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.
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
192: Civil Wars among regional warlords in Han China (192-220)
208: Warlord Cao Cao defeated at Battle of Red Cliffs by Sun Qian and Liu Bei; 100k casualties
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.
263: Cao Wei conquers Shu Han.
266: Sima Yan deposes Cao emperor; Cao Wei becomes Jin.
280: Jin dynasty (266-420) unites China
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