Portal:History of Imperial China/Selected article

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Tang Dynasty

Spring Outing of the Tang Court, by Zhang Xuan (713–755)
The Tang Dynasty (Chinese: 唐朝; pinyin: Táng Cháo; Middle Chinese: dhɑng) (18 June 618–4 June 907) was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. It was founded by the Li (李) family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire. The dynasty was interrupted briefly by the Second Zhou Dynasty (16 October 690–3 March 705) when Empress Wu Zetian seized the throne, becoming the first and only Chinese empress regnant, ruling in her own right.

The Tang Dynasty, with its capital at Chang'an (present-day Xi'an), the most populous city in the world at the time, is regarded by historians as a high point in Chinese civilization — equal to or surpassing that of the earlier Han Dynasty — as well as a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Its territory, acquired through the military campaigns of its early rulers, was greater than that of the Han period, and rivaled that of the later Yuan Dynasty and Qing Dynasty. The enormous Grand Canal of China, built during the previous Sui Dynasty, facilitated the rise of new urban settlements along its route, as well as increased trade between mainland Chinese markets. In two censuses of the 7th and 8th centuries, the Tang records stated that the population (by number of registered households) was about 50 million people. (read more...)

Ming Dynasty

The Ming Dynasty Tombs located near Beijing.
The Ming Dynasty (Chinese: 明朝; pinyin: Míng Cháo), or Empire of the Great Ming (simplified Chinese: 大明国; traditional Chinese: 大明國; pinyin: Dà Míng Guó), was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic Hans (the main Chinese ethnic group), before falling to the rebellion led in part by Li Zicheng and soon after replaced by the Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. Although the Ming capital Beijing fell in 1644, remnants of the Ming throne and power (collectively called the Southern Ming) survived until 1662.

Ming rule saw the construction of a vast bitches and a standing army of 1,000,000 troops. Although private maritime trade and official tribute missions from China had taken place in previous dynasties, the tributary fleet under the Muslim eunuch admiral Zheng He in the 15th century surpassed all others in sheer size. There were enormous projects of construction, including the restoration of the Grand Canal and the Great Wall and the establishment of the Forbidden City in Beijing during the first quarter of the 15th century. Estimates for the population in the late Ming era vary from 160 to 200 million.(more...)

Song Dynasty

A Song wooden statue of a bodhisattva

The Song Dynasty (Chinese: 宋朝; pinyin: Sòng Cháo; Wade-Giles: Sung Ch'ao) was a ruling dynasty in China between 960–1279 CE; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese polity to establish a permanent standing navy.

The Song Dynasty is divided into two distinct periods: the Northern Song and Southern Song. During the Northern Song (Chinese: 北宋, 960–1127), the Song capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) and the dynasty controlled most of inner China. The Southern Song (Chinese: 南宋, 1127–1279) refers to the period after the Song lost control of northern China to the Jin Dynasty. During this time, the Song court retreated south of the Yangtze River and established their capital at Lin'an (now Hangzhou). Although the Song had lost control of the traditional birthplace of Chinese civilization along the Yellow River, the Song economy was not in ruins, as the Southern Song contained 60 percent of China's population and a majority of the most productive agricultural land. (read more...)

Battle of Red Cliffs

Engravings on a cliff-side mark one widely-accepted site of Chìbì, near modern Chibi City, Hubei. The engravings are at least a thousand years old.

The Battle of Red Cliffs, otherwise known as the Battle of Chibi, (Chinese: 赤壁之戰; pinyin: chìbì zhī zhàn) was a decisive battle immediately prior to the period of the Three Kingdoms in China in the northern winter of 208 CE between the allied forces of the southern warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan, and the numerically superior forces of the northern warlord Cao Cao. Liu Bei and Sun Quan successfully frustrated Cao Cao's effort to conquer the land south of the Yangtze River and reunite the territory of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The allied victory at Red Cliffs ensured the survival of Liu Bei and Sun Quan, gave them control of the Yangtze (de Crespigny 2004:273), and provided a line of defence that was the basis for the later creation of the two southern kingdoms of Shu Han () and Eastern Wu (). For these reasons, it is considered a decisive battle in Chinese history. (read more...)

Technology of the Song Dynasty

Jiaozi, the world's first paper-printed currency, an innovation of the Song Dynasty.

The Song Dynasty (Chinese: 宋朝; 960–1279 CE) provided some of the most significant technological advances in Chinese history, many of which came from talented statesmen drafted by the government through imperial examinations.

The ingenuity of advanced mechanical engineering had a long tradition in China. The Song Dynasty engineer Su Song admitted that he and his contemporaries were building upon the achievements of the ancients such as Zhang Heng (78–139), an astronomer, inventor, and early master of mechanical gears.[1] The application of movable type printing advanced the already widespread use of woodblock printing to educate and amuse Confucian students and the masses. The application of new weapons employing the use of gunpowder enabled the Song Dynasty to ward off its militant enemies—the Liao, Western Xia, and Jin with weapons such as cannons—until its collapse to the Mongol forces of Kublai Khan in the late 13th century. (read more...)

Architecture of the Song Dynasty

The Liuhe Pagoda, or Six Harmonies Pagoda, in Hangzhou, 60 m (196 ft) in height, erected in 1156 and fully constructed in 1165 AD.

The architecture of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) was based upon the accomplishments of its predecessors, much like every subsequent dynastic period of China. The hallmarks of Chinese architecture during the Song period were its towering Buddhist pagodas, enormous stone and wooden bridges, its lavish tombs, and palatial architecture. Although literary works on architecture existed beforehand, during the Song Dynasty literature on architecture blossomed into maturity and held a greater professional outlook, described dimensions and working materials in a concise manner, and overall had a greater style of organization than previous works. Architecture in Song artwork and illustrations in published books showing building diagrams also aid modern historians in understanding all the nuances of architecture originating from the Song period.

The profession of the architect, craftsman, carpenter, and structural engineer were not seen as high professions equal to the likes a Confucian scholar-official in pre-modern China. Architectural knowledge was passed down orally for thousands of years in China, from a father craftsman to his son (if the son wished to continue the legacy of his father). However, there were government agencies of construction and building along with engineering schools. The Song literature of building manuals aided not only the various private workshops, but also the government employees enlisted as craftsmen for the central government.

Society of the Song Dynasty

The Sakyamuni Buddha, by Song painter Zhang Shengwen, c. 1173–1176 AD. Although Buddhism was in decline and under attack by Neo-Confucian critics in the Song era, it nonetheless remained one of the major religious ideologies in China.

Chinese society in the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) was marked by political and legal reforms, a philosophical revival of Confucianism, and the development of cities beyond administrative purposes into centers of trade, industry, and maritime commerce. The inhabitants of rural areas were mostly farmers, although some were also hunters, fishers, or government employees working in mines or the salt marshes. Contrarily, shopkeepers, artisans, city guards, entertainers, laborers, and wealthy merchants lived in the county and provincial centers along with the Chinese gentry—a small, elite community of educated scholars and scholar-officials. As landholders and drafted government officials, the gentry considered themselves the leading members of society; gaining their cooperation and employment was essential for the county or provincial bureaucrat overburdened with official duties. In many ways, scholar-officials of the Song period differed from the more aristocratic scholar-officials of the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Civil service examinations became the primary means of appointment to an official post, and competitors vying for official degrees dramatically increased. Frequent disagreements between ministers of state, on which policies were most beneficial to the economy, the people, and their own careers, often led to political strife within the central court and gave rise to political factions, hindering the central government's ability to administer the empire and uphold political stability. (read more...)

History of science and technology in China

A method of making astronomical observation instruments at the time of Qing Dynasty.

The history of science and technology in China is both long and rich with many contributions to science and technology. In antiquity, independently of Greek philosophers and other civilizations, ancient Chinese philosophers made significant advances in science, technology, mathematics, and astronomy. The first recorded observations of comets, solar eclipses, and supernovae were made in China. Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbal medicine were also practiced.

Among the earliest inventions were the abacus, the "shadow clock," and the first flying machines such as kites and Kongming lanterns. The four Great Inventions of ancient China: the compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing, were among the most important technological advances, only known in Europe by the end of the Middle Ages. The Tang dynasty (AD 618 - 906) in particular, was a time of great innovation.[2] A good deal of exchange occurred between Western and Chinese discoveries up to the Qing Dynasty.

The Jesuit China missions of the 16th and 17th centuries introduced Western science and astronomy, then undergoing its own revolution, to China, and knowledge of Chinese technology was brought to Europe. Much of the early Western work in the history of science in China was done by Joseph Needham. (read more...)

Huolongjing

Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) musketeers in drill formation.

The Huolongjing (Wade-Giles: Huo Lung Ching; Traditional Chinese: 火龍經, rendered by its translator into English as Fire Drake Manual but correctly meaning Fire Dragon Manual) is a 14th century military treatise that was compiled and edited by Jiao Yu and Liu Ji of the early Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) in China. It outlined the use of various 'fire–weapons' involving the use of gunpowder.

The Huolongjing provided info for various gunpowder compositions, including 'magic gunpowder', 'poison gunpowder', or 'blinding and burning gunpowder'. It had descriptions of the Chinese hollow cast iron grenade bomb, shrapnel bombs, and bombs with poisonious concoctions. The book had descriptions of the 10th century Chinese fire arrow, a simple wooden arrow with a spherical soft casing attached to the arrow and filled with gunpowder, ignited by a fuse so that it was propelled forward (and provided a light explosion upon impact). However, the book explained how this simple 'fire arrow' evolved into the metal-tube launched rocket. The book provided descriptions of various rocket launchers that launched tons of rockets at a time, the advent of the two stage rocket having a booster rocket igniting a swarm of smaller ones that were shot from the mouth of a missile shaped like a dragon, and even fin–mounted winged rockets. (read more...)

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  1. ^ Needham, Volume 4, Part 2, 466.
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference Inventions was invoked but never defined (see the help page).