China’s civilization with its highly civilized behavior has a long and continuous history that began about 4,000 years ago. China was ruled by a series of 13 successive dynasties from around 2070 BC to 1912, and then succeeded by the Republic of China in 1912.
- Xia Dynasty (2070 – 1600 BC) was the first dynasty in traditional Chinese historiography. It was highly civilized and known for developing a flood control technique and creating the Bronze Age.
- Shang Dynasty (1600-1050 BC). Under the Shang dynasty there were advances in maths, astronomy, art and military technology. The used a highly developed calendar system and an early form of modern Chinese language.
- Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). Under the Zhou Chinese philosophy flourished, writing was codified and coinage was developed. The dynasty saw some of the greatest Chinese philosophers and poets: Confucius (whose philosophy greatly influenced how the Chinese behave with each other to this day), Mencius, Lao Tzu, Tao Chien, Mozi (Mohism – Chinese philosophy of logic, rational thought) and the military strategist Sun Tzu.
- Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). It united most of the area we now call China for the first time. The period also saw unification of state walls into a single Great Wall. It saw the development of standardised form of currency, a uniform system of writing and a legal code.
- Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Under the Han dynasty paper and porcelain were invented. China’s earliest written record on medicine was codified. It developed governance systems that are still in use today.
- Six Dynasties Period. Three Kingdoms (220-265), Jin Dynasty (265-420) and period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386-589).
- Sui Dynasty (581-618). Although brief, under Emperor Wen and his son, Yang, the area was enlarged to the largest in the world at the time. Coinage was standardised, the Great Wall was expanded and the Great Canal was completed.
- Tang Dynasty (618-906), sometimes known as the Golden Age of Ancient China, was considered the high point in Chinese civilisation. Under Emperor Xuanzong (712-756), China was the largest and most populous country in the world. Major achievements were seen in technology, science, culture, art and literature.
- Five Dynasties Period, Ten Kingdoms (907-960). The period between the fall of the Tang Dynasty and establishment of the Song dynasty were dominated by civil wars.
- Song Dynasty (960-1279). The Song dynasty saw the reunification of China after civil wars. Major inventions included gunpowder, printing, paper money and compass. During Song dynasty China was the most innovative and dynamic economy in the world.
- Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). It was established by the Mongols, the first non-Chinese ruler to take over the entire country.
- Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Ming dynasty saw huge growth in China population and enjoyed an extended period of economic prosperity. During the dynasty, the Great Wall was completed. The period was also known for its blue and white Ming porcelains.
- Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). It was the last imperial dynasty in China. In the early Qing dynasty (1600s to 1700s) China was the 5th largest empire in world history. It had its maximum territorial expansion, governing over a third of the world’s population while having an extremely strong economy.
China dynasties were very powerful, civilized, and cultured. Then in the early 1800s, the Qing dynasty became weak and went into a steep decline at the same time that the British and some other Western countries became strong.
The Opium Wars
In the eighteenth century, China enjoyed trade surpluses with Europe, selling tea, silk and porcelains in exchange for silver, which was a global money at the time. In the early 1800s, The British East India Company and other merchants were running out of this money, which led the British to smuggle opium into China from India which they sold for silver which was used to pay for the Chinese goods. Some Americans entered the trade by smuggling opium from Turkey into China. The Chinese fought to stop these sales, which led to the First Opium War in 1839-42. The technologically superior British Navy defeated the Chinese and led the British to impose a treaty (Treaty of Nanking) on the Chinese in 1942. The treaty forced China to cede in perpetuity the Hong Kong island and surrounding smaller islands to the United Kingdom, and gave the British control of China’s five main ports at Shanghai, Canton, Ningpo (Ningbo), Foochow(Fuzhou) and Amoy (Xiamen). The treaty also imposed a twenty-one million dollar payment to United Kingdom.
The Second Opium War was fought between the Qing and Britain-France-Russia in 1856-1860. The European forces used recently developed military technology to defeat the Qing forces, and forced the Chinese to pay reparations for expenses of the recent war, open a second group of ten ports to European traders, legalize the opium trade, and grant foreign traders right to travel within China
The Qing government borrowed from foreigners to fight internal rebellions and owed huge reparations from these wars. The foreign powers were able to use tariff income on the ports they effectively controlled as a guarantee of the debt. The Qing government, starved of financial resources, faced many uprisings over the couple decades following the Opium Wars and spent down their saving to finance fighting them. This over 100-year-long period of decline between 1839 to 1949 is call the “Century of Humiliation”
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