With more than 5,000 years of history, the Chinese civilization is the oldest in the world and is still alive and well even though, in the last 70 years, there has been an enormous effort to hide it and leave it in oblivion.
The narrative of China’s traditional history revolves around the so-called dynastic cycle. Historical events are explained as the result of successive dynasties of kings and emperors who went through the alternating rise and fall stages.
The cultural diversity in China, primarily due to its enormous geographic extension, was a great challenge that the various dynastic regimes had to overcome to achieve genuine political and social unity.
During these five thousand years of history, many Dynasties alternated. There were confrontations, wars, development of beliefs and customs. Still, beyond the differences between each dynasty, specific points in common were maintained that led to the creation of a strong civilization full of shared traditions and values based on righteousness, at least until the arrival of communism to power.
Despite the complexity required to analyze so many years of history and culture, the dynastic cycle allows us to carry out this task using a linear structure from antiquity to the present, simplifying its understanding.
The Three Augusti and Five Emperors
The Three Augusti and Five Emperors are mythological characters who founded and ruled China before the first dynasty between approximately 2852 and 2070 BC.
According to traditional history, these rulers gave birth to the Chinese civilization. They founded the cornerstone of classical social, cultural, and economic institutions such as the family, writing, agriculture, and many others that marked Chinese civilization.
The various historical sources agree on the existence of three Augustans and five emperors. Still, these identities vary according to different sources, with different versions for both the Augustans and the emperors. Nevertheless, they also agree that all have lived hundreds of years and were responsible for numerous miracles that gave rise to many classical legends.
The Three Augustans are initially named by the great historian or Shiji of Sima Qian from about 109 B.C. According to Sima, the three Augustans are the heavenly Sovereign or Fu Xi, the earthly Sovereign or Nuwa, and the Tai or human Sovereign, Shennong. All are considered from the earliest scriptures to be demigods, folk heroes, and sages all in one.
As for the Five Emperors, Sima Qian presents them as; the Yellow Emperor, Zhuanxu, Emperor Ku, Emperor Yao, and Shun. The Yellow Emperor, also known as Huangdi, supposedly ruled for 100 years, from 2697 to 2597 B.C., and is considered the leading creator of Chinese civilization.
Many believe that Huangdi was a deity who came down to earth but later transformed into a human ruler in Chinese mythology.
The second of the Five Emperors was the Yellow Emperor’s grandson, Zhuanxu, who ruled for about 78 years. Although not as extensive, he succeeded in radically changing China’s matriarchal culture toward patriarchy in this period. In addition, he created the first calendar and composed the first piece of music, called “The Answer to the Clouds.”
The so-called White Emperor or Emperor Ku, great-grandson of the Yellow Emperor, ruled for 70 years from 2436 to 2366 B.C. According to mythology, from his rule began to develop the musical culture of China, and he was the creator of the first musical instruments that lasted for millennia.
The fourth of the Five Emperors, Emperor Yao, is cataloged as a wise king and a model of moral perfection. Although part of Chinese mythology, Yao and Shun the Great, the fifth emperor, are described by historians as actual figures with human behaviors.
Both the names of the Three Augustans and Five Emperors and the dates and stories that revolve around them are part of the founding legends and mythologies of China. Despite the lack of empirical evidence that proves the complete integrity of the facts, it is fascinating that there are historical records with five thousand years of history still alive to explain the origin of such a valuable civilization.
‘The earth is under the watchful eye of Heaven’: The common ground of all Dynasties
The ancient Chinese did not have the concept of “nation” as we know it today, and the usual boundaries between kingdoms or governments were defined by differences in culture and beliefs, not by imaginatively marked lines of territory.
“All lands are under the watch of Heaven” was a basic tenet of the ancient rulers who eventually unified China as a nation. The emperors, called Sons of Heaven, secured titles from the leaders of neighboring territories, thus unifying various regions and ethnic groups under a single administration called a dynasty.
The first Chinese dynasty is estimated to be around 2000 B.C., and the last one ended in 1912 A.D. In all, 13 great reigns ruled during a historical period characterized by alternating times of unity with the expansion of dynasties and periods of divisions in times of power crises.
During the divisions, various Central Asian peoples intervened. Over the centuries, they were assimilated into the Han population. Han is a name often used to refer to the original Chinese ethnic population, to differentiate them from other ethnic minorities living in China today.
The 13 dynasties
From 2070 B.C. until the abdication of its last emperor in 1912 A.D., historians count 13 successive dynasties that ruled the whole Chinese territory with various particularities.
- Xia Dynasty (2123-2025 BC)
Founded by Yu the Great (2123-2025 BC), the Xia dynasty is considered the first in China’s extensive history.
According to historians, Yu gained power after becoming the undisputed leader after developing a flood control technique that stopped the Great Flood that had destroyed farmers’ crops for generations.
Very little is known about this dynasty, with many researchers grouping it with the mythological rulers of Chinese history. Others claim the later Zhou dynasty invented it to justify its history.
- Shang Dynasty (1600-1050 BC)
The Shang dynasty existed between 1600 and 1050 B.C. and is the first to have archaeological evidence supporting its existence and important early legacies. During these years, 31 kings ruled, who initiated the tradition for the profound development of knowledge, especially in mathematics, astronomy, art, and military technology.
- Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC)
With almost 800 years of rule, the Zhou Dynasty was the longest.
Culture flourished during these years, and civilization was unified and spread territorially. A standard writing system was codified, and coins were developed as a form of exchange as we know it today.
During this time, the great Chinese thinkers of antiquity, such as Confucius and Lao-Tze, were born. They imparted the fundamental bases of philosophy and the ethical and moral thinking that governed during the following millennia throughout the region.
The dynasty was also characterized by its struggle against the different fiefdoms that remained independent. Finally, Qin Shi Huangdi managed to unify these cities/states and become the first emperor of a unified China at the beginning of the next dynasty.
- Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC)
During the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi, the era of imperial China officially began. Although the period of rule was the shortest, the territorial expansion was enormous, consolidating the empire, including the unification of the walls of the different cities into a single Great Wall.
- Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)
For more than 400 years, the Han Dynasty maintained a period of stability and prosperity that’s never been repeated. This period is known as the Golden Age of China.
Among other noteworthy issues during these years was the inauguration of what was later called the Silk Road, through which China related to neighboring countries to the West and later with the West, developing trade, exchanging cultures, and making China’s existence known to the whole world.
Also, during this period, Buddhism was introduced, and Confucian thought was strengthened.
The name “Han” was taken as the name of the Chinese people. Today, the Han Chinese are the dominant ethnic group in China and the largest globally.
- Six Dynasties Period (220-581 AD)
The time of the Six Dynasties was a turbulent period in ancient China where the region was divided between different rulers and fractured into two major sectors; the North and the South.
- Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD)
In 581 A.D., the brief Sui dynasty emerged. Despite its short duration, it is remembered for setting a new course in history by unifying the Northern and Southern territories before being overthrown by the Tang dynasty in 618 A.D.
Confucianism disintegrated as the dominant religious belief and gave way to Taoism and Buddhism, which spread strongly throughout the territory.
During these years, the empowerment of the Chinese empire stands out. The Wen and Yang emperors considerably expanded the army until it became the largest in the world. At the same time, they developed and strengthened the Great Wall of China as the primary defense strategy.
- Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD)
The Tang Dynasty was the period considered by historians as the point of the greatest prosperity of Chinese civilization. In addition to years of wartime stability and economic and population growth, these years saw significant achievements in technology, science, culture, art, literature, and poetry.
The dynasty also saw the only female monarch in Chinese history: Empress Wu Zetian (624-705).
- Period of five dynasties and ten reigns (907-960 AD)
During these hectic years in Northern China, five aspiring dynasties succeeded one after another without giving themselves time to consolidate power. During the same period, 10 regimes dominated separate regions of Southern China.
The prosperous years of the Tang Dynasty were followed by this period of war and chaos that lasted for 50 years until the Song Dynasty finally came to power in 960 A.D.
- Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD)
The Song Dynasty saw the reunification of China under Emperor Taizu. And during these three centuries, important inventions such as gunpowder, printing, paper money, and the compass were developed, which significantly changed the modern world in both East and West.
The various governments of the Song dynasty suffered important fractures and internal struggles that caused countless factions that weakened the Chinese empire sufficiently to allow the Mongols to advance through the North of the territory.
The Song court finally gave in to the defiant invasion of the Mongol army dominated by Kublai Khan, who gave birth to the Yuan dynasty.
- Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD)
Kublai Khan, the grandson of the mighty Genghis Khan, was the first emperor of the Yuan dynasty. Khan was the first non-Chinese ruler to seize the entire empire, which became part of one of the greatest empires of mankind, the Mongol Empire.
The Mongol conquests came to unite territories as far apart as Eastern Europe, Iran, and China under their empire.
The Mongol reign in China had the difficult task of trying to govern a people with cultural characteristics different from their own, which added to a series of famines, plagues, and natural disasters that provoked the dissatisfaction of the societies, which developed great revolts until the eventual fall of the Mongol power.
- Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD)
During this period, along with widespread economic prosperity throughout the empire, the Chinese population also grew considerably. However, attacks by nomadic peoples from the North did not cease and posed a constant problem for the rulers.
War conflicts encouraged the authorities to expand and reinforce the Great Wall of China, which reached a length of more than 21,000 kilometers from one end to the other, which was a symbol of enormous power both to strengthen internal ties and intimidate external enemies.
The Ming Dynasty was also responsible for erecting the Forbidden City, the famous imperial residence in Beijing.
- Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 AD)
The Qing dynasty was the last imperial dynasty of China, which the Republic of China succeeded in 1912.
The Qing were Manchu rather than Han Chinese. The Manchus are an ethnic minority with nomadic roots, their own language, and particular customs from what is now northeastern China.
During the Qing period, Chinese territory reached its greatest extent. And while the early years of the empire enjoyed relative stability, the 19th and 20th centuries brought China into increasingly pronounced conflict with Western powers until, in 1912, the last of the Chinese emperors, Puyi, abdicated in favor of a republican government.
The end of the dynastic era and the rise of the republican state
In the last decades of the 19th century, the hitherto powerful Imperial China was beginning to show vital signs of weakening, especially after military defeats against Western foreign powers, such as in the Opium Wars.
This weakness led many sectors of the Chinese petty bourgeoisie to raise the need for political reforms that would allow the country to achieve economic and social development, as demonstrated by the foreign powers and, especially, Japan, an Asian country that many Chinese saw as a model to imitate.
Thus, some sectors began to push for implementing a political system similar to the republican system widespread in the West. Among the proposed plans was the idea of creating a constitutional monarchy that would maintain the imperial tradition while adopting a modern political approach, following in Japan’s footsteps.
Others, more radical, proposed eliminating the Qing dynasty, which many saw as a foreign dynasty because of its Manchu origin, and instead imposing a democratic republic like the “more advanced” countries of the West.
The most important republican ideologue of the last years of the Qing dynasty was Sun Yat-sen, who already, in 1895, tried to carry out a revolution against the Dynasty. However, after failing in his attempt, he was forced into exile abroad.
In October 1911, after a further weakening of the Qing dynasty following the loss of the island of Taiwan to the Japanese advance, a new revolt with republican airs managed to destroy what remained of the Manchu dynasty. On Jan. 1, 1912, the Republic of China was officially established, and Sun Yat-sen, also the founder of the Kuomintang, became the first Chinese president.
Several governments that alternated dictatorial periods with pseudo-democracies followed Sun Yat-sen’s short rule. Internal conflicts grew, and slowly but surely, the communist spectrum infiltrated from the West and managed to enter in the form of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Communism finally took power by force in 1949 after defeating the army of the Kuomintang Nationalists (KMT), giving rise to the greatest dictatorship in the history of mankind, which continues to this day.
The CCP eliminates traditional history
China carries on its back more than 5,000 years of history loaded with content, development, culture, knowledge, and deep faith in the Divine. But, as with everything humans do, the various dynasties made significant mistakes that also caused catastrophes to the people.
But despite the criticisms, no one can deny that the five thousand years of Chinese civilization have been glorious in terms of the development achieved in scientific and technical areas and art and culture.
However, most Chinese today are not aware of the value of their history. Because under the dictatorial regime of the CCP, the historical education of young people is a product of Sino-Marxist indoctrination that limits the country’s rich history to a simple set of peasant rebellions resulting from the exploitation of the rulers, which supposedly generated the rise of the new monarchies.
According to the CCP, all dynasties are of feudal origin and exploited their citizens to a greater or lesser extent, forcing them to rebel and revolt against the rulers.
This historical reductionism, coupled with the CCP’s forcible elimination of all vestiges of valuable traditional Chinese civilization, led to the exponential growth of communism, which took over and transformed all of China in just a few decades.
The dynasties were the driving force behind sources of knowledge and value that changed the Eastern and Western worlds. The artistic values, the scientific development linked to the Divine, and the ethical values of traditional Chinese society have not been seen again. Unfortunately, they have been hidden by the perverse communism without allowing the present generations to value such a precious treasure formed from the life of their ancestors.