Dynasties in Chinese history

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Approximate territories controlled by the various dynasties and states throughout Chinese history, juxtaposed with the modern Chinese border.
History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou c. 1046 – 256 BC
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn
   Warring States
Qin 221–207 BC
Han 202 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin 266–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui 581–618
Tang 618–907
  (Wu Zhou 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao 916–1125
Song 960–1279
  Northern Song Western Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan 1271–1368
Ming 1368–1644
Qing 1636–1912
Republic of China on mainland 1912–1949
People's Republic of China 1949–present
Republic of China on Taiwan 1949–present

From the inauguration of dynastic rule by Yu the Great in circa 2070 BCE 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] Dividing the history of China into periods ruled by dynasties is a common method of periodization utilized by scholars.[1]


A depiction of Yu, the initiator of dynastic rule in China, by the Southern Song court painter Ma Lin.
A photograph of the Xuantong Emperor, widely considered to be the last legitimate monarch of China, taken in 1922 CE.

Start of the Chinese dynastic system[edit]

As the founder of China's first dynasty, the Xia dynasty, Yu the Great is conventionally regarded as the inaugurator of dynastic rule in China.[2] In the Chinese dynastic system, the sovereign ruler theoretically possessed absolute power and private ownership of everything within his/her realm.[3] 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.[3][4]

Dynastic transition[edit]

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.[5] This method of explanation has come to be known as the "dynastic cycle".[5][6][7]

Dynastic transitions in the history of China occurred primarily through two ways: military conquest and usurpation.[8] 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 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 his/her predecessor as having relinquished the throne willingly—in a process called shànràng (禪讓; "voluntary abdication")—as a means to legitimize his/her rule.[9]

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.[10] For example, 1644 CE 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 1636 CE by the Emperor Taizong of Qing through renaming the Later Jin established by his father the Emperor Taizu of Qing in 1616 CE, while the Ming imperial family would rule the Southern Ming until 1662 CE.[11][12] The Ming loyalist Kingdom of Tungning based in Taiwan continued to oppose the Qing until 1683 CE.[13] Meanwhile, other factions also fought for control over China during the Ming–Qing transition, most notably the Shun and Xi dynasties proclaimed by Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong respectively.[14][15][16] 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 (; by Li Mi), Qin (; by Xue Ju), Qi (; by Gao Tancheng), Xu (; by Yuwen Huaji), Liang (; by Shen Faxing), Liang (; by Liang Shidu), Xia (; by Dou Jiande), Zheng (; by Wang Shichong), Chu (; by Zhu Can), Chu (; by Lin Shihong), Yan (; by Gao Kaidao), and Song (; by Fu Gongshi). The Tang dynasty that superseded the Sui launched a decade-long military campaign to reunify China proper.[17]

According to Chinese historiographical tradition, each new dynasty would compose the history of the preceding dynasty, culminating in the Twenty-Four Histories.[18] This tradition was maintained even after the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty in favor of a republic. 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.[19][20]

End of the Chinese dynastic system[edit]

Dynastic rule in China collapsed in 1912 CE when the Republic of China superseded the Qing dynasty following the success of the Xinhai Revolution.[21][22] While there were attempts after the Xinhai Revolution to reinstate dynastic rule in China, such as the Empire of China (1915–1916 CE) and the Manchu Restoration (1917 CE), they were unsuccessful at consolidating their rule and gaining political legitimacy.[23][24] Similarly, the Manchukuo (1932–1945 CE; monarchy since 1934 CE), a puppet state of the Empire of Japan during World War II with limited diplomatic recognition, is not regarded as a legitimate regime.[25] 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.[21]

Political legitimacy[edit]

China was divided during multiple periods in its history, with different regions ruled by different dynasties. 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.[26] Dynasties ruled by ethnic Han Chinese 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 Chinese 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 (; "dynasty"); "illegitimate" regimes are referred to as guó (; usually translated as either "state" or "kingdom"[b]), even if these regimes were dynastic in nature.[27] The political legitimacy status of some of these dynasties remain contentious among modern scholars.

Such legitimacy dispute existed during the following periods:

  • Three Kingdoms[28]
  • Eastern Jin and Sixteen Kingdoms[30]
    • The Eastern Jin proclaimed itself as legitimate
    • Several of the Sixteen Kingdoms such as the Han Zhao, the Later Zhao, and the Former Qin also claimed legitimacy
  • Northern and Southern dynasties[31]
    • 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")[32][33]
  • Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms[34]
    • Having directly succeeded the Tang dynasty, the Later Liang considered itself to be a legitimate dynasty[34]
    • The Later Tang regarded itself as the restorer of the earlier Tang dynasty and rejected the legitimacy of its predecessor, the Later Liang[34]
    • The Later Jin accepted the Later Tang as a legitimate regime[34]
    • The Southern Tang was, for a period of time, considered the legitimate dynasty during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period[34]
    • Modern historiography generally considers the Five Dynasties, as opposed to the contemporary Ten Kingdoms, as legitimate[34][35]
  • Liao, Song, and Jin dynasties[36]
    • Following the conquest of the Later Jin, the Liao dynasty claimed legitimacy and succession from it[37]
    • 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[38][39][40]
  • Ming and Northern Yuan dynasties[41]
    • 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 continued to claim the "Great Yuan" dynastic title and used Chinese imperial titles continuously until 1388 CE; Chinese titles were restored on several occasions thereafter for brief periods
    • The Mongol 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[42]
  • Qing and Southern Ming dynasties[43]
    • 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, as legitimate[44][45]

While periods of disunity often resulted in heated debates among officials and historians over which dynasty could and should be considered orthodox, 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.[46] 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.[46]

As most Chinese historiographical sources uphold the idea of unilineal dynastic succession, only one dynasty could be considered orthodox at any given time.[35] Most modern sources consider the legitimate line of succession to be as follows:[35]

Xia dynastyShang dynastyWestern ZhouEastern ZhouQin dynastyWestern Han → Eastern Han → Cao Wei → Western Jin → Eastern Jin → Liu SongSouthern QiLiang dynastyChen dynastySui dynasty → Tang dynasty → Later Liang → Later Tang → Later Jin → Later Han → Later Zhou → Northern Song → Southern Song → Yuan dynasty → Ming dynasty → Qing dynasty

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 policy and claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the whole of China.[47]

Classification of dynasties[edit]

A German map of the Chinese Empire during the height of the Qing dynasty. The Qing dynasty is considered to be a "Central Plain dynasty", a "unified dynasty", and a "conquest dynasty".

Central Plain dynasties[edit]

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.[48] This term could refer to dynasties of both Han Chinese and non-Han Chinese origins.[48]

Unified dynasties[edit]

"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 Chinese, and is not equivalent to the term "China". Imperial dynasties that had unified China proper may be known as the "Chinese Empire" or the "Empire of China" (中華帝國; Zhōnghuá Dìguó).[49][50]

The concept of "great unity" or "grand unification" (大一統; dàyītǒng) was first mentioned in the Chinese classical text Gongyang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals that was supposedly authored by the Qi scholar Gongyang Gao.[51][52][53] Other prominent figures like Confucius and Mencius also touched upon this concept in their respective works.[54][55]

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.[56][57] 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.[56][58]

Conquest dynasties[edit]

"Conquest dynasties" (征服王朝; zhēngfú wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China founded by non-Han Chinese peoples that ruled parts or all of China proper (e.g., Northern Wei, Qing dynasty).[59] This term was first coined by the historian and sinologist Karl August Wittfogel and remains a source of controversy among scholars who believe that Chinese history should be analyzed and understood from a multiethnic and multicultural perspective.[60]

Naming convention[edit]

Official dynastic name[edit]

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.[61][62] During the rule of a dynasty, its guóhào functioned as the formal name of the state, both internally and for diplomatic purposes.

There were instances whereby the official name was changed during the reign of a dynasty. For example, the dynasty known retroactively as Southern Han (南漢) initially used the name "Great Yue" (大越), only to be renamed to "Han" () subsequently.[63]

The formal name of Chinese dynasties was usually derived from one the following sources:

  • the name of the ruling tribe or tribal confederation[64][65]
    • e.g., the Xia dynasty took its name from its ruling class, the Xia tribal confederation[64]
  • the noble title held by the dynastic founder prior to the founding of the dynasty[64][65]
  • the name of a historical state that occupied the same geographical location as the new dynasty[65][67]
  • the name of a previous dynasty from which the new dynasty claimed descent or succession from, even if such familial links were questionable[65]
  • a term with auspicious or other significant connotations[64][65]
    • e.g., the Yuan dynasty was officially the "Great Yuan", a name derived from a clause in the Classic of Changes, "dà zāi Qián Yuán" (大哉乾元; "Great is the Heavenly and Primal")[69]

The official title of several dynasties bore the character (; "great"). In the text Yongzhuang Xiaopin by the Ming historian Zhu Guozhen, it was claimed that the first dynasty to do so was the Yuan dynasty.[70][71] 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 .[72][73] It was also common for officials, subjects, or vassal states of a particular dynasty to include the term (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.[71] For instance, the Japanese historical text Nihon Shoki referred to the Tang dynasty as "Ōkara" (大唐; "Great Tang") despite its dynastic name being simply "Tang".

The adoption of guóhào, as well as the importance assigned to it, had promulgated within the Sinosphere. Notably, rulers of Vietnam and Korea also declared guóhào for their respective realm.

Retroactive dynastic name[edit]

In Chinese historiography, historians generally do not refer to dynasties by their official name. Instead, historiographical names, which were most commonly derived from their guóhào, are used. For instance, the Sui dynasty (隋朝) is known as such because its formal name was "Sui" (). Likewise, the Jin dynasty (金朝) was officially the "Great Jin" (大金).

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.[74][75] Frequently used prefixes include:

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 Liu Song (劉宋) is also known as the "Former Song" (前宋), and the Yang Wu (楊吳) is also called the "Southern Wu" (南吳).

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 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 and the Tang dynasty, which were interrupted by the Later Qin and the Wu Zhou respectively.

In Chinese sources, the term "dynasty" (; 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".[76]

List of major Chinese dynasties[edit]

This list includes only major dynasties of China that are typically found in simplified forms of Chinese historical timelines.

Dynasty Ruling house Period of rule Rulers
(English / Chinese[d] / Pinyin[e] / Bopomofo)
Origin of name Surname
(English / Chinese[d])
Ethnicity Status[f] Year Term Founder[g] Last monarch List
Xia dynasty
Xià Cháo
ㄒㄧㄚˋ ㄔㄠˊ
Tribal name Si
Huaxia Royal 2070–1600 BCE[h][i][79] 470 years Yu of Xia Jie of Xia (list)
Ancient China
Shang dynasty
Shāng Cháo
ㄕㄤ ㄔㄠˊ
Toponym Zi
Huaxia Royal 1600–1046 BCE[h][j][81] 554 years Tang of Shang Zhou of Shang (list)
Western Zhou[k]
Xī Zhōu
ㄒㄧ ㄓㄡ
Toponym Ji
Huaxia Royal 1046[h][l]–771 BCE[83] 275 years Wu of Zhou You of Zhou (list)
Eastern Zhou[k]
Dōng Zhōu
ㄉㄨㄥ ㄓㄡ
From Zhou dynasty Ji
Huaxia Royal 770–256 BCE[83] 514 years Ping of Zhou Nan of Zhou (list)
Early Imperial China[m]
Qin dynasty
Qín Cháo
ㄑㄧㄣˊ ㄔㄠˊ
Toponym Ying
Huaxia Imperial
(221–207 BCE)
(207 BCE)
221–207 BCE[84] 14 years Qin Shi Huang Qin San Shi (list)
Western Han[n]
Xī Hàn
ㄒㄧ ㄏㄢˋ
Toponym & Noble title Liu
Han Imperial 202 BCE–9 CE[86] 210 years Gao of Han Liu Ying (list)
Xin dynasty
Xīn Cháo
ㄒㄧㄣ ㄔㄠˊ
"New" Wang
Han Imperial 9–23 CE[87] 14 years Wang Mang Wang Mang (list)
Eastern Han[n]
Dōng Hàn
ㄉㄨㄥ ㄏㄢˋ
From Han dynasty Liu
Han Imperial 25–220 CE[88] 195 years Guangwu of Han Xian of Han (list)
Three Kingdoms
Sān Guó
ㄙㄢ ㄍㄨㄛˊ
220–280 CE[89] 60 years (list)
Cao Wei
Cáo Wèi
ㄘㄠˊ ㄨㄟˋ
Noble title Cao
Han Imperial 220–266 CE[90] 46 years Wen of Cao Wei Yuan of Cao Wei (list)
Shu Han
Shǔ Hàn
ㄕㄨˇ ㄏㄢˋ
From Han dynasty Liu
Han Imperial 221–263 CE[91] 42 years Zhaolie of Shu Han Xiaohuai of Shu Han (list)
Eastern Wu
Dōng Wú
ㄉㄨㄥ ㄨˊ
Noble title Sun
Han Royal
(222–229 CE)
(229–280 CE)
222–280 CE[92] 58 years Da of Eastern Wu Sun Hao (list)
Western Jin[o][p]
Xī Jìn
ㄒㄧ ㄐㄧㄣˋ
Noble title Sima
Han Imperial 266–316 CE[94] 50 years Wu of Jin Min of Jin (list)
Eastern Jin[o][p]
Dōng Jìn
ㄉㄨㄥ ㄐㄧㄣˋ
From Jin dynasty (266–420 CE) Sima
Han Imperial 317–420 CE[95] 103 years Yuan of Jin Gong of Jin (list)
Sixteen Kingdoms
Shíliù Guó
ㄕˊ ㄌㄧㄡˋ ㄍㄨㄛˊ
304–439 CE[96] 135 years (list)
Han Zhao
Hàn Zhào
ㄏㄢˋ ㄓㄠˋ
Toponym & From Han dynasty Liu[q]
Xiongnu Royal
(304–308 CE)
(308–329 CE)
304–329 CE[99] 25 years Guangwen of Han Zhao Liu Yao (list)
Cheng Han
Chéng Hàn
ㄔㄥˊ ㄏㄢˋ
Toponym & From Han dynasty Li
Di Princely
(304–306 CE)
(306–347 CE)
304–347 CE[100] 43 years Wu of Cheng Han Li Shi (list)
Later Zhao
Hòu Zhào
ㄏㄡˋ ㄓㄠˋ
Noble title Shi
Jie Royal
(319–330 CE)
(330–351 CE)
(351 CE)
319–351 CE[101] 32 years Ming of Later Zhao Shi Zhi (list)
Former Liang
Qián Liáng
ㄑㄧㄢˊ ㄌㄧㄤˊ
Toponym Zhang
Han Princely
(320–354 CE; 355–363 CE)
(354–355 CE)
(363–376 CE)
320–376 CE[102] 56 years Cheng of Former Liang Dao of Former Liang (list)
Former Yan
Qián Yān
ㄑㄧㄢˊ ㄧㄢ
Toponym Murong
Xianbei Princely
(337–353 CE)
(353–370 CE)
337–370 CE[103] 33 years Wenming of Former Yan You of Former Yan (list)
Former Qin
Qián Qín
ㄑㄧㄢˊ ㄑㄧㄣˊ
Toponym Fu[r]
Di Imperial 351–394 CE[103] 43 years Jingming of Former Qin Fu Chong (list)
Later Yan
Hòu Yān
ㄏㄡˋ ㄧㄢ
From Former Yan Murong[s][t]
Xianbei[t] Princely
(384–386 CE)
(386–409 CE)
384–409 CE[107] 25 years Chengwu of Later Yan Zhaowen of Later Yan
Huiyi of Yan[u]
Later Qin
Hòu Qín
ㄏㄡˋ ㄑㄧㄣˊ
Toponym Yao
Qiang Royal
(384–386 CE)
(386–417 CE)
384–417 CE[108] 33 years Wuzhao of Later Qin Yao Hong (list)
Western Qin
Xī Qín
ㄒㄧ ㄑㄧㄣˊ
Toponym Qifu
Xianbei Princely 385–400 CE; 409–431 CE[109] 37 years[v] Xuanlie of Western Qin Qifu Mumo (list)
Later Liang[w]
Hòu Liáng
ㄏㄡˋ ㄌㄧㄤˊ
Di Ducal
(386–389 CE)
(389–396 CE)
(396–403 CE)
386–403 CE[110] 17 years Yiwu of Later Liang Lü Long (list)
Southern Liang
Nán Liáng
ㄋㄢˊ ㄌㄧㄤˊ
Toponym Tufa
Xianbei Princely 397–414 CE[111] 17 years Wu of Southern Liang Jing of Southern Liang (list)
Northern Liang
Běi Liáng
ㄅㄟˇ ㄌㄧㄤˊ
Toponym Juqu[x]
Xiongnu[x] Ducal
(397–399 CE; 401–412 CE)
(399–401 CE; 412–439 CE)
397–439 CE[113] 42 years Duan Ye Ai of Northern Liang (list)
Southern Yan
Nán Yān
ㄋㄢˊ ㄧㄢ
From Former Yan Murong
Xianbei Princely
(398–400 CE)
(400–410 CE)
398–410 CE[114] 12 years Xianwu of Southern Yan Murong Chao (list)
Western Liang
Xī Liáng
ㄒㄧ ㄌㄧㄤˊ
Toponym Li
Han Ducal 400–421 CE[115] 21 years Wuzhao of Western Liang Li Xun (list)
Hu Xia
Hú Xià
ㄏㄨˊ ㄒㄧㄚˋ
From Xia dynasty Helian[y]
Xiongnu Imperial 407–431 CE[117] 24 years Wulie of Hu Xia Helian Ding (list)
Northern Yan
Běi Yān
ㄅㄟˇ ㄧㄢ
From Former Yan Feng[z]
Han[z] Imperial 407–436 CE[118] 29 years Huiyi of Yan[u]
Wencheng of Northern Yan
Zhaocheng of Northern Yan (list)
Northern dynasties
Běi Cháo
ㄅㄟˇ ㄔㄠˊ
386–581 CE[119] 195 years (list)
Northern Wei
Běi Wèi
ㄅㄟˇ ㄨㄟˋ
Toponym Tuoba[aa]
Xianbei Princely
(386–399 CE)
(399–535 CE)
386–535 CE[121] 149 years Daowu of Northern Wei Xiaowu of Northern Wei (list)
Eastern Wei
Dōng Wèi
ㄉㄨㄥ ㄨㄟˋ
From Northern Wei Yuan
Xianbei Imperial 534–550 CE[122] 16 years Xiaojing of Eastern Wei Xiaojing of Eastern Wei (list)
Western Wei
Xī Wèi
ㄒㄧ ㄨㄟˋ
From Northern Wei Yuan[ab]
Xianbei Imperial 535–557 CE[122] 22 years Wen of Western Wei Gong of Western Wei (list)
Northern Qi
Běi Qí
ㄅㄟˇ ㄑㄧˊ
Noble title Gao
Han Imperial 550–577 CE[122] 27 years Wenxuan of Northern Qi Gao Heng (list)
Northern Zhou
Běi Zhōu
ㄅㄟˇ ㄓㄡ
Noble title Yuwen
Xianbei Imperial 557–581 CE[122] 24 years Xiaomin of Northern Zhou Jing of Northern Zhou (list)
Southern dynasties
Nán Cháo
ㄋㄢˊ ㄔㄠˊ
420–589 CE[124] 169 years (list)
Liu Song
Liú Sòng
ㄌㄧㄡˊ ㄙㄨㄥˋ
Noble title Liu
Han Imperial 420–479 CE[125] 59 years Wu of Liu Song Shun of Liu Song (list)
Southern Qi
Nán Qí
ㄋㄢˊ ㄑㄧˊ
A prophecy on defeating the Liu clan Xiao
Han Imperial 479–502 CE[126] 23 years Gao of Southern Qi He of Southern Qi (list)
Liang dynasty
Liáng Cháo
ㄌㄧㄤˊ ㄔㄠˊ
Toponym Xiao
Han Imperial 502–557 CE[127] 55 years Wu of Liang Jing of Liang (list)
Chen dynasty
Chén Cháo
ㄔㄣˊ ㄔㄠˊ
Noble title Chen
Han Imperial 557–589 CE[128] 32 years Wu of Chen Chen Shubao (list)
Middle Imperial China[m]
Sui dynasty
Suí Cháo
ㄙㄨㄟˊ ㄔㄠˊ
Noble title ("" homophone) Yang[ac]
Han Imperial 581–619 CE[130] 38 years Wen of Sui Gong of Sui (list)
Tang dynasty
Táng Cháo
ㄊㄤˊ ㄔㄠˊ
Noble title Li
Han Imperial 618–690 CE; 705–907 CE[131] 274 years[ad] Gaozu of Tang Ai of Tang (list)
Wu Zhou
Wǔ Zhōu
ㄨˇ ㄓㄡ
From Zhou dynasty Wu
Han Imperial 690–705 CE[132] 15 years Wu Zhao Wu Zhao (list)
Five Dynasties
Wǔ Dài
ㄨˇ ㄉㄞˋ
907–960 CE[133] 53 years (list)
Later Liang[w]
Hòu Liáng
ㄏㄡˋ ㄌㄧㄤˊ
Noble title Zhu
Han Imperial 907–923 CE[134] 16 years Taizu of Later Liang Zhu Youzhen (list)
Later Tang
Hòu Táng
ㄏㄡˋ ㄊㄤˊ
From Tang dynasty Li[ae]
Shatuo Imperial 923–937 CE[136] 14 years Zhuangzong of Later Tang Li Congke (list)
Later Jin[af]
Hòu Jìn
ㄏㄡˋ ㄐㄧㄣˋ
Toponym Shi
Shatuo Imperial 936–947 CE[137] 11 years Gaozu of Later Jin Chu of Later Jin (list)
Later Han
Hòu Hàn
ㄏㄡˋ ㄏㄢˋ
From Han dynasty Liu
Shatuo Imperial 947–951 CE[137] 4 years Gaozu of Later Han Yin of Later Han (list)
Later Zhou
Hòu Zhōu
ㄏㄡˋ ㄓㄡ
From Zhou dynasty Guo[ag]
Han Imperial 951–960 CE[137] 9 years Taizu of Later Zhou Gong of Later Zhou (list)
Ten Kingdoms
Shí Guó
ㄕˊ ㄍㄨㄛˊ
907–979 CE[139] 62 years (list)
Former Shu
Qián Shǔ
ㄑㄧㄢˊ ㄕㄨˇ
Toponym / Noble title Wang
Han Imperial 907–925 CE[140] 18 years Gaozu of Former Shu Wang Yan (list)
Yang Wu
Yáng Wú
ㄧㄤˊ ㄨˊ
Toponym Yang
Han Princely
(907–919 CE)
(919–927 CE)
(927–937 CE)
907–937 CE[141] 30 years Liezu of Yang Wu Rui of Yang Wu (list)
Ma Chu
Mǎ Chǔ
ㄇㄚˇ ㄔㄨˇ
Toponym Ma
Han Royal
(907–930 CE)
(930–951 CE)
907–951 CE[142] 44 years Wumu of Ma Chu Ma Xichong (list)
ㄨˊ ㄩㄝˋ
Toponym Qian
Han Royal
(907–932 CE; 937–978 CE)
(934–937 CE)
907–978 CE[142] 71 years Taizu of Wuyue Zhongyi of Qin (list)

Toponym Wang[ah]
Han Princely
(909–933 CE; 944–945 CE)
(933–944 CE; 945 CE)
909–945 CE[142] 36 years Taizu of Min Tiande of Min (list)
Southern Han
Nán Hàn
ㄋㄢˊ ㄏㄢˋ
From Han dynasty Liu
Han Imperial 917–971 CE[142] 54 years Gaozu of Southern Han Liu Chang (list)
ㄐㄧㄥ ㄋㄢˊ
Toponym Gao
Han Princely 924–963 CE[142] 39 years Wuxin of Chu Gao Jichong (list)
Later Shu
Hòu Shǔ
ㄏㄡˋ ㄕㄨˇ
Toponym Meng
Han Imperial 934–965 CE[142] 31 years Gaozu of Later Shu Gongxiao of Chu (list)
Southern Tang
Nán Táng
ㄋㄢˊ ㄊㄤˊ
From Tang dynasty Li[ai]
Han Imperial
(937–958 CE)
(958–976 CE)
937–976 CE[145] 37 years Liezu of Southern Tang Li Yu (list)
Northern Han
Běi Hàn
ㄅㄟˇ ㄏㄢˋ
From Later Han Liu
Shatuo Imperial 951–979 CE[146] 28 years Shizu of Northern Han Yingwu of Northern Han (list)
Liao dynasty
Liáo Cháo
ㄌㄧㄠˊ ㄔㄠˊ
"Iron" (Khitan homophone) / Toponym Yelü
Khitan Imperial 916–1125 CE[147] 209 years Taizu of Liao Tianzuo of Liao (list)
Western Liao
Xī Liáo
ㄒㄧ ㄌㄧㄠˊ
From Liao dynasty Yelü[aj]
Khitan[aj] Royal
(1124–1132 CE)
(1132–1218 CE)
1124–1218 CE[150] 94 years Dezong of Western Liao Kuchlug (list)
Northern Song[ak]
Běi Sòng
ㄅㄟˇ ㄙㄨㄥˋ
Toponym Zhao
Han Imperial 960–1127 CE[152] 167 years Taizu of Song Qinzong of Song (list)
Southern Song[ak]
Nán Sòng
ㄋㄢˊ ㄙㄨㄥˋ
From Song dynasty Zhao
Han Imperial 1127–1279 CE[153] 152 years Gaozong of Song Zhao Bing (list)
Western Xia
Xī Xià
ㄒㄧ ㄒㄧㄚˋ
Toponym Weiming[al]
Tangut Imperial 1038–1227 CE[155] 189 years Jingzong of Western Xia Li Xian (list)
Jin dynasty[p]
Jīn Cháo
ㄐㄧㄣ ㄔㄠˊ
"Gold" Wanyan
Wo-on gia-an.png
Jurchen Imperial 1115–1234 CE[156] 119 years Taizu of Jin Wanyan Chenglin (list)
Late Imperial China[m]
Yuan dynasty
Yuán Cháo
ㄩㄢˊ ㄔㄠˊ
"Great" / "Primacy" Borjigin
Mongol Imperial 1271–1368 CE[157] 97 years Shizu of Yuan Huizong of Yuan (list)
Northern Yuan
Běi Yuán
ㄅㄟˇ ㄩㄢˊ
From Yuan dynasty Borjigin[am]
Mongol[am] Imperial 1368–1635[an] CE[163] 267 years Huizong of Yuan Tianyuan of Northern Yuan
Borjigin Ejei Khongghor
Ming dynasty
Míng Cháo
ㄇㄧㄥˊ ㄔㄠˊ
"Bright" Zhu
Han Imperial 1368–1644 CE[164] 276 years Hongwu Chongzhen (list)
Southern Ming
Nán Míng
ㄋㄢˊ ㄇㄧㄥˊ
From Ming dynasty Zhu
Han Imperial 1644–1662 CE[165] 18 years Hongguang Yongli
Later Jin[af]
Hòu Jīn
ㄏㄡˋ ㄐㄧㄣ
From Jin dynasty (1115–1234 CE) Aisin Gioro
ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ
Jurchen[ap] Royal 1616–1636 CE[168] 20 years Tianming Taizong of Qing (list)

Qing dynasty
Qīng Cháo
ㄑㄧㄥ ㄔㄠˊ
"Pure" Aisin Gioro
ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ
Manchu Imperial 1636–1912[aq] CE[169] 276 years Taizong of Qing Xuantong (list)
Criteria for inclusion
This list includes only major dynasties of China that are typically found in simplified forms of Chinese historical timelines. There were many other dynastic regimes that existed within or overlapped with the boundaries defined in the scope of Chinese historical geography[ar], such as:[171] Dynasties outside of "China" with full or partial Chinese ancestry, like the Early Lý dynasty of Vietnam and the Thonburi dynasty of Siam, are not included.[172][173][174][175]
  • Beige highlight across the entire row indicates major dynasties
  • Gray highlight across the entire row indicates major time periods
  • Orange in the leftmost column denotes dynasties counted among the "Three Kingdoms"
  • Blue in the leftmost column denotes dynasties counted among the "Sixteen Kingdoms"
  • Green in the leftmost column denotes dynasties counted among the "Northern dynasties" within the broader "Northern and Southern dynasties"
  • Purple in the leftmost column denotes dynasties counted among the "Southern dynasties" within the broader "Northern and Southern dynasties"
  • Yellow in the leftmost column denotes dynasties counted among the "Five Dynasties" within the broader "Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms"
  • Pink in the leftmost column denotes dynasties counted among the "Ten Kingdoms" within the broader "Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms"


Timeline of major historical periods[edit]

Xia–Shang–W. Zhou
Liao–Song–W. Xia–Jin–Yuan

Timeline of major dynasties and regimes[edit]

ChinaTaiwanRepublic of China (1912–1949)Southern MingQing dynastyLater Jin (1616–1636)Ming dynastyNorthern Yuan dynastyYuan dynastySong dynasty#Southern Song, 1127–1279Qara KhitaiJin dynasty (1115–1234)Western XiaNorthern Song DynastyNorthern HanLater ZhouLater Han (Five Dynasties)Southern TangLater Jin (Five Dynasties)Later ShuJingnanLater TangSouthern HanLiao dynastyMin KingdomWuyueMa ChuYang WuFormer ShuLater Liang (Five Dynasties)Tang dynastyZhou dynasty (690–705)Tang dynastySui dynastyChen dynastyNorthern ZhouNorthern QiWestern WeiEastern WeiLiang dynastySouthern QiLiu Song dynastyWestern QinNorthern YanXia (Sixteen Kingdoms)Western Liang (Sixteen Kingdoms)Southern YanNorthern LiangSouthern Liang (Sixteen Kingdoms)Northern WeiLater Liang (Sixteen Kingdoms)Western QinLater QinLater YanFormer QinFormer YanFormer LiangLater ZhaoJin dynasty (266–420)#Eastern JinCheng HanFormer ZhaoJin dynasty (266–420)Eastern WuShu HanCao WeiHan dynasty#Eastern HanXin dynastyHan dynasty#Western HanQin dynastyEastern ZhouWestern ZhouShang dynastyXia dynasty
  • Orange denotes dynastic regimes
  • Green denotes non-dynastic regimes

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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 1912 CE is typically regarded as the formal end of the Chinese monarchy.
  2. ^ The term "kingdom" is potentially misleading as not all rulers held the title of king. For example, sovereigns of the Eastern Wu held the title huángdì (皇帝; "emperor") despite the realm being considered as one of the "Three Kingdoms". Similarly, monarchs of the Western Qin, one of the "Sixteen Kingdoms", bore the title wáng (; usually translated as "prince").
  3. ^ The English and Chinese names stated are historiographical nomenclature. These should not be confused with the guóhào officially proclaimed by each dynasty.
  4. ^ a b 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.
  5. ^ While Hanyu Pinyin is the most common form of 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.[77]
  6. ^ The status of a dynasty was dependent upon the chief title bore by its monarch at any given time.
  7. ^ 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).
  8. ^ a b c The dates given for the Xia dynasty, the Shang dynasty, and the Western Zhou prior to the start of the Gonghe Regency in 841 BCE are derived from the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project.
  9. ^ The rule of the Xia dynasty was traditionally dated 2205–1766 BCE as per the calculations made by the historian Liu Xin.[78]
  10. ^ The rule of the Shang dynasty was traditionally dated 1766–1122 BCE as per the calculations made by the historian Liu Xin.[80]
  11. ^ a b The Western Zhou (西周) and the Eastern Zhou (東周) are collectively known as the Zhou dynasty (周朝; Zhōu Cháo).[82]
  12. ^ The start of the Western Zhou was traditionally dated 1122 BCE as per the calculations made by the historian Liu Xin.[80]
  13. ^ a b c The terms "Chinese Empire" and "Empire of China" refer to the Chinese state under the rule of various imperial dynasties, particularly those that had achieved the unification of China proper.[49][50]
  14. ^ a b The Western Han (西漢) and the Eastern Han (東漢) are collectively known as the Han dynasty (漢朝; Hàn Cháo).[85]
  15. ^ a b The Western Jin (西晉) and the Eastern Jin (東晉) are collectively known as the Jin dynasty (晉朝; Jìn Cháo).[93]
  16. ^ a b c 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".
  17. ^ The ruling house of the Han Zhao initially bore the surname Luandi (攣鞮).[97][98] Liu () was subsequently adopted as the surname prior to the establishment of the Han Zhao.
  18. ^ The ruling house of the Former Qin initially bore the surname Pu ().[104] Fu () was subsequently adopted as the surname by the Emperor Huiwu of Former Qin prior to the establishment of the Former Qin.[104]
  19. ^ As Lan Han was not a member of the Murong (慕容) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.[105]
  20. ^ a b The Emperor Huiyi of Yan was of Goguryeo descent. Originally surnamed Gao (), he was an adopted member of the Murong (慕容) clan.[106] His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
  21. ^ a b 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.[106]
  22. ^ The Western Qin was interrupted by the Later Qin between 400 CE and 409 CE. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed before 400 CE and the restored realm. The Prince Wuyuan of Western Qin was both the last ruler before the interregnum and the first ruler after the interregnum.
  23. ^ a b 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".
  24. ^ a b Duan Ye was of Han Chinese descent. The enthronement of the Prince Wuxuan of Northern Liang was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.[112]
  25. ^ The ruling house of the Hu Xia initially bore the surname Liu ().[116] The Emperor Wulie of Hu Xia subsequently adopted Helian (赫連) as the surname.[116]
  26. ^ a b The Emperor Huiyi of Yan was of Goguryeo descent. Originally surnamed Gao (), he was an adopted member of the Murong (慕容) clan.[106] The enthronement of the Emperor Wencheng of Northern Yan was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
  27. ^ The ruling house of the Northern Wei initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋).[120] The Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei subsequently adopted Yuan () as the surname.[120]
  28. ^ The ruling house of the Western Wei initially bore the surname Yuan (). The Emperor Gong of Western Wei subsequently adopted Tuoba (拓跋) as the surname.[123]
  29. ^ The ruling house of the Sui dynasty initially bore the surname Yang (). The Western Wei later bestowed the family the surname Puliuru (普六茹).[129] The Emperor Wen of Sui subsequently restored Yang as the surname.
  30. ^ The Tang dynasty was interrupted by the Wu Zhou between 690 CE and 705 CE. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed before 690 CE and the restored realm. The Emperor Ruizong of Tang was the last ruler before the interregnum; the Emperor Zhongzong of Tang was the first ruler after the interregnum.
  31. ^ The ruling house of the Later Tang initially bore the surname Zhuye (朱邪).[135] Li () was subsequently adopted as the surname by the Emperor Xianzu of Later Tang prior to the establishment of the Later Tang.[135]
  32. ^ a b 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".
  33. ^ The Emperor Shizong of Later Zhou, originally surnamed Chai (), was an adopted member of the Guo () clan.[138] His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
  34. ^ As Zhu Wenjin was not a member of the Wang () clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.[143]
  35. ^ The ruling house of the Southern Tang initially bore the surname Xu ().[144] The Emperor Liezu of Southern Tang subsequently adopted Li () as the surname.[144]
  36. ^ a b Kuchlug 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.[148][149]
  37. ^ a b The Northern Song (北宋) and the Southern Song (南宋) are collectively known as the Song dynasty (宋朝; Sòng Cháo).[151]
  38. ^ The ruling house of the Western Xia initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). The Tang dynasty and the Song dynasty later bestowed the family the surnames Li () and Zhao () respectively. The Emperor Jingzong of Western Xia subsequently adopted Weiming (嵬名) as the surname.[154]
  39. ^ a b Choros Esen 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.[158][159]
  40. ^ The Northern Yuan is considered to have ended in either 1388 CE or 1402 CE by traditional Chinese historiography.[160][161] However, some historians regard the Mongol regime that existed from 1388 CE or 1402 CE up to 1635 CE—referred to in the History of Ming as "Dada" (韃靼)—as a direct continuation of the Northern Yuan.[162]
  41. ^ The existence and identity of the Dingwu Emperor, supposedly reigned from 1646 CE to 1664 CE, are disputed. Hence, most historians regard the Yongli Emperor as the final monarch of the Southern Ming.
  42. ^ The name of the Jurchen ethnic group was changed to "Manchu" in 1635 CE by the Emperor Taizong of Qing.[166][167]
  43. ^ The Qing dynasty was briefly restored between 1 July 1917 and 12 July 1917. The movement was led by Zhang Xun who reinstalled the Xuantong Emperor to the Chinese throne.[24] Due to the abortive nature of the event, it is usually excluded from the Qing history.
  44. ^ As proposed by scholars such as Tan Qixiang, the geographical extent covered in the study of Chinese historical geography largely corresponds with the territories ruled by the Qing dynasty during its territorial peak between the 1750s and the 1840s, prior to the outbreak of the First Opium War.[170]



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  • China Handbook Editorial Committee, China Handbook Series: History (trans., Dun J. Li), Beijing, 1982, 188–89; and Shao Chang Lee, "China Cultural Development" (wall chart), East Lansing, 1984.

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