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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.



Transition between dynastiesEdit

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. For example, 1644 CE is frequently cited as the year in which the Qing dynasty succeeded the preceding Ming dynasty in possessing the Mandate of Heaven. However, the Qing dynasty was officially proclaimed in 1636 CE by Hong Taiji through renaming the Later Jin established by his father Nurhaci in 1616 CE, while the Ming imperial family would rule the Southern Ming until 1662 CE. The Ming loyalist Kingdom of Tungning based in Taiwan continued to oppose the Qing until 1683 CE. 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. 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.

According to Chinese historiographical tradition, each new dynasty would compose the history of the dynasty which preceded it, culminating in the Twenty-Four Histories. This cycle was disrupted, however, when the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty in favor of a republic. Later on, an 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.[1]

China during periods of political divisionEdit

China was divided during multiple periods in its history, with different regions ruled by different dynasties. Examples of such division include the Three Kingdoms, Sixteen Kingdoms, Northern and Southern dynasties, and 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. Dynasties ruled by ethnic Han Chinese would proclaim rival dynasties founded by other ethnicities as illegitimate, usually based on the concept of Hua–Yi distinction. On the other hand, many dynasties of non-Han Chinese origin regarded themselves as the legitimate dynasty of China and saw themselves as the true inheritor of Chinese culture and history. The political legitimacy status of some of these dynasties remain contentious among modern scholars.

Such legitimacy dispute existed during the following periods:

  • Three Kingdoms
  • Eastern Jin and Sixteen Kingdoms
    • The Eastern Jin proclaimed itself as legitimate
    • Several of the Sixteen Kingdoms such as Han Zhao, Later Zhao, and Former Qin also claimed legitimacy
  • Northern and Southern dynasties
    • All dynasties during this period saw themselves as the legitimate representative of China
  • Liao, Song, and Jin dynasties
  • Ming and Northern Yuan dynasties
    • 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 until 1388 CE
  • Qing and Southern Ming dynasties
    • 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

Naming conventionEdit

In Chinese historiography, the names of dynasties were most commonly derived directly from their respective guóhào (國號; lit. "name of the country/state"). For instance, the Sui dynasty (隋朝) is known as such because its official guóhào was "Sui" (隋). Likewise, the Jin dynasty (金朝) was officially the "Great Jin" (大金). It was customary for Chinese monarchs to adopt a guóhào upon the founding of a dynasty, even though there were instances whereby the guóhào was changed during the reign of a dynasty. For example, the dynasty known retroactively as Southern Han (南漢) initially used the guóhào "Great Yue" (大越), only to be renamed "Great Han" (大漢) subsequently.

When more than one dynasty adopted the same Chinese character(s) as their guóhào, as was common in Chinese history, prefixes are retroactively applied to dynastic names by historians to distinguish between these similarly-named realms. Frequently used prefixes include:

List of Chinese dynastiesEdit

This list includes only major dynasties of China. Due to the large number of dynastic regimes in Chinese history, minor and short-lived realms (e.g., Nanyue, Zhai Wei, Shun dynasty) will not be listed.

Dynasty Rulers Ruling house From To Term
Name Chinese Pinyin Origin of name Surname Ethnicity
Xia dynasty Xià Tribe name (list) Sì (姒) 2070 BCE 1600 BCE 470 years
Ancient China
Shang dynasty Shāng Toponym (list) Zǐ (子) 1600 BCE 1046 BCE 554 years
Western Zhou 西周 Xī Zhōu Toponym (list) (姬) 1046 BCE[note 1] 771 BCE 275 years
Eastern Zhou 東周 Dōng Zhōu From Zhou dynasty (list) (姬) 770 BCE 256 BCE 514 years
Early Imperial China
Qin dynasty Qín Toponym (list) Yíng (嬴) (Ancestral name);
Zhào (趙) (Clan name)
221 BCE 207 BCE 14 years
Western Han 西漢 Xī Hàn Toponym & Noble title (list) Liú (劉) Han 202 BCE CE 9 210 years
Xin dynasty Xīn "New" (list) Wáng (王) Han CE 9 CE 23 14 years
Eastern Han 東漢 Dōng Hàn From Han dynasty (list) Liú (劉) Han CE 25 CE 220 195 years
Three Kingdoms 三國 Sān Guó (list) CE 220 CE 280 60 years
Cao Wei 曹魏 Cáo Wèi Noble title Cáo (曹) Han CE 220 CE 266 46 years
Shu Han 蜀漢 Shǔ Hàn Han dynasty Liú (劉) Han CE 221 CE 263 42 years
Eastern Wu 東吳 Dōng Wú Noble title Sūn (孫) Han CE 222 CE 280 58 years
Western Jin 西晉 Xī Jìn Noble title (list) Sīmǎ (司馬) Han CE 266 CE 316 50 years
Eastern Jin 東晉 Dōng Jìn From Jin dynasty (list) Sīmǎ (司馬) Han CE 317 CE 420 103 years
Sixteen Kingdoms 十六國 Shí Liù Guó (list) CE 304 CE 439 135 years
Han Zhao 漢趙 Hàn Zhào Toponym & Han dynasty Liú (劉) Xiongnu CE 304 CE 329 25 years
Cheng Han 成漢 Chéng Hàn Toponym & Han dynasty (李) Di CE 304 CE 347 43 years
Former Liang 前涼 Qián Liáng Toponym Zhang (張) Han CE 314 CE 376 62 years
Later Zhao 後趙 Hòu Zhào Noble title Shi (石) Jie CE 319 CE 351 32 years
Former Yan 前燕 Qián Yān Toponym Murong (慕容) Xianbei CE 337 CE 370 33 years
Former Qin 前秦 Qián Qín Toponym Fu (苻) Di CE 351 CE 394 43 years
Later Qin 後秦 Hòu Qín Toponym Yao (姚) Qiang CE 384 CE 417 33 years
Later Yan 後燕 Hòu Yān From Former Yan Murong (慕容) Xianbei CE 384 CE 407 23 years
Western Qin 西秦 Xī Qín Toponym Qifu (乞伏) Xianbei CE 38 CE 431 46 years
Later Liang 後涼 Hòu Liáng Toponym (呂) Di CE 386 CE 403 17 years
Southern Liang 南涼 Nán Liáng Toponym Tufa (禿髮) Xianbei CE 397 CE 414 17 years
Northern Liang 北涼 Běi Liáng Toponym Juqu (沮渠) Xiongnu CE 397 CE 439 42 years
Southern Yan 南燕 Nán Yān From Former Yan Murong (慕容) Xianbei CE 398 CE 410 12 years
Western Liang 西涼 Xī Liáng Toponym (李) Han CE 400 CE 421 21 years
Xia Xià Xia dynasty Helian (赫連) Xiongnu CE 407 CE 431 24 years
Northern Yan 北燕 Běi Yān From Former Yan Féng (馮) Han CE 407 CE 436 29 years
Northern dynasties 北朝 Běi Cháo (list) CE 386 CE 581 195 years
Northern Wei 北魏 Běi Wèi Toponym Tuoba / Yuan (拓拔 / 元) Xianbei CE 386 CE 534 148 years
Eastern Wei 東魏 Dōng Wèi From Northern Wei Yuan (元) Xianbei CE 534 CE 550 16 years
Western Wei 西魏 Xī Wèi From Northern Wei Yuan (元) Xianbei CE 535 CE 557 22 years
Northern Qi 北齊 Běi Qí Noble title Gao (高) Han CE 550 CE 577 27 years
Northern Zhou 北周 Běi Zhōu Noble title Yuwen (宇文) Xianbei CE 557 CE 581 24 years
Southern dynasties 南朝 Nán Cháo (list) CE 420 CE 589 169 years
Liu Song 劉宋 Liú Sòng Noble title Liú (劉) Han CE 420 CE 479 59 years
Southern Qi 南齊 Nán Qí A prophecy on defeating the Liu clan Xiao (蕭) Han CE 479 CE 502 23 years
Liang dynasty Liáng Toponym Xiao (蕭) Han CE 502 CE 557 55 years
Chen dynasty Chén Noble title Chen (陳) Han CE 557 CE 589 32 years
Middle Imperial China
Sui dynasty Suí Noble title
(随 homophone)
(list) Yáng (楊) Han CE 581 CE 618 37 years
Tang dynasty Táng Noble title (list) (李) Han CE 618 CE 907 274 years[note 2]
Wu Zhou 武周 Wǔ Zhōu Zhou dynasty (list) (武) Han CE 690 CE 705 15 years
Five Dynasties 五代 Wǔ Dài (list) CE 907 CE 960 53 years
Later Liang 後梁 Hòu Liáng Noble title Zhū (朱) Han CE 907 CE 923 16 years
Later Tang 後唐 Hòu Táng Tang dynasty (李) Shatuo CE 923 CE 937 14 years
Later Jin 後晉 Hòu Jìn Toponym Shi (石) Shatuo CE 936 CE 947 11 years
Later Han 後漢 Hòu Hàn Han dynasty Liú (劉) Shatuo CE 947 CE 951 4 years
Later Zhou 後周 Hòu Zhōu Zhou dynasty Guo (郭) Han CE 951 CE 960 9 years
Ten Kingdoms 十國 Shí Guó (list) CE 907 CE 979 62 years
Wuyue 吳越 Wúyuè Toponym Qian (錢) Han CE 907 CE 978 71 years
Ma Chu 馬楚 Mǎ Chǔ Toponym Ma (馬) Han CE 907 CE 951 44 years
Yang Wu 楊吳 Yáng Wú Toponym Yáng (楊) Han CE 907 CE 937 30 years
Former Shu 前蜀 Qián Shǔ Toponym / Noble title Wáng (王) Han CE 907 CE 925 18 years
Min Kingdom Mǐn Toponym Wáng (王) Han CE 909 CE 945 36 years
Southern Han 南漢 Nán Hàn Han dynasty Liú (劉) Han CE 917 CE 971 54 years
Jingnan 荊南 Jīngnán Toponym Gao (高) Han CE 924 CE 963 39 years
Later Shu 後蜀 Hòu Shǔ Toponym Meng (孟) Han CE 934 CE 965 31 years
Southern Tang 南唐 Nán Táng Tang dynasty (李) Han CE 937 CE 975 36 years
Northern Han 北漢 Běi Hàn From Later Han Liú (劉) Shatuo CE 951 CE 979 28 years
Northern Song 北宋 Běi Sòng Toponym (list) Zhào (趙) Han CE 960 CE 1127 167 years
Southern Song 南宋 Nán Sòng From Song dynasty (list) Zhào (趙) Han CE 1127 CE 1279 152 years
Liao dynasty Liáo "Vast" or "Iron"
(Khitan homophone)
(list) Yelü ( ; 耶律) Khitan CE 916 CE 1125 209 years
Western Liao 西遼 Xī Liáo From Liao dynasty (list) Yelü ( ; 耶律) Khitan CE 1124 CE 1218 94 years
Western Xia 西夏 Xī Xià Toponym (list) Li (𘝾; 李) Tangut CE 1038 CE 1227 189 years
Jin dynasty Jīn "Gold" (list) Wanggiya
( ; 完顏)
Jurchen CE 1115 CE 1234 119 years
Late Imperial China
Yuan dynasty Yuán "Great" or "Primacy" (list) Borjigin
(ᠪᠣᠷᠵᠢᠭᠢᠨ; 孛兒只斤)
Mongol CE 1271 CE 1368 97 years
Northern Yuan 北元 Běi Yuán From Yuan dynasty (list) Borjigin
(ᠪᠣᠷᠵᠢᠭᠢᠨ; 孛兒只斤)
Mongol CE 1368 CE 1388 20 years
Ming dynasty Míng "Bright" (list) Zhū (朱) Han CE 1368 CE 1644 276 years
Southern Ming 南明 Nán Míng From Ming dynasty (list) Zhū (朱) Han CE 1644 CE 1662 18 years
Later Jin 後金 Hòu Jīn Jin dynasty (list) Aisin Gioro
(ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ; 愛新覺羅)
[note 3]
CE 1616 CE 1636 20 years
Qing dynasty Qīng "Pure" (list) Aisin Gioro
(ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ; 愛新覺羅)
Manchu CE 1636 CE 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. ^ Not including the Wu Zhou.
  3. ^ Name changed to "Manchu" in 1635 CE.


  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