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Ancient Chinese Dynasties & Kingdoms

From the loving example of one family a whole State may become loving, and from its courtesies, courteous; while from the ambition and perverseness of the one man the whole State may be thrown into rebellious disorder. Such is the nature of influence.

- Confucius

Ancient China was really the first modern state as we know the term today. They had a centralized government and a core of bureaucrats that executed the wishes of that government. This lasted in some form from 150 BCE - 1911 CE¹.

The Chinese were one of the first civilizations to write dedicated history. This history is conveniently separated into dynasties. Dynasties are periods of time where China is ruled by a line of hereditary leaders. These dynasties typically end because they are overthrown.

The first real dynasty in China was the Shang Dynasty from 1600 - 1029 BCE. The Shangs were overthrown by the Zhou Dynasty of 1029 - 771 BCE. The Zhou Dynasty disintegrated into the Warring States Period from 475 - 221 BCE in which there was no ruler. This ended with the Qin Dynasty which was eventually replaced by the Han Dynasty. The Three Kingdoms Period followed, succeeded by the Sui Dynasty. Next were the Tang, Song and Yuan Dynasties. Afterwards there was the Red Turban Rebellion and Ming Dynasty. The final Qing Dynasty came to end in 1911 CE¹.

To explore one dynasty in particular, the Qin Dynasty only lasted 38 years but remains one of the most important dynasties of Chinese history. The Qins reunified China under one emperor for first time in 500 years. This ended the Warring State Period, during which Confucius lived.

Confucius developed the philosophical and political system that he hoped would lead to a more stable society. His method was eventually adopted as the basis of Chinese government and education. Confucianism is still practiced in many regions of Asia today.

The rise and fall of dynasties in a cycle that lasted 3000 years is explained by early historians as a result of divine intervention. Their gods would will the end of a dynasty based on whether the ruler behaves in an upright manner. This reinforces the moral behaviour that is a cornerstone of Confucianism¹.



1. Crash Course: 2,000 Years of Chinese History! The Mandate of Heaven and Confucius. Retrieved from

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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