|History of China|
|Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC|
|Xia c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC|
|Shang c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC|
|Zhou c. 1046 – 256 BC|
|Spring and Autumn|
|Qin 221–207 BC|
|Han 202 BC – 220 AD|
|Three Kingdoms 220–280|
|Wei, Shu and Wu|
|Eastern Jin||Sixteen Kingdoms|
|Northern and Southern dynasties|
|(Wu Zhou 690–705)|
|Five Dynasties and
|Northern Song||Western Xia|
|Republic of China on mainland 1912–1949|
|People's Republic of China 1949–present|
|Republic of China on Taiwan 1949–present|
From the inauguration of dynastic rule by Yu the Great in circa 2070 BC to the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor on 12 February 1912 in the wake of the Xinhai Revolution, China was ruled by a series of successive dynasties.[a] Dividing the history of China into periods ruled by dynasties is a common method of periodization utilized by scholars.
The following is a list of terms associated with the concept of dynasty in Chinese historiography:
As the founder of China's first dynasty, the Xia dynasty, Yu the Great is conventionally regarded as the inaugurator of dynastic rule in China. In the Chinese dynastic system, the sovereign ruler theoretically possessed absolute power and private ownership of everything within his/her realm. This concept, known as jiā tiānxià (家天下; "All under Heaven belongs to the ruling family"), was in contrast to the pre-Xia notion of gōng tiānxià (公天下; "All under Heaven belongs to the public") whereby leadership succession was non-hereditary.
The rise and fall of dynasties is a prominent feature of Chinese history. Some scholars have attempted to explain this phenomenon by attributing the success and failure of dynasties to the morality of the rulers, while others have focused on the tangible aspects of monarchical rule. This method of explanation has come to be known as the "dynastic cycle".
Dynastic transitions (改朝換代; gǎi cháo huàn dài) in the history of China occurred primarily through two ways: military conquest and usurpation. The supersession of the Liao dynasty by the Jin dynasty was achieved following a series of successful military campaigns, as was the later unification of China under the Yuan dynasty; on the other hand, the transition from the Eastern Han to the Cao Wei, as well as from the Southern Qi to the Liang dynasty, were cases of usurpation. Oftentimes, usurpers would seek to portray his/her predecessor as having relinquished the throne willingly—in a process called shànràng (禪讓; "voluntary abdication")—as a means to legitimize his/her rule.
One might incorrectly infer from viewing historical timelines that transitions between dynasties occurred abruptly and roughly. Rather, new dynasties were often established before the complete overthrow of an existing regime. For example, AD 1644 is frequently cited as the year in which the Qing dynasty succeeded the Ming dynasty in possessing the Mandate of Heaven. However, the Qing dynasty was officially proclaimed in AD 1636 by the Emperor Taizong of Qing through renaming the Later Jin established by his father the Emperor Taizu of Qing in AD 1616, while the Ming imperial family would rule the Southern Ming until AD 1662. The Ming loyalist Kingdom of Tungning based in Taiwan continued to oppose the Qing until AD 1683. Meanwhile, other factions also fought for control over China during the Ming–Qing transition, most notably the Shun and Xi dynasties proclaimed by Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong respectively. This change of ruling houses was a convoluted and prolonged affair, and the Qing took almost two decades to extend their rule over the entirety of China proper.
Similarly, during the earlier Sui–Tang transition, numerous regimes established by rebel forces vied for control and legitimacy as the power of the ruling Sui dynasty weakened. Autonomous regimes that existed during this period of upheaval included, but not limited to, Wei (魏; by Li Mi), Qin (秦; by Xue Ju), Qi (齊; by Gao Tancheng), Xu (許; by Yuwen Huaji), Liang (梁; by Shen Faxing), Liang (梁; by Liang Shidu), Xia (夏; by Dou Jiande), Zheng (鄭; by Wang Shichong), Chu (楚; by Zhu Can), Chu (楚; by Lin Shihong), Yan (燕; by Gao Kaidao), and Song (宋; by Fu Gongshi). The Tang dynasty that superseded the Sui launched a decade-long military campaign to reunify China proper.
According to Chinese historiographical tradition, each new dynasty would compose the history of the preceding dynasty, culminating in the Twenty-Four Histories. This tradition was maintained even after the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty in favor of a republic. However, the attempt by the Republicans to draft the history of the Qing was disrupted by the Chinese Civil War, which resulted in the political division of China into the People's Republic of China on mainland China and the Republic of China on Taiwan.
Dynastic rule in China collapsed in AD 1912 when the Republic of China superseded the Qing dynasty following the success of the Xinhai Revolution. While there were attempts after the Xinhai Revolution to reinstate dynastic rule in China, such as the Empire of China (AD 1915–1916) and the Manchu Restoration (AD 1917), they were unsuccessful at consolidating their rule and gaining political legitimacy. Similarly, the Manchukuo (AD 1932–1945; monarchy since AD 1934), a puppet state of the Empire of Japan during World War II with limited diplomatic recognition, is not regarded as a legitimate regime. Ergo, historians usually consider the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor on 12 February 1912 as the end of the Chinese dynastic system. Dynastic rule in China lasted almost four millennia.
China was divided during multiple periods in its history, with different regions ruled by different dynasties. Political division existed during the Three Kingdoms, the Sixteen Kingdoms, the Northern and Southern dynasties, and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms periods, among others.
Relations between Chinese dynasties during periods of division often revolved around political legitimacy, which was derived from the doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven. Dynasties ruled by ethnic Han would proclaim rival dynasties founded by other ethnicities as illegitimate, usually justified based on the concept of Hua–Yi distinction. On the other hand, many dynasties of non-Han origin saw themselves as the legitimate dynasty of China and often sought to portray themselves as the true inheritor of Chinese culture and history. Traditionally, only regimes deemed as "legitimate" or "orthodox" (正統; zhèngtǒng) are termed cháo (朝; "dynasty"); "illegitimate" or "unorthodox" regimes are referred to as guó (國; usually translated as either "state" or "kingdom"[b]), even if these regimes were dynastic in nature. The political legitimacy status of some of these dynasties remain contentious among modern scholars.
Such legitimacy dispute existed during the following periods:
While periods of disunity often resulted in heated debates among officials and historians over which dynasty could and should be considered orthodox, the Northern Song statesman Ouyang Xiu propounded that such orthodoxy existed in a state of limbo during fragmented periods and was restored after political unification was achieved. From this perspective, the Song dynasty possessed legitimacy by virtue of its ability to end the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period despite not having succeeded the orthodoxy from the Later Zhou. Similarly, Ouyang considered the concept of orthodoxy to be in oblivion during the Three Kingdoms, the Sixteen Kingdoms, and the Northern and Southern dynasties periods.
As most Chinese historiographical sources uphold the idea of unilineal dynastic succession, only one dynasty could be considered orthodox at any given time. Most modern sources consider the legitimate line of succession to be as follows:
These historical legitimacy disputes are similar to the modern competing claims of legitimacy by the People's Republic of China based in Beijing and the Republic of China based in Taipei. Both regimes formally adhere to the One-China policy and claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the whole of China.
The Central Plain is a vast area on the lower reaches of the Yellow River which formed the cradle of Chinese civilization. "Central Plain dynasties" (中原王朝; Zhōngyuán wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China that had their capital cities situated within the Central Plain. This term could refer to dynasties of both Han and non-Han ethnic origins.
"Unified dynasties" (大一統王朝; dàyītǒng wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China, regardless of their ethnic origin, that achieved the unification of China proper. "China proper" is a region generally regarded as the traditional heartland of the Han Chinese, and is not equivalent to the term "China". Imperial dynasties that had unified China proper may be known as the "Chinese Empire" or the "Empire of China" (中華帝國; Zhōnghuá Dìguó).
The concept of "great unity" or "grand unification" (大一統; dàyītǒng) was first mentioned in the Chinese classical text Gongyang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals that was supposedly authored by the Qi scholar Gongyang Gao. Other prominent figures like Confucius and Mencius also touched upon this concept in their respective works.
Historians typically consider the following dynasties to have unified China proper: the Qin dynasty, the Western Han, the Xin dynasty, the Eastern Han, the Western Jin, the Sui dynasty, the Tang dynasty, the Wu Zhou, the Northern Song, the Yuan dynasty, the Ming dynasty, and the Qing dynasty. The status of the Northern Song as a unified dynasty is disputed among historians, as the Sixteen Prefectures of Yan and Yun were partially administered by the contemporaneous Liao dynasty, while the Western Xia exercised partial control over Hetao; the Northern Song, in this sense, did not truly achieve the unification of China proper.
"Conquest dynasties" (征服王朝; zhēngfú wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China founded by non-Han peoples that ruled parts or all of China proper (e.g., Northern Wei, Qing dynasty). This term was first coined by the historian and sinologist Karl August Wittfogel and remains a source of controversy among scholars who believe that Chinese history should be analyzed and understood from a multiethnic and multicultural perspective.
It was customary for Chinese monarchs to adopt an official name for the realm, known as the guóhào (國號; "name of the state"), upon the establishment of a dynasty. During the rule of a dynasty, its guóhào functioned as the formal name of the state, both internally and for diplomatic purposes.
There were instances whereby the official name was changed during the reign of a dynasty. For example, the dynasty known retroactively as Southern Han (南漢) initially used the name "Great Yue" (大越), only to be renamed to "Han" (漢) subsequently.
The formal name of Chinese dynasties was usually derived from one the following sources:
The official title of several dynasties bore the character dà (大; "great"). In Yongzhuang Xiaopin by the Ming historian Zhu Guozhen, it was claimed that the first dynasty to do so was the Yuan dynasty. However, several sources like the History of Liao and the History of Jin compiled by the Yuan historian Toqto'a revealed that the official dynastic name of some earlier dynasties such as the Liao and the Jin also contained the character dà. It was also common for officials, subjects, or vassal states of a particular dynasty to include the term dà (or an equivalent term in other languages) when referring to this dynasty as a form of respect, even if the official dynastic name did not include it. For instance, the Japanese historical text Nihon Shoki referred to the Tang dynasty as "Ōkara" (大唐; "Great Tang") despite its dynastic name being simply "Tang".
In Chinese historiography, historians generally do not refer to dynasties by their official name. Instead, historiographical names, which were most commonly derived from their guóhào, are used. For instance, the Sui dynasty (隋朝) is known as such because its formal name was "Sui" (隋). Likewise, the Jin dynasty (金朝) was officially the "Great Jin" (大金).
When more than one dynasty shared the same Chinese character(s) as their formal name, as was common in Chinese history, prefixes are retroactively applied to dynastic names by historians in order to distinguish between these similarly-named regimes. Frequently used prefixes include:
A dynasty could be referred to by more than one retroactive name in Chinese historiography, albeit some are more widely used than others. For instance, the Liu Song (劉宋) is also known as the "Former Song" (前宋), and the Yang Wu (楊吳) is also called the "Southern Wu" (南吳).
Scholars usually make a historiographical distinction for dynasties whose rule were interrupted. For example, the Song dynasty is divided into the Northern Song and the Southern Song, with the Jingkang Incident as the dividing line; the original "Song" founded by the Emperor Taizu of Song was therefore differentiated from the "Song" restored under the Emperor Gaozong of Song. In such cases, the regime had collapsed, only to be re-established; a distinction between the original regime and the new regime is thus necessary for historiographical purpose. Major exceptions to this historiographical practice include the Western Qin and the Tang dynasty, which were interrupted by the Later Qin and the Wu Zhou respectively.
In Chinese sources, the term "dynasty" (朝; cháo) is usually omitted when referencing dynasties that have prefixes in their historiographical names. Such a practice is sometimes adopted in English usage, even though the inclusion of the word "dynasty" is also widely seen in English scholarly writings. For example, the Northern Zhou is also sometimes referred to as the "Northern Zhou dynasty".
This list includes only major dynasties of China that are typically found in simplified forms of Chinese historical timelines.
|Dynasty||Ruling house||Period of rule||Rulers|
(English / Chinese[d] / Pinyin[e] / Bopomofo)
|Origin of name||Surname
(English / Chinese[d])
|Huaxia||Royal||2070–1600 BC[i][j][k]||430 years[j][k]||Yu of Xia||Jie of Xia||(list)|
|Huaxia||Royal||1600–1046 BC[i][l]||554 years[l]||Tang of Shang||Zhou of Shang||(list)|
|Huaxia||Royal||1046[i]–771 BC[n]||275 years[n]||Wu of Zhou||You of Zhou||(list)|
|From Zhou dynasty||Ji
|Huaxia||Royal||770–256 BC||514 years||Ping of Zhou||Nan of Zhou||(list)|
|Early Imperial China[o]|
|221–207 BC||14 years||Qin Shi Huang||Qin San Shi||(list)|
|Toponym & Noble title||Liu
|Han||Imperial||202 BC–AD 9||210 years||Gao of Han||Liu Ying||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 9–23||14 years||Wang Mang||Wang Mang||(list)|
|From Han dynasty||Liu
|Han||Imperial||AD 25–220||195 years||Guangwu of Han||Xian of Han||(list)|
|AD 220–280||60 years||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 220–266||46 years||Wen of Cao Wei||Yuan of Cao Wei||(list)|
|From Han dynasty||Liu
|Han||Imperial||AD 221–263||42 years||Zhaolie of Shu Han||Xiaohuai of Shu Han||(list)|
|AD 222–280||58 years||Da of Eastern Wu||Sun Hao||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 266–316||50 years||Wu of Jin||Min of Jin||(list)|
|From Jin dynasty (AD 266–420)||Sima
|Han||Imperial||AD 317–420||103 years||Yuan of Jin||Gong of Jin||(list)|
ㄕˊ ㄌㄧㄡˋ ㄍㄨㄛˊ
|AD 304–439||135 years||(list)|
|Toponym & From Han dynasty||Liu[s]
|AD 304–329||25 years||Guangwen of Han Zhao||Liu Yao||(list)|
|Toponym & From Han dynasty||Li
|AD 304–347||43 years||Wu of Cheng Han||Li Shi||(list)|
|AD 319–351||32 years||Ming of Later Zhao||Shi Zhi||(list)|
(AD 320–354; AD 355–363)
|AD 320–376||56 years||Cheng of Former Liang||Dao of Former Liang||(list)|
|AD 337–370||33 years||Wenming of Former Yan||You of Former Yan||(list)|
|Di||Imperial||AD 351–394||43 years||Jingming of Former Qin||Fu Chong||(list)|
|From Former Yan||Murong[u][v]
|AD 384–409[w]||25 years[w]||Chengwu of Later Yan||Zhaowen of Later Yan
Huiyi of Yan[x]
|AD 384–417||33 years||Wuzhao of Later Qin||Yao Hong||(list)|
|Xianbei||Princely||AD 385–400; AD 409–431||37 years[y]||Xuanlie of Western Qin||Qifu Mumo||(list)|
|AD 386–403||17 years||Yiwu of Later Liang||Lü Long||(list)|
|Xianbei||Princely||AD 397–414||17 years||Wu of Southern Liang||Jing of Southern Liang||(list)|
(AD 397–399; AD 401–412)
(AD 399–401; AD 412–439)
|AD 397–439||42 years||Duan Ye||Ai of Northern Liang||(list)|
|From Former Yan||Murong
|AD 398–410||12 years||Xianwu of Southern Yan||Murong Chao||(list)|
|Han||Ducal||AD 400–421||21 years||Wuzhao of Western Liang||Li Xun||(list)|
|From Xia dynasty||Helian[ab]
|Xiongnu||Imperial||AD 407–431||24 years||Wulie of Hu Xia||Helian Ding||(list)|
|From Former Yan||Feng[ac]
|Han[ac]||Imperial||AD 407[ad]–436||29 years[ad]||Huiyi of Yan[x]
Wencheng of Northern Yan
|Zhaocheng of Northern Yan||(list)|
|AD 386–581||195 years||(list)|
|AD 386–535||149 years||Daowu of Northern Wei||Xiaowu of Northern Wei||(list)|
|From Northern Wei||Yuan
|Xianbei||Imperial||AD 534–550||16 years||Xiaojing of Eastern Wei||Xiaojing of Eastern Wei||(list)|
|From Northern Wei||Yuan[af]
|Xianbei||Imperial||AD 535–557||22 years||Wen of Western Wei||Gong of Western Wei||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 550–577||27 years||Wenxuan of Northern Qi||Gao Heng||(list)|
|Xianbei||Imperial||AD 557–581||24 years||Xiaomin of Northern Zhou||Jing of Northern Zhou||(list)|
|AD 420–589||169 years||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 420–479||59 years||Wu of Liu Song||Shun of Liu Song||(list)|
|A prophecy on defeating the Liu clan||Xiao
|Han||Imperial||AD 479–502||23 years||Gao of Southern Qi||He of Southern Qi||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 502–557||55 years||Wu of Liang||Jing of Liang||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 557–589||32 years||Wu of Chen||Chen Shubao||(list)|
|Middle Imperial China[o]|
|Noble title ("随" homophone)||Yang[ag]
|Han||Imperial||AD 581–619||38 years||Wen of Sui||Gong of Sui||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 618–690; AD 705–907||274 years[ah]||Gaozu of Tang||Ai of Tang||(list)|
|From Zhou dynasty||Wu
|Han||Imperial||AD 690–705||15 years||Wu Zhao||Wu Zhao||(list)|
|AD 907–960||53 years||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 907–923||16 years||Taizu of Later Liang||Zhu Youzhen||(list)|
|From Tang dynasty||Li[ai][aj][ak]
|Shatuo[ak]||Imperial||AD 923–937||14 years||Zhuangzong of Later Tang||Li Congke||(list)|
|Shatuo||Imperial||AD 936–947||11 years||Gaozu of Later Jin||Chu of Later Jin||(list)|
|From Han dynasty||Liu
|Shatuo||Imperial||AD 947–951||4 years||Gaozu of Later Han||Yin of Later Han||(list)|
|From Zhou dynasty||Guo[am]
|Han||Imperial||AD 951–960||9 years||Taizu of Later Zhou||Gong of Later Zhou||(list)|
|AD 907–979||62 years||(list)|
|Toponym / Noble title||Wang
|Han||Imperial||AD 907–925||18 years||Gaozu of Former Shu||Wang Yan||(list)|
|AD 907–937||30 years||Liezu of Yang Wu||Rui of Yang Wu||(list)|
|AD 907–951||44 years||Wumu of Ma Chu||Ma Xichong||(list)|
(AD 907–932; AD 937–978)
|AD 907–978||71 years||Taizu of Wuyue||Zhongyi of Qin||(list)|
(AD 909–933; AD 944–945)
(AD 933–944; AD 945)
|AD 909–945||36 years||Taizu of Min||Tiande of Min||(list)|
|From Han dynasty||Liu
|Han||Imperial||AD 917–971||54 years||Gaozu of Southern Han||Liu Chang||(list)|
|Han||Princely||AD 924–963||39 years||Wuxin of Chu||Gao Jichong||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 934–965||31 years||Gaozu of Later Shu||Gongxiao of Chu||(list)|
|From Tang dynasty||Li[ao]
|AD 937–976||37 years||Liezu of Southern Tang||Li Yu||(list)|
|From Later Han||Liu[ap]
|Shatuo[ap]||Imperial||AD 951–979||28 years||Shizu of Northern Han||Yingwu of Northern Han||(list)|
|"Iron" (Khitan homophone) / Toponym||Yelü
|Khitan||Imperial||AD 916–1125||209 years||Taizu of Liao||Tianzuo of Liao||(list)|
|From Liao dynasty||Yelü[aq]
|AD 1124–1218||94 years||Dezong of Western Liao||Kuchlug||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 960–1127||167 years||Taizu of Song||Qinzong of Song||(list)|
|From Song dynasty||Zhao
|Han||Imperial||AD 1127–1279||152 years||Gaozong of Song||Zhao Bing||(list)|