The Chinese Dynasties

Prehistory

Fossil records document that China was inhabited from the lower Paleolithic. In particular, the man of Yuanmou has been dated over 1 million years ago, the man of Lantian to 600,000, the Sinanthropus pekinensis of Zhoukoudian (attributable to Homo erectus) to the middle Pleistocene. After these Paleolithic cultures it was possible to date various Neolithic cultures, such as those located in the provinces of Hebei and Henan (5900-5400 BC), those of Yangshao (4800-3000 BC) and Longshan (in the Henan province, 3000-2300 BC.).

THE CHINESE DYNASTIES

The first dynasties

According to Paradisdachat, the first dynasty recorded in the Chinese chronicles is the Xia one (21st-16th century). The Shang dynasty (16th century-1066 BC) begins with the Bronze Age, and its reign appears to be very extensive. The very primitive social and political structure then seemed to be based on a kind of proto-feudalism, in which the sovereign had above all sacral functions. In the Northwest, the State of Zhou was formed, on a similar ethnic basis but with some cultural peculiarities. Around 1070 a. China its king destroyed the Shang kingdom by seizing its territories, which were distributed among loyal leaders. Thus arose a feudal structure, in which the king’s authority was increasingly weakened, while the struggles between the princes led to the disappearance of the weakest. Attempts to give China a more stable structure under a hegemonic prince failed,

The unification of China

Among the contending dynasties, which all, one after the other, assumed the royal title, that of Qin prevailed, which in 256 prevailed over the Zhou. In 221 the king of Qin, having unified the China of the North and the Center, assumed the title of emperor, abolished feudalism, gave the country a bureaucratic organization, protected it by connecting the pre-existing sections of the wall in the Great Wall, and started the conquest and colonization of the South, inhabited by non-Chinese populations.

The civil war that followed his death ended with the affirmation of the Han dynasty, which completed the conquest of the South and initiated the Chinese expansion into Central Asia (fig. 3), with a notable increase in traffic. In this period Buddhism penetrated from India, which soon spread widely. At the end of the Han, China split into 3 states: Wei in the north, Wu in the south, Shu Han in Sichuan. The last of the Wei founded the Jin dynasty (256-420), which in 280 managed to reunify the country, before losing the capital Luoyang and part of the territories under the attack of the Barbarians, after which China remained divided between Imperial South, with Nanjing as its capital, and the North, dominated by Prototurque and Prototibetan dynasties. China was reunited again under the Sui (581-618), who resumed expansion but reported serious failures in Korea; the Sui were succeeded by the Tangs (618-907), with whom China reached its maximum political-cultural splendor. The two main figures of the dynasty were the Taizong emperors (626-649) and Xuanzong (712-756). The first subdued the Turks and led a series of military ventures westward. The second is famous above all for the great development that painting and literature had at his court.

A period of disintegration followed the fall of the Tangs. Five ephemeral dynasties subsequently reigned in the North (907-960), while the South was dismembered into half a dozen regional states. The unity of China was reconstituted by the Song dynasty (960-1279), whose capital was Kaifeng. A narrow north-eastern strip, however, had fallen into the hands of the Khitan who, between 1115 and 1124, were in turn supplanted by the Nüzhen of the Jin dynasty. They set out to conquer the Northern China and the Song, weakened by the aggravation of the agrarian situation, lost their capital in 1126 and gave the North to the invaders. The Nüzhen maintained their privileges as conquerors without granting political rights to the Chinese.

The Mongols

Meanwhile, beyond the Great Wall, Genghiz khān (1162-1227) was creating Mongol power. The first Mongol raids began in 1210 and in 1215 they occupied Beijing. The conquest of southern China was the work of Qūbīlāy (1214-1294), whose troops took Hangzhou (1276) crushing the last resistance of the Song (1279). China was thus unified again, but this time by a foreign conqueror, the first in its history to dominate it entirely. Qūbīlāy fixed the capital at Khān bālīq (Beijing) and gave his dynasty the Chinese name of Yuan. He adopted a racist policy, in order to prevent the Mongols from being absorbed into the Chinese mass; attacked Japan (1274; 1281), Champa and Vietnam (1283-84; 1287-88). He built roads, created a regular postal service, and reorganized finances. The different religions enjoyed complete tolerance, although Tibetan Buddhism was favored. However, Qūbīlāy’s successors proved unable to bear the weight of the great empire. After 1350 the revolts began in the southern China, Zhu Yuanzhang was able to unite the forces of the South under his leadership and expel the Mongols from the North (1368).

The Ming

Zhu Yuanzhang, known under his kingdom name Hongwu (1368-1398), founded the national dynasty of the Ming (1368-1644), under which China closed completely to the outside. Emperor Yongle (1402-1424) was the only sovereign to launch a great seafaring policy; in 1403 the Chinese fleets pushed as far as Java, in 1408 they reached Ceylon, in 1411 Aden. But this policy was soon abandoned, China closed itself out and foreign merchants were tolerated only in Canton. During the reign of Wangli (1572-1620) there were continuous attacks by the Mongols and in 1592 Chinese troops had to intervene to repel the Japanese invaders from Korea. Meanwhile, in 1514, the first Portuguese had appeared in the seas of China, followed by the Spaniards and the Dutch who, in 1623, settled in Formosa. The new Manchurian state, which arose at the end of the 16th century, took advantage of the progressive weakening of the dynasty. beyond the Great Wall, but the end of the dynasty was the work of a rebel, Li Zicheng, who occupied Beijing in 1644. The Mancesi, called to help by the Chinese bureaucracy, reoccupied the capital and completed the conquest of the country within two decades.

The Qing The Mancesi were the second foreign people to dominate the whole China, with the name of Qing dynasty (1644-1912). They tried to make use of the collaboration of the Chinese ruling class, while keeping it in a subordinate condition and jealously protecting the rights of the victors; I will not be able, but not to avoid a rapid sinization. The first emperor was Shunzhi (1644-1661). Kangxi (1661-1722) was able to undertake a great imperial policy: Formosa was annexed (1683), the Zungari were faced and rejected, establishing the high dominion over Mongolia (1691) and imposing the protectorate on Tibet (1720). In the north, Russian expansion was halted with the Treaty of Nerčinsk (1689). Kangxi protected literature and the arts and favored the Jesuits until, following the question of rites, in 1717 he issued the first of a series of edicts containing restrictive measures. Qianlong (1735-1796) destroyed the Kingdom of the Zungari and annexed their domains, Chinese Turkestan or Xinjiang (1756-59) to the empire.

The end of the empire

After Qianlong’s death, the effects of wars, maladministration and the increase of the population determined, throughout the 19th century, a gradual impoverishment of the country, tried by numerous revolts, at a time when industrial expansionism and European trade, especially English, insisted on opening trade with China.

The First Anglo-Chinese War, known as the Opium War (1839-42), ended with the Treaty of Nanking, for which England had Hong Kong and several ports were opened to trade. The treaty of Tianjin, which in 1861 put an end to the second Anglo-Franco-Chinese war sanctioned the doubling of the amount of the indemnity owed by China to Great Britain, which also acquired the Kowloon peninsula in front of the possession of Hong Kong, the opening of other ports and the right for British citizens to recruit Chinese labor to work in the British colonies or elsewhere. External disasters were joined by those caused by internal revolts, among which the Taiping revolt (1849-64) was famous, which devastated central China. In the meantime,

In 1894 the Sino-Japanese war broke out, which saw China forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895), with which it ceded Formosa and renounced the traditional sovereignty over Korea. The Manchu government, headed by Empress Cixi (1835-1908), persisted in its policy of reaction; On the contrary, Cixi succeeded in turning the Boxers movement against foreigners, originally anti-Chinese. The result, however, was the international expedition of 1900, which dealt the final blow to the prestige of the court. While Sun Zhongshan was preparing the revolution in the South, in the North General Yuan Shikai aimed to take advantage of the decay of the dynasty for his own purposes. The first revolts broke out in 1910, quickly followed in 1911 by the establishment of a provisional government in Nanjing and the betrayal of Yuan Shikai who forced the last emperor, the young Pu Yi, to renounce the throne (1912), while he was elected first. President of the Republic.

The Chinese Dynasties

About the author