Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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HISTORY OF CHINA

Start Millennium Journey From Here

A Brief Overview of Chinese History

Prehistoric Culture

— Chinese People’s Ancestor Worship

There is an ancient Chinese book named the Classic of Mountains and Seas, which is estimated to have been completed around 5000 years ago and the actual writer is unknown. This miraculous book includes hundreds of mountains, rivers, historical figures, mythical animals, states, legends, customs, etc., based on their different geological locations. 

From the description of the wondrous and fantastic world in the book, people could find many of the prototypes even in the current world. This book is a comprehensive collection of the Primitive Society in Chinese history and myth and legend, which records an era of mysterious immortals, and brave heroes with influential contributions.

 

The boundary between the human and immortal's world was quite blurred; supernatural beings could come to the mortal world and help them out, while excellent mortals could become immortals due to their great accomplishments.

Together, the celestial beings and the humans changed the world and made it a better place to live, through their diligence, strong will and exceptional courage.

 

This is the origin of Chinese people’s Ancestor Worship, and the initial stages of Chinese culture. 

Among the human super heroes, the extremely accomplished ones became sovereigns of some big clans. King Yan and Huang are the most widely acknowledged ancestors of all Chinese people, presently and past. Read More

Xia Dynasty and Yu the Great

Yu the Great is the hero who led people successfully defended the huge flood in the history of China, also one of the possible writers of the Classic of Mountains and Seas.  

Most importantly, Yu The Great built Xia Dynasty, the first Hereditary Empire in the history of China, which had lasted for almost 500 years (about 21st Century BC — 16th Century BC). 

Currently, more concrete archaeological evidences were still required to prove Xia Dynasty’s actual existence; many Chinese historical documents and literatures, however, already described this empire from different perspectives, though most of them were simple and brief. Read More

Shang Dynasty — Era of Oracle Bone Scripts

and Worship of Superstitious

 

There was a clan named Shang, which used to respect Kings of Xia Dynasty as their sovereigns. Some time later, Shang’s current Lord named Tang planned for several years and perished Xia, then, established the Shang Dynasty (about 1600 BC — 1046 BC). 

 

This was the first dynasty in history of China that was documented by direct Chinese characters by people of that time, because oracle bone scripts were invented during this period.

 

Since that time on, all the Chinese history was clearly documented, continuously.

 

Shang Dynasty lasted for over 500 years and had 31 kings in total. People in this period were quite famous for their extreme passion and respect to supernaturals; many contents in oracle bone inscriptions documented their divine activities and results, while the rest were regarding important historical events. 

 

The last king of Shang named Di Xin was very controversial, he was brave and accomplished, but also was documented as a luxurious tyrant. After his army was defeated, he burnt himself down and ended the Shang Dynasty. Read More

  Zhou Dynasty — Time of Great Philosophers

Zhou was originally a vassal state of the Shang Dynasty.

 

Generations later, a lord of Zhou was wrongly sentenced to death by a king of the Shang Dynasty. Since then, Zhou’s following lords have started to plan for vengeance.

Lord Ji Chang and Ji Fa finally succeeded after having defeated the last king of Shang, and established the over 800 years long Zhou Dynasty (about 1046 BC — 256 BC). 

This is the longest Chinese dynasty, also a more mature empire that published the first code in the history of China, which stipulated explicit rights and duties, as well as strict etiquettes of different hierarchies.

Also, this is an era of great wisdoms. Four main philosophy schools in the history of China, the Taoism, Confucianism, Mohism and Legalism all appeared and their ideas were intensely debated and spread. 

Great philosophers Lao Zi, Confucius and Sun Tzu and their masterpieces (such as Dao De Jing and The Art of War) were glowing.

In the year 771 BC, the King You of Zhou lost in a war and got assassinated, because he tried to please his beautiful queen the Lady of Ice. Afterwards, the Zhou Dynasty stepped into a new era. Read More

Spring and Autumn Period

— Contention for Hegemony

The Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC) was a stage when many vassal states kept fighting against each other to occupy more land and people.

 

Their lords still respected kings of Zhou as honorable sovereigns, but the royal family already lost actual control over most places in China. 

Gradually, kings of Zhou kept losing land, tribute, power and dignity; they became political pawns of ambitious overlords, but had never been actually attacked. 

Powerful overlords still cared about decent reputation, public opinions, hierarchies and basic rules that had been set at the beginning of Zhou Dynasty. Read More

Warring States Period

— Endless Wars & Great Reformers 

After a few hundreds years of intensive contentions for hegemony, there were seven powerful kingdoms left, plus a small central Zhou government. 

This is the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), when whoever was stronger could get more power and land; many of the former decency and etiquettes of ancient Chinese culture were all replaced by conspiracies and wars. 

In this era, all the former lords claimed themselves kings and their land kingdoms, and all the kings were aimed at perishing other kingdoms and unifying the whole of China.

While those former vassal states were expanding into independent, powerful kingdoms, their Suzerain, the central Zhou government, on the contrary, was shrinking.

 

The last king of Zhou was only in charge of his capital city and around 30,000 civilians, while huge kingdom like Qin had over a million soldiers. 

After the last king of Zhou passed away in his palace in 256 BC, old and sick, he left no heir and no new king. One year later, the king of Qin occupied Zhou’s capital city; the Longest Zhou Dynasty officially ended. 

In the meanwhile, because of great eager to win, every kingdom was trying their best to attract talented people and resources; therefore, many great reformers showed up and made exceptional contributions. 

The most influential one is Shang Yang, whose reform provided Kingdom Qin with the most advanced system and aggressive troop. 

Then, General Bai Qi led Qin’s army severely weakened other six countries’ strengths. Afterwards, the Kingdom Qin became the strongest empire. Read More

Qin Dynasty — Transient Great Empire

and Constructions of Wonders of the World

An ambitious, exceptional king named Ying Zheng ascended to the throne and became the King of Qin. 

With assistance of remarkable general Wang Jian, Ying Zheng perished other six kingdoms and established the first unified feudal imperial regime, the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC), and claimed himself the first emperor in the history of China, the Qin Shi Huang. 

The Qin Dynasty was a short but quite a glorious era, which brought the ideology of unification and implemented advanced governance system. 

Qin Shi Huang, one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, built the Great Wall to defend the Huns in the North, and the Terra Cotta Warriors to guard his own mausoleum underground. 

After he departed, many uprising armies appeared, including peasants, civilians, and some former nobles. 

 

They buried the Qin Empire, and then kept fighting against each other, until Liu Bang led his army defeated other forces, and established another unified empire in the year 202 BC. Read More

Han Dynasty — Splendid Era of

Legendary Civilians 

The Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) was a prosperous empire in the history of China that had lasted for 405 years. 

The Han people, the majority ethnic group in China today, is named after this dynasty.

The first emperor of Han Dynasty, Liu Bang, was a civilian; from a normal peasant to founder of a big empire, his legendary experience set a good precedent for capable people.

Unlike previous aristocracy eras, there were many civilian or slave born emperors, queens, generals and officials in the Han Dynasty, who were talented and influential, and hadn’t been suppressed by their class origins. 

One of the most accomplished monarch, the Emperor Wudi, married to a slave born singer, and nominated a slave born hostler as general. This general Wei Qing and his nephew Huo Qubing, successfully defeated the Huns (Xiongnu) and largely expanded the territory of the Han Empire.  

In the year 8 AD, a regent named Wang Mang snatched the throne and established a new empire. He implemented a series of radical policies that made him a possible time traveler. But his reform didn’t bring people wealthy and happy lives as he had promised, therefore, many uprising armies started to rebel. 

One of them was led by a peasant named Liu Xiu, who was also a descendant of the royal family of the Han Empire. He successfully defeated other troops and reestablished the Han Dynasty, which made sure this empire lasted for another two hundred years in Chinese history. 

Decades later, eunuch group and clans of empress dowagers’ gained more and more power. They gradually got involved in and manipulated politics, while other governors competing over power as well.

The last emperor Liu Xie had been controlled by eunuchs, and then by powerful overlords. After his final counterattack failed, he was forced to abdicate the throne.

 

He lived the rest of his life as a successful doctor, while his empire, the Han Dynasty, officially ended. Read More 

Turbulent Time, Powerful Aristocrat,

and Deviant Artists 

After the unified Han Dynasty ended, China stepped into a period of endless wars of different coexisting regimes. 

 

There had been Three Kingdoms (220 — 280),  the Jin Dynasty (265 — 420), North and South Dynasties (420 — 589). 

Each kingdom occupied some places in China and kept fighting against each other, but none of them could unify the whole of the region and build a prosperous empire like Qin and Han Dynasty. 

Unlike the stable and constant Han Dynasty in the history of China, this was an era of aristocracy and manorial economy.

 

Nobles obtained power and land, while more and more people became slaves. 

Consequently, political power was strictly limited to aristocrat clans. Family origins, again, triumphed ability.

Additionally, important essences of traditional Chinese culture, such as Confucianism and Divine of King, were severely challenged and overthrown. 

Hence, intelligent and well educated people started to pursue peace in nature, Taoism, or metaphysics; they paid more attention to art, literature, and alcohol, since the endless wars and chaos was not an ideal situation to realize their decent political ambitions. 

Kingdoms in the south kept growing steadily, whose culture and economy both developed well. 

While in the North, a great but sad king named Yuan Hong implemented reforms that had promoted national amalgamation, as well as economy and politic. 

Decades later, this divisive period was ended by a king in the north named Yang Jian, who defeated other kingdoms and established the Sui Dynasty. Read More

Sui Dynasty — Ephemeral Splendor

and Era of Innovation 

Sui Dynasty (581 — 618) was built by emperor Yang Jian and his beloved Queen Dugu

This was a wealthy and innovative dynasty, which built the Imperial Examination System and The Grand Canal, established a reformed political system that has been applied for the next millennium, and had agriculture, construction, technology and science all fully developed. 

However, this was also a very short dynasty that was ended by the extremely controversial emperor Yang Guang

 

He took over a wealthy empire from his father, but buried it by himself; though many of his policies were not wrong. Read More

Tang Dynasty — Poetic Golden Era 

In the year 617, a noble named Li Yuan claimed that he would try to bring peace to the country. Li Yuan welcomed late Emperor Yang Guang’s grandson back and respected him as monarch.

 

In the second year,, Yuan took over the throne and named his new dynasty as Tang (618 — 907). His second son Li Shimin, also the second emperor of Tang Dynasty, led Tang’s army unified the whole of the nation and brought a prosperous empire to his people. 

They opened up a brand new chapter in Chinese history, which includes advanced science and economy, fabulous cities, wealthy and happy civilians, open minded aristocrats and greatest poets. 

One of emperor Li Shimin’s imperial concubines named Wu Zetian, married to his favorite son Li Zhi and became the new queen. After her second husband Li Zhi passed away, she abolished two of her own sons and claimed the throne, as the first and only empress in Chinese history. 

As a remarkable sovereign, she left a wealthy, prosperous empire to her grandson, the Emperor Li Longji. Those excellent emperors all did wonderful jobs that made the Tang Empire flourishing. 

Everything kept developing well, until Emperor Li Longji met the love of his life Yang Yuhuan, he stopped being the diligent, excellent monarch, but started to enjoy life with her. 

And the consequence was the An-Shi Rebellion war that had lasted for eight years, an important turning point of the Tang Dynasty.

This destructive war took away millions of lives, and transformed the Tang Dynasty from a super prosperous empire to a chaotic country. 

Then, the main purpose of the following emperors of the Tang Dynasty was to recover the splendid prosperity they used to have, but none of them achieved the this beautiful goal, no matter how hard they had tried.

 

Consequently, in the last century of the Tang Dynasty, some excellent emperors managed the empire well and brought prosperous times, while other incapable ones seriously worsened it. 

 

After a series of ups and downs, the powerful Tang Dynasty finally reached to its end. A horrible destructor Zhu Wen assassinated almost the entire royal family, destroyed fabulous palaces and the capital city Chang An, and then claimed himself king.

 

However, there are many generals refused to comply to this evildoer. Hence, they built their own independent kingdoms. Read More

Five Dynasty and Ten Kingdoms

— Huge Division and Incessant Wars

After the Tang Dynasty was ended, the whole of the nation was divided by many warlords who kept fighting against each other. 

This was the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907 — 979); within a few decades, there were over 15 regimes established, and then perished. 

 

As one of the most chaotic periods in the history of China, war was the main theme.

Until a remarkable general named Zhao Kuangyin established a new regime and then unified the middle kingdom, this dark era finally came to the end. Read More

Song Dynasty

— Wealthy But Controversial Empire

Song (960 — 1279) is a dynasty that has very controversial comments in Chinese history. 

It was extremely wealthy and open minded, whose every aspect had developed to an advanced level. In the meanwhile, this empire has much smaller territory, strong enemies and tremendous tragic encounters. 

It was also a dynasty in which emperor and general’s power were restrained, while civil officials were quite highly respected. Moreover, many emperors of the Song Dynasty, no matter if they were excellent monarchs or not, were extraordinary artists.  

Since Emperor Zhao Kuangyin built Song in the year 960, this empire was well developed. People lived in peace and wealthy, until a destructive invasion in 1126. 

A strong nomadic troop invaded the capital city of the Song Empire. After a series of stupid decisions that two of the Song’s emperors Zhao Ji and Zhao Huan had made, they failed.

After this shameful failure, these two emperors, nearly Song’s entire royal family were captured and humiliated, large numbers of civilians lost their lives or property, half of the Song’s territory was occupied by the nomadic regime, and many people’s proudness, dignity and stable lives were snatched. 

A prince named Zhao Gou luckily escaped to the southern China and reestablished Song Dynasty there. This controversial emperor lost the last chance to revenge for his captive father and the entire family, for many complicated, unknown reasons.

Still, revenging and taking back their lost lands had become most of the Song’s people’s dreams; there were many excellent people had been trying very hard, however, they had never realized it. 

This much smaller Song Empire still was very wealthy and prosperous, however, it has been always underestimated and criticized, because of its incompleteness. 

Decades later, the invincible Genghis Khan and his aggressive troop became stronger in the north. On the contrary, the Song Empire’s territory kept shrinking.

 

After decades of intense, heroic wars, the last emperor of Song and tens of thousands of his people all sacrificed, epically. 

The Song dynasty was ended then. Read More

Yuan Dynasty —  Half Anarchy Era 

Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) that was built by Kublai Khan had a very big territory and many vassal states, because of their exceptional military achievements. 

Within this 97 years, however, it had experienced 11 emperors in total. Besides Kublai was emperor for 23 years, the last emperor Toghon Temür had worn the crown for 38 years, each of the others were in charge for very short terms.

 

When the nobles were busying competing over the throne, initiating invasive wars, and fighting with rebel forces, they paid less attention to normal governances, let alone civilians. 

 

The Imperial Examination was canceled as well, which made sure the ruling class was Mongolia nobles, exclusively.  

 

Many intelligent, well educated people, since they cannot participate in politics, then stayed as commoners in the civilian world. Except that some of them started to write drama, which appeared and flourished in the Yuan Dynasty.

The the half anarchy, however, didn’t work very well. By the end of the Yuan Dynasty, there were many uprising armies nationwide. 

Yuan Empire’s last emperor Toghon Temür was very good at astrology. After having carefully read the stars, he led his Mongolia nobles and army escaped northward, when an uprising army was marching toward his capital city. 

Maybe he was indeed a professional at Chinese astrology. Because the leader of this uprising army was Zhu Yuanzhang, who had defeated other forces and established a unified empire named Ming. Read More

Ming Dynasty

—  Era of Strong, Characteristic and Dignified

A poor orphan who used to beg for food joined a rebel army at the end of the Yuan Dynasty. Gradually, he gained more intelligent generals and brave soldiers, and changed his name to Zhu Yuanzhang

Then, his army overthrown the former Yuan Empire, defeated other forces and unified the whole of the nation. 

The Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) that he had established was another united golden time in the history of China, which was independent, honorable, productive, prosperous, and well developed.

It was a period with interesting stories of many glorious people, an era when officials could criticize and argue intensely with emperors without losing their lives, a dynasty when ministers were bold and considered challenging the monarch was honorable and respectful. 

After Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang passed away and gave the throne to his grandson, his fourth son snatched the throne from this legit heir through war. 

Then the new winner Zhu Di moved Ming’s capital city to Beijing, and built the Forbidden City. Since then, the following emperors in Chinese history all lived in this royal palace. 

Decades later, emperor Zhu Qizhen led a strong troop indiscreetly marched northward and encountered a big failure, which had himself got caught and had Ming Empire’s strongest main force perished. Soon, Beijing was being besieged and attacked.

Luckily, a remarkable minister named Yu Qian saved the Ming Empire from this life-and-death crisis. Afterwards, everything went well.

 

Another great philosopher Wang Yangming established the School of Minds, an exceptional prime minister Zhang Juzheng implemented a successful reform that brought people better lives. 

Then, the Ming Empire started to decline under the late years of Emperor Zhu Yijun’s reign.

 

When the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty Zhu Youjian ascended to the throne as a teenager, he needed to deal with long-term natural disasters, partial conflicting, continuous refugee-peasant uprisings, and a powerful nomadic regime named Manchu in the north. 

 

Years of his diligent, difficult working didn’t save or reverse the situation.

 

After a refugee army broke into the Beijing city, Emperor Zhu Youjian committed suicide, in exchange for his people’s safety; but this was just his wishful thinking. 

Then, an important general of the Ming Empire, Wu Sangui, opened the gate of the Shanhai Pass, an extremely important military stronghold, and let the Manchu army marched across the Great Wall.

Millions of people were still loyal to the late Ming Dynasty, they supported some princes of Ming as new kings and kept fighting with the Manchu army. 

Decades of countless intense wars and massacres later, they all failed epically.

 

The Manchu ruling class buried lots of the slaughter documents, forced everyone to change their clothes and hairstyle into the nomadic ones, and established a new national regime named Qing.

The Ming Dynasty was officially ended ever since. Read More

Qing Dynasty

— Rotten Autocratic in A Fancy Coat

Manchu was a nomadic regime originated in the northeast China; it kept expanding in the late Ming Dynasty. 

After the Ming Empire’s last emperor Zhu Youjian committed suicide, Manchu army marched across the Great Wall, under the assistance of a Ming’s general Wu Sangui. 

Then they defeated all the other Ming’s armies and peasant forces, established the Qing Dynasty, and moved to the Forbidden City of Beijing.  

Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912), the last feudal empire in the history of China, was the most authoritarian era when the emperor was in charge of everything. 

The ruling class was no longer civil officials chosen from the Imperial Examination, on the contrary, it had set back the wheel of history, and changed to nomadic aristocrat-dominate system. 

In this system, the Imperial Examination still exists, however, the Manchu nobles obtained the absolute centralized power, while the Manchu people had much more privileges. 

Emperor Hong Li implemented hundreds of Literary Inquisitions that had countless people executed, also, burnt down millions of books that displeased the Manchu nobles. 

After these cultural havocs, the Qing Dynasty started to decline, as well as far lagged behind the western world. Read More

        Dark Century of Losing, Humiliating and Exploring

Since the Qing Dynasty lost in the First Opium War, also named First Anglo-Chinese War, in the year 1842, China steeped into one of the darkest periods in the history. 

The Qing Dynasty kept losing to England, France, American, Japan, and lots of other advanced western countries. 

After a series of military failures, Qing had signed a series of unequal treaties, and paid large amounts of war indemnities. 

In the year 1911, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown, the Manchu clothes and hairstyle was finally abolished. 

In 1912, the Republic of China established, and it unified the whole of the nation until 1928. During this period, many warlords still fought against each other, while many foreign forces kept grabbing profits as much as possible. 

Then, Japan invaded in the year 1931. Every inch of Chinese land had experienced intense fights, and witnessed blood and sacrifice. This is part of the Second World War, which was ended in the year 1945.

Over 35 million Chinese died during this period, including soldiers and civilians. This was the first big victory in this dark century, but the cost was huge.

This century is dark for Chinese, not only because these countless failures, sufferings, huge losses in population and economy; more importantly, was the huge collapse of the cultural confidence.  

They don’t know if they could turn around the desperate situation, if they could regain independency, prosperity, peace and dignity. 

Now 

The People's Republic of China was built in 1949, after the Kuomintang, the ruling party of the Republic of China, failed and escaped to Taiwan. 

China experienced ups and downs since after. 

It’s never easy to briefly describe the society that we are living now, since everyone has their own view and saying. 

History needs to be discussed, investigated and testified, by time, large numbers of people and lots of potential new information. 

However, a certain fact is that the Chinese are trying their best to regain the lost confidence, dignity and glory, step by step.