A short overview of China's history

China’s history is as varied and diverse as the country itself. The comprehensive history began about 4000 years ago with the Xia dynasty (2205 B.C. – 1766 B.C.) followed by the dynasties of the Shang (1766 B.C. – 1122 B.C.) and the Zhou (1122 B.C. – 221 B.C.). Such great Chinese Philosophers as Confucius and Laozi lived in she second half of the Zhou Dynasty. It was also during this time that Sun Zi wrote his famous treatise on military strategies “The Art of War”, and, on the other side of the globe, Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristoteles wrote their respective works.

The Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. - 206 B.C.)

The Qin Dynasty played a special role in China’s history. Qin Shi Huang (meaning “the first emperor”) was the first to truly unify China and form the first empire. Under his rule the Great Wall was built, currency, weights and measures were standardised throughout the country and a standard script for the whole nation, was introduced, which is, in a simplified form still used today. Even though Qin Shi Huang only reigned for 11 years he is still regarded as the founder of the first unified China. His tomb near Xian has not been opened yet, but on the grounds around his tomb archaeologists unearthed the spectacular Terracotta Army, which was supposed to escort Qin Shi Huang through is after life.

The Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 B.C.)

During the following Han Dynasty, China gradually became prosperous and under the emperor Han Wu Di (140 B.C. – 86 B.C.) expanded its territories through both military and diplomatic skills. The silk- and porcelain trade with the Roman Empire gained significance and therefore new trade routes to the west were developed, amongst others the still famous Silk Road. The invention of Paper also falls in this period of time.

The following 400 years were dominated by various wars and power struggles. The Sui Emperor Sui Yangdi (604 -618) had the 1’800 kilometre-long Grand Canal built, which linked Beijing in the north with Hangzhou in the south and linked five eastward river systems. During the South-North Dynasty (430 – 589) Buddhism began to gain significance. Many, today still existing temples and caves date back to this time.

The Tang Dynsaty (618 - 907)

During the Tang Dynasty China went through a new prosperous period, especially under the rule of Emperor Li Shi Min. In the year 690 the Tang Dynasty saw with Su Zetien the first and only Empress on a Chinese Throne. Buddhism gains further importance, printing was invented and, probably more by coincidence than by intention, the gunpowder was discovered. New sea trade routes with Persia and Arabia were established.

The Song (960 - 1279) and Yuan Dynasty (1279 - 1368)

During the following Song Dynasty a kind of industrial revolution took place which brought big progress in agriculture and in the manufacture of ceramics and textiles. Many famous Poems originate from the Song dynasty. The last Song Emperors had already to fight against a man who’s descendants would once rule over a vast empire, reaching from Europe via the Caucasus to the Chinese sea: His name was Temuchin, better known under the name Ghengis Khan.

In 1206 Ghengis, then a Mongolian tribal leader, had consolidated all Mongolian tribes to form the Mongolian kingdom, of which he became Khan. In subsequent years, his army conquered northern China and at the same time he started a wave of westward invasions that swept across northern India, Afghanistan, Persia and the Caucasus. He died 1227 at the age of 66. He was succeeded by his third son Ogödei who’s armies began a second wave of westward invasions through Eastern Europe. His troupes reached as far as Austria and the coast of the Adriatic Sea before turning back. The armies of Möngke, Ogödeis successor, swept through the Middle East and where on the brink of invading Africa when the campaign was stopped due to Möngke’s death. Kublai Khan, a grandson of Ghengis Khan became the next Khan in 1260. He conquered the southern Song Dynastie in 1279 and founded the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368). During the Yuan Dynasty the trade with the rest of the world flourished, gun powder arrived in Europe via the Silk Road,  and Marco Polo travelled through China.

The Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644)

The remarkable Zhu Di (Yongle) was the third Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. The Forbidden City was build, the Grand Canal was widened and the Great Wall was significantly extended. In 1405 the Eunuch Admiral Zheng He set sail for his first of totally 7 voyages. On one of the  voyages, three of his deputies led their fleets all over the world and reached the shores of  North and South America, Greenland and even Australia, a full 70 years before Columbus reached “the new world”. After Zheng He’s death all seafarer activities were banned by the ruling emperor and China went into isolation from the outside world. Around 1511 the first European Ships started to appear on the Horizon.

The Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912)

A large scale invasion by the Manchu King Fu Lin in 1643 let to the installation of the Qing Dynasty, (1644 – 1912), which was to become the last Dynasty in the long History of China. Under the 3 Emperors Kang Xi, Yong Zhen and Qian Long the Qing Dynasty went through an unprecedented prosperous period that lasted until 1796. There are several factors to be blamed for the following downhill course of the empire. One reason was the hopelessly outdated old fashioned political system and the succession of several stubborn emperors. All desperate last attempts for reformation came too late.

The last Emperor Pu Yi marked the end of the Dynasties in China. On January 1, 1912, Dr. Sun Yatsen finally proclaimed the Republic of China.