China History

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Effective family history research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land or military documents that mention your family.

You will better understand the lives of your ancestors if you use histories to learn about the events in which they may have participated. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.

Brief History of China[edit | edit source]

Not much is known about the first Chinese dynasty - Xia. Until fairly recently, most historians thought it was a myth. But archeological records have proven its existence. What little is known indicates that the Xia had descended from a wide-spread Yellow River valley Neolithic culture known as the Longshan culture. They were famous for their black-lacquered pottery. Even though no known examples of Xia-era writing survive, they almost certainly had a writing system that was a precursor of the Shang dynasty's "oracle bones."

The second Chinese dynasty is the Shang dynasty. They were the most advanced bronze-working civilization in the world, and they provide the earliest and most complete record of Chinese writing.

The Shang were quite possibly the most blood-thirsty pre-modern civilization and were fond of human sacrifice. The dynasty had an unusual system of succession. Instead of a patrilineal system where power was passed from father to son, the kingship passed from elder brother to younger brother. When there were no more brothers, then the succession went to the oldest maternal nephew.

The Western Zhou dynasty succeeded the Shang. They used a father-to-son succession system and did not continue human sacrifice. The Zhou did not rule all of what was then China, which was made up of a number of quasi-independent principalities at that time. The Zhou were the most powerful principality and were located in the middle of the principalities. This gave rise to the term "The Middle Kingdom," which the Chinese call their country. The Zhou were able to maintain peace and stability through their method of rule. In 771 BC, the capital was sacked by barbarians from the west.

After the capital was sacked, the Zhou moved east and effectively divided the dynasty into eastern and western periods.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

2200 -
1750 BC
Xia: Earliest existing evidence of a Neolithic culture
1750 -
1040 BC       
Shang: Advanced bronze-working civilization; earliest record of Chinese writing
1100 -
771 BC

Western Zhou: Maintained peace and stability for several hundred years
771 -
156 BC

Eastern Zhou: Followed sacking of the capital
722 -
481 BC

Spring and Autumn Period: Proliferation of new ideas and philosophies (Daoism, Confucianism, and Legalism.
403 -
221 BC

Warring States Period: Massive armies (half a million per army), long battles and sieges
221 -
206 BC

Qin: First Emperor of China; dawn of the iron age and beginning of Great Wall of China
206 BC - 8 AD Earlier Han Dynasty: Developed administrative model for successive dynasties
8 AD -

Wang Mang Interregnum: China ruled by a commoner, reform-oriented ideas
25 -

Later Han Dynasty: Restore of rule by the Han royal family; influx of barbarians in the north
220 -

Three Kingdoms: Reinforced concept of "one Emperor over China"
317 -

Dynasties of the North and South: Barbarians in the north assimilated into Chinese society; ethnic Han Chinese moved south; Buddhism introduced into China
589 -

Sui Dynasty: Although short period, re-unified China
618 -

Tang Dynasty: Extended boundaries of China through Siberia in the north, Korea in the east, and what is now Vietnam in the south; extended corridor of control into modern-day Afghanistan
960 -

Northern Song Dynasty: Re-unified China; remarkable advances in technology, culture, and economics
1127 -

Southern Song Dynasty: Political and military advances
1279 -

Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty: Occupation by Mongols; preservation of China as it is known today
1368 -

Ming Dynasty: Moved capital to Beijing, fortified/completed the Great Wall, built the Forbidden City, and gave Macao to the Portuguese
1644 -

Qing (Manchu) Dynasty: Concentrated on arts and culture; period of rebellions
1911 -

Republican China: Chinese Communist Party (CCP) opposed by Nationalist Party (KMT) under Chiang Kaishek; Japanese invasion of China. After World War II, Nationalists flee to Taiwan and Mao Zedong proclaims creation of the People's Republic of China
1949 -

People's Republic of China: Failure of Great Leap Forward; launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; United Kingdom hands Hong Kong over to China

The Chinese do not appear to have a world view for the idea of independent, equal nations. There is the rest of the world, and then there is China. It is not that they reject the idea of a community of nations; it is that they cannot conceive of it.

Online Histories[edit | edit source]