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12 different Chinese dynasties and their legacies

China has one of the longest and most mysterious histories in the world. Similar to civilizations in different parts of the world, the Chinese trace their handed down culture up to this day. One of the most interesting topics about the Chinese history are the dynasties or how they ruled the country. Chinese dynasties were hereditary monarchical regimes that ruled over China for the majority of time in their history. 

Each Chinese dynasty has its secrets and success. There are three ages among the main dynasties and these are Bronze Age, Early Imperial Period, and Late Imperial Period Dynasties. In the Bronze Age, we have Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties. Next, during the Early Imperial Period, we have Qin and Han dynasties. Lastly, in the Late Imperial Period, we have Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

That’s definitely a lot to remember so if you’re wondering how students were able to chronologically memorize these, someone has come up with “The Dynasties Song” which is sung to the tune of ‘Frère Jacques.’


With each of the dynasties named, let us know each of their important contributions which made the Chinese the way they are today:


1. Xia Dynasty (夏朝)

Although not included in ‘The Dynasties Song,’ legends have it that Xia Dynasty was the first Chinese Dynasty in history. They ruled from 2100 BC to 1600 BC and laid the foundations for the next 5000 years of China’s evolution. As there were no written records in this dynasty, most historians consider the Xia dynasty to be a myth. In 1959, archaeologists found evidence that the Xia dynasty is not just a myth. The Xia rulers founded by Yu the Great, descendant of Huángdì who was born in 2059 BC, was rumored to have special powers in which they can stop floods. 

Xia Dynasty’s greatest contribution is that they produced cast bronze and had strong armies. They also started the dynasty succession policy.


2. Shang Dynasty (商朝)

The Shang Dynasty, sometimes called the Yin Dynasty, was the first dynasty to successfully unite a large part of China under one Emperor. This dynasty also succeeded in domesticating horses which helped them in their everyday lives. The entire Shang Dynasty is said to have appointed 31 kings and has a total of seven capital cities. 

Shang Dynasty’s greatest contribution is creating the first Chinese writing system composed of over 2,000 symbols written on silk, bamboo, stones, bronze, and even bones.


3. Zhou Dynasty (周朝)

The Zhou Dynasty deserves to be known more about as this was the time when a popular Chinese philosophical movement was created.

Zhou Dynasty’s greatest contributions are Chinese philosophies that are still very popular nowadays, such as Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism.  These Chinese philosophies emerged during this dynasty as this era had multiple conflicts. They needed these philosophers to restore order and peace to society.


4. Qin Dynasty (秦朝)

Although the Qin Dynasty ruled only for a short period of time, they were able to develop and invent a lot of things while unifying the country that has been scattered into kingdoms.

The Qin Dynasty’s greatest contributions are roads and irrigation systems that have brought abundant water to their fields. They also built a famous archaeological site in Xi’an: The Terracotta Army. It was also this time when the Chinese started building the Great Wall of China.


5. Han Dynasty (汉朝)

The Han Dynasty is one of the most well-known Chinese dynasties today. The Han Ethnic Group is  still the biggest ethnic group in China (92%). They were also the ones who maintained a centralized government and started to appoint emperors based on intellect and not through blood. This dynasty is particularly interesting for most Chinoys as this is the dynasty where they originated.

The Han Dynasty’s greatest contribution was inventing paper. It was made from pounded and disintegrated hemp fibers. The invention of paper made the people’s lives so much easier as before this, they had to carve texts on hard surfaces. They also invented ink to write on their papers and learned to craft poems.


6. Sui Dynasty (隋朝)

The Sui Dynasty (present day Xi’an) were known for their love for the arts, poetry, and music. This dynasty is one of the most unknown dynasties because of the taxes they imposed on their citizens that have caused rebellions to arise.

The Sui Dynasty’s greatest contribution is the invention of block printing. It was used for typing which greatly reduced the number of workers. Their love for poetry is evident as the reason they invented block printing was to print lots of poetry.


7. Tang Dynasty (唐朝)

The Tang Dynasty is famous for improving the Chinese economy through trade route developments and Chinese medicine. They are also considered as the highest point in the Chinese civilization.

The Tang Dynasty’s greatest contribution is the Chinese criminal code. The code is divided into 500 articles that deal with various crimes and penalties such as penal servitude, execution, exile, and other punishments. Aside from the criminal code, this dynasty also invented gunpowder, as well as scroll paintings for mobility.


8. Song Dynasty (宋朝)

The Song Dynasty was also full of conflicts just like the Zhou Dynasty. They however were able to increase foreign trade and make progress in Chinese medicine. They were the first to perform an autopsy to find out a person’s cause of death. This dynasty also has had an increased number and accessibility of books which resulted in a rise in education. 

The Song Dynasty’s greatest contribution is that they were the first to use banknotes. Before banknotes, the Chinese used copper as currency which they soon realized is impractical. 


9. Yuan Dynasty (元朝)

The Yuan Dynasty is famous for its Mongol origin. Genghis Khan and his sons founded the Yuan dynasty in which they introduced the Mongol culture in China.

The Yuan Dynasty’s greatest contribution was creating gunpowder bombs.


10. Ming Dynasty (明朝)

The Ming Dynasty is probably the most famous Chinese Dynasty out of all. This dynasty invented the famous white and blue porcelain which is called the Ming Vase.

The Ming Dynasty’s greatest contribution is the Grand Canal and the restorations of the Great Wall. They also were the ones that conserved their dikes on the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers in order to prevent flooding.


11. Qing Dynasty (清朝)

The Qing Dynasty is often called the last dynasty of China. They are known as the great warriors. 

The Qing Dynasty’s greatest contribution was improving their soldiers’ equipment and finding solutions to military problems such as eliminating heavy armors, increasing the use of gunpowder, and lengthening the swords for easier reach during the war. There’s more to the story as they are the ones that created the first machine gun that could hold 28 bullets! Unfortunately, the decline of the Qing Dynasty was resulted due to a great number of rebellions.


12. Republic of China

As the last dynasty of China ended, the Republic of China has emerged which is basically considered as the transition between feudalism and modernization.

The Republic of China’s greatest contribution is the modernization of the Qing dynasty’s diplomatic office, establishment of diplomatic relations with 59 countries, and the abandonment of unequal laws imposed in the previous dynasties.

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