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Years Image Event Description Keywords
5000 BC - 3000 BC Yangshao cultures active Centered on the Yellow River valley, this was a culture of millet farmers with shamanistic beliefs. neolithic
3200 BC - 1850 BC Longshan cultures active Grave sites from the Longshan period show that society had already divided into classes. Contact between different settlements was more frequent. neolithic
1570 BC - 1045 BC Oracle Bone Inscriptions The oracle bones, turtle plastrons and ox scapulae with inscribed texts recovered from the site of the last Shang capital Yin, near An-yang, opened up the world of the Late Shang (ca.1200-1045 BC). They were used by the Shang kings in ritual divination and sacrifice to the ruler's deceased ancestors. Shang Civilization, Oracle Bone
1300 BC - 1045 BC   Capital of the late Shang Dynasty   Yin, Shang Civilization
551 BC - 479 BC Life of Confucius Confucius (Kongzi) was an eminent teacher and philosopher whose views, recorded in "The Analects" (Lunyu), exerted an enormous influence over later developments in Chinese thought and government. Confucianism
221 BC - 206 BC The Terracotta Army The Terracotta Warriors and Horses are among the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century. Buried about a half mile from the tomb of the First Emperor of Qin near Xi'an in Shaanxi Province, they point to both the might of the Qin military machine and the concern of the First Emperor with the afterlife. tombs, Qin Dynasty
221 BC - 210 BC Reign of the First Qin Emperor Ying Zheng (d. 210 BCE), the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE), unified the warring "central states" into a single polity under his rule, creating the title of "emperor" (Ch huangdi) for his new status. The capital of this newly centralized empire was at Xianyang (near modern Xi'an). Shi huangdi organized the administration of the country by commanderies, each of which was linked to the other by roads of standard width. In addition, he enacted a standardized written script, currency, and a uniform system of weights and measures. To help protect the northern border, he linked various "long walls" to create the first "Great Wall." He is also remembered as a despot who enforced harsh laws, burned books, and ruthlessly executed Confucian scholars and others who opposed his draconian rule. Emperor of the Qin Dynasty
202 BC - 195 BC Reign of the First Han Emperor Liu Bang (r.202-195), was an unlettered but militarily brilliant peasant rebel leader who overthrew the oppressive Qin regime, and defeated his rival Xiang Yu to found Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE). This dynasty became the first lasting imperial regime of China. emperor, dynasty
175 BC - 105 BC   Life of Dong Zhongshu Dong Zhongshu's synthesis of Daoism, Legalism and Confucianism provided a means to legitimate Han rule, and became a key part of imperial ideology for subsequent dynasties. imperial ideology
141 BC - 87 BC The Reign of Emperor Wu Liu Che: Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 BCE ) expanded the Han Empire into Central Asia, Vietnam, and the Korean peninsular, he promoted state activism, and his reign also witnessed the rise of Imperial Confucianism which served as the ideological justification for his imperialistic policies Emperor of the Han Dynasty
119 BC   Government monopolies established As a means to increase revenue, the Han dynasty established monopolies in salt, iron, and liquor. monopolies
100 BC - 86 BC Compilation of the "Records of the Historian" Records of The Historian, Shiji, by the great historian Sima Qian (?145-?86 BCE) was the first comprehensive history in early China which covers the time from the Yellow Emperor to the contemporary reign of Emperor Wu in c.100 BCE. Its categorical organization had served as the model for the writing of all subsequent official histories until the early twentieth-century Sima Qian, History of Early China
9 - 23   Wang Mang interregnum After serving as regent, Wang Mang usurped the throne and founded the short-lived Xin ("New") dynasty. usurpation, dynasty
23 - 220 Later or Eastern Han Dynasty Liu Xiu, an imperial clansman, reclaimed the throne for the Han dynasty. The capital, which in the Former or Eastern Han had been located in Chang'an (modern Xi'an), was moved east to Luoyang. dynasty
167 - 184   Great Proscription Eunuchs gain the upper hand over bureaucrats in a power struggle. They kill over one hundred of their rivals, and ban their families from government service. Offices are no longer awarded on merit, but go to the highest bidder. eunuchs
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184 - 190   Yellow Turban Rebellion Based on the interpretation of omens and inspired by utopian Daoist ideolgy, several hundred thousand peasants rebel against the Han dynasty. The emperor is too weak to effectively control the rebellion. rebellion, Daoism
189 Warlord gains control of Luoyang Having taken control of the capital, the warlord Dong Zhuo executed the eunuchs and installed a puppet emperor. The following year he destroyed the capital; the imperial libraries were lost.  
193 Buddhism flourishes in eastern China By this time, there are many converts to Buddhism in eastern China, and worship of the Buddha is known to the imperial court. With the military struggles at the end of the Han, Buddhist communities are pushed south, where they continie to spread their faith. Buddhism
205 Cao Cao controls most of north China Attempting to create stability, Cao Cao established military colonies and state farms; the latter were settled with landless peasants and former rebels. Cao Cao was also an accomplished poet.  
220   Wei dynasty founded Before his death in this year, Cao Cao had taken the title "King of Wei." The last Han emperor abdicated, and Cao Pei (Cao Cao's son) established a new dynasty with its capital at Luoyang. dynasty
223 Xi Kang born Xi Kang was a member of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, a group of poets famous for subverting social conventions of the time. He was executed by the government in 262, as an example to those who would go against the norms approved by the court. poets
365 - 427 Tao Qian Also known as Tao Yuanming, he was one of the most famous poets of this period. He chose not to serve the government, instead retiring to live as a gentleman-farmer. poets
402 Kumarajiva arrives in Chang'an Kumarajiva was a Central Asian monk who translated a number of important Buddhist scriptures into flowing Chinese. These translations were a major contribution to the development of Buddhism in China. Buddhism, translation
404   Huiyuan writes "On Why Monks Do Not Bow Down Before Kings" Huiyuan (334-417) was one of the most prominent Buddhist monks of this period. He studied with the Central Asian translator Kumarajiva (350-413), and founded a community of Buddhists on Mount Lu in Jiangxi province. Huiyuan taught visualization, and promoted belief in the Pure Land of Amitabha. Buddhism
439   Tuoba clan founds Wei dynasty The Tuoba were a clan of the Xianbei people, who lived in northern Shanxi. They raided Chinese settlements for livestock, and eventually decided the wealth of the central plain could best be exploited by ruling over it. In the 490s they established a capital at Luoyang, but rebellions in the 520s led to the collapse of the dynasty. dynasty, Luoyang
460 Northern Wei begins construction of the cave temples at Yungang These elaborate cave temples and monumental statues are a testament to the way in which Buddhism changed the visual landscape of China. Buddhism
589 Reunification of China by the Sui dynasty The general Yang Jian of the Northern Zhou dynasty (a member of the Xianbei ethnic group) seized the throne in 581, founding the new Sui dynasty. By 589 he had conquered the south. The Sui established their capital at Chang'an, and undertook a number of projects to restore or establish imperial institutions, but were quickly overextended. dynasty
618 Tang dynasty established As Sui control broke down, the military commander Li Yuan (Gaozong, r. 618-626) emerged victorious and founded a new dynasty. His son Li Shimin (Taizong, r. 626-49) ruled much longer, and is in many ways a co-founder. Both men largely continued the institituion-building begun by the Sui. dynasty
690 - 705   Zhou dynasty of Wu Zetian Once a concubine to both Emperor Taizong and his son Gaozong, she was made empress to Gaozong, and later ruled as regent for her two sons. She usurped the throne; her rule was marked by her faith in Buddhism, her sexual indulgence, and the expansion of the bureaucracy. dynasty, women
712 - 770 Du Fu Du Fu is perhaps the most famous poet of the Tang dynasty. He is known as the "Poet-Historian" because of his poems describing his experiences during and after the An Lushan Rebellion. poets
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755   An Lushan rebellion An Lushan was a military governor particularly favored by Emperor Xuanzong, and thus assembled a large army in the north and northeast frontier. He rebelled in 755, captured Luoyang, and forced the imperial court to flee Chang'an. rebellion
768 - 824   Han Yu A leading intellectual of the later Tang dynasty, Han Yu advocated a return to Confucian learning as a means to revitalize the government. To this end, he argued against imperial patronage of Buddhism, and promoted the "ancient style" (guwen) of prose. He is considered a forerunner of the Song Neo-Confucian movement. Neo-Confucianism, Confucianism
915 - 1125 Liao Dynasty The Khitans established a dynasty with semi-Chinese administration in Manchuria and northern China. They created a script based on Chinese characters with which to write their own language. In 1004, the Liao signed a treaty with the Song stipulating the Song had to provide annual tribute to ensure peace. dynasty
960 - 976 Reign of the First Song Emperor Zhao Kuangyin, founder of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) brought an end to the preceding war-torn Five Dynasties period. To ensure a unified state, the Song founder concentrated all military power in the hand of the central government at the capital in Kaifeng (Henan), and expanded the civil bureaucracy to govern the empire. Emperor of the Song Dynasty
1017 - 1073 Life of Zhou Dunyi Zhou Dunyi, one of the five Northern Song moral philosophers whom Zhu Xi later defined as the precursors of Neo-Confucianism. Zhu Xi considered Zhou the first to truly understand the Way since Mencius (4th c. BCE) and claimed that he had a direct influence on the more sophisticated philosophical ideas of the Cheng Brothers. Thus Zhou Dunyi came to be recognized as "founding ancestor" of the Cheng-Zhu school of neo-Confucianism. His "Explanation of the Diagram of the Supreme Polarity (more often translated as Supreme Ultimate)" (Taijitu shuo), as interpreted by Zhu, became the accepted foundation of Neo-Confucian cosmology. Zhou Dunyi, Neo-Confucianism, Northern Song
1019 - 1086 Life of Sima Guang Sima Guang, a renowned historian and statesman during the Song Dynasty. He is remembered for his most celebrated work, "The Mirror for Aid of Government, Zizhi Tongjian" and his rivalry with contemporary statesman Wang Anshi. Sima Guang, Historian, Statesman, Song Dynasty
1021 - 1086 Life of Wang Anshi Chinese Song dynasty statesman. As chief councilor (1069-74, 1075-76) he directed sweeping administrative and fiscal reforms that drew strong conservative opposition. His aim was to strengthen the central government, but the poor also benefited from reforms such as the graduated land tax, cheap government credit, and reduction of the forced labor levy. Wang revived government price and commodity controls, local police administration, and the militia system. Followers of Wang competed with conservative bureaucratic opponents for high office after his resignation. (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001) Wang Anshi, Statesman, Song Dynasty
1037 - 1101 Life of Su Shi Su Shi, one of China's most celebrated poets and essayists; an accomplished painter and calligrapher and a public official; an original thinker and philosopher; a creative exegete. His way of thinking and writing had tremendous influence on later periods. His poems are still widely recited in daily life and adopted for popular songs in East Asia today. Northern Song
1119 First reference to compass in Chinese sources The invention of the compass helped to facilitate maritime trade; in the Southern Song tax on this trade was an important source of government revenue. trade, ships
1120   First government issue of paper money Paper money emerged as a result of the merchants who found it inconvenient to carry large amounts of coins and instead traded receipts from shops holding goods or currency. Eventually the government took over this responsibility. money
1126 Fall of Kaifeng The Jin dynasty (1115-1234) of the semi-nomadic Jurchens captures the Song capital of Kaifeng, leading to the Song's loss of the North China plain. The Song relocated its capital to Lin'an (mod. Hangzhou). Its new northern border would be the Huai River.  
1150 - 1223 Life of Ye Shi Ye Shi, a prominent official and statecraft thinker in 12th-13th century Wenzhou, Zhejiang; the representative voice of the so-called Yongjia school. His political essays bear on the Song government and economy. He wrote a famous defense of Zhu Xi in 1188, yet his later stinging criticisms of the speculative philosophy also brought him renown as the critic of Zhu Xi. Neo-Confucianism
1206 Temujin given the title of "Chinggis Khan" At this point, Temujin had consolidated his power over both Mongol and non-Mongol tribes of the steppe. At the second khuriltai (council), Mongol nobles acknowledged him as overlord, and he was given the new title of Chinggis Khan by the chief shaman. Chinggis Khan also declared that there would be no more tribal names, just "Mongols". Mongol
1260 - 1294 Reign of Emperor Shizu of the Yuan Dynasty Khubilai Khan or Emperor Shizu of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) succeeded as ruler of the Mongolian Empire in 1260. He renamed his empire as the Yuan Dynasty in 1271, and had completely conquered China by 1279, establishing a new capital in Dadu (Beijing). Henceforth, for the first time China was ruled in its entirety by a non-Han political regime. Khubilai employed a mixture of Chinese and non-Chinese means of governance, and his reign witnessed institutional and legal changes that revealed ethnic discrimination. Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty
1313 The Four Books in the Examinations The Yuan court reopens the civil service recruitment examinations. For the first time the examinations test the Four Books with commentaries by Zhu Xi (1130-1200), the leader of the Neo-Confucian movement. They would continue to be required in the the Ming and Qing dynasties. The examinations were abolished in 1905. Neo-Confucianism
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1368 - 1398 Reign of the First Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (d.1398), founder of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was a poor peasant and former monk who overthrew the Mongol Yuan Dynasty and vanquished all his military rivals during his reign as the Hongwu Emperor (r. 1368-98). The Ming founder established a centralized government at the capital, Nanjing, deployed his sons to garrisons throughout the country, encouraged local self-regulation at the village level, and repeatedly and ruthlessly purged his bureaucracy during the latter half of his reign. Emperor of the Ming Dynasty
1405 - 1433 Voyages of Zheng He These imperially sponsored voyages took Zheng He and his fleet to India, the Persian Gulf, and as far as eastern Africa. The largest of the ships was 440 feet long, far bigger than any European ship of the time. Trade was not the objective of these trips; rather they were to "show the flag" of the Ming dynasty. ships, travel
1472 - 1528 Wang Yangming The leading Neo-Confucian of the Ming dynasty, he argued for the identity of mind (xin) and principle (li), and emphasized the innate knowledge of the good (liangzhi). Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism
1570   Single Whip Tax Reform In an attempt to simplify the tax system, land taxes, labor service, and other fees were consolidated into a single tax paid in silver. taxation
1583 Matteo Ricci arrives in Macao The most famous of the Jesuit missionaries in the Ming, Ricci eventually made his way to Beijing (he lived there from 1601 to his death in 1610). He learned the Chinese language, and wrote texts explaining Christianity in classical Chinese. Christianity, missionaries
1644 - 1911 Memorial Arch Memorial arch in the Qing period. During the late imperial period, the government promoted Confucian virtues in society by endowing privilege to build memorial arches to those who exemplified virtues such as filial piety, righteousness, harmonious family relations, or relieving the poor. Qing Society
1654 - 1722 Life of the Kangxi Emperor Second emperor of the Qing dynasty. Subdued Three Feudatory rebellion in the south and the Zheng family forces in Taiwan and consolidated Chinese territory following the tumultuous Ming-Qing transition period. Emperor of the Qing dynasty
1711 - 1799 Life of the Qianlong Emperor Qianlong, the fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty, led military campaigns to bring China to its current shape, built imperial libraries to house books from the whole realm, and also launched continuous literary inquisitions against literati. Emperor of the Qing Dynasty
1760 - 1820 Life of the Jiaqing Emperor The Jiaqing Emperor commenced his reign in 1796, under the shadow of his retired father Qianlong. Upon Qianlong's death in 1799 he immediately took measures to staunch the corruption associated with his father's powerful favorite, Heshen. His reign was beset by a number of major rebellions and natural disasters, which gravely affected the finances of the dynasty despite his attempts to promote frugality. Emperor of the Qing dynasty
1785 - 1850 Life of Lin Zexu Lin, with a reputation as an able and experienced administrator, was deputed to Canton in 1839 on a mission to destroy the illegal trade in opium. His forceful policies led to the outbreak of hostilities with Great Britain. This struggle, commonly named the Opium War, proved unfavorable to the dynasty and was terminated by the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing. Lin was dimissed from his post in 1840, and exiled to Ili. Opium War
1840 - 1842 Opium War When China attempted to end the opium trade by seizing foreign stores of the drug, the British responded with military force, and in 1842 occupied Shanghai. The Treaty of Nanjing (1842) concluded the war, and was the first of the unequal treaties China was forced into signing. Opium War, foreign trade
1850 - 1864   Taiping Rebellion Hong Xiuquan, a failed examination candidate of the Hakka minority group, became convinced that he was the younger brother of Christ and formed a religious group in Guangxi. Aspiring to create a utopia on earth, he founded the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Taiping Tianguo) in 1851, and their troops took Nanjing in 1853. Regional armies did not manage to put down the rebellion until 1864. rebellion
1866 - 1925 Life of Sun Yat-sen Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan) is best remembered as the Western-influenced revolutionary who headed the anti-Manchu movement, founded the Revolutionary Alliance, and led the Nationalist party up till his death in 1925. His "Three Principles of the People" - democracy, nationalism and socialism - are often cited as foundational ideologies of post-imperial China, and he is memorialized in China as well as Taiwan. This photograph shows a mural of Sun at National Day celebrations in modern Taiwan.  
1879 - 1942 Life of Chen Duxiu Leader of the New Culture Movement and founder of the Chinese Communist Party. New Youth, the journal he founded in 1915, was very influential in imbuing new ideas about democracy and science during the New Culture Movement. He later became a Communist and was elected the first secretary-general of the CCP which held its first National Congress in Shanghai in 1921. Chinese Communism
1888 - 1975 Life of Chiang Kai-shek Military and political leader of the Guomindang (Kuomintang, or KMT), he led the Northern Expedition and set up a nationalist government in 1928. A tenuous alliance with the Communists in China's struggle against Japanese invasion fell apart after World War II, resulting in the Communists gaining control in 1949 and Chiang's retreat to Taiwan, where he established KMT rule. Nationalist Party
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1888 - 1927 Life of Li Dazhao Co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party with Chen Duxiu. In 1918, he informed the Chinese readers of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia by publishing articles on it in the New Youth journal. He also formed Marxism study groups at the Beijing University from which emerged many leading CCP members in the later period, including Mao Zedong. Chinese Communism
1894 - 1895   Sino-Japanese War In a conflict over Qing tributary Korea, Chinese naval forces were decisively defeated by the Japanese military. foreign relations, Japan, Korea
1898 - 1976 Life of Zhou Enlai Though from a scholar-gentry family, Zhou was a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party and served it as a propagandist and labor organizer. His support for Mao Zunyi on the Long March solidified Mao's position as Party leader. After the founding of the People's Republic he went on to be Foreign Minister and Premier, and his suave manner and adroit diplomacy are often credited with enhancing China's international standing and building relations with the US. Politics, Communists
1904 - 1997 Life of Deng Xiaoping Chinese communist leader who was the most powerful figure in the People's Republic of China from the late 1970s until his death in 1997. He abandoned many orthodox communist doctrines and attempted to incorporate elements of the free-enterprise system into the Chinese economy. Deng Xiaoping, Chinese Leaders, Contemporary China
1905   Abolition of the examination system In last-ditch efforts to reform, the Qing put an end to the examinations and consequently the traditional system of education. education, examination
1911 End of the Qing With the abdication of the child emperor Puyi, the Qing dynasty and the 2,000-year era of imperial China came to a close. A republic was formed, led by general Yuan Shikai at the head of the Nationalist Party. Qing, republic, Yuan Shikai
1936 Xi'an Incident Zhang Xueliang who inherited the control of Manchuria from his father Zhang Zuolin, a warlord, detained Chiang Kai-shek in Xi'an this year to force him to form a united front with the CCP against Japan. Chiang was released the next year, and, as he had promised, forged another coalition with the CCP which is known as the second United Front between the KMT and the CCP. Japanese Invasion and the Second United Front
1949 Founding of the People's Republic On 1 October 1949 Mao Zedong proclaims the establishment of the People's Republic of China from Tiananmen in the center of Beijing, and asserted that henceforth that government would be the sole legal representative of all people in the country. By 3 PM 300,000 soldiers and civilians have already gathered in Tiananmen Square for the ceremony.  
1951 - 1956 Agricultural collectivization The collectivization of agriculture took place over several years, with increasing degrees of control by the state and consolidation of individual farmers or co-operatives. As male labor was diverted to other projects, more and more women entered the agricultural workforce, as depicted in this scene from Hubei, 1965. agriculture, collectivization
1966 - 1976 Cultural Revolution In an attempt to shore up his diminishing political control, Mao initiated this movement to purge the CCP of "capitalist-roaders," and establish a cult of personal power and loyalty. Youth were mobilized as Red Guard brigades, urged to destroy all things old or bourgeois. The Cultural Revolution eventually spread throughout the nation, affecting the lives of millions due to the intensity and frequent brutaility with which its ideological program was prosecuted. Cultural Revolution, culture, Red Guard
1972 Nixon goes to China The proverbially anti-communist Richard M. Nixon became the first US President to visit China from 21-28 February 1972. He visited the Great Wall, met Mao, and in daily substantive meetings with Premier Zhou Enlai laid the groundwork for new political relations between the People's Republic and the US, though he had to make significant and at the time secret concessions on the US relationship with its long-time Cold War ally, Taiwan. Politics, US China relations
1989 Tiananmen Square Pro-Democracy Movement A hunger striker faces government soldiers in front of Zhongnanhai, the residence of senior Communist Party leaders' residences near the Forbidden City. This was one of many civil protests which took place during the pro-democracy movement of 1989, also referred to as the Tiananmen Square Incident. After six weeks of popular rallies and demonstrations centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Party hardliners sent in troops who violently dispersed the demonstrators, killing thousands in the process. Tiananmen Square, pro-democracy

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