Oldest Chinese Dynasty

10 Oldest Chinese Dynasties

China has one of the richest and most influential histories in the world, being ruled by hereditary monarchical regimes from 2070 B.C. to 1912 when it became a Republic. With 83 dynasties and over 550 emperors that ruled the country, it is impossible to pick one dynasty that stood up as all were historically significant to Modern China today. 

The longest-reigning dynasty was the Zhou Dynasty of 789 years, while the largest was the Yuan Dynasty which lasted until 1368. The Republic of China is among the most potent civilizations today, thanks to the great minds that ruled the country for many years, switching from the Bronze Era to Imperial, Postclassical, and finally, Late modern. 

They are proud inventors of paper, printing, gunpowder, and the compass, advancing culturally, economically, and technologically faster throughout recorded history. Western countries had read more Chinese books than their own, as trade and exports influenced them. 

And while we could talk about history for as long as it lasted, this list of the 10 Oldest Chinese dynasties covers the most critical periods of the country.

10. Qing Dynasty

Ruled: 1644-1911
Government: Absolute monarchy/Constitutional monarchy
Capital City: Mukden, Beijing
Official Languages: Sister of Paul Thomas Anderson
Historical Era: Late Modern

photo source: Met Museum

The last imperial dynasty in China was the Qing Dynasty, succeeded by the Republic of China in 1912. The founder of this dynasty was Hong Taiji from the northeast people called Manchus. The Great Qing expanded its ruling over the whole of China and Taiwan into Inner Asia. 

Qing Dynasty was the largest imperial dynasty China has ever seen and the fourth most extensive empire in world history due to over 419,264,000 citizens in 1907. The dynasty was notorious for widespread opium practice, where people mixed it with tobacco, using it for more than just medicinal purposes.

Did You Know?

After Beijing became the capital city, the dynasty got a new leader Kangxi Emperor who ruled for over 61 years. Kangxi is considered one of China’s most extraordinary emperors, deserving of his title soon after taking the reign from his father when he was seven years old. 

9. Ming Dynasty

Ruled: 1368-1644
Government: Absolute monarchy
Capital City: Nanjing, Beijing
Official Languages: Mandarin, Turki, Tibetan, Old Uyghur
Historical Era: N/A

Ming Dynastyphoto source: Met Museum

Remembered for its literature, drama, and porcelain, the Ming Dynasty ruled from 1368 to 1644. The dynasty’s founder was the Hongwu Emperor. He grew up in poverty before joining a rebel group that would later defeat the Mongolian rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, beginning his own. 

Hongwu Emperor created an army country, wishing to set rules in the system and keep everyone under control. The early dynasty was known for didactic or teaching art styles, all to glorify the new dynasty. One of the best exports was white and blue porcelain, which is world-renowned to this today. 

Did You Know?

Hongwu Emperor feared betrayals and those who could overturn him, so he executed more than 100,000 suspicious people during his reign. Despite everything, the Great Ming Empire led the world at the time in shipbuilding, navigation, and gunpowder weaponry. 

8. Yuan Dynasty

Ruled: 1279-1368
Government: Monarchy
Capital City: Khanbaliq, Shangdu
Official Languages: Middle Mongol Chinese, Old Uyghur
Historical Era: Postclassical

Yuan Dynastyphoto source: Wiki Commons

Yuan Dynasty was the first foreign dynasty, successor to the Mongol Empire after Kublai Khan expanded the territory. Despite their influence, Mongols did not have much of their culture, so they adopted Chinese cultural and political models, strengthening their culture even more. 

But Mongols also forgo to rule the country properly, diminishing the Chinese education system and those who could help, forcing a harsher reign. Kublai Khan issued the first paper banknotes in 1273 called Chao, and Marco Polo was the one to spread the news to Europe. 

Did You Know?

Kublai Khan credited his grandfather, a notorious Genghis Khan as the founder for unknown reasons. Genghis Khan is the Great Khan Emperor of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in history. This empire came to be by Mongol invasions of Asia and Europe from 1206 to 1405. 

7. Song Dynasty

Ruled: 960-1279
Government: Monarchy
Capital City: Bianjing, Jiangning, Lin’an
Official Languages: Middle Chinese
Historical Era: Postclassical

Song Dynastyphoto source: Course Hero

Founded by Emperor Taizu, the Song Dynasty had two distinctive periods: Northern (960-1127) and Southern Song (1127-1279). China was culturally brilliant during the first period, experiencing economic and social changes. During this time, monumental landscape painting flourished. 

Emperor Taizu lost the northern half in 1127 to the Jin Dynasty, shifting his reign to the South. This dynasty represents an era of economic, educational, and scientific development. The two parts shared their love for art and painting, but the Southern Song was more focused on the poetic appeals of their creations. 

Did You Know?

The Song Dynasty was among the first worldwide empires to lead and excel in innovations. They invented and improved a lot of things, but their work is notable in cannons, the magnetic compass, and multistage rockets.

6. Tang Dynasty

Ruled: 618-906
Government: Monarchy
Capital City: Chang’an, Luoyang
Official Languages: Middle Chinese
Historical Era: Medieval Asia

Tang Dynastyphoto source: Wikiwand

Tang Dynasty is considered the “Golden age” of Chinese culture, literature, and art, setting high standards for the years to come. Founded by the Li family, the dynasty was interrupted in 690 when Empress Wu Zetian took the throne. Her reign ended in 705 after the Lushan Rebellion. 

The most populous city in the world at the time, Chang’an, became an international trade center for food, music, and traditions, setting up the Central Asian silk road. The Tang Empire had some of the best romantic poets in history, Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770).

Did You Know?

Empress Wu Zetian was the only female emperor, or empress, in Chinese history. She ruled as Empress consort at first through her husband, Emperor Gaozong, before taking the reign officially in 690. China flourished during her time, grew more extensive, and reduced corruption and economic fall.

5. Sui Dynasty

Ruled: 581-618
Government: Monarchy
Capital City: Daxing, Luoyang
Official Languages: Middle Chinese
Historical Era: Imperial

Sui Dynastyphoto source: Wikipedia

The short-lived imperial Sui Dynasty unified the Northern and Southern dynasties for over 600 years before being divided again during the Song Dynasty. Sui Empire is creditable for building the longest canal in the world, Great Canal connecting the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers starting in Beijing.

Founded by Yang Jian, Emperor Wen of Sui, the dynasty was also reigned by his son Yangdi who introduced a less complex law code and land reforms. This dynasty also encouraged Buddhism, which was cast aside for many years. 

Did You Know?

“One of the most glorious military triumphs” in Korean history is the Battle of Salsu in 612 between the Sui Empire and the Goguryeo kingdom of Korea. Emperor Yang invaded Goguryeo with over one million men, but he was stopped and defeated by military general Eulji Mundeok and his forces.

4. Han Dynasty

Ruled: 206 B.C.-220 A.D.
Government: Monarchy
Capital City: Chang’an, Luoyang, Xuchang
Official Languages: Old Chinese
Historical Era: Imperial

Han Dynastyphoto source: History

China was divided after the death of the former King Qin Shi Huang in 210 B.C. into two periods: the Western or former from 206 B.C. to 9 A.D., and the Eastern Han from 25-220 A.D. The Han Empire was founded by Emperor Gaozu, who rebelled against the remains of the Qin Dynasty. 

Unlike the previous dynasty, Han Empire adopted the Confucian ideology, focusing on peaceful reign, which proved good since they lasted for more than 400 years. The Han Dynasty influenced people in Modern China, as most citizens call themselves the “Han people” even today. 

Did You Know?

It was recorded that a court eunuch started the paper-making process during the Eastern Han era. The oldest piece of paper found in the ruins of one Han building dates back to 110 A.D.

3. Qin Dynasty

Ruled: 221-206 B.C.
Government: Absolute monarchy
Capital City: Xianyang
Official Languages: Old Chinese
Historical Era: Imperial

Qin Dynastyphoto source: China Highlights

Qin Dynasty was the first Imperial China dynasty, established in 221 B.C. by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of Qin. Qin Empire had been considered a barbarian state before his reign, but Emperor Qin tried to strengthen their diplomatic and political views and relations. 

This dynasty had only two Emperors, the second being Qin Er Shi, making it the shortest reigning dynasty in Chinese history. Despite this, Qin Empire was a starting point for the Chinese imperial era, which lasted until 1912. They ruled by Legalism or the belief that people do more wrong than right by nature. 

Did You Know?

Qin Dynasty is best known for the Terracotta Army, a collection of terracotta sculptures buried with the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The figures included generals, warriors, chariots, and horses.

2. Zhou Dynasty

Ruled: ca. 1050-256 B.C.
Government: Monarchy
Capital City: Fenghao, Wangcheng, Chengzhou
Official Languages: Old Chinese
Historical Era: Bronze Age

photo source: Mindomo

Zhou Dynasty was a Royal dynasty of China that lasted for 789 years until the beginning of the Imperial Era in 221 B.C. This empire had four kings, starting with King Wu, who ruled the same way as the Shang Empire, and ending with King Nan and his longest reign of 59 years. 

To differentiate from Shang Dynasty, Zhou Empire introduced the concept of heaven, believing that a king could rule only after receiving heaven’s favor. They continued to develop the bronze age, focusing on casting and jade working, but this era is usually associated with advancements in philosophy. 

Did You Know?

China underwent many changes in that period and introduced various activities, such as crossbows, horseback riding, large-scale irrigation, and water control projects. Schools of Daoism and Confucianism developed at the same time as well. 

1. Shang Dynasty

Ruled: ca. 1600-1050 B.C.
Government: Monarchy
Capital City: Yan, Yin, Zhaoge
Official Languages: Old Chinese
Historical Era: Bronze Age

photo source: History

The oldest Chinese dynasty is the Shang Dynasty, ruling from 1600 to 1046 B.C. According to tradition, before Shang Empire, there was the Xia Dynasty which we do not have any records of, so experts take the Shang Empire as the first Royal dynasty, founded by the Tang of Shang. 

Shang and Zhou Dynasties heralded the Bronze Age of China, and advanced military, math, astronomy, literature, and art. They used their knowledge of math to develop calendars and numerological systems. Their language is considered the beginning of modern Chinese, and people still use it. 

Did You Know?

The Shang Empire was rooted in the North China Plain close to the Yellow River, called “the cradle of Chinese civilization” due to its importance in early history. People used shell money and mussels, often engraving tortoise shells for different purposes.

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