Chinese Dynasties

Sword Fighting Game: Stumpy

he history of China is long. Chinese Dynasties can be confusing. This page is an easy reference guide for those studying the armour and weapons of China. Without leaving the Chinese Swords Guide, you will be able to check the approximate time period of swords or other weapons mentioned in an article. There will be a few brief notes on each of the Chinese Dynasties but this is not a meant to be a complete breakdown of the history of China. I hope it helps with your understanding of swords and swordsmanship throughout history.

Early Man and Early Culture (too far back for accuracy)

Yuanmou Man - all that was found were two teeth and some hand made tools.
Lantian Man and Peking Man - These were apelike but determined to be human because of their ability to make stone tools. However, the February 2024 National Geographic has an article on tool making chimps who had never seen man, in the Congo, so who knows?
Upper Caveman - they advanced on the use of stone tools with polishing and drilling holes. They also used bone for such tools as needles. They made ornaments, had fire, went fishing, hunting and collecting. These people had a clan commune society.

Three Rulers and Five Emporers 3000-2070 BC

A fairly mythical stage of the history of China. These rulers were attributed with magical and godlike qualities. They were used as exemplary characters for other rulers and people to aspire to.

Xia 2070-1600 BC

    These people had a lot of trouble with a time of great flood. They were bronze age people with cities. There was evidence of war in this earliest of the Chinese dynasties. Weapons were made of bronze.

    Shang 1600-1046 BC

    Still bronze age, but the most advanced of this culture in the world. Chinese written language is first found in this era. Lives and events were recorded on oracle bones. They practised human sacrifice and slavery. War was a big part of their existence. For the story of a female general of the time, see this article on Fu Hau. Over a hundred weapons were discovered in her tomb - long range bows, double pointed lances, spears, pikes, long bladed sabres, short swords, daggers, helmets, shields. The most interesting was four battle axes - the symbol of highest military prominence.

    Zhou 1046-256 BC

    This is the time period when many of the Chinese traditions developed such as family line of succession through the males. This was bad news for the women, who had previously held much higher respect, their own land, etc. Many women's rights disappeared in this early stage of the Chinese dynasties. Human sacrifice stopped as well, and bronze craftsmanship declined.

    This period is broken down into:
    Western Zhou - 1046-771 BC
    Eastern Zhou - 770-256 BC
    • Spring and Autumn Period - 770-476 BC
    • The Warring States Period - 475-256 BC
    Politics became quite mixed with religion. The leader had the "mandate of heaven." This made him untouchable. He was "always right". Confusianism brought in an iron fist sort of legalism. Daoism brought a philsophical escapism.  The Spring and Autumn Period brought in little wars and the Warring States Period brought in much bigger wars. Chinese weaponry was a lot more developed by this stage.

    Qin 221-207 BC

    The first Emporer of China Qin Shi Huangdi had the great wall of China constructed. This was iron age and the weapons reflected this. Take a look at some of the armour and weaponry from the terra cotta warriors of the Qin. There was a lot of beaurocracy. Legalist scholars had a fairly free reign and dissenting Confuscianists were executed. Repression, forced labour and revolt made this one of the shorter of the Chinese dynasties.

    Western Han 206 BC-AD 9

    Eastern Han 25 BC-AD 220

    Real Chinese history is attributed to these people.  They took the administration begun by Qin shi Huangdi and developed it into something really useful. Future Chinese dynasties copied and continued it. There were both military and civil ranks - a place for everyone. The population grew beyond their ability to keep up with it and corruption crept in.

    This was followed by:
    Xin or Wang Mang Interriggnum - 9-24 AD
    Eastern Han - 25-220 AD
    The Three Kingdoms - 220-280AD
    • Wei - 220-265 AD
    • Shu - 221-263 AD
    • Wu - 229-180 AD
    Western Jin 265-361 AD
    Eastern Jin 317-420 AD

    Southern & Northern Chinese Dynasties AD 420-588

    Southern Dynasties - 420-588 AD
    • Song - 420-478 AD
    • Qi - 479-501 AD
    • Liang - 502-556 AD
    • Chen - 557-588 AD

    Northern Dynasties - 386-588 AD
    • Northern Wei - 386-533 AD
    • Eastern Wei - 534-549 AD
    • Western Wei-535-557 AD
    • Northern Qi - 550-577 AD
    • Northern Zhou - 557-588 AD

    Sui AD 581-617

    A short but unifying dynasty. The effort and cost involved in fixing things up, restoring order and setting up an excellent system for the future hurt the people too much, so there was a revolt and that was the end of this one.

    Tang AD 618-907

    One of the greatest Chinese dynasties. Borders were extended through Siberia, Korea, and Vietnam, with access to Afghanistan. The thing I like best about this one is the female emporer, Empress Wu. Look for a page about her on the chinese Swords Guide in the future. This is the Chinese dynasty that restored woman's rights. It was also a period of military prowess and artistic wonders.

    Five Dynasties AD 907-960

    • Later Liang - AD 907-923
    • Later Tang- AD 923-936
    • Later Jin- AD 936-946
    • Later Han- AD 947-950
    • Later Zhou- AD 951-960
    Ten Kingdoms AD - 907-979

    Song AD 960-1279

    • Northern Song - AD 960-1125
    • Southern Song - AD 1127-1279
    This is another of the greatest Chinese Dynasties. This one was characterised by political messes and technological advances. Artworks were prolific and exciting. Writing flourished. Cities grew and ordinary people became wealthy merchants. Obedience to whoever was delegated to be in charge of you, was compulsory.

    Liao - AD 916-1125
    Western Xia - AD 1038-1227
    Jin - AD 1115-1234

    Yuan AD 1279-1368

    This one was dominated by the Mongols, Kublai Khan, discrimination against the Han and a lot of cross culteral and cross religious interaction. This was the era of such figures as Marco Polo.

    Ming AD 1368-1644

    You wouldn't have wanted to live at this time. The Ming emporers remind me of the Queen in Alice and Wonderland "Off with her head!" You never knew when you were going to be executed because some distant relative might have offended the Emporer sometime in his life. There was a lot of sea travel. Sea battles were frequent. Apparently the Ming annoyed everyone from their own people all the way to Japan.

    Qing AD 1644-1911

    Lots of the information in the Chinese Swords Guide relates to Qing history. This is one of the Chinese dynasties we know a lot about, since it's fairly recent history. This was the time of the Manchus. Nearly all of the Chinese history I know is from this time and it's easy to find online. Opium Wars, conflict with Europe, Taiping Rebellion, Boxer Rebellion - all in the Qing Dynasty. Early Qing weaponry is excellent. Sanmei steel swords are one example.

    Republic of China AD 1911-1949

    China had to let go some of it's border countries.  Since swords weren't necessary in war, quality declined and has only now started being reestablished.

    People's Republic of China AD from 1949

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