Major Dynasties

The Xia Dynasty was the first dynasty in Ancient China. It was established around 2070 BC and lasted until approximately 1600 BC.

For a long time, historians believed that the Xia Dynasty was just a legend. It was so old, there was barely any evidence left of it by the time people started to search for it.

However, excavations in the late 1900s uncovered historical sites and locations which matched up with the “legends” of the Xia Dynasty.

The Shang Dynasty was the second dynasty of China. It ran from approximately 1600 BC to 1046 BC and succeeded the Xia Dynasty.

The Shang Dynasty was much more stable than the Xia Dynasty. There were fewer tyrant rulers and political unrest as a whole, and because of this, culture and industry developed rapidly during this time.

The Zhou Dynasty was the third dynasty of Ancient China, and the longest lasting. It ran from 1099 BC – 256 BC.

The history of the Zhou era is divided into two different periods: Western Zhou and Eastern Zhou.

The split in Zhou history is marked by the Zhou capital being moved eastwards to reduce the risk of invasion.

King Yu

Many of Ancient China’s most famous philosophers originated from the Zhou era, the most significant of which was Confucius.

The writings of Confucius would form the basis of government policy for centuries to come.

The Qin Dynasty was the fourth dynasty of Ancient China. It came after the fall of the Zhou Dynasty when the Qin armies overtook the capital by military conquest.

Qin Dynasty

Compared to the Zhou Dynasty (which was the longest running dynasty in Ancient China) the Qin era was very short.

It only lasted 15 years in total. However, it had a great impact on Chinese culture in those fifteen years – even the name of the country, “China,” comes from the name Qin!

The Han Dynasty was the fifth major dynasty of Ancient China. It was also one of the longest-running: it lasted approximately 426 years, from 206 BC – 220 AD.

The Han Dynasty was much more powerful than previous dynasties, and in the context of the country itself, was almost like the Chinese version of the Roman Empire!

The Sui Dynasty was the sixth major dynasty of Ancient China and came to power following the Period of Disunion, which saw China controlled by dozens of different families and warlords for centuries.

The Sui Dynasty was a brief dynasty (37 years long) with only two reigning emperors but is considered a major dynasty despite that because it managed to unify China following the end of the Northern and Southern Dynasties period.

Sui Dynasty

During the Sui Dynasty, changes to the law, civil service, and the way land was distributed helped to restore the power of the emperor’s throne.

The Tang Dynasty was the seventh, and possibly greatest, major dynasty of Ancient China.

While the Han Dynasty is also considered to have been one of the most important dynasties to the cultural and political fabric of China, the Tang Dynasty can be considered to be equally important.

The policies and laws put into place during the Tang Dynasty laid the framework for the rules of modern China and saw a huge amount of cultural development as well.

The Song Dynasty was the 8th major dynasty of China. It ruled China from 960 to 1279 AD following the collapse of the Tang Dynasty.

Its history is split into two halves; the Northern Song (960-1125 AD) and Southern Song (1125-1279 AD.) The Northern Song ruled over a united China from their capital at Kaifeng, but following an invasion in the 12th century AD, were forced to move their capital south to Hangzhou.

The Song Dynasty saw a lot of industrial and agricultural development, but some cultural stagnation as well.

The Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) was China’s first foreign-led dynasty, and the 9th major dynasty overall, in between the Song and Ming dynasties.

It was established (officially) by Kublai Khan, leader of the vast Mongol Empire, but was first led by Genghis Khan.

The Ming Dynasty was the 10th major dynasty of Ancient China and is often called the last of the “great Chinese” dynasties. It lasted 76 years, from 1368-1644 AD, and was followed by the Qing Dynasty.

The Ming Dynasty was a time of construction for the Chinese empire; in particular, the Great Wall of China and Grand Canal were both rebuilt, and the Forbidden City was constructed in full over the course of a decade.

The Qing Dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of China. The Qing Dynasty lasted 268 years, from 1644-1912 AD (it only ended about 100 years ago!) and ruled China until being overthrown by the Republic of China in the aftermath of the Opium Wars.

Because it was started by the Manchu, it is sometimes called the Manchu Dynasty; but historically, it’s more commonly called the Qing Dynasty.