Approximate territories controlled by the various dynasties and states throughout Chinese history
History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou c. 1046 – 256 BC
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn
   Warring States
Qin 221–207 BC
Han 202 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin 266–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui 581–618
Tang 618–907
  (Wu Zhou 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao 916–1125
Song 960–1279
  Northern Song Western Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan 1271–1368
Ming 1368–1644
Qing 1636–1912
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic of China 1949–present

Prior to the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor on 12 February 1912 in the wake of the Xinhai Revolution, China was ruled by a series of successive dynasties. Dividing the history of China into periods ruled by dynasties is a common method of periodization utilized by scholars. The following is a non-comprehensive list of the dynasties in Chinese history.


Transition between dynasties

One might incorrectly infer from viewing historical timelines that transitions between dynasties occurred abruptly and roughly. Rather, new dynasties were often established before the complete overthrow of an existing regime. For example, 1644 CE is frequently cited as the year in which the Qing dynasty succeeded the preceding Ming dynasty in possessing the Mandate of Heaven. However, the Qing dynasty was officially proclaimed in 1636 CE by the Emperor Taizong of Qing through renaming the Later Jin established by his father the Emperor Taizu of Qing in 1616 CE, while the Ming imperial family would rule the Southern Ming until 1662 CE. The Ming loyalist Kingdom of Tungning based in Taiwan continued to oppose the Qing until 1683 CE. Meanwhile, other factions also fought for control over China during the Ming–Qing transition, most notably the Shun and Xi dynasties proclaimed by Li Zicheng and Zhang Xianzhong respectively. This change of ruling houses was a convoluted and prolonged affair, and the Qing took almost two decades to extend their rule over the entirety of China proper.

According to Chinese historiographical tradition, each new dynasty would compose the history of the preceding dynasty, culminating in the Twenty-Four Histories. This cycle was disrupted, however, when the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty in favor of a republic. Later on, an attempt by the Republicans to draft the history of the Qing was disrupted by the Chinese Civil War, which resulted in the political division of China into the People's Republic of China on mainland China and the Republic of China on Taiwan.[1]

China during periods of political division

China was divided during multiple periods in its history, with different regions ruled by different dynasties. Examples of such division include the Three Kingdoms, Sixteen Kingdoms, Northern and Southern dynasties, and Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms periods, among others.

Relations between Chinese dynasties during periods of division often revolved around political legitimacy, which was derived from the doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven. Dynasties ruled by ethnic Han Chinese would proclaim rival dynasties founded by other ethnicities as illegitimate, usually justified based on the concept of Hua–Yi distinction. On the other hand, many dynasties of non-Han Chinese origin regarded themselves as the legitimate dynasty of China and saw themselves as the true inheritor of Chinese culture and history. Traditionally, only regimes deemed as "legitimate" or "orthodox" are termed cháo (朝; lit. "dynasty"); "illegitimate" regimes are referred to as guó (國; usually translated as either "state" or "kingdom"[a]), even if these regimes were dynastic in nature. The political legitimacy status of some of these dynasties remain contentious among modern scholars.

Such legitimacy dispute existed during the following periods:

  • Three Kingdoms
  • Eastern Jin and Sixteen Kingdoms
    • The Eastern Jin proclaimed itself as legitimate
    • Several of the Sixteen Kingdoms such as Han Zhao, Later Zhao, and Former Qin also claimed legitimacy
  • Northern and Southern dynasties
    • All dynasties during this period saw themselves as the legitimate representative of China
  • Liao, Song, and Jin dynasties
  • Ming and Northern Yuan dynasties
    • The Ming dynasty recognized the preceding Yuan dynasty as a legitimate Chinese dynasty, but asserted that it had succeeded the Mandate of Heaven from the Yuan, thus considering the Northern Yuan as illegitimate
    • Northern Yuan rulers continued to claim the "Great Yuan" dynastic title and used Chinese imperial titles until 1388 CE; Chinese titles were subsequently restored during several occasions for brief periods
  • Qing and Southern Ming dynasties
    • The Qing dynasty recognized the preceding Ming dynasty as legitimate, but asserted that it had succeeded the Mandate of Heaven from the Ming, thus refuting the claimed legitimacy of the Southern Ming
    • The Southern Ming continued to claim legitimacy until its eventual defeat by the Qing
    • The Ming loyalist Kingdom of Tungning in Taiwan denounced the Qing dynasty as illegitimate

These historical legitimacy disputes are similar to the modern competing claims of legitimacy by the People's Republic of China based in Beijing and the Republic of China based in Taipei.

Naming convention

In Chinese historiography, the names of dynasties were most commonly derived directly from their respective guóhào (國號; lit. "name of the state"). For instance, the Sui dynasty (隋朝) is known as such because its formal name was "Sui" (隋). Likewise, the Jin dynasty (金朝) was officially the "Great Jin" (大金). It was customary for Chinese monarchs to adopt a guóhào upon the founding of a dynasty, even though there were instances whereby the official name was changed during the reign of a dynasty. For example, the dynasty known retroactively as "Southern Han" (南漢) initially used the name "Great Yue" (大越), only to be renamed "Han" (漢) subsequently.

The formal name of Chinese dynasties were usually derived from the following sources:

  • the name of the ruling tribe or tribal confederation
    • e.g., the Xia dynasty took its name from its ruling class, the Xia tribal confederation
  • the noble title held by the dynastic founder prior to the founding of the dynasty
  • the name of a historical state that occupied the same geographical location as the new dynasty
  • the name of a previous dynasty from which the new dynasty claimed descent or succession from, even if such familial links were questionable
  • a term with auspicious or other significant meanings
    • e.g., the Yuan dynasty was officially the "Great Yuan", a name derived from a clause in the Classic of Changes, "dà zāi Qián Yuán" (大哉乾元; lit. "Great is the Heavenly and Primal")

When more than one dynasty shared the same Chinese character(s) as their official name, as was common in Chinese history, prefixes are retroactively applied to dynastic names by historians to distinguish between these similarly-named realms. Frequently used prefixes include:

A dynasty could be referred to by more than one retroactive name in Chinese historiography, albeit some are more widely used than others. For instance, the Liu Song (劉宋) is also known as the "Former Song" (前宋), and the Yang Wu (楊吳) is also called the "Southern Wu" (南吳).

In Chinese sources, the term "dynasty" (朝; cháo) is usually omitted when referencing dynasties that have prefixes in their historiographical names. Such a practice is sometimes adopted in English usage, even though the inclusion of the word "dynasty" is also widely seen in English scholarly writings. For example, the Northern Zhou is also sometimes referred to as the "Northern Zhou dynasty".

List of Chinese dynasties

This list includes only major dynasties of China. Due to the large number of dynastic polities in Chinese history, minor and short-lived realms (e.g., Nanyue, Zhai Wei, Shun dynasty) will not be listed.

Dynasty Rulers Ruling house Rule Founder Last monarch
English name[b] Chinese name[b] Pinyin Origin of name Surname Ethnicity From To Term
Xia dynasty 夏朝 Xià Cháo Tribe name (list) Si (姒) Huaxia 2070 BCE 1600 BCE 470 years Yu of Xia Jie of Xia
Ancient China
Shang dynasty 商朝 Shāng Cháo Toponym (list) Zi (子) Huaxia 1600 BCE 1046 BCE 554 years Tang of Shang Zhou of Shang
Western Zhou[c] 西周 Xī Zhōu Toponym (list) Ji (姬) Huaxia 1046 BCE[d] 771 BCE 275 years Wu of Zhou You of Zhou
Eastern Zhou[c] 東周 Dōng Zhōu From Zhou dynasty (list) Ji (姬) Huaxia 770 BCE 256 BCE 514 years Ping of Zhou Nan of Zhou
Early Imperial China
Qin dynasty 秦朝 Qín Cháo Toponym (list) Ying (嬴) Huaxia 221 BCE 207 BCE 14 years Qin Shi Huang Qin San Shi
Western Han[e] 西漢 Xī Hàn Toponym & Noble title (list) Liu (劉) Han 202 BCE CE 9 210 years Gao of Han Liu Ying
Xin dynasty 新朝 Xīn Cháo "New" (list) Wang (王) Han CE 9 CE 23 14 years Wang Mang Wang Mang
Eastern Han[e] 東漢 Dōng Hàn From Han dynasty (list) Liu (劉) Han CE 25 CE 220 195 years Guangwu of Han Xian of Han
Three Kingdoms 三國 Sān Guó (list) CE 220 CE 280 60 years
Cao Wei 曹魏 Cáo Wèi Noble title Cao (曹) Han CE 220 CE 266 46 years Wen of Cao Wei Yuan of Cao Wei
Shu Han 蜀漢 Shǔ Hàn Han dynasty Liu (劉) Han CE 221 CE 263 42 years Zhaolie of Shu Han Liu Shan
Eastern Wu 東吳 Dōng Wú Noble title Sun (孫) Han CE 222 CE 280 58 years Da of Eastern Wu Sun Hao
Western Jin[f][g] 西晉 Xī Jìn Noble title (list) Sima (司馬) Han CE 266 CE 316 50 years Wu of Jin Min of Jin
Eastern Jin[f][g] 東晉 Dōng Jìn From Jin dynasty (list) Sima (司馬) Han CE 317 CE 420 103 years Yuan of Jin Gong of Jin
Sixteen Kingdoms 十六國 Shí Liù Guó (list) CE 304 CE 439 135 years
Han Zhao 漢趙 Hàn Zhào Toponym & Han dynasty Liu (劉) Xiongnu CE 304 CE 329 25 years Guangwen of Han Zhao Liu Yao
Cheng Han 成漢 Chéng Hàn Toponym & Han dynasty Li (李) Di CE 304 CE 347 43 years Wu of Cheng Han Li Shi
Former Liang 前涼 Qián Liáng Toponym Zhang (張) Han CE 314 CE 376 62 years Ming of Former Liang Zhang Tianxi
Later Zhao 後趙 Hòu Zhào Noble title Shi (石) Jie CE 319 CE 351 32 years Ming of Later Zhao Shi Zhi
Former Yan 前燕 Qián Yān Toponym Murong (慕容) Xianbei CE 337 CE 370 33 years Wenming of Former Yan You of Former Yan
Former Qin 前秦 Qián Qín Toponym Fu (苻) Di CE 351 CE 394 43 years Jingming of Former Qin Fu Chong
Later Qin 後秦 Hòu Qín Toponym Yao (姚) Qiang CE 384 CE 417 33 years Wuzhao of Later Qin Yao Hong
Later Yan 後燕 Hòu Yān From Former Yan Murong (慕容) Xianbei CE 384 CE 407 23 years Chengwu of Later Yan Zhaowen of Later Yan
Huiyi of Yan[h]
Western Qin 西秦 Xī Qín Toponym Qifu (乞伏) Xianbei CE 385 CE 431 37 years[i] Wuyuan of Western Qin Qifu Mumo
Later Liang[j] 後涼 Hòu Liáng Toponym Lü (呂) Di CE 386 CE 403 17 years Yiwu of Later Liang Lü Long
Southern Liang 南涼 Nán Liáng Toponym Tufa (禿髮) Xianbei CE 397 CE 414 17 years Wu of Southern Liang Jing of Southern Liang
Northern Liang 北涼 Běi Liáng Toponym Juqu (沮渠) Xiongnu CE 397 CE 439 42 years Duan Ye
Wuxuan of Northern Liang
Ai of Northern Liang
Southern Yan 南燕 Nán Yān From Former Yan Murong (慕容) Xianbei CE 398 CE 410 12 years Xianwu of Southern Yan Murong Chao
Western Liang 西涼 Xī Liáng Toponym Li (李) Han CE 400 CE 421 21 years Wuzhao of Western Liang Li Xun
Hu Xia 胡夏 Hú Xià Xia dynasty Helian (赫連)[k] Xiongnu CE 407 CE 431 24 years Wulie of Hu Xia Helian Ding
Northern Yan 北燕 Běi Yān From Former Yan Feng (馮) Han CE 407 CE 436 29 years Huiyi of Yan[h]
Wencheng of Northern Yan
Zhaocheng of Northern Yan
Northern dynasties 北朝 Běi Cháo (list) CE 386 CE 581 195 years
Northern Wei 北魏 Běi Wèi Toponym Tuoba (拓跋)[l] Xianbei CE 386 CE 534 148 years Daowu of Northern Wei Xiaowu of Northern Wei
Eastern Wei 東魏 Dōng Wèi From Northern Wei Yuan (元) Xianbei CE 534 CE 550 16 years Xiaojing of Eastern Wei Xiaojing of Eastern Wei
Western Wei 西魏 Xī Wèi From Northern Wei Yuan (元)[m] Xianbei CE 535 CE 557 22 years Wen of Western Wei Gong of Western Wei
Northern Qi 北齊 Běi Qí Noble title Gao (高) Han CE 550 CE 577 27 years Wenxuan of Northern Qi Gao Heng
Northern Zhou 北周 Běi Zhōu Noble title Yuwen (宇文) Xianbei CE 557 CE 581 24 years Xiaomin of Northern Zhou Jing of Northern Zhou
Southern dynasties 南朝 Nán Cháo (list) CE 420 CE 589 169 years
Liu Song 劉宋 Liú Sòng Noble title Liu (劉) Han CE 420 CE 479 59 years Wu of Liu Song Shun of Liu Song
Southern Qi 南齊 Nán Qí A prophecy on defeating the Liu clan Xiao (蕭) Han CE 479 CE 502 23 years Gao of Southern Qi He of Southern Qi
Liang dynasty 梁朝 Liáng Cháo Toponym Xiao (蕭) Han CE 502 CE 557 55 years Wu of Liang Jing of Liang
Chen dynasty 陳朝 Chén Cháo Noble title Chen (陳) Han CE 557 CE 589 32 years Wu of Chen Chen Shubao
Middle Imperial China
Sui dynasty 隋朝 Suí Cháo Noble title
(随 homophone)
(list) Yang (楊)[n] Han CE 581 CE 618 37 years Wen of Sui Gong of Sui
Tang dynasty 唐朝 Táng Cháo Noble title (list) Li (李) Han CE 618 CE 907 274 years[o] Gaozu of Tang Ai of Tang
Wu Zhou 武周 Wǔ Zhōu Zhou dynasty (list) Wu (武) Han CE 690 CE 705 15 years Wu Zhao Wu Zhao
Five Dynasties 五代 Wǔ Dài (list) CE 907 CE 960 53 years
Later Liang[j] 後梁 Hòu Liáng Noble title Zhu (朱) Han CE 907 CE 923 16 years Taizu of Later Liang Zhu Youzhen
Later Tang 後唐 Hòu Táng Tang dynasty Li (李)[p] Shatuo CE 923 CE 937 14 years Zhuangzong of Later Tang Li Congke
Later Jin[q] 後晉 Hòu Jìn Toponym Shi (石) Shatuo CE 936 CE 947 11 years Gaozu of Later Jin Chu of Later Jin
Later Han 後漢 Hòu Hàn Han dynasty Liu (劉) Shatuo CE 947 CE 951 4 years Gaozu of Later Han Yin of Later Han
Later Zhou 後周 Hòu Zhōu Zhou dynasty Guo (郭) Han CE 951 CE 960 9 years Taizu of Later Zhou Gong of Later Zhou
Ten Kingdoms 十國 Shí Guó (list) CE 907 CE 979 62 years
Wuyue 吳越 Wúyuè Toponym Qian (錢) Han CE 907 CE 978 71 years Taizu of Wuyue Zhongyi of Wuyue
Ma Chu 馬楚 Mǎ Chǔ Toponym Ma (馬) Han CE 907 CE 951 44 years Wumu of Ma Chu Ma Xichong
Yang Wu 楊吳 Yáng Wú Toponym Yang (楊) Han CE 907 CE 937 30 years Taizu of Yang Wu
Liezu of Yang Wu
Rui of Yang Wu
Former Shu 前蜀 Qián Shǔ Toponym / Noble title Wang (王) Han CE 907 CE 925 18 years Gaozu of Former Shu Wang Yan
Min Mǐn Toponym Wang (王) Han CE 909 CE 945 36 years Taizu of Min Tiande of Min
Southern Han 南漢 Nán Hàn Han dynasty Liu (劉) Han CE 917 CE 971 54 years Gaozu of Southern Han Liu Chang
Jingnan 荊南 Jīngnán Toponym Gao (高) Han CE 924 CE 963 39 years Wuxin of Chu Gao Jichong
Later Shu 後蜀 Hòu Shǔ Toponym Meng (孟) Han CE 934 CE 965 31 years Gaozu of Later Shu Meng Chang
Southern Tang 南唐 Nán Táng Tang dynasty Li (李) Han CE 937 CE 975 36 years Liezu of Southern Tang Li Yu
Northern Han 北漢 Běi Hàn From Later Han Liu (劉) Shatuo CE 951 CE 979 28 years Shizu of Northern Han Yingwu of Northern Han
Northern Song[r] 北宋 Běi Sòng Toponym (list) Zhao (趙) Han CE 960 CE 1127 167 years Taizu of Song Qinzong of Song
Southern Song[r] 南宋 Nán Sòng From Song dynasty (list) Zhao (趙) Han CE 1127 CE 1279 152 years Gaozong of Song Zhao Bing
Liao dynasty 遼朝 Liáo Cháo "Vast" or "Iron"
(Khitan homophone)
(list) Yelü (Ei.ra.u.ud.svg; 耶律) Khitan CE 916 CE 1125 209 years Taizu of Liao Tianzuo of Liao
Western Liao 西遼 Xī Liáo From Liao dynasty (list) Yelü (Ei.ra.u.ud.svg; 耶律) Khitan CE 1124 CE 1218 94 years Dezong of Western Liao Tianxi of Western Liao
Western Xia 西夏 Xī Xià Toponym (list) Weiming (𗼨𗆟; 嵬名)[s] Tangut CE 1038 CE 1227 189 years Jingzong of Western Xia Li Xian
Jin dynasty[g] 金朝 Jīn Cháo "Gold" (list) Wanyan
(Wo-on gia-an.png; 完顏)
Jurchen CE 1115 CE 1234 119 years Taizu of Jin Wanyan Chenglin
Late Imperial China
Yuan dynasty 元朝 Yuán Cháo "Great" or "Primacy" (list) Borjigin
(ᠪᠣᠷᠵᠢᠭᠢᠨ; 孛兒只斤)
Mongol CE 1271 CE 1368 97 years Shizu of Yuan Huizong of Yuan
Northern Yuan 北元 Běi Yuán From Yuan dynasty (list) Borjigin
(ᠪᠣᠷᠵᠢᠭᠢᠨ; 孛兒只斤)
Mongol CE 1368 CE 1388[t] 20 years Huizong of Yuan Tianyuan of Northern Yuan
Ejei Khongghor
Ming dynasty 明朝 Míng Cháo "Bright" (list) Zhu (朱) Han CE 1368 CE 1644 276 years Hongwu Chongzhen
Southern Ming 南明 Nán Míng From Ming dynasty (list) Zhu (朱) Han CE 1644 CE 1662 18 years Hongguang Yongli
Later Jin[q] 後金 Hòu Jīn Jin dynasty (list) Aisin Gioro
(ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ; 愛新覺羅)
Jurchen[u] CE 1616 CE 1636 20 years Tianming Taizong of Qing
Qing dynasty 清朝 Qīng Cháo "Pure" (list) Aisin Gioro
(ᠠᡳᠰᡳᠨ ᡤᡳᠣᡵᠣ; 愛新覺羅)
Manchu CE 1636 CE 1912 276 years Taizong of Qing Xuantong
  • Note: Major dynasties and time periods are highlighted.

Timeline of major Chinese dynasties and states

See also



  1. ^ The term "kingdom" is potentially misleading as not all rulers held the title of king. For example, sovereigns of the Eastern Wu used the title huángdì (皇帝; lit. "emperor") despite the realm being considered as one of the "Three Kingdoms". Similarly, monarchs of the Western Qin, one of the "Sixteen Kingdoms", bore the title wáng (王; usually translated as "prince").
  2. ^ a b The English and Chinese names stated are historiographical nomenclature. These should not be confused with the guóhào officially proclaimed by each dynasty.
  3. ^ a b The Western Zhou (西周) and Eastern Zhou (東周) are collectively known as the Zhou dynasty (周朝).
  4. ^ All preceding dates are derived from the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project.
  5. ^ a b The Western Han (西漢) and Eastern Han (東漢) are collectively known as the Han dynasty (漢朝).
  6. ^ a b The Western Jin (西晉) and Eastern Jin (東晉) are collectively known as the Jin dynasty (晉朝).
  7. ^ a b c The names of the Jin dynasty (晉朝) of the Sima clan and the Jin dynasty (金朝) of the Wanyan clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Jin".
  8. ^ a b The Emperor Huiyi of Yan could either be the last Later Yan monarch or the founder of the Northern Yan depending on the historian's characterization.
  9. ^ The Western Qin was interrupted by the Later Qin between 400 CE and 409 CE. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed before 400 CE and the restored realm.
  10. ^ a b The names of the Later Liang (後涼) of the Lü clan and the Later Liang (後梁) of the Zhu clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Liang".
  11. ^ The ruling house of the Hu Xia initially bore the surname Liu (劉). The Emperor Wulie of Hu Xia subsequently adopted Helian (赫連) as the surname.
  12. ^ The ruling house of the Northern Wei initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). The Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei subsequently adopted Yuan (元) as the surname.
  13. ^ The ruling house of the Western Wei initially bore the surname Yuan (元). The Emperor Gong of Western Wei subsequently adopted Tuoba (拓跋) as the surname.
  14. ^ The ruling house of the Sui dynasty initially bore the surname Puliuru (普六茹). The Emperor Wen of Sui subsequently adopted Yang (楊) as the surname.
  15. ^ The Tang dynasty was interrupted by the Wu Zhou between 690 CE and 705 CE. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed before 690 CE and the restored realm. The duration of the Wu Zhou is not included within the count for the Tang dynasty.
  16. ^ The ruling house of the Later Tang initially bore the surname Zhuye (朱邪). The Emperor Xianzu of Later Tang subsequently adopted Li (李) as the surname.
  17. ^ a b The names of the Later Jin (後晉) of the Shi clan and the Later Jin (後金) of the Aisin Gioro clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Jin".
  18. ^ a b The Northern Song (北宋) and Southern Song (南宋) are collectively known as the Song dynasty (宋朝).
  19. ^ The ruling house of the Western Xia initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). The Tang dynasty and Song dynasty later bestowed the family the surname Li (李) and Zhao (趙) respectively. The Emperor Jingzong of Western Xia subsequently adopted Weiming (嵬名) as the surname.
  20. ^ The Northern Yuan is considered to have ended in 1388 CE by traditional Chinese historiography, even though some historians regard the Mongol regime that existed between 1388 CE and 1635 CE as a continuation of the Northern Yuan.
  21. ^ The name of the Jurchen ethnic group was changed to "Manchu" in 1635 CE by the Emperor Taizong of Qing.


  1. ^ "Chiang Kai-shek and retrocession". Taiwan: China Post. November 5, 2012. p. 2. Retrieved December 2, 2012.


  • China Handbook Editorial Committee, China Handbook Series: History (trans., Dun J. Li), Beijing, 1982, 188–89; and Shao Chang Lee, "China Cultural Development" (wall chart), East Lansing, 1984.

External links

  • Columbia University. Dynasties song