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5000 years of Chinese History at a Glance, Part 3

Updated on October 20, 2011

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, Warring 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.

Spring_Autum (= BC770)

After more than 342 years of Zhou rule, for the lack of strong rulers and innovations, the Zhou dynasty was on the decline. Its hundred regional clans no longer pledged legions and declared independence. Small scale conflicts and battle for territory ensued. After some 2 hundred years, the hundred regional clans consolidated into 5 major powerful clans that divided the whole country into territories of influence. In the meantime, there was a dramatic change of the imperial and social orders. Learning and official positions were no longer limited to the upper class. The peasants and commoners with determinations could also go to school and get jobs in the royal courts. 3 commoners distinguished themselves and left a legacy that influenced the thinking of people to the present day.

1) Sun Wu – He wrote 13 chapters on the battle field tactics and strategies that took into account of geography and psychology and emphasized knowing the strength and weakness of the enemy and winning without using excessive and unnecessary forces. His writings were studied, quoted, and found useful and relevant to the present day.

2) Lao Tze – He wrote Tao, the Way of Life. It used about 5000 words to describe the significance of doing nothing to accomplished everything and how to achieve eternal peace by learning and being one with Nature. The book had great impact on the pacified populace and established a school of thought that lasted to the present day.

3) Confucius – He complied and preserved important literary works of the time, edited and annotated an official document on the China history up to the time called Spring-Autumn. Most significantly, he dedicated his later life as a teacher to anyone who had a desire to learn. For his efforts, Confucius was revered as the sage of teaching and honored to the present day. His school of thoughts were required learning by all Chinese and laid the foundation of 2000 years of Chinese civilization.

Warring_States (= BC403)

After 300 years of small skirmishes and local conflicts, the 5 major and powerful clans were rearranged into 7 states of more or less equal military strength. Each state had a fully functional governing body and military force. Each state also was aware that its survival hinged on its resources and readiness to repel aggression and vice versa. As a result, there were a flourish of ideas and a sprout of schools of thought as how to transform a state to an invincible powerhouse.

1) Taoism – It was based on Lao Tze’s ideal and the book, Tao. The best way for the government to rule over its people is to do the minimum and allow the people to live and make a living the best way they knew.

2) Ying-Yang School – It was based on the I Ching, the Book of Change. The government formulated it policies using Ying and Yang, the 5 elements, the 8 diagrams, the 12 Heavenly Stems, and 10 Earthly Branches. Everyone and everything could be associated to a combination of these 37 symbols under a specific time and place. Each of the 37 symbol combination was assigned an evaluation as to how the affair was to be carried out or outright avoided.

3) Confuciusm – It was based on the teaching of Confucius. The government ruled and enforced a hierarchical society where everyone knew his place and conducted himself with politeness, trustworthiness, and benevolence.

4) Legalist School – It is based on the strict enforcement of the Law of the land. Good policies could not be carried out fully and successfully, if they were not followed to the last details. Harsh punishments and enticing rewards were parceled out when the laws were broken or adhered with the desired outcomes. No one was exempted from the invisible grasp of the laws.

Chin (= BC221)

During the Warring States, Chin was the weakest due to internal conflicts among the nobles, a dysfunctional government, and weak rulers. It was not till the arrival of a reform-minded and capable ruler in BC341 that Chin started to change for the better. He employed whole-heartedly the service of a dedicated and equally capable legalist. Together, they set in the strict laws to enforce land reform, slave abolishment, proper rewards for anyone who excelled in military or raising crops or business and severe punishments for those who profited or took advantages illegally.

As a result, in 20 years, Chin had transformed itself to be one of the strongest states militarily and economically with a well disciplined and studious populace. It laid the foundation for later, after 100 years, the arrival of another capable but also ambitious ruler who conquered the rest of the 6 states and unified China for the first time. Then, also for the first time, this Chin ruler proclaimed himself not only the Emperor but also the eternal Emperor.

In order to rule forever, Emperor built the Great Wall to fend off the Barbarians from the north, standardized the written language and the measurements, divide the vast country into provinces, counties, and cities to be governed by a central entity. Unfortunately, Emperor Chin could not escape the trappings of absolute power and success. His life became decadent. He could no longer tolerate dissents and listen to advices that were contrary to his thinking. Emperor Chin started to build grand palaces and future imperial mausoleums, exploited his people like slaves, and above all enforced the restrictive laws of the land mercilessly.

After years of war and sufferings, instead of recuperation and peaceful livelihood, the people experienced a harsher life of hard labor with little personal freedom. So, after only 11 years of rule, when Emperor Chin died, rebellions sprang up like wild fire all over the country. In a short 4 years, the Chin dynasty was overthrown and thus, went the eternal Empire of Chin.


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