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5000 years of Chinese History at a Glance, Part 2

Updated on October 16, 2015

Chinese history is divided chronologically into time periods of its rulers with the associated dynasty name. To help easy remembrance of 5000 years of changing periods of rulers, the unique dynasty names are used in a verse as followed:

Huang_di, Yao, Shun, Xia, Shang, Zhou,

Spring_autum, War_states was chaotic,

Chin, Han, 3kingdom, Jin unified again,

South_state, North_state opposing each other,

Sui, Tang, 5dynasties, 10nations,

Sung, Yuan, Ming, Qing and end of the monarchy.



Huang Di (≈ BC2697)

Anything happened during this period was from the writings of later historians and could not be backup with archeological findings. It was surmised that Huang Di was the first legitimate ruler of a civilized land. His name was Gong_sun Xuan_yuan but later changed his surname to Ji. He was a just and strong leader who invented the compass to finally prevail in a battle amidst fog to stop the barbarian invader led by Chi You from the south. He then defeated the ineffectual ruler, Yan Di, in the east and unified the land under one ruler to be called Huang Di. Today, all Chinese are considered the descendents of Yan Di and Huang Di. After becoming the de facto ruler, Huang Di instructed his officials:

- To create the basic Chinese characters so that people could communicated in writings,

- To use silk from the silk-worm to weave clothes for people to wear,

- To compile all known medicinal remedies and diagnostic techniques into a comprehensive systems which had been refined and used to cure and prevent sickness as well as illness.

Yao (≈ BC2333)

It was also named Tang Yao since Yao was in charge of a territory called Tang before he became the ruler. He was the great-great-grandson of one of Huang Di’s son. Due to his sincere and cautious demeanor and ability to unite the different clans, he was selected as the ruler after the death of Huang Di. The most important contribution in his time was the creation of calendar dividing the year into 366 days with the introduction of a leap month every 3 years. By using this calendar system, the crops could be planted in a more timely fashion producing better result. Since his son was not a good character, he decided to pass his rule to a person who was more able and virtuous. After long search and 3 years of observation, he abdicated the throne in favor of Shun at age 73. Anything happened during this period was from the writings of later historians and could not be backup with archeological findings.

Shun (≈ BC2233)

It was also named Yu Shun since Shun was from a territory called Yu. His ancestry could be traced to the 8th generation of Huang Di. The most important contribution in his time was appointing the right persons to be in charge of government services to the people, enacting basic laws to punish the criminals, and improving the agriculture outputs by digging ditches to better irrigate the fields. He chose his capable officer, Yu, to succeed his rule over his children. Yu distinguished himself by creating new water passages to relief the effect of the Great Flood of the time. Anything happened during this period was from the writings of later historians and could not be backup with archeological findings.


Xia (≈ BC2070)

Yu was from a territory called Xia. After he became the ruler, he named his dynasty, Xia. After the Great Flood, Yu started to exert more controls over the tribal groups that made up the civilized land. Yu divided the tribal territories into 9 provinces, collected contributions from them to build roads and governing facilities, and sometimes, appoint his own trusted official or relatives to govern the province. When he died, he passed the rule to his son like his personal property and speared head a family based dynasty tradition that was in effect till the Qing dynasty 4000 years later. Xia dynasty had 19 rulers and lasted for 482 years. As the country became modernized based on agriculture and trade, a slave system was developed. The prisoners captured as a result of the battles between warring clans, sometimes were spared the life to be deployed as servant to the royal families.


Shang (≈ BC1589)

The cruel and overly indulging last ruler of Xia dynasty was overthrown by a regional lord named Tang, from the Shang district. Afterward, Tang gained the support of other regional lords and became the new ruler and called his dynasty, Shang. Shang dynasty had 31 rulers and lasted for 533 years. To solidify its rule, Shang ruler introduced hierarchical ranks within his own court, built his own strong army to enforce loyalty from the regional lords, and had the people believing that its ruler was descended from the heaven and deserved to be worshipped and feared. Most of what happened during this period of times was from writings of later historians and could be backup from the old writings on the animal bones and the potteries dug up from the ground.


Zhou (≈ BC1056)

The corrupt last ruler of Shang dynasty was overthrown by a powerful regional clan, lord Wu, from the Zhou district in a big battle. Afterward, lord Wu became the new ruler and called his dynasty, Zhou. Zhou dynasty had 13 rulers and lasted for 287 years. Immediately, he parceled out the conquered territory and awarded to his relatives and the distinguished army commanders to rule at their own discretions. In return, those feudal lords would help in protecting the Zhou imperial court from foreign invasions and contribute a share of the earnings from the land and its inhabitants.

To govern the fiefdom and the rest of the country, Zhou built a well-organized imperial court structures with dedicated officials to be in charge of its army, taxation, laws, land developments, etc. Most importantly, to safeguard the absolute power of the one and only Zhou ruler, an elaborate class system was put in place to be learnt and followed since its early germination in the Xia dynasty.

It began in the family where the husband was the man in command of everything. The wife supported the husband by taking care of the household and children. The children were taught to obey and respect the elders. Even though the husband was in command, he still had to obey and respect his parents and grandparents. In addition, great efforts and ceremonies were put in place to the remembrance of the family ancestors. Guarding the family honor was of primary importance even at the expense of the lives of its members. The same rigid structures were put in place in the society and finally in the ruler’s imperial court. The Zhou ruler was at the top of this class system. He had the absolute power over the land he ruled and it was the duty of the people to serve and obey him.


Stay tune for 5000 years of Chinese History at a Glance, Part 3.


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