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Dynasties of Ancient China

Ancient China was home to some of the most amazing technological, cultural, and religious achievements.

During the more than 3,000 years that this country has been in existence, there have been several different ruling families.

These different families are referred to as dynasties. There were over 13 different dynasties that ruled ancient China.


Xia Dynasty

The Xia Dynasty is largely considered to be the first one in ancient China. It lasted for over 500 years and saw the rule of 17 different emperors. This dynasty was set up by Yu the Great.

Under his system, emperors were chosen based on their abilities rather than hereditary status. After his death, however, his son Qi adopted a hereditary system of succession.

After Qi’s death, all fifteen of this children succeeded him. During this period, the people’s main source of work was agriculture.

Tools for farming were usually made from stone and bone, although bronze was also introduced during this period.

This dynasty ended with Emperor Jie. He was a tyrant who only cared for his own lavish lifestyle and never thought of his people.


He was eventually overthrown by a man named Tang, who then set up the Shang Dynasty.

Shang Dynasty

The Shang Dynasty lasted for about 600 years and was led by 30 different emperors.

Tang was the founder of this dynasty, and he made lots of changes to the way the country was run with the help of his trusted advisors.

Tang ran the country with kindness and compassion. Under his leadership, the country prospered, and the people flourished. This upward swing continued until the ninth emperor.

gold and riches

These emperors began to lead extremely lavish lifestyles once again and followed a much more tyrannical approach to ruling the country.

They were eventually toppled however by Wuwang, who set up the Chou Dynasty.

Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou Dynasty has the distinction of being rulers for the longest amount of time. They lasted for about 800 years and had 37 different rulers rise to power.

Their ruling period is divided into two different time periods, which are known as the Western Zhou and Eastern Chou.


In the year 221 BC, this dynasty was overthrown by Qin. He then combined all of China under his rule and set up the Qin Dynasty.

Qin Dynasty

This is one of the shortest dynasties, as it only lasted for 15 years. It was, however, one of the most influential.

This dynasty was the first to rule over all of China, as its first emperor, Shi Huangdi, came to power in 221 BC.

He introduced a number of social, political, economic, and military reforms to help him stay in power and strengthen China.

He was the emperor who introduced standard weights and measurements and a common currency. He also began the construction of the Great Wall of China under his rule.


Emperor Shi Huangdi-Qin Dynasty

After Emperor Shi Huangdi, there were only two other emperors in the Qin Dynasty. The first was Emperor Yingzheng.

Under his leadership, there were many more improvements made to the country.

His successor was Hu Hai. He was not up to the task, however, and allowed a revolt to take place.

These wars only lasted about four years but served to end the Qin Dynasty and bring in the Western Han Dynasty.

Han Dynasty

The Han Dynasty was a period of peace and prosperity where many effective measures and ideas were implemented to help China to grow and advance.

This dynasty is split into two periods and included the Western and Eastern Han Dynasties.

Between the two of them, there were 24 emperors. This dynasty lasted for over 400 years.


Six Dynasties

After the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD, six different dynasties popped up who competed with each other over the rule of China. These six different groups held sway for the next 350 years.

They were the following:

Wu (222 AD–280 AD)

Dong (Eastern) Jin (317 AD–420 AD

Liu-Song (420 AD–479 AD)

Nan (Southern) Qi (479 AD–502 AD)

Nan Liang (502 AD–557 AD)

Nan Chen (557 AD–589 AD)

The period came to an end when all of China was once again unified under one ruler, and the Sui Dynasty began.


Sui Dynasty

Even though this dynasty brought about another period of a unified China, it did not last all that long. In fact, it only had three emperors and only lasted for 38 years.

They did expand the Great Wall and build the Grand Canal during this period, however.

The Sui Dynasty began its decline during the reign of Emperor Yang, who was a tyrant.

He was fond of torturing and killing his subjects, which ultimately led to his demise.

After his death, the Sui Dynasty collapsed and ushered in the rise of the Tang Dynasty.

Tang Dynasty

Though this dynasty began with bloodshed, it is often regarded as the golden age for ancient China.

Arts, technology, and literature flourished during this time period.

It lasted for about 300 years before it came to an end in 907 AD.

ancient book


Five Dynasties

The period of the Five Dynasties lasted for only 53 years, from 907 AD to 960 AD.

The Five Dynasties were made up of a group of dynasties in northern China that followed one another in quick succession.

The Five Dynasties are the Later Liang Dynasty, Later Tang Dynasty, Later Jin Dynasty, Later Han Dynasty, and Later Zhou Dynasty.

After the death of the Later Zhou emperor and the forced resignation of his son, the Song dynasty came into being.


Song Dynasty

This dynasty was founded by a general named Zhao Kuang-yin. The first emperor was selected by his troops to lead the country.

Over time, he and his army were able to reconquer all of China under his rule.

The reunification of China was completed by 979 AD, which allowed China to become a world leader in science and technology with inventions such as the compass.


Yuan Dynasty

The Yuan Dynasty was set up by another military leader. This one, however, was not from China at all. He was actually a Mongol named Kublai Khan, who defeated the Song Dynasty.

Ming Dynasty

The Ming Dynasty is considered the last of the great dynasties. They finished the Great Wall and built the Forbidden City, which they used as their palace.

They came into power by overthrowing the Mongols. They would remain in power for 276 years.

Qing Dynasty

The very last Dynasty was established in the year 1644 AD and continued until 1944.

Though they lasted for a total of 300 years, they were quickly deposed and replaced by the Republic of China, which brought the end of the ancient Chinese Dynasties.


There were many different ways that these ruling families came to power. Each of them had their great rules and their tyrants.

Some of them lasted for hundreds of years, while others didn’t even make it to 20.

No matter how long they ruled, however, they helped to advance China from a small ancient society to the modern powerhouse that it is today.

Without these strong ruling families to guide China and its peoples, they never would have made the advancements necessary to keep growing their society.

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