Timeline of Chinese Dynasties and Other Key Events

A dynasty is when one family rules a country or region over a long period of time. Generally, the head of the family will be the ruler of the land, like an emperor or king. When that ruler dies, another member of the family will take power, usually the oldest son. When a new family takes control, then a new dynasty begins.

The Mandate of Heaven is what the Chinese people believed gave their rulers the right to be king or emperor. It meant that the gods had blessed that person with the right to rule. A ruler had to be a good and just ruler to keep the Mandate of Heaven.

10,000-
2,000 BC
Neolithic
Cultures
Early Chinese settlers build small villages and farm along the major rivers including the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
~ 2696 BC: Rule of the legendary Yellow Emperor. His wife Leizu invented the process of making silk cloth.
2205 – 1575 BC: The Chinese learn how to make bronze.
2100-
1600 BC
Xia (Hsia)
Dynasty
The Xia Dynasty becomes the first dynasty in China.
1600-
1050 BC
Shang
Dynasty
Capitals: near Zhengzhou & Anyang
One of the Three Dynasties, or San Dai (Xia, Shang, and Zhou), thought to mark the beginning of Chinese civilization: characterized by its writing system, practice of divination, walled cities, bronze technology, and use of horse-drawn chariots.
1046-
256 BC
Zhou (Chou)
Dynasty
Capitals: Hao (near Xi’an) & Luoyang
A hierarchical political and social system with the Zhou royal house at its apex: power was bestowed upon aristocratic families as lords of their domains or principalities.
Western Zhou
(1046-771 BC)
Eastern Zhou
(771-256 BC)
Spring and Autumn Period
(770-475 BC)
Confucius (551-479 BC)
544 BC: Sun Tzu the author of the Art of War is born.
Cast iron is invented in China around this time. The iron plough was likely invented shortly after.
Warring States Period
(475-221 BC)
The crossbow is first used in China.
221-
206 BC
Qin
Dynasty
Capital: Chang’an, (Xi’an)
Qin Shihuangdi becomes the first Emperor of China. He created a unitary state by imposing a centralized administration and by standardizing the writing script, weights and measures. Known for its harsh methods of rule, including the suppression of dissenting thought.
Qin Shihuangdi has the Great Wall of China built by extending and connecting existing walls to protect the people from the Mongols.
The umbrella is invented.
Qin Shihuangdi dies, 210 BC, the Terra Cotta Army is buried with him.
206 BC-
220 AD
Han
Dynasty
Modified and consolidated the foundation of the imperial order. Confucianism was established as orthodoxy and open civil service examinations were introduced. Han power reached Korea and Vietnam.
Emperor Wu defines the Taichu calendar which will remain the Chinese calendar throughout history.
8 – 22 AD: The Xin Dynasty overthrows the Han Dynasty for a short period of time.
2 AD: A government census is taken. The size of the Chinese Empire is estimated at 60 million people.
105 AD: Paper is invented by Imperial court official Cai Lun.
208: Battle of Red Cliffs.
Western Han
(206 BC-9 AD)
Capital: Chang’an
Confucianism officially established as basis for Chinese state by Han Wudi (r. 141-86 BC)
Eastern Han
(25-220)
Capital: Luoyang
220-
589
Six Dynasties
Period
The empire was fragmented. The North was dominated by invaders from the borderland and the steppes. The South was ruled by successive “Chinese” dynasties.
Buddhism is introduced to China
Three Kingdoms
(220-265)
Cao Wei (220-265)
Shu Han (221-263)
Dong Wu (222-280)
Jin Dynasty
(265-420)
Western Jin (265-316)
Eastern Jin (317-420)
Northern &
Southern
Dynasties
(386-589)
Southern
Dynasty
Song (420-479)
Qi (479-502)
Liang (502-557)
Chen (557-589)
Northern
Dynasty
Northern Wei (i386-534)
Eastern Wei (534-550)
Northern Qi (550-577)
Western Wei (535-556)
Northern Zhou (557-581)
581-
618
Sui
Dynasty
Capital: Chang’an
609: The 1,776 km Grand Canal is completed – the longest canal in the world starting at Beijing, passes through Tianjin and the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang to the city of Hangzhou, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze River.
China is reunified
618-
906
Tang
Dynasty
Capitals: Chang’an & Luoyang
A time of cosmopolitanism and &
cultural flowering. This period was the height of Buddhist influence until its repression around 845.
868: Wood block printing is first used in China to print an entire book called the Diamond Sutra.
Active territorial expansion until defeated by the Arabs at Talas in 751.
907-
960
Five Dynasties
Period
Later Liang (907-923)
Later Tang (923-936)
Later Jin (936-946)
Later Han (947-950)
Later Zhou (951-960)
960-
1279
Song (Sung)
Dynasty
An era of significant economic and social changes: the monetization of the economy; growth in commerce and maritime trade; urban expansion and technological innovations.
Moveable type for printing is invented.
1044: This is the earliest date that a formula for gunpowder is recorded.
1088: The first description of the magnetic compass.
1200: Genghis Khan unites the Mongol tribes under his leadership.
1271: Marco Polo begins his travels to China.
Northern Song
(960-1127)
Capital: Bianjing (Kaifeng)
Southern Song
(1127-1279)
Capital: Lin’an (Hangzhou)
1279-
1368
Yuan
Dynasty
The Mongols under Kublai Khan defeat the Song Dynasty. Kublai Khan establishes the Yuan Dynasty.
The reign of the Mongol empire;

Capital: Dadu (Beijing)
Dramas, such as the Story of the Western Wing, flourished.
1368-
1644
Ming
Dynasty
Re-establishment of rule by Han ruling house;
Capitals: Nanjing & Beijing
The first Ming emperor, Hongwu, laid the basis of an authoritarian political culture. Despite early expansion, it was an inward-looking state with an emphasis on its