by intertwining Confucian values (name of God was translated as Lord of Heaven - similar to "mandate of Heaven" and allowed veneration of dead.

  • Condemned by Dominican and Franciscan missionaries because he went too far.

  • Sophisticated agricultural economy

  • Great Wall of China completed


QING (1644-1911)

  • Manchus

  • China reaches zenith (annexation of Tibet, Mongolia, Xinjiang

  • Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860)

  • British v. China over trade

  • Treaty of Nanking after 1st war

  • Unequal treaties

  • Opening of treaty ports

  • Cession of Hong Kong to British (until 1999)

  • Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864)

  • Hong Xiuquan – “Jesus’s brother” established Taiping Heavenly Kingdom with capital at Nanjing

  • At height ruled 30 million people in southern China,

  • Property in common, equality for women, Christianity

  • Nicknamed “longhairs”

  • Qing crushed it with help from French and British forces

  • Empress Dowager Cixi (regent 1861 to 1908)

  • Was imperial concubine

  • Westerners impose “unequal treaties” that create foreign concessions in China’s ports

  • Self-Strengthening Movement (1861-1895)

  • Attempt to adapt Western institutions and military innovations to Chinese needs.

  • Imperial office established to manage relation with foreign countries, Beiyang fleet (China’s first modern navy), various govt.-sponsored modern industries

  • Were superficial and failed

  • Hundred Days Reforms of 1898

  • Rejected by Cixi as impractical and detrimental

  • She placed Guangxu Emperor in prison

  • Regional warlords rise as central government atrophies

  • Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901)

  • Northern China to stifle reforms in the Qing administration, drive out foreigners and re-establish traditional rule, defeated by foreign intervention

  • Defeated by coalition of foreigners (including Japan and US)

  • US wanted “Open Door” after taking Philippines from Spanish 1898

  • Last emperor - Puyi

REPUBLIC (1911-1912)

  • Military revolts by reform-minded officers led to proclamation of Republic of China under Sun Yat-sen

  • Abdication of last Qing emperor.

  • Republic struggles to consolidate rule amid warlordism an dries of Communist Party

  • 1925 death of Sun-Yat Sen brings Chiang Kai-Shek to power

  • Chiang Kai-Shek

  • Breaks with Communists and

  • Confirms governing Kuomintang as a nationalist party

JAPAN INVADES (1931-45)

  • Takes province of Manchuria

  • Japanese rename it Manchukuo with Puyi as emperor

LONG MARCH (1934-35)

  • Mao emerged as Communist leader during “Long March” to new base in Shaanxi Province

WORLD WAR II (1937-1949)

  • Kuomintang and Communists unite (nominally) against Japanese.

  • Civil War resumes after Japan’s defeat.

COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT (1949 to present)

  • Oct. 1, 1949 Mao Zedong led Communists to victory against Nationalists after more than 20 years of civil war, proclaims founding of the People’s Republic of China

  • Nationalists retreat to island of Taiwan and set up a government there.


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