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Approximate territories controlled by the various dynasties and states throughout the history of China

The following is a chronology of the dynasties in the history of China from 21st century BC.



One might incorrectly infer from viewing historical timelines that transitions between dynasties occur abruptly and roughly. Rather, dynasties were often established before the complete overthrow of an existing reign, or continued for a time after they had been effectively defeated. For example, the conventional date 1644 marks the year in which the Qing dynasty armies overthrew the preceding Ming dynasty, according to the dynastic cycle of China. However, the Qing dynasty was established in 1636 (or even 1616, albeit under a different name), while the last Ming dynasty pretender was not deposed until 1648. This change of ruling houses was a messy and prolonged affair, and the Qing took almost twenty years to extend their control over the whole of China. It is therefore inaccurate to assume China changed suddenly and all at once in the year 1644.

In addition, China was divided for short periods of its history, with different regions being ruled by different groups. During such periods, there was not any single dynasty ruling a unified China. As a case in point, there is much dispute about times in and after the Western Zhou period. In the Chinese historiographical tradition, each new dynasty would write the history of the dynasty which preceded it. This cycle was disrupted, however, when the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty in favor of a republic. Even an attempt by Republicans to draft the history of the Qing was disrupted by the Chinese Civil War, which resulted in the division of China into the People's Republic of China on mainland China and the Republic of China on Taiwan.[1]

For most dynasties, the actual name is only one character (Yuan, Ming and Qing being notable exceptions). However, an additional word is typically used to distinguish between dynasties of the same name. Possible choices include the dynasty's surname (e.g. Liu Song dynasty), the four directions (e.g. Northern Wei), as well as "former" and "later".

Dynasties of ChinaEdit

Dynasty Rulers Ruling house From To Term
Name Chinese Pinyin Origin of name Surname Ethnicity
Xia dynasty Xià Tribe name (list) Sì (姒) 2070 BC 1600 BC 470 years
Ancient China
Shang dynasty Shāng Toponym (list) Zǐ (子) 1600 BC 1046 BC 554 years
Western Zhou 西周 Xī Zhōu Toponym (list) (姬) 1046 BC[note 1] 771 BC 275 years
Eastern Zhou 東周 Dōng Zhōu From Zhou dynasty (list) (姬) 770 BC 256 BC 514 years
Early Imperial China
Qin dynasty Qín Toponym (list) Yíng (嬴) (Ancestral name);
Zhào (趙) (Clan name)
221 BC 207 BC 14 years
Western Han 西漢 Xī Hàn Toponym & Noble title (list) Liú (劉) Han 202 BC AD 8 209 years
Xin dynasty Xīn "New" (list) Wáng (王) Han AD 9 AD 23 14 years
Eastern Han 東漢 Dōng Hàn From Han dynasty (list) Liú (劉) Han AD 25 AD 220 195 years
Three Kingdoms 三國 Sān Guó (list) AD 220 AD 280 60 years
Cao Wei 曹魏 Cáo Wèi Noble title Cáo (曹) Han AD 220 AD 266 46 years
Shu Han 蜀漢 Shǔ Hàn Han dynasty Liú (劉) Han AD 221 AD 263 42 years
Eastern Wu 東吳 Dōng Wú Noble title Sūn (孫) Han AD 222 AD 280 58 years
Western Jin 西晉 Xī Jìn Noble title (list) Sīmǎ (司馬) Han AD 266 AD 316 50 years
Eastern Jin 東晉 Dōng Jìn From Jin dynasty (list) Sīmǎ (司馬) Han AD 317 AD 420 103 years
Sixteen Kingdoms 十六國 Shí Liù Guó (list) AD 304 AD 439 135 years
Han Zhao 漢趙 Hàn Zhào Toponym & Han dynasty Liú (劉) Xiongnu AD 304 AD 329 25 years
Cheng Han 成漢 Chéng Hàn Toponym & Han dynasty (李) Di AD 304 AD 347 43 years
Former Liang 前涼 Qián Liáng Toponym Zhang (張) Han AD 314 AD 376 62 years
Later Zhao 後趙 Hòu Zhào Noble title Shi (石) Jie AD 319 AD 351 32 years
Former Yan 前燕 Qián Yān Toponym Murong (慕容) Xianbei AD 337 AD 370 33 years
Former Qin 前秦 Qián Qín Toponym Fu (苻) Di AD 351 AD 394 43 years
Later Qin 後秦 Hòu Qín Toponym Yao (姚) Qiang AD 384 AD 417 33 years
Later Yan 後燕 Hòu Yān From Former Yan Murong (慕容) Xianbei AD 384 AD 407 23 years
Western Qin 西秦 Xī Qín Toponym Qifu (乞伏) Xianbei AD 385 AD 431 46 years
Later Liang 後涼 Hòu Liáng Toponym (呂) Di AD 386 AD 403 17 years
Southern Liang 南涼 Nán Liáng Toponym Tufa (禿髮) Xianbei AD 397 AD 414 17 years
Northern Liang 北涼 Běi Liáng Toponym Juqu (沮渠) Xiongnu AD 397 AD 439 42 years
Southern Yan 南燕 Nán Yān From Former Yan Murong (慕容) Xianbei AD 398 AD 410 12 years
Western Liang 西涼 Xī Liáng Toponym (李) Han AD 400 AD 421 21 years
Xia Xià Xia dynasty Helian (赫連) Xiongnu AD 407 AD 431 24 years
Northern Yan 北燕 Běi Yān From Former Yan Féng (馮) Han AD 407 AD 436 29 years
Northern dynasties 北朝 Běi Cháo (list) AD 386 AD 581 195 years
Northern Wei 北魏 Běi Wèi Toponym Tuoba / Yuan (拓拔 / 元) Xianbei AD 386 AD 534 148 years
Eastern Wei 東魏 Dōng Wèi From Northern Wei Yuan (元) Xianbei AD 534 AD 550 16 years
Western Wei 西魏 Xī Wèi From Northern Wei Yuan (元) Xianbei AD 535 AD 557 22 years
Northern Qi 北齊 Běi Qí Noble title Gao (高) Han AD 550 AD 577 27 years
Northern Zhou 北周 Běi Zhōu Noble title Yuwen (宇文) Xianbei AD 557 AD 581 24 years
Southern dynasties 南朝 Nán Cháo (list) AD 420 AD 589 169 years
Liu Song 劉宋 Liú Sòng Noble title Liú (劉) Han AD 420 AD 479 59 years
Southern Qi 南齊 Nán Qí A prophecy on defeating the Liu clan Xiao (蕭) Han AD 479 AD 502 23 years
Liang dynasty Liáng Toponym Xiao (蕭) Han AD 502 AD 557 55 years
Chen dynasty Chén Noble title Chen (陳) Han AD 557 AD 589 32 years
Middle Imperial China
Sui dynasty Suí Noble title
(随 homophone)
(list) Yáng (楊) Han AD 581 AD 618 37 years
Tang dynasty Táng Noble title (list) (李) Han AD 618 AD 907 289 years
Wu Zhou 武周 Wǔ Zhōu Zhou dynasty (list) (武) Han AD 690 AD 705 15 years
Five Dynasties 五代 Wǔ Dài (list) AD 907 AD 960 53 years
Later Liang 後梁 Hòu Liáng Noble title Zhū (朱) Han AD 907 AD 923 16 years
Later Tang 後唐 Hòu Táng Tang dynasty (李) Shatuo AD 923 AD 937 14 years
Later Jin 後晉 Hòu Jìn Toponym Shi (石) Shatuo AD 936 AD 947 11 years
Later Han 後漢 Hòu Hàn Han dynasty Liú (劉) Shatuo AD 947 AD 951 4 years
Later Zhou 後周 Hòu Zhōu Zhou dynasty Guo (郭) Han AD 951 AD 960 9 years
Ten Kingdoms 十國 Shí Guó (list) AD 907 AD 979 62 years
Wuyue 吳越 Wúyuè Toponym Qian (錢) Han AD 907 AD 978 71 years
Ma Chu 馬楚 Mǎ Chǔ Toponym Ma (馬) Han AD 907 AD 951 44 years
Yang Wu 楊吳 Yáng Wú Toponym Yáng (楊) Han AD 907 AD 937 30 years
Former Shu 前蜀 Qián Shǔ Toponym / Noble title Wáng (王) Han AD 907 AD 925 18 years
Min Kingdom Mǐn Toponym Wáng (王) Han AD 909 AD 945 36 years
Southern Han 南漢 Nán Hàn Han dynasty Liú (劉) Han AD 917 AD 971 54 years
Jingnan 荊南 Jīngnán Toponym Gao (高) Han AD 924 AD 963 39 years
Later Shu 後蜀 Hòu Shǔ Toponym Meng (孟) Han AD 934 AD 965 31 years
Southern Tang 南唐 Nán Táng Tang dynasty (李) Han AD 937 AD 975 36 years
Northern Han 北漢 Běi Hàn From Later Han Liú (劉) Shatuo AD 951 AD 979 28 years
Northern Song 北宋 Běi Sòng Toponym (list) Zhào (趙) Han AD 960 AD 1127 167 years
Southern Song 南宋 Nán Sòng From Song dynasty (list) Zhào (趙) Han AD 1127 AD 1279 152 years
Liao dynasty Liáo "Vast" or "Iron"
(Khitan homophone)
(list) Yelü ( ; 耶律) Khitan AD 907 AD 1125 218 years
Western Liao 西遼 Xī Liáo From Liao dynasty (list) Yelü ( ; 耶律) Khitan AD 1124 AD 1218 94 years
Western Xia 西夏 Xī Xià Toponym (list) Li (𘝾; 李) Tangut AD 1038 AD 1227 189 years
Jin dynasty Jīn "Gold" (list) Wanggiya
( ; 完顏)
Jurchen AD 1115 AD 1234 119 years
Late Imperial China
Yuan dynasty Yuán "Great" or "Primacy" (list) Borjigin
(ᠪᠣᠷᠵᠢᠭᠢᠨ; 孛兒只斤)
Mongol AD 1271 AD 1368 97 years
Northern Yuan 北元 Běi Yuán From Yuan dynasty (list) Borjigin
(ᠪᠣᠷᠵᠢᠭᠢᠨ; 孛兒只斤)
Mongol AD 1368 AD 1388 20 years
Ming dynasty Míng "Bright" (list) Zhū (朱) Han AD 1368 AD 1644 276 years
Southern Ming 南明 Nán Míng From Ming dynasty (list) Zhū (朱) Han AD 1644 AD 1662 18 years
Later Jin 後金 Hòu Jīn Jin dynasty (list) Aisin Gioro
(ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ; 愛新覺羅)
[note 2]
AD 1616 AD 1636 20 years
Qing dynasty Qīng "Pure" (list) Aisin Gioro
(ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ; 愛新覺羅)
Manchu AD 1636 AD 1912 276 years
  • Note: Major dynasties and time periods are highlighted.

Timeline graph

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ All preceding dates are from the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project.
  2. ^ Name changed to "Manchu" in 1635.


  1. ^ "Chiang Kai-shek and retrocession". Taiwan: China Post. November 5, 2012. p. 2. Retrieved December 2, 2012.


  • 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.

External linksEdit