Chinese history

Chinese History Chart

Chinese history

China has the longest continuous civilisation of any country on Earth: distinctively Chinese cultures have been discovered dating back to 3,000 BC and there are indications that yet older remains lie waiting to be excavated.

Chinese history was traditionally said to begin with Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, the progenitor of the Chinese people, who was succeeded by four other Emperors, the last of whom abdicated in favour of the brilliant and selfless Da Yu. He led the people in massive irrigation projects, and was the first Emperor of the Xia dynasty. Remains of Xia cities have been found in north China, and, in general, archaeology has confirmed the accounts of the ancient texts.

The chart below attempts to show how events in China relate to one another and to what was happening elsewhere in the world. There are of course many omissions, and the 'rest of the world' in practice includes only Europe and the Middle East, but despite this I hope the charts will prove useful and stimulating. Click on the dynasty name link for more information about a Chinese Dynasty.

China Rest of the World
Xia Dynasty (?2100 - ?1600 BC) Da Yu. Chinese characters developed.
Bronzeware and pottery.
2900 BC Egypt unified
2700 BC Great Pyramid built
2370 BC Sumerians flourished
2225 BC Troy built
1900 BC Minoan culture flourished
Shang Dynasty (?1600 - ?1027 BC)

Advanced bronze-casting methods.
Oracle-bones with characters scratched on them. Walled cities at Anyang and Zhengzhou. Human and animal sacrifices at ritual burials.

1500 BC Aryans invaded India
1480 BC Tuthmosis III conquered Palestine and Syria
1250 BC Moses led Exodus out of Egypt
1200 BC Trojan War
Celtic settlements in Britain
1050 BC David King of Israel
Zhou Dynasty (? 1027-211 BC)
Western Zhou (? 1027-771 BC)
Emperors known as Tian Zi 'Son of Heaven'. Feudal-type division of land amongst nobles. Frequent wars with nomadic tribes in the north. Bronzeware reaches a technical and artistic peak.
Eastern Zhou (771-221 BC)
Spring and Autumn Period (771-476 BC)
Iron replaced bronze as the main metal for implements and weapons.
Slaves replaced by peasant farmers. Confucius (Kong Zi) (551-479)
Lao Zi (active 550) founder of Daoism.
Mo Zi (480-400) preached Universal Love.
Warring States Period (476-221)
Metal coinage widespread. 'Hundred Schools of Thought'. Legalists active. Crossbows, writing-brushes, chopsticks in use. Mencius (Meng Zi) (371-289) and Zhuang Zi (365-290) active. The state of Qin conquered all other states by 221 BC.
961 BC Solomon built Temple in Jerusalem 814 BC Carthage founded
753 BC Rome founded
700 BC Homer

560-483 BC Buddha in India
?500 BC Zoroaster
530 BC Roman Republic founded

399 BC Death of Socrates
428-347 BC Plato
336-323BC Alexander the Great
Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor, the first to rule China as a centralised unified state. He linked existing walls to make the Great Wall. He standardised the coinage, weights and measures, script and width of cart-tracks. Confucian ideas were suppressed and Legalist ideology was official doctrine.
218 BC Hannibal crossed Alps
212 BC Death of Archimedes
Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) Western Han (206 BC-24 AD)
Revival of Confucianism. Magnetic spoon used for divination. Civil Service exams began. Silk Road to West opened.
Eastern Han (24-220 AD)
Paper invented. First records of Buddhism in China. Zhang Heng (78-139) invented a seismograph, and calculated pi to five decimal places. Hua Tuo (150-200) developed acupuncture and moxibustion (invented long before).
54 BC Caesar invaded Britain

Birth of Christ

50 AD Nero

70 AD Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem
Period of Disunity (220-581)
221-265: The Three Kingdoms of Wei, Wu and Shu struggled for supremacy. Non-Chinese nomadic people became increasingly influential. Buddhism spread rapidly.
Fa Xian walked to India (399-414) to collect Buddhist scriptures.
Population shift to Yangzi Valley.
340 Rome adopted Christianity

410 Visigoths sacked Rome

451 Attila the Hun defeated
Sui Dynasty (581-618)
Grand Canal built linking Hangzhou and Beijing (1800 km).


Tang Dynasty (618-907)
The economy flourished, with trade via Central Asia expanding. Xuan Zang (602-664) walked to India to collect Buddhist texts. Wu Zetian was the only female 'Emperor' (690-705). Li Bai (701-762), Du Fu (712-770) and the poetess Xue Tao (768-?) were amongst the great poets. The Arabs defeated the Chinese armies at the Battle of Talas (751)
An Lushan rebellion (754)
Buddhist monasteries dissolved (850)
First dated printed book (868)
571-632 Prophet Mohammed

673 Arab siege of Constantinople

793 Viking raids on Britain began

'Dark Ages' in Europe
Period of Disunity (907-960) 910 First paper money introduced
919 First military use of gunpowder
950 Foot-binding of girls introduced
910 Abbey of Cluny founded

Paper first made in Europe
Song Dynasty (960-1279)
Northern Song (960-1127)
1034 First movable type Landscape painting flourished. Magnetic compass used for navigation.
Southern Song (1127-1279)
Neo-Confucianism. Celadon porcelain.
1215 Mongols occupy Beijing
1271-1292 Marco Polo's journey to China
1096 First Crusade

1155 Genghis Khan born

1215 Magna Carta

1220 Gunpowder introduced to Europe
1266-1337 Giotto
Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)
Mongol rulers of China.
Drama flourished. ‘Romance of three Kingdoms’, classic novel by Luo Guanzhong.
1347-51 Black Death
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
1413 Voyages of Zheng He
1447 First Dalai Lama
Blue and White porcelain.
‘Monkey’ by Wu Cheng'en.
1637 First British trade with Canton
1450 Printing in Europe
1492 Columbus reached America
1452-1519 Leonardo de Vinci
1519 Cortes reached Mexico
Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) (Manchu rulers)
Under Kang Xi and Qian Long Emperors, Chinese Empire reached its greatest extent.
1840-42 The First Opium War forced China to accept Opium from British merchants. Later treaties opened many ports to Western powers.
1850-1864 Taiping Rebellion
1894 Japan defeated Chinese navy
1900 Boxer Rebellion
1908 Ci Xi and Guang Xu Emperor died
1911 Manchu rulers overthrown
1642-1727 Newton
1776 American Revolution
1789 French Revolution

1791-1867 Faraday
1809-1882 Darwin
1818-1883 Marx

1832 Reform Act
1848 Communist Manifesto
1867-34 Marie Curie
1879-55 Albert Einstein

1904-05 Russo-Japanese War
The Republic of China (1911-49)
Sun Yat-sen first President.
1919 May 4th Movement
1921 Chinese Communist Party founded. 1925 Sun Yet-sen died.
Chiang Kai-shek became leader of Nationalists.
1927 Massacre of Communists
1930 Nationalist Encirclement campaigns (against Communists) began
1931 Japan occupied Manchuria
1934-35 Communist Long March
Mao became leader of Communists.
1937-45 Sino-Japanese War
1946-49 Civil War
Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan.
1914-18 First World War
1919 Treaty of Versailles
1933 Hitler became Chancellor
1938 Munich Pact
1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact
1939-45 Second World War
The People's Republic of China (1949- )
Land reform (1949-52) Sino-Soviet Alliance (1950)
First Five-year plan (1953-57) 1957: Hundred Flowers Movement, Anti-Rightist Campaign.
1958: Great Leap Forward. People's Communes founded.
1959: Tibetan uprising.
1962: War with India.
1964: First Chinese atomic bomb tested.
1966: Cultural Revolution launched.
1967: Deng Xiaoping disgraced.
1968: Liu Shaoqi expelled from Communist Party.
1971: Death of Lin Biao.
1972: Diplomatic relations with USA opened.
1973: 'Criticise Lin Biao and Confucius' campaign launched.
1976: Zhou Enlai, Zhu De and Mao Zedong died. Gang of Four arrested.
1978-79: Democracy Movement.
1979: War with Vietnam.
1980: Hua Guofeng resigned, Zhao Ziyang became Premier, Hu Yaobang General Secretary. Trial of Gang of Four.
1982: Census shows over 1,000 million people in China.
1983: Responsibility system introduced into agriculture
1986: HM the Queen visited China.
1987: Student demonstrations led to the fall of Hu Yaobang.
1997: Handover of Hong Kong. Death of Deng Xiaopeng, Jiang Zemin new chairman
2001: China joins World Trade Organization
2003: Jiang Zemin hands over power to Hu Jintao
2008: Olympic Games held in Beijing

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's magazine China Now 123, Page 12, 1987. Material prepared by David Wright.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
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