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History of China

Dynasty Capital
2698 Three Sovereigns
2698 2195 Five Emperors
Xia / Hsia
Shang or Yin Zhengzhou [Chengchow]
771 Western Zhou Chang'an (Xi'an)
771 256 Eastern Zhou Luoyang
722 481 Spring and Autumn Period
403 221 Contending States
221 206 Qin / Ch'in Chang'an (Xi'an)
202 9 Western Han Chang'an (Xi'an)
25 220 Eastern Han Luoyang
220 581 Six Dynasties
581 618 Sui Chang'an (Xi'an)
618 906 Tang / T'ang Chang'an (Xi'an)
907 960 Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
960 1126 Northern Song Kaifeng
1127 1279 Southern Song Hangzhou / Hangchow
1271 1368 Yuan (Mongol) Beijing
1368 1644 Ming Nanjing
1644 1912 Qing / Ch'ing (Manchu) Beijing
1912 1949 Republic Nanjing
1949 People's Republic Beijing

China, the empire in the center and east of continental Asia, was called by the western Mongols, Cathay. The name Cathay holds a great place in geographical history from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. It appears to have been introduced into Europe by Jean Plan Carpin, and by the Brabantine monk, Rubruquis, or Ruisbrock (1253), who attributed it to ancient China of which it was the Mongol name. According to Yule, Khitai was the appellation of a Tartar people who conquered the north-east of China in the Eleventh Century, and founded there an Empire that was long prosperous. The Mongol invasions of the Thirteenth Century put an end to this Empire ; but the name Khitai, corrupted into Cathay, stuck to China.

By the Manchu Tartars it was called Nikan Kourn; and by the Chinese Tchoung-koue, the last term meaning the Central Kingdom (Duhalde, Hist, of China, p. 1), also Tchoung-kuo, the Empire of the Centre. According to M. Hue (i. pp. 349-350), the Chinese also name it Tchoung-hoa, or Flower of the Centre; alao Tien-hia, the Beneath the Heavens, or the world, as the Romans called their dominions Orbis. The name most in use is Tchoung-koue. It is also, however, called Tang-shan, the Hills of Tang (the name of one of their most celebrated dynasties). The present reiguing family has given it the name of Tat-sing-kouo, the Empire of Great Purity; and in government proclamations, especially in those addressed to BarbarianB, it is often caUed Tien-chao, the Celestial Empire. Other figurative appellations are Tchoung-thang and Tien-chao, Heaven's Empire. The natives call themselves Chung-kuo - teih - jin, men of the middle kingdom; also Han-jin and Tang-jin, men of Han or of Tang (from the dynasties of those names).

The country more generally is called China, presumably on account of the Ts'in dynasty, under which it became better known to the nations of the West. This name underwent various tranformations such as: Jin, Chin, Sinu, China. The Romans called it Serica or the silk-producing land. In the Middle-Ages, it received the name of Cathay. It is also known as the Flowery Kingdom (Hwa-kwoh) and the Celestial Kindgom. The Chinese are often called Hanjen, men of Han, this being the name of a celebrated dynasty, and in times past as the Celestials.

Chinese historians living in later periods were accustomed to the notion of one dynasty succeeding another, but the actual political situation in early China is known to have been much more complicated. Hence, as some scholars of China suggest, the Xia and the Shang can possibly refer to political entities that existed concurrently, just as the early Zhou, is known to have existed at the same time as the Shang.

Chinese history is frequently said to reach back nearly 5000 years, but this is a claim that requires more than a little qualification. The subtext is the China is the oldest civilization [or at least that there are none older], and therefore the most senior. In Eqypt, the "Scorpion King" is directly attested by contemporaneous records dating from around 3100 BC, and Egypt has a more or less continous written history since that time. During the first period of history, the territory that "China" controlled was still quite small. Political structures were still relatively primitive and the traditional imperial pattern of government had not yet emerged. Disunity, fighting between local leaders and decentralized power were all very common.

The origins of Chinese writing are obscure and debated. The first proven uses of cuneiform to denote the sounds of the Sumerian language appear in clay tablets dating to about 3100 BC. Writing seems to have been borrowed by the Egyptians from the Sumerians shortly after 3000BC, when Egyptian hieroglyphic writing appears suddenly. The earliest known form of true writing in China dates from the Shang dynasty. These "oracle bone" inscriptions on animal bones and tortoise shells date from 1200 BC-1045 BC, considerably later than for Sumerian writing.

The Great Seal Style of calligraphy includes a broad range of styles which emerged during the Chou dynasty (1122-221 BC). In 221 BC the first emperor of China ordered that the writing system be standardized. This script was later known as the Small Seal Style. During the Han dynasty (207 BC-220 AD), the Small Seal Style was surpassed by another script which could be written more easily with a brush, which became known as the Clerical Style.

China's three remote dynasties Xia, Shang and Zhou, are regarded as the start of China's history of 5,000 years. But there are no primary sources of the history of the Xia, and the Shang records are fragmentary and provide essentially nothing in way of a narrative history. The earliest widely accepted date of Chinese history is BC 841, in Sima Qian's Record of History. The first half of the Chinese civilization remains a mysterious and hot topic among world historians.

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Page last modified: 02-07-2012 18:29:05 ZULU