Ancient China Through Song Dynasty
Understanding the (quite long) history of China is helpful in appreciating its fascinating sights. Every week while I’m sending out the pictures of my trip to China, I’ll add a post on Chinese history. In a perfect world, I’d match up the history with the sights for that week. But I don’t think I could quite get that to work, so I’ll just go chronologically. Chinese civilization goes back about 10,000 years. I’ll cover the first 9,300 or so in this post.
Other than prehistoric times, and up until the past century, the history of China consists mostly of a series of about two dozen dynasties. (Some of the dynasties ran concurrently. Unsurprisingly, Chinese history is complicated.) According to legend, the first dynasty was the Xia, which ruled for about 470 years starting in about 2070 BC. However, there’s no scientific evidence for this dynasty. The first evidence-supported dynasty is the Shang, which ruled for 571 years beginning in 1600 BC. Confucianism and Taoism developed during the turbulent centuries of the Warring States period (476 BC-221 BC), which occurred during the latter days of the subsequent Zhou Dynasty. The Warring States period ended when several regions of China were united under the short-lived but important Qin Dynasty. (15 years is pretty short as dynasties go.) The first Qin emperor, whose imperial rule began in 221 BC, created the imperial system of China that lasted for over 2,000 years. He was buried with a Terracotta Army of 6,000 statue soldiers in the imperial capital of Xi’an in West-Central China. But before he died, he began the construction of a Great Wall on the empire’s northern border to protect from invasion by nomads.
The Qin were overthrown by the Han, whose dynasty lasted for several hundred years. The time of the Han Dynasty is considered China’s first golden age due to economic prosperity and stunning scientific and technological advances, including the production of porcelain. The legendary Silk Road was established by the Han Dynasty. Buddhism, an Indian import, began to spread throughout China during this time.
After the Han, China fell into centuries of disarray. Stability was restored during the brief but influential Sui Dynasty, which ruled for 37 years beginning in (AD) 581. This golden age produced the Grand Canal, which links Beijing and the Yellow River in the northern China with Hangzhou and the Yangtze River in the southern China. The time of the Tang Dynasty is considered another golden age. They ruled for 289 years beginning in 618. (Actually, their rule was interrupted for 15 years when an imperial consort and former concubine seized power in 690, becoming the only empress in Chinese history.) It was a particularly flourishing time for Chinese arts. Buddhism became more established throughout China during this period. Together, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism became known as the Three Teachings of Chinese philosophy. Ready for another golden age? Meet the Song Dynasty, who ruled for 319 years beginning in 960. During the Song Dynasty, the Chinese invented paper money and gunpowder, among other items. Under the Song, China was the richest and most technologically advanced nation on earth. During this time, mass production techniques were developed, the likes of which weren’t seen in the West until the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century.
In 1279, China was overtaken by foreigners invaders. You’ve probably heard of them. Stay tuned…
[Historical information is primarily gathered from Wikipedia, so you know it must be true.]