Timeline of Ancient China (to 960): Warring States, Qin, Han, Tang

As part of the Visual Timeline series, this pages highlights key events in China.

Oversimplified Chinese dynasties timeline:

Another with a little more detail on the ‘smaller’ dynasties:

Until the Qin dynasty unified in 221BC, China was a disparate land of hundreds of polities.

~2000BC: Xia dynasty (2205BC-1766BC). Three Dynasties period. 3,000 polities.

~1500BC: Shang dynasty (1600BC-1046BC) – bronze and writing. 1,800 polities.

1046BC: Western Zhou dynasty (1046BC-250BC) – iron and philosophy. 170 polities.

770BC: Eastern Zhou dynasty, Spring and Autumn period (770BC-476BC). 23 polities.

600BC: Grand Canal construction begins to link China’s two busiest rivers, Yellow River and Yangtze.


563BC: Buddha born 

551BC: Confucius born (551BC-479BC)

475BC: Eastern Zhou dynasty, Warring States period (475BC-221BC). 7 polities.

262BC: Battle of Changping, part of Qin unification wars, 700k casualties, deadliest known conflict up to this date.

221BC: Qin dynasty unifies China into 1 polity.

210BC: First Qin emperor Qin Shi Huang buried with Terracotta Army for afterlife.

Terracotta Army in Xi’An. Source

206BC: Han dynasty begins (206BC-220AD), overthrows Qin.

140BC: Emperor Wu (r. 140BC-87BC) expands Han empire

By turn of millennium, Roman empire and Han dynasty are comparable in size, population (50m-100m), and power.


With trade networks connecting the two, they were likely aware of each other’s existence, but neither projected power onto each other.


184: Yellow Turban Rebellion (184-205); peasants suppressed by regional warlords; 3m-7m casualties

Yellow Turban Rebellion depiction. Source

192: Civil Wars among regional warlords in Han China (192-220)

Three Kingdoms period. Source

208: Warlord Cao Cao defeated at Battle of Red Cliffs by Sun Qian and Liu Bei; 100k casualties

Battle of Red Cliff depicted in 2008 film. Source
Approx 210AD. Source

220: Han dynasty ends (206BC-220AD), start Three Kingdoms period (220-265) with Wei in North, Wu in South East, Shu (Han) in South West.

China in 221AD. Source

263: Cao Wei conquers Shu Han.

266: Sima Yan deposes Cao emperor; Cao Wei becomes Jin.

280: Jin dynasty (266-420) unites China

China in 280AD. Source

291: War of the Eight Princes (291-306)

383: Battle of Fei River; Jin victory against former Qin

386: Jin dynasty breaks down into Start Northern Wei and Southern Qi dynasties (386-589)

581: Sui dynasty China (581-618), Grand Canal expanded, capital Xi’an, Confucianism disintegrated, making way for Taoism and Buddhism

590: Sui unites China under Yang Jian

598: Gorguyeo-Sui War (598-613) begins; 1m Sui troops invade Gorguyeo.

612: Gorguyeo defeats Sui invasion at Battle of Salsu; 300k casualties (2nd deadliest to date)

618: Tang dynasty China (618-907); Li Yuan first emperor


647: Gorguyeo repels Tang invasions (647-648 and again in 661 with 350k men)

666: Silla (allied with Tang) unifies Korea; Tang annexes most of Gorguyeo territory

690: Empress Wu (r. 690-704), only empress in Chinese history

751: Arab-Turkic-Tibetan alliance defeat Tang in Central Asia (Battle of Talas)

800: Chinese alchemists seeking elixir of life produce gunpowder instead

842: Tang dynasty persecutes non-Chinese religions (inc Buddhism and Christianity)

874: Warlords seize power as peasant rebellions undermine Tang authority (874-884)

906: Tang dynasty (618-906) collapses; start Five Dynasties period and Ten Kingdoms, China (907-960)

938: Vietnamese defeat Chinese at Battle of Bach Dang; ending 300 year Chinese rule

960: Song dynasty (960-1279) unifies China; Song Taizu first emperor; best living standards in world, gunpowder, printing, paper money, compass