Dynasties in Chinese history
Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were hereditary monarchical regimes that ruled over China during much of its history. From the inauguration of dynastic rule by Yu the Great in circa 2070 BC to the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor on 12 February 1912 in the wake of the Xinhai Revolution, China was ruled by a series of successive dynasties.[a][b] Dynasties of China were not limited to those established by ethnic Han—the dominant Chinese ethnic group—and its predecessor, the Huaxia tribal confederation, but also included those founded by non-Han peoples.
Dividing Chinese history into periods ruled by dynasties is a convenient method of periodization. Accordingly, a dynasty may be used to delimit the era during which a family reigned, as well as to describe events, trends, personalities, artistic compositions, and artifacts of that period. For example, porcelain made during the Ming dynasty may be referred to as "Ming porcelain". The word "dynasty" is usually omitted when making such adjectival references.
The longest-reigning orthodox dynasty of China was the Zhou dynasty, ruling for a total length of 789 years, albeit it is divided into the Western Zhou and the Eastern Zhou in Chinese historiography, and its power was drastically reduced during the latter part of its rule. The largest orthodox Chinese dynasty in terms of territorial size was either the Yuan dynasty or the Qing dynasty, depending on the historical source.[c]
Chinese dynasties often referred to themselves as "Tiāncháo" (天朝; "Celestial Dynasty" or "Heavenly Dynasty"). As a form of respect and subordination, Chinese tributary states referred to Chinese dynasties as "Tiāncháo Shàngguó" (天朝上國; "Celestial Dynasty of the Exalted State") or "Tiāncháo Dàguó" (天朝大國; "Celestial Dynasty of the Great State").
In the Chinese language, the character "cháo" (朝) originally meant "morning" and "today". Politically, the word is taken to refer to the regime of the incumbent ruler.
The following is a list of terms associated with the concept of dynasty in Chinese historiography:
- cháo (朝): a dynasty
- cháodài (朝代): an era corresponding to the rule of a dynasty
- wángcháo (王朝): while technically referring to royal dynasties, this term is often inaccurately applied to all dynasties, including those whose rulers held non-royal titles such as emperor
- huángcháo (皇朝): generally used for imperial dynasties
Start of dynastic rule
As the founder of China's first orthodox dynasty, the Xia dynasty, Yu the Great is conventionally regarded as the inaugurator of dynastic rule in China.[a] In the Chinese dynastic system, sovereign rulers theoretically possessed absolute power and private ownership of the realm, even though in practice their actual power was dependent on numerous factors.[d] By tradition, the Chinese throne was inherited exclusively by members of the male line, but there were numerous cases whereby the consort kins came to possess de facto power at the expense of the monarchs.[e] This concept, known as jiā tiānxià (家天下; "All under Heaven belongs to the ruling family"), was in contrast to the pre-Xia notion of gōng tiānxià (公天下; "All under Heaven belongs to the public") whereby leadership succession was non-hereditary.
The rise and fall of dynasties is a prominent feature of Chinese history. Some scholars have attempted to explain this phenomenon by attributing the success and failure of dynasties to the morality of the rulers, while others have focused on the tangible aspects of monarchical rule. This method of explanation has come to be known as the dynastic cycle.
Cases of dynastic transition (改朝換代; gǎi cháo huàn dài) in the history of China occurred primarily through two ways: military conquest and usurpation. The supersession of the Liao dynasty by the Jin dynasty was achieved following a series of successful military campaigns, as was the later unification of China proper under the Yuan dynasty; on the other hand, the transition from the Eastern Han to the Cao Wei, as well as from the Southern Qi to the Liang dynasty, were cases of usurpation. Oftentimes, usurpers would seek to portray their predecessors as having relinquished the throne willingly—a process called shànràng (禪讓; "voluntary abdicating and passing the throne")—as a means to legitimize their rule.
One might incorrectly infer from viewing historical timelines that transitions between dynasties occurred abruptly and roughly. Rather, new dynasties were often established before the complete overthrow of an existing regime. For example, AD 1644 is frequently cited as the year in which the Qing dynasty succeeded the Ming dynasty in possessing the Mandate of Heaven. However, the Qing dynasty was officially proclaimed in AD 1636 by the Emperor Taizong of Qing through renaming the Later Jin established in AD 1616, while the Ming imperial family would rule the Southern Ming until AD 1662. The Ming loyalist Kingdom of Tungning based in Taiwan continued to oppose the Qing until AD 1683. Meanwhile, other factions also fought for control over China during the Ming–Qing transition, most notably the Shun and the Xi dynasties proclaimed by Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong respectively. This change of ruling houses was a convoluted and prolonged affair, and the Qing took almost two decades to extend their rule over the entirety of China proper.
Similarly, during the earlier Sui–Tang transition, numerous regimes established by rebel forces vied for control and legitimacy as the power of the ruling Sui dynasty weakened. Autonomous regimes that existed during this period of upheaval included, but not limited to, Wei (魏; by Li Mi), Qin (秦; by Xue Ju), Qi (齊; by Gao Tancheng), Xu (許; by Yuwen Huaji), Liang (梁; by Shen Faxing), Liang (梁; by Liang Shidu), Xia (夏; by Dou Jiande), Zheng (鄭; by Wang Shichong), Chu (楚; by Zhu Can), Chu (楚; by Lin Shihong), Wu (吳; by Li Zitong), Yan (燕; by Gao Kaidao), and Song (宋; by Fu Gongshi). The Tang dynasty that superseded the Sui launched a decade-long military campaign to reunify China proper.
Frequently, remnants and descendants of previous dynasties were either purged or granted noble titles in accordance with the Èr Wáng Sān Kè (二王三恪; "two crownings, three respects") system. The latter served as a means for the reigning dynasty to claim legitimate succession from earlier dynasties. For example, the Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei was accorded the title "Prince of Zhongshan" by the Emperor Wenxuan of Northern Qi following the latter's deposition of the former. Similarly, Chai Yong, a nephew of the Emperor Shizong of Later Zhou, was conferred the title "Duke of Chongyi" by the Emperor Renzong of Song; other descendants of the Later Zhou ruling family came to inherit the noble title thereafter.
According to Chinese historiographical tradition, each new dynasty would compose the history of the preceding dynasty, culminating in the Twenty-Four Histories. This tradition was maintained even after the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty in favor of the Republic of China. However, the attempt by the Republicans to draft the history of the Qing was disrupted by the Chinese Civil War, which resulted in the political division of China into the People's Republic of China on mainland China and the Republic of China on Taiwan.
End of dynastic rule
Dynastic rule in China collapsed in AD 1912 when the Republic of China superseded the Qing dynasty following the success of the Xinhai Revolution. While there were attempts after the Xinhai Revolution to reinstate dynastic rule in China, they were unsuccessful at consolidating their rule and gaining political legitimacy.
During the Xinhai Revolution, there were numerous proposals advocating for the replacement of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty by a new dynasty of Han ethnicity. Kong Lingyi (孔令貽), the Duke of Yansheng and a 76th-generation descendant of Confucius, was identified as a potential candidate for Chinese emperorship by Liang Qichao. Meanwhile, gentry in Anhui and Hebei supported a restoration of the Ming dynasty under Zhu Yuxun (朱煜勳), the Marquis of Extended Grace. Both suggestions were ultimately rejected.
The Empire of China (AD 1915–1916) proclaimed by Yuan Shikai sparked the National Protection War, resulting in the premature collapse of the regime 101 days later. The Manchu Restoration (AD 1917) was an unsuccessful attempt at reviving the Qing dynasty, lasting merely 11 days. Similarly, the Manchukuo (AD 1932–1945; monarchy since AD 1934), a puppet state of the Empire of Japan during World War II with limited diplomatic recognition, is not regarded as a legitimate regime. Ergo, historians usually consider the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor on 12 February 1912 as the end of the Chinese dynastic system. Dynastic rule in China lasted almost four millennia.
China was politically divided during multiple periods in its history, with different regions ruled by different dynasties. These dynasties effectively functioned as separate states with their own court and political institutions. Political division existed during the Three Kingdoms, the Sixteen Kingdoms, the Northern and Southern dynasties, and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms periods, among others.
Relations between Chinese dynasties during periods of division often revolved around political legitimacy, which was derived from the doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven. Dynasties ruled by ethnic Han would proclaim rival dynasties founded by other ethnicities as illegitimate, usually justified based on the concept of Hua–Yi distinction. On the other hand, many dynasties of non-Han origin saw themselves as the legitimate dynasty of China and often sought to portray themselves as the true inheritor of Chinese culture and history. Traditionally, only regimes deemed as "legitimate" or "orthodox" (正統; zhèngtǒng) are termed cháo (朝; "dynasty"); "illegitimate" or "unorthodox" regimes are referred to as guó (國; usually translated as either "state" or "kingdom"[f]), even if these regimes were dynastic in nature.
Such legitimacy dispute existed during the following periods:
- Three Kingdoms
- The Cao Wei, the Shu Han, and the Eastern Wu considered themselves legitimate while simultaneously denounced the rivaling claims of others
- The Emperor Xian of Han abdicated in favor of the Emperor Wen of Cao Wei, hence the Cao Wei directly succeeded the Eastern Han in the timeline of Chinese history
- The Western Jin accepted the Cao Wei as the legitimate dynasty of the Three Kingdoms period and claimed succession from it
- The Tang dynasty viewed the Cao Wei as the legitimate dynasty during this period, whereas the Southern Song scholar Zhu Xi proposed treating the Shu Han as legitimate
- Eastern Jin and Sixteen Kingdoms
- Northern and Southern dynasties
- All dynasties during this period saw themselves as the legitimate representative of China; the Northern dynasties referred to their southern counterparts as "dǎoyí" (島夷; "island dwelling barbarians"), while the Southern dynasties called their northern neighbors "suǒlǔ" (索虜; "barbarians with braids")
- Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
- Having directly succeeded the Tang dynasty, the Later Liang considered itself to be a legitimate dynasty
- The Later Tang regarded itself as the restorer of the earlier Tang dynasty and rejected the legitimacy of its predecessor, the Later Liang
- The Later Jin accepted the Later Tang as a legitimate regime
- The Southern Tang was, for a period of time, considered the legitimate dynasty during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period
- Since the Song dynasty, Chinese historiography has generally considered the Five Dynasties, as opposed to the contemporary Ten Kingdoms, to be legitimate
- Liao dynasty, Song dynasty, and Jin dynasty
- Following the conquest of the Later Jin, the Liao dynasty claimed legitimacy and succession from it
- Both the Northern Song and Southern Song considered themselves to be the legitimate Chinese dynasty
- The Jin dynasty challenged the Song's claim of legitimacy
- The succeeding Yuan dynasty recognized all three in addition to the Western Liao as legitimate Chinese dynasties, culminating in the composition of the History of Liao, the History of Song, and the History of Jin
- Ming dynasty and Northern Yuan
- The Ming dynasty recognized the preceding Yuan dynasty as a legitimate Chinese dynasty, but asserted that it had succeeded the Mandate of Heaven from the Yuan, thus considering the Northern Yuan as illegitimate
- Northern Yuan rulers maintained the dynastic name "Great Yuan" and claimed traditional Han-style titles continuously until AD 1388 or AD 1402; Han-style titles were restored on several occasions thereafter for brief periods, notably during the reigns of Taisun Khan, Choros Esen, and Dayan Khan
- The historian Rashipunsug argued that the Northern Yuan had succeeded the legitimacy from the Yuan dynasty; the Qing dynasty, which later defeated and annexed the Northern Yuan, inherited this legitimacy, thus rendering the Ming as illegitimate
- Qing dynasty and Southern Ming
- The Qing dynasty recognized the preceding Ming dynasty as legitimate, but asserted that it had succeeded the Mandate of Heaven from the Ming, thus refuting the claimed legitimacy of the Southern Ming
- The Southern Ming continued to claim legitimacy until its eventual defeat by the Qing
- The Ming loyalist Kingdom of Tungning in Taiwan denounced the Qing dynasty as illegitimate
- The Joseon dynasty of Korea and the Later Lê dynasty of Vietnam had at various times considered the Southern Ming, instead of the Qing dynasty, as legitimate
- The Tokugawa shogunate of Japan did not accept the legitimacy of the Qing dynasty and instead saw itself as the rightful representative of Huá (華; "China"); this narrative served as the basis of Japanese texts such as Chūchō Jijitsu and Kai Hentai
Traditionally, periods of disunity often resulted in heated debates among officials and historians over which prior dynasties could and should be considered orthodox, given that it was politically imperative for a dynasty to present itself as being linked in an unbroken lineage of moral and political authority back to ancient times. However, the Northern Song statesman Ouyang Xiu propounded that such orthodoxy existed in a state of limbo during fragmented periods and was restored after political unification was achieved. From this perspective, the Song dynasty possessed legitimacy by virtue of its ability to end the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period despite not having succeeded the orthodoxy from the Later Zhou. Similarly, Ouyang considered the concept of orthodoxy to be in oblivion during the Three Kingdoms, the Sixteen Kingdoms, and the Northern and Southern dynasties periods.
Traditionally, as most Chinese historiographical sources uphold the idea of unilineal dynastic succession, only one dynasty could be considered orthodox at any given time. Most historical sources consider the legitimate line of succession to be as follows:
These historical legitimacy disputes are similar to the modern competing claims of legitimacy by the People's Republic of China based in Beijing and the Republic of China based in Taipei. Both regimes formally adhere to the One-China principle and claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the whole of China.
There were several groups of Chinese dynasties that were ruled by families with patrilineal relations, yet due to various reasons these regimes are considered to be separate dynasties and given distinct retroactive names for historiographical purpose. Such conditions as differences in their official dynastic title and fundamental changes having occurred to their rule would necessitate nomenclatural distinction in academia, despite these ruling clans having shared common ancestral origins.
Additionally, numerous other dynasties claimed descent from earlier dynasties as a calculated political move to obtain or enhance their legitimacy, even if such claims were unfounded.
The agnatic relations of the following groups of Chinese dynasties are typically recognized by historians:
- Western Zhou and Eastern Zhou
- Western Han, Eastern Han, Shu Han, and Liu Song
- The Western Han, the Eastern Han, the Shu Han, and the Liu Song were ruled by the House of Liu; the first two of which are collectively known as the Han dynasty
- The first emperor of the Eastern Han, the Emperor Guangwu of Han, was a ninth-generation descendant of the Western Han founder, the Emperor Gao of Han; he was also a seventh-generation descendant of the sixth Western Han monarch, the Emperor Jing of Han
- The founder of the Shu Han, the Emperor Zhaolie of Shu Han, was also descended from the Emperor Jing of Han
- The Book of Song states that the first Liu Song ruler, the Emperor Wu of Liu Song, was a male-line descendant of a younger brother of the Emperor Gao of Han, the Prince Yuan of Chu
- Western Jin and Eastern Jin
- The Western Jin and the Eastern Jin were ruled by the House of Sima; they are collectively known as the Jin dynasty
- The Eastern Jin founder, the Emperor Yuan of Jin, was a great-grandson of the Emperor Xuan of Jin; he was also a grandson of the Prince Wu of Langya and a son of the Prince Gong of Langya
- Han Zhao and Hu Xia
- The Han Zhao and the Hu Xia were ruled by the House of Luandi (later renamed the House of Liu and the House of Helian respectively)
- The Han Zhao founder, the Emperor Guangwen of Han Zhao, and the Hu Xia founder, the Emperor Wulie of Hu Xia, were descended from Liu Qiangqu and Liu Qubei respectively; according to the History of the Northern Dynasties, Liu Qiangqu and Liu Qibei were brothers
- Former Yan, Later Yan, and Southern Yan
- The Former Yan, the Later Yan, and the Southern Yan were ruled by the House of Murong
- The founder of the Later Yan, the Emperor Chengwu of Later Yan, was a son of the Former Yan founder, the Emperor Wenming of Former Yan
- The first monarch of the Southern Yan, the Emperor Xianwu of Southern Yan, was also a son of the Emperor Wenming of Former Yan
- Northern Wei, Southern Liang, Eastern Wei, and Western Wei
- The Northern Wei, the Southern Liang, the Eastern Wei, and the Western Wei were ruled by the House of Tuoba (later renamed the House of Yuan and the House of Tufa respectively)
- The Northern Wei founder, the Emperor Daowu of Northern Wei, and the Southern Liang founder, the Prince Wu of Southern Liang, were respectively descended from the sons of the Emperor Shengwu of Northern Wei, the Emperor Shenyuan of Northern Wei and Tufa Pigu
- The only ruler of the Eastern Wei, the Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei, was a great-grandson of the seventh emperor of the Northern Wei, the Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei
- The Western Wei founder, the Emperor Wen of Western Wei, was a grandson of the Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei
- Southern Qi and Liang dynasty
- Western Liang and Tang dynasty
- Later Han and Northern Han
- Liao dynasty and Western Liao
- Northern Song and Southern Song
- The Northern Song and the Southern Song were ruled by the House of Zhao; they are collectively known as the Song dynasty
- The first ruler of the Southern Song, the Emperor Gaozong of Song, was a son of the eighth Northern Song monarch, the Emperor Huizong of Song; he was also a younger brother of the last Northern Song emperor, the Emperor Qinzong of Song
- Yuan dynasty and Northern Yuan
- Ming dynasty and Southern Ming
- Later Jin and Qing dynasty
Central Plain dynasties
The Central Plain is a vast area on the lower reaches of the Yellow River which formed the cradle of Chinese civilization. "Central Plain dynasties" (中原王朝; Zhōngyuán wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China that had their capital cities situated within the Central Plain. This term could refer to dynasties of both Han and non-Han ethnic origins.
"Unified dynasties" (大一統王朝; dàyītǒng wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China, regardless of their ethnic origin, that achieved the unification of China proper. "China proper" is a region generally regarded as the traditional heartland of the Han people, and is not equivalent to the term "China". Imperial dynasties that had attained the unification of China proper may be known as the "Chinese Empire" or the "Empire of China" (中華帝國; Zhōnghuá Dìguó).[g]
The concept of "great unity" or "grand unification" (大一統; dàyītǒng) was first mentioned in the Gongyang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals that was supposedly authored by the Qi scholar Gongyang Gao. Other prominent figures like Confucius and Mencius also elaborated on this concept in their respective works.
Historians typically consider the following dynasties to have unified China proper: the Qin dynasty, the Western Han, the Xin dynasty, the Eastern Han, the Western Jin, the Sui dynasty, the Tang dynasty, the Wu Zhou, the Northern Song, the Yuan dynasty, the Ming dynasty, and the Qing dynasty. The status of the Northern Song as a unified dynasty is disputed among historians as the Sixteen Prefectures of Yan and Yun were partially administered by the contemporaneous Liao dynasty while the Western Xia exercised partial control over Hetao; the Northern Song, in this sense, did not truly achieve the unification of China proper.
Infiltration dynasties and conquest dynasties
According to the historian and sinologist Karl August Wittfogel, dynasties of China founded by non-Han peoples that ruled parts or all of China proper could be classified into two types, depending on the means by which the ruling ethnic groups had entered China proper.
"Infiltration dynasties" or "dynasties of infiltration" (滲透王朝; shèntòu wángcháo) refer to Chinese dynasties founded by non-Han ethnicities that tended towards accepting Han culture and assimilating into the Han-dominant society. For instance, the Han Zhao and the Northern Wei, established by the Xiongnu and Xianbei ethnicities respectively, are considered infiltration dynasties of China.
"Conquest dynasties" or "dynasties of conquest" (征服王朝; zhēngfú wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China established by non-Han peoples that tended towards resisting Han culture and preserving the identities of the ruling ethnicities. For example, the Liao dynasty and the Yuan dynasty, ruled by the Khitan and Mongol peoples respectively, are considered conquest dynasties of China.
These terms remain sources of controversy among scholars who believe that Chinese history should be analyzed and understood from a multiethnic and multicultural perspective.
It was customary for Chinese monarchs to adopt an official name for the realm, known as the guóhào (國號; "name of the state"), upon the establishment of a dynasty. During the rule of a dynasty, its guóhào functioned as the formal name of the state, both internally and for diplomatic purposes.
The formal name of Chinese dynasties was usually derived from one of the following sources:
- The name of the ruling tribe or tribal confederation
- The noble title held by the dynastic founder prior to the founding of the dynasty
- The name of a historical state that occupied the same geographical location as the new dynasty
- The name of a previous dynasty from which the new dynasty claimed descent or succession from, even if such familial link was questionable
- A term with auspicious or other significant connotations
There were instances whereby the official name was changed during the reign of a dynasty. For example, the dynasty known retroactively as Southern Han initially used the name "Yue", only to be renamed to "Han" subsequently.
The official title of several dynasties bore the character "dà" (大; "great"). In Yongzhuang Xiaopin by the Ming historian Zhu Guozhen, it was claimed that the first dynasty to do so was the Yuan dynasty. However, several sources like the History of Liao and the History of Jin compiled by the Yuan historian Toqto'a revealed that the official dynastic name of some earlier dynasties such as the Liao and the Jin also contained the character "dà". It was also common for officials, subjects, or tributary states of a particular dynasty to include the term "dà" (or an equivalent term in other languages) when referring to this dynasty as a form of respect, even if the official dynastic name did not include it. For instance, The Chronicles of Japan referred to the Tang dynasty as "Dai Tō" (大唐; "Great Tang") despite its dynastic name being simply "Tang".
While all dynasties of China sought to associate their respective realm with Zhōngguó (中國; "Central State"; usually translated as "Middle Kingdom" or "China" in English texts) and various other names of China, none of these regimes officially used such names as their dynastic title. Although the Qing dynasty explicitly identified their state with and employed "Zhōngguó"—and its Manchu equivalent "Dulimbai Gurun" (ᡩᡠᠯᡳᠮᠪᠠᡳ
ᡤᡠᡵᡠᠨ)—in official capacity in numerous international treaties beginning with the Treaty of Nerchinsk dated AD 1689, its dynastic name had remained the "Great Qing". "Zhōngguó", which has become nearly synonymous with "China" in modern times, is a concept with geographical, political, and cultural connotations.
In Chinese historiography, historians generally do not refer to dynasties directly by their official name. Instead, historiographical names, which were most commonly derived from their official name, are used. For instance, the Sui dynasty is known as such because its formal name was "Sui". Likewise, the Jin dynasty was officially the "Great Jin".
When more than one dynasty shared the same Chinese character(s) as their formal name, as was common in Chinese history, prefixes are retroactively applied to dynastic names by historians in order to distinguish between these similarly-named regimes. Frequently used prefixes include:
- Cardinal direction
- Surname of the ruling family
- Other types of prefixes
A dynasty could be referred to by more than one retroactive name in Chinese historiography, albeit some are more widely used than others. For instance, the Western Han is also known as the "Former Han", and the Yang Wu is also called the "Southern Wu".
Scholars usually make a historiographical distinction for dynasties whose rule were interrupted. For example, the Song dynasty is divided into the Northern Song and the Southern Song, with the Jingkang Incident as the dividing line; the original "Song" founded by the Emperor Taizu of Song was therefore differentiated from the "Song" restored under the Emperor Gaozong of Song. In such cases, the regime had collapsed, only to be re-established; a nomenclatural distinction between the original regime and the new regime is thus necessary for historiographical purpose. Major exceptions to this historiographical practice include the Western Qin, the Southern Liang, and the Tang dynasty; the first two were interrupted by the Later Qin, while the continuity of the latter was broken by the Wu Zhou.
In Chinese sources, the term "dynasty" (朝; cháo) is usually omitted when referencing dynasties that have prefixes in their historiographical names. Such a practice is sometimes adopted in English usage, even though the inclusion of the word "dynasty" is also widely seen in English scholarly writings. For example, the Northern Zhou is also sometimes referred to as the "Northern Zhou dynasty".
Often, scholars would refer to a specific Chinese dynasty by attaching the word "China" after the dynastic name. For instance, "Tang China" refers to the Chinese state under the rule of the Tang dynasty and the corresponding historical era.
While the earliest orthodox Chinese dynasties were established along the Yellow River and the Yangtze River in China proper, numerous Chinese dynasties later expanded beyond the region to encompass other territorial domains.
At various points in time, Chinese dynasties exercised control over China proper (including Hainan, Macau, and Hong Kong), Taiwan, Manchuria (both Inner Manchuria and Outer Manchuria), Sakhalin, Mongolia (both Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia), Vietnam, Tibet, Xinjiang, as well as parts of Central Asia, the Korean Peninsula, Afghanistan, and Siberia.
Territorially, the largest orthodox Chinese dynasty was either the Yuan dynasty or the Qing dynasty, depending on the historical source.[c] This discrepancy can be mainly attributed to the ambiguous northern border of the Yuan realm: whereas some sources describe the Yuan border as located to the immediate north of the northern shore of Lake Baikal, others posit that the Yuan dynasty reached as far north as the Arctic coast. In contrast, the borders of the Qing dynasty were demarcated and reinforced through a series of international treaties, and thus were more well-defined.
Apart from exerting direct control over the Chinese realm, various dynasties of China also maintained hegemony over other states and tribes through the Chinese tributary system. The Chinese tributary system first emerged during the Western Han and lasted until the 19th century AD when the Sinocentric order broke down.
The modern territorial claims of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China are inherited from the lands once held by the Qing dynasty at the time of its collapse.
List of major Chinese dynasties
This list includes only the major dynasties of China that are typically found in simplified forms of Chinese historical timelines. This list is neither comprehensive nor representative of Chinese history as a whole.
|Dynasty||Ruling house||Period of rule||Rulers|
(English[k] / Chinese[l] / Hanyu Pinyin / Wade–Giles / Bopomofo)
|Origin of name||Surname
(English[k] / Chinese[l])
|Ethnicity[m]||Status[n]||Year||Term||Founder[o]||Last monarch||List / Family tree|
|Huaxia[q][r]||Royal||2070–1600 BC[s][t]||470 years[t]||Yu of Xia||Jie of Xia||(list)|
|Huaxia||Royal||1600–1046 BC[s][u]||554 years[u]||Tang of Shang||Zhou of Shang||(list)|
|Huaxia||Royal||1046–771 BC[s][w]||275 years[w]||Wu of Zhou||You of Zhou||(list)|
|From Zhou dynasty||Ji
|Huaxia||Royal||770–256 BC||514 years||Ping of Zhou||Nan of Zhou||(list)|
|Early Imperial China[x]|
|221–207 BC||14 years||Qin Shi Huang||Ying Ziying||(list)|
|Toponym & Noble title||Liu
|Han||Imperial||202 BC–AD 9[aa]||211 years[aa]||Gao of Han||Liu Ying[ab]||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 9–23||14 years||Wang Mang||(list)|
|From Han dynasty||Liu
|Han||Imperial||AD 25–220||195 years||Guangwu of Han||Xian of Han||(list)|
|AD 220–280||60 years||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 220–266||46 years||Wen of Cao Wei||Yuan of Cao Wei||(list)|
|From Han dynasty||Liu
|Han||Imperial||AD 221–263||42 years||Zhaolie of Shu Han||Huai of Shu Han||(list)|
|AD 222–280||58 years||Da of Eastern Wu||Sun Hao||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 266–316||50 years||Wu of Jin||Min of Jin||(list)|
|From Jin dynasty (AD 266–420)||Sima
|Han||Imperial||AD 317–420||103 years||Yuan of Jin||Gong of Jin||(list)|
ㄕˊ ㄌㄧㄡˋ ㄍㄨㄛˊ
|AD 304–439||135 years||(list)|
|Toponym & From Han dynasty||Liu[af][ag]
|AD 304–329||25 years||Guangwen of Han Zhao||Liu Yao||(list)|
|Toponym & From Han dynasty||Li
|AD 304–347[ah]||43 years[ah]||Wu of Cheng Han[ah]||Li Shi||(list)|
|AD 319–351||32 years||Ming of Later Zhao||Shi Zhi||(list)|
(AD 320–354, AD 355–363)
|AD 320–376||56 years||Cheng of Former Liang||Dao of Former Liang||(list)|
|AD 337–370||33 years||Wenming of Former Yan||You of Former Yan||(list)|
|Di||Imperial||AD 351–394[aj]||43 years[aj]||Jingming of Former Qin[aj]||Fu Chong||(list)|
|From Former Yan||Murong[ak][al]
|AD 384–409[am]||25 years[am]||Chengwu of Later Yan||Zhaowen of Later Yan
Huiyi of Yan[an]
|AD 384–417||33 years||Wuzhao of Later Qin||Yao Hong||(list)|
|Xianbei||Princely||AD 385–400, AD 409–431||37 years[ao]||Xuanlie of Western Qin||Qifu Mumo||(list)|
|AD 386–403||17 years||Yiwu of Later Liang||Lü Long||(list)|
|Xianbei||Princely||AD 397–404, AD 408–414||13 years[ar]||Wu of Southern Liang||Jing of Southern Liang||(list)|
(AD 397–399, AD 401–412)
(AD 399–401, AD 412–439)
|AD 397–439||42 years||Duan Ye||Ai of Northern Liang||(list)|
|From Former Yan||Murong
|AD 398–410||12 years||Xianwu of Southern Yan||Murong Chao||(list)|
|Han||Ducal||AD 400–421||21 years||Wuzhao of Western Liang||Li Xun||(list)|
|From Xia dynasty||Helian[at]
|Xiongnu||Imperial||AD 407–431||24 years||Wulie of Hu Xia||Helian Ding||(list)|
|From Former Yan||Feng[au]
|Han[au]||Imperial||AD 407–436[av]||29 years[av]||Huiyi of Yan[an]
Wencheng of Northern Yan
|Zhaocheng of Northern Yan||(list)|
|AD 386–581||195 years||(list)|
|AD 386–535||149 years||Daowu of Northern Wei||Xiaowu of Northern Wei||(list)|
|From Northern Wei||Yuan[ax]
|Xianbei||Imperial||AD 534–550||16 years||Xiaojing of Eastern Wei||(list)|
|From Northern Wei||Yuan[ay]
|Xianbei||Imperial||AD 535–557||22 years||Wen of Western Wei||Gong of Western Wei||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 550–577||27 years||Wenxuan of Northern Qi||Gao Heng||(list)|
|Xianbei||Imperial||AD 557–581||24 years||Xiaomin of Northern Zhou||Jing of Northern Zhou||(list)|
|AD 420–589||169 years||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 420–479||59 years||Wu of Liu Song||Shun of Liu Song||(list)|
|A prophecy on defeating the Liu clan||Xiao
|Han||Imperial||AD 479–502||23 years||Gao of Southern Qi||He of Southern Qi||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 502–557||55 years||Wu of Liang||Jing of Liang||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 557–589||32 years||Wu of Chen||Chen Shubao||(list)|
|Middle Imperial China[x]|
|Noble title ("随" homophone)||Yang[az]
|Han||Imperial||AD 581–619||38 years||Wen of Sui||Gong of Sui||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 618–690, AD 705–907||274 years[bb]||Gaozu of Tang||Ai of Tang||(list)|
|From Zhou dynasty||Wu
|Han||Imperial||AD 690–705||15 years||Shengshen of Wu Zhou||(list)|
|AD 907–960||53 years||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 907–923||16 years||Taizu of Later Liang||Zhu Youzhen||(list)|
|From Tang dynasty||Li[bc][bd][be]
|Shatuo[be]||Imperial||AD 923–937||14 years||Zhuangzong of Later Tang||Li Congke||(list)|
|Shatuo||Imperial||AD 936–947||11 years||Gaozu of Later Jin||Chu of Later Jin||(list)|
|From Han dynasty||Liu
|Shatuo||Imperial||AD 947–951||4 years||Gaozu of Later Han||Yin of Later Han||(list)|
|From Zhou dynasty||Guo[bg]
|Han||Imperial||AD 951–960||9 years||Taizu of Later Zhou||Gong of Later Zhou||(list)|
|AD 907–979||72 years||(list)|
|Toponym / Noble title||Wang
|Han||Imperial||AD 907–925||18 years||Gaozu of Former Shu||Wang Yan||(list)|
|AD 907–937[bh]||30 years[bh]||Liezu of Yang Wu[bh]||Rui of Yang Wu||(list)|
|AD 907–951||44 years||Wumu of Ma Chu||Ma Xichong||(list)|
(AD 907–932, AD 937–978)
|AD 907–978||71 years||Taizu of Wuyue||Zhongyi of Qin||(list)|
(AD 909–933, AD 944–945)
(AD 933–944, AD 945)
|AD 909–945||36 years||Taizu of Min||Tiande||(list)|
|From Han dynasty||Liu
|Han||Imperial||AD 917–971||54 years||Gaozu of Southern Han||Liu Chang||(list)|
|Han||Princely||AD 924–963||39 years||Wuxin of Chu||Gao Jichong||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 934–965||31 years||Gaozu of Later Shu||Gongxiao of Chu||(list)|
|From Tang dynasty||Li[bk]
|AD 937–976||37 years||Liezu of Southern Tang||Li Yu||(list)|
|From Later Han||Liu[bl][bm]
|Shatuo[bl][bm]||Imperial||AD 951–979||28 years||Shizu of Northern Han||Yingwu of Northern Han||(list)|
|"Iron" (Khitan homophone) / Toponym||Yelü
|Khitan||Imperial||AD 916–1125[bn]||209 years[bn]||Taizu of Liao||Tianzuo of Liao||(list)|
|From Liao dynasty||Yelü[bo]
|AD 1124–1218[bp]||94 years[bp]||Dezong of Western Liao||Kuchlug||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 960–1127||167 years||Taizu of Song||Qinzong of Song||(list)|
|From Song dynasty||Zhao
|Han||Imperial||AD 1127–1279||152 years||Gaozong of Song||Zhao Bing||(list)|
|Tangut||Imperial||AD 1038–1227||189 years||Jingzong of Western Xia||Li Xian||(list)|
|Jurchen||Imperial||AD 1115–1234||119 years||Taizu of Jin||Wanyan Chenglin||(list)|
|Late Imperial China[x]|
|"Great" / "Primacy"||Borjigin[bs]
|Mongol||Imperial||AD 1271–1368[bt]||97 years[bt]||Shizu of Yuan||Huizong of Yuan||(list)|
|From Yuan dynasty||Borjigin[bu][bv]
|Mongol[bv]||Imperial||AD 1368–1635[bw]||267 years[bw]||Huizong of Yuan||Borjigin Erke Khongghor[bw]||(list)|
|Han||Imperial||AD 1368–1644||276 years||Hongwu||Chongzhen||(list)|
|From Ming dynasty||Zhu
|Han||Imperial||AD 1644–1662[bx]||18 years[bx]||Hongguang||Yongli[bx]||(list)|
|From Jin dynasty (AD 1115–1234)||Aisin Gioro
|Jurchen[by]||Royal||AD 1616–1636||20 years||Tianming||Taizong of Qing||(list)|
|Manchu||Imperial||AD 1636–1912[bz][ca]||276 years||Taizong of Qing||Xuantong||(list)|
Timeline of major historical periods
Timeline of major regimes
- 1911 Revolution
- Ancient Chinese states
- Chinese expansionism
- Chinese historiography
- Chinese sovereign
- Conquest dynasty
- Debate on the Chineseness of Yuan and Qing dynasties
- Dragon Throne
- Dynastic cycle
- East Asian cultural sphere
- Eighteen Kingdoms
- Emperor at home, king abroad
- Emperor of China
- Family tree of Chinese monarchs (ancient)
- Family tree of Chinese monarchs (early)
- Family tree of Chinese monarchs (late)
- Family tree of Chinese monarchs (middle)
- Family tree of Chinese monarchs (Warring States period)
- Golden ages of China
- Historical capitals of China
- Jimi system
- List of Chinese monarchs
- List of Confucian states and dynasties
- List of recipients of tribute from China
- List of tributary states of China
- Mandate of Heaven
- Monarchy of China
- Names of China
- Pax Sinica
- Six Dynasties
- Succession to the Chinese throne
- Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors
- Timeline of Chinese history
- Tributary system of China
- Twenty-Four Histories
- Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project
- Zhonghua minzu
- While the Xia dynasty is typically considered to be the first orthodox Chinese dynasty, numerous sources like the Book of Documents mention two other dynasties that preceded the Xia: the "Tang" (唐) and the "Yu" (虞) dynasties. The former is sometimes called the "Ancient Tang" (古唐) to distinguish it from other dynasties named "Tang". Should the historicity of these earlier dynasties be attested, Yu the Great would not have been the initiator of dynastic rule in China.
- All attempts at restoring monarchical and dynastic rule in China after the success of the Xinhai Revolution ended in failure. Hence, the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor in AD 1912 is typically regarded as the formal end of the Chinese monarchy.
- As per contemporary historiographical norm, the "Yuan dynasty" in this article refers exclusively to the realm based in Dadu. However, the Han-style dynastic name "Great Yuan" (大元) as proclaimed by the Emperor Shizu of Yuan and the claim to Chinese political orthodoxy were meant for the entire Mongol Empire. In spite of this, "Yuan dynasty" is rarely used in the broad sense of the definition by modern-day scholars due to the de facto disintegrated nature of the Mongol Empire.
- In AD 1906, the Qing dynasty initiated a series of reforms under the auspices of the Empress Xiaoqinxian to transition to a constitutional monarchy. On 27 August 1908, the Outline of the Constitution Compiled by Imperial Order was promulgated and served as a preliminary version of a full constitution originally intended to take effect 10 years later. On 3 November 1911, as a response to the ongoing Xinhai Revolution, the Qing dynasty issued the Nineteen Major Articles of Good Faith on the Constitution which limited the power of the Qing emperor, marking the official transition to a constitutional monarchy. The Qing dynasty, however, was overthrown on 12 February 1912.
- A powerful consort kin, usually a male, could force the reigning monarch to abdicate in his favor, thereby prompting a change in dynasty. For example, Wang Mang of the Xin dynasty was a nephew of the Empress Xiaoyuan who in turn was the spouse of the Western Han ruler, the Emperor Yuan of Han.
- The term "kingdom" is potentially misleading as not all rulers held the title of king. For example, all sovereigns of the Cao Wei held the title huángdì (皇帝; "emperor") during their reign despite the realm being listed as one of the "Three Kingdoms". Similarly, monarchs of the Western Qin, one of the "Sixteen Kingdoms", bore the title wáng (王; usually translated as "prince" in English writings).
- As proposed by scholars such as Fu Sinian and Ray Huang, there were three major Chinese empires historically. The "First Chinese Empire" (中華第一帝國) included the Qin dynasty, the Western Han, the Eastern Han, the Cao Wei, the Western Jin, the Eastern Jin, the Liu Song, the Southern Qi, the Liang dynasty, and the Chen dynasty. The "Second Chinese Empire" (中華第二帝國) encompassed the Northern Wei, the Western Wei, the Northern Zhou, the Sui dynasty, the Tang dynasty, the Later Liang, the Later Tang, the Later Jin, the Later Han, the Later Zhou, the Northern Song, and the Southern Song. The "Third Chinese Empire" (中華第三帝國) consisted of the Liao dynasty, the Jin dynasty, the Yuan dynasty, the Ming dynasty, and the Qing dynasty. Accordingly, the terms "Chinese Empire" and "Empire of China" need not necessarily refer to imperial dynasties that had unified China proper.
- "Anterior" is employed in some sources in place of "Former".
- "Latter" or "Posterior" is employed in some sources in place of "Later".
- The English and Chinese names stated are historiographical denominations. These should not be confused with the guóhào officially proclaimed by each dynasty. A dynasty may be known by more than one historiographical name.
- The English names shown are based on the Hanyu Pinyin renditions, the most common form of Mandarin romanization currently in adoption. Some scholarly works utilize the Wade–Giles system, which may differ drastically in the spelling of certain words. For instance, the Qing dynasty is rendered as "Ch῾ing dynasty" in Wade–Giles.
- The Chinese characters shown are in Traditional Chinese. Some characters may have simplified versions that are currently used in mainland China. For instance, the characters for the Eastern Han are written as "東漢" in Traditional Chinese and "东汉" in Simplified Chinese.
- While Chinese historiography tends to treat dynasties as being of specific ethnic stocks, there were some monarchs who had mixed heritage. For instance, the Jiaqing Emperor of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty was of mixed Manchu and Han descent, having derived his Han ancestry from his mother, the Empress Xiaoyichun.
- The status of a dynasty was dependent upon the supreme title bore by its monarch at any given time. For instance, since all monarchs of the Chen dynasty held the title of emperor during their reign, the Chen dynasty was of imperial status.
- The monarchs listed were the de facto founders of dynasties. However, it was common for Chinese monarchs to posthumously honor earlier members of the family as monarchs. For instance, while the Later Jin was officially established by the Emperor Gaozu of Later Jin, four earlier members of the ruling house were posthumously accorded imperial titles, the most senior of which was Shi Jing who was conferred the temple name "Jingzu" (靖祖) and the posthumous name "Emperor Xiao'an" (孝安皇帝).
- In addition to the ancestral name Si (姒), the ruling house of the Xia dynasty also bore the lineage name Xiahou (夏后).
- Youqiong Yi, surnamed Youqiong (有窮), was of Dongyi descent. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- Yun Zhuo, surnamed Yun (妘), was of Dongyi descent. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- The dates given for the Xia dynasty, the Shang dynasty, and the Western Zhou prior to the start of the Gonghe Regency in 841 BC are derived from the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project.
- The rule of the Xia dynasty was traditionally dated 2205–1766 BC as per the calculations made by the historian Liu Xin. Accordingly, the Xia dynasty lasted 439 years.
- The rule of the Shang dynasty was traditionally dated 1766–1122 BC as per the calculations made by the historian Liu Xin. Accordingly, the Shang dynasty lasted 644 years.
- The Western Zhou (西周) and the Eastern Zhou (東周) are collectively known as the Zhou dynasty (周朝; Zhōu Cháo; Chou1 Ch῾ao2; ㄓㄡ ㄔㄠˊ).
- The rule of the Western Zhou was traditionally dated 1122–771 BC as per the calculations made by the historian Liu Xin. Accordingly, the Western Zhou lasted 351 years.
- The terms "Chinese Empire" and "Empire of China" usually refer to the Chinese state under the rule of various imperial dynasties, particularly those that had unified China proper.
- In addition to the ancestral name Ying (嬴), the ruling house of the Qin dynasty also bore the lineage name Zhao (趙).
- The Western Han (西漢) and the Eastern Han (東漢) are collectively known as the Han dynasty (漢朝; Hàn Cháo; Han4 Ch῾ao2; ㄏㄢˋ ㄔㄠˊ).
- Some historians consider 206 BC, the year in which the Emperor Gao of Han was proclaimed "King of Han", to be the start of the Western Han. Accordingly, the Western Han lasted 215 years.
- Liu Ying was not officially enthroned and maintained the title huáng tàizǐ (皇太子; "crown prince") during the regency of Wang Mang. The last Western Han monarch who was officially enthroned was the Emperor Ping of Han.
- The Western Jin (西晉) and the Eastern Jin (東晉) are collectively known as the Jin dynasty (晉朝; Jìn Cháo; Chin4 Ch῾ao2; ㄐㄧㄣˋ ㄔㄠˊ).
- The names of the Jin dynasty (晉朝) of the Sima clan and the Jin dynasty (金朝) of the Wanyan clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Jin".
- The Sixteen Kingdoms are also referred to as the "Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians" (五胡十六國; Wǔ Hú Shíliù Guó), although not all dynasties counted among the 16 were ruled by the "Five Barbarians".
- The ruling house of the Han Zhao initially bore the surname Luandi (攣鞮). Liu (劉) was subsequently adopted as the surname prior to the establishment of the Han Zhao.
- As Jin Zhun, surnamed Jin (靳), was not a member of the Liu (劉) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.
- Some historians consider AD 303, the year in which the Emperor Jing of Cheng Han declared the era name "Jianchu" (建初), to be the start of the Cheng Han. Accordingly, the Cheng Han was founded by the Emperor Jing of Cheng Han and lasted 44 years.
- The ruling house of the Former Qin initially bore the surname Pu (蒲). The Emperor Huiwu of Former Qin subsequently adopted Fu (苻) as the surname in AD 349 prior to the establishment of the Former Qin.
- Some historians consider AD 350, the year in which the Emperor Huiwu of Former Qin was proclaimed "Prince of Three Qins", to be the start of the Former Qin. Accordingly, the Former Qin was founded by the Emperor Huiwu of Former Qin and lasted 44 years.
- As Lan Han, surnamed Lan (蘭), was not a member of the Murong (慕容) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.
- The Emperor Huiyi of Yan was of Gaogouli descent. Originally surnamed Gao (高), he was an adopted member of the Murong (慕容) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- Depending on the status of the Emperor Huiyi of Yan, the Later Yan ended in either AD 407 or AD 409 and lasted either 23 years or 25 years.
- The Emperor Huiyi of Yan could either be the last Later Yan monarch or the founder of the Northern Yan depending on the historian's characterization.
- The Western Qin was interrupted by the Later Qin between AD 400 and AD 409. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed up to AD 400 and the realm restored in AD 409. The Prince Wuyuan of Western Qin was both the last ruler before the interregnum and the first ruler after the interregnum.
- The names of the Later Liang (後涼) of the Lü clan and the Later Liang (後梁) of the Zhu clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Liang".
- The ruling house of the Southern Liang initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). Tufa Pigu subsequently adopted Tufa (禿髮) as the surname prior to the establishment of the Southern Liang.
- The Southern Liang was interrupted by the Later Qin between AD 404 and AD 408. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed up to AD 404 and the realm restored in AD 408. The Prince Jing of Southern Liang was both the last ruler before the interregnum and the first ruler after the interregnum.
- Duan Ye, surnamed Duan (段), was of Han descent. The enthronement of the Prince Wuxuan of Northern Liang was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- The ruling house of the Hu Xia initially bore the surname Luandi (攣鞮). Liu (劉) was adopted as the surname prior to the establishment of the Hu Xia. The Emperor Wulie of Hu Xia subsequently adopted Helian (赫連) as the surname in AD 413 after the establishment of the Hu Xia.
- The Emperor Huiyi of Yan was of Gaogouli descent. Originally surnamed Gao (高), he was an adopted member of the Murong (慕容) clan. The enthronement of the Emperor Wencheng of Northern Yan was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- Depending on the status of the Emperor Huiyi of Yan, the Northern Yan was established in either AD 407 or AD 409 and lasted either 29 years or 27 years.
- The ruling house of the Northern Wei initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). The Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei subsequently adopted Yuan (元) as the surname in AD 493 after the establishment of the Northern Wei.
- The ruling house of the Eastern Wei initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). The Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei subsequently adopted Yuan (元) as the surname in AD 493 prior to the establishment of the Eastern Wei.
- The ruling house of the Western Wei initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). The Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei subsequently adopted Yuan (元) as the surname in AD 493 prior to the establishment of the Western Wei, only for the Emperor Gong of Western Wei to restore the surname Tuoba in AD 554 after the establishment of the Western Wei.
- The ruling house of the Sui dynasty initially bore the surname Yang (楊). The Western Wei later bestowed the surname Puliuru (普六茹) upon the family. The Emperor Wen of Sui subsequently restored Yang as the surname in AD 580 prior to the establishment of the Sui dynasty.
- The ruling house of the Tang dynasty initially bore the surname Li (李). The Western Wei later bestowed the surname Daye (大野) upon the family. Li was subsequently restored as the surname in AD 580 prior to the establishment of the Tang dynasty.
- The Tang dynasty was interrupted by the Wu Zhou between AD 690 and AD 705. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed up to AD 690 and the realm restored in AD 705. The Emperor Ruizong of Tang was the last ruler before the interregnum; the Emperor Zhongzong of Tang was the first ruler after the interregnum.
- The ruling house of the Later Tang initially bore the surname Zhuye (朱邪). The Emperor Xianzu of Later Tang subsequently adopted Li (李) as the surname in AD 869 prior to the establishment of the Later Tang.
- The Emperor Mingzong of Later Tang, originally without surname, was an adopted member of the Li (李) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- Li Congke was of Han descent. Originally surnamed Wang (王), he was an adopted member of the Li (李) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- The names of the Later Jin (後晉) of the Shi clan and the Later Jin (後金) of the Aisin Gioro clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Jin".
- The Emperor Shizong of Later Zhou, originally surnamed Chai (柴), was an adopted member of the Guo (郭) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- Some historians consider AD 902, the year in which the Emperor Taizu of Yang Wu was proclaimed "Prince of Wu", to be the start of the Yang Wu. Accordingly, the Yang Wu was founded by the Emperor Taizu of Yang Wu and lasted 35 years.
- As Zhu Wenjin, surnamed Zhu (朱), was not a member of the Wang (王) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.
- The ruling house of the Jingnan initially bore the surname Gao (高). The Prince Wuxin of Chu subsequently adopted Zhu (朱) as the surname, only to restore the surname Gao prior to the establishment of the Jingnan.
- The ruling house of the Southern Tang initially bore the surname Li (李). The Emperor Liezu of Southern Tang subsequently adopted Xu (徐) as the surname, only to restore the surname Li in AD 939 after the establishment of the Southern Tang.
- Liu Ji'en was of Han descent. Originally surnamed Xue (薛), he was an adopted member of the Liu (劉) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- The Emperor Yingwu of Northern Han was of Han descent. Originally surnamed He (何), he was an adopted member of the Liu (劉) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
- Some historians consider AD 907, the year in which the Emperor Taizu of Liao was proclaimed "Khagan of the Khitans", to be the start of the Liao dynasty. Accordingly, the Liao dynasty lasted 218 years.
- Kuchlug, originally without surname, was of Naiman descent. As he was not a member of the Yelü (耶律) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.
- Some historians consider AD 1132, the year in which the Emperor Dezong of Western Liao was proclaimed "Gurkhan", to be the start of the Western Liao. Accordingly, the Western Liao lasted 86 years.
- The Northern Song (北宋) and the Southern Song (南宋) are collectively known as the Song dynasty (宋朝; Sòng Cháo; Sung4 Ch῾ao2; ㄙㄨㄥˋ ㄔㄠˊ).
- The ruling house of the Western Xia initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). The Tang dynasty and the Song dynasty later bestowed the surnames Li (李) and Zhao (趙) upon the family respectively. The Emperor Jingzong of Western Xia subsequently adopted Weiming (嵬名) as the surname in AD 1032 prior to the establishment of the Western Xia.
- The ruling house of the Yuan dynasty initially bore the surname Kiyad (乞顏). Borjigin Munkhag and Kiyad-Borjigin Khabul respectively adopted Borjigin (孛兒只斤) and Kiyad-Borjigin (乞顏·孛兒只斤) as the surname prior to the establishment of the Yuan dynasty. The Emperor Liezu of Yuan subsequently restored Borjigin as the surname prior to the establishment of the Yuan dynasty.
- Some historians consider AD 1260, the year in which the Emperor Shizu of Yuan was proclaimed "Khagan of the Great Mongol State" and declared the era name "Zhongtong" (中統), to be the start of the Yuan dynasty. Accordingly, the Yuan dynasty lasted 108 years.
- The ruling house of the Northern Yuan initially bore the surname Kiyad (乞顏). Borjigin Munkhag and Kiyad-Borjigin Khabul respectively adopted Borjigin (孛兒只斤) and Kiyad-Borjigin (乞顏·孛兒只斤) as the surname prior to the establishment of the Northern Yuan. The Emperor Liezu of Yuan subsequently restored Borjigin as the surname prior to the establishment of the Northern Yuan.
- Choros Esen, surnamed Choros (綽羅斯), was of Oirat descent. As he was not a member of the Borjigin (孛兒只斤) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.
- Traditional Chinese historiography considers the Northern Yuan to have ended in either AD 1388 or AD 1402 when the dynastic name "Great Yuan" was abolished. Accordingly, the Northern Yuan lasted either 20 years or 34 years, and its last ruler was either the Tianyuan Emperor or the Örüg Temür Khan. However, some historians regard the Mongol-ruled regime that existed from AD 1388 or AD 1402 up to AD 1635—referred to in the History of Ming as "Dada" (韃靼)—as a direct continuation of the Northern Yuan.
- Some historians consider AD 1664, the year in which the reign of the Dingwu Emperor came to an end, to be the end of the Southern Ming. Accordingly, the Southern Ming lasted 20 years and its last ruler was the Dingwu Emperor. However, the existence and identity of the Dingwu Emperor, supposedly reigned from AD 1646 to AD 1664, are disputed.
- The Jurchen ethnic group was renamed "Manchu" in AD 1635 by the Emperor Taizong of Qing.
- The Articles of Favorable Treatment of the Great Qing Emperor After His Abdication allowed the Xuantong Emperor to retain his imperial title and enjoy other privileges following his abdication, resulting in the existence of a titular court in the Forbidden City known as the "Remnant Court of the Abdicated Qing Imperial Family" (遜清皇室小朝廷) between AD 1912 and AD 1924. Following the Beijing Coup, Feng Yuxiang revoked the privileges and abolished the titular court in AD 1924.
- The Qing dynasty was briefly restored between 1 July 1917 and 12 July 1917 when Zhang Xun reinstalled the Xuantong Emperor to the Chinese throne. Due to the abortive nature of the event, it is usually excluded from Qing history.
- As proposed by scholars such as Tan Qixiang, the geographical extent covered in the study of Chinese historical geography largely corresponds with the territories once ruled by the Qing dynasty during its territorial peak between the AD 1750s and the AD 1840s, prior to the outbreak of the First Opium War. At its height, the Qing dynasty exercised jurisdiction over an area larger than 13 million km2, encompassing:
- Tannu Uriankhai in the north;
- Stanovoy Range and Sakhalin in the northeast;
- Taiwan and its adjacent islands in the southeast;
- Hainan and the South China Sea Islands in the south;
- Pamir Mountains in the west;
- Lake Balkhash in the northwest.
- The dynastic regimes included in this timeline are the same as the list above.
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