Ancient China for Kids
Civilization in ancient China began over 11,000 years ago. To make things easier, the study of ancient China is broken up into big blocks of time, each with a ruling family in charge. These ruling families are called dynasties. There were not that many dynasties in ancient China. Most dynasties, or ruling families, ruled for a very long time. People refer to these dynasties as "times" - they'll say in Han times or in Tang times or in Chou times or Shang times.
Xia Dynasty - The Great Engineers. Archaeologists believe the Xia Dynasty (sometimes called the Hsia Dynasty) began around the year 2,000 BCE, about 4,000 years ago. Legend says this dynasty was founded by the best engineer from the Lungshan people, who settled along the Huang He River a thousand years earlier. Our knowledge of people during Xia times comes from ancient stories and the ruins of villages.
Shang (Shang times) Dynasty - The Shang are famous for their use of bronze, chopsticks, jade, silk, spices, oracle bones, and a system of writing. The kingship was very odd. Instead of going from father to son, it went from brother to brother or from brother to nephew. The Shang justified their right to rule using the Mandate of Heaven. (The gods said they could rule.)
Chou Dynasty (Chou times, also spelled Zhou and pronounced "joe") - Confucius was born and Taoism began during Chou times. The Chou built roads and canals for better trade and travel. They were interested in the sciences, especially astronomy. Literature flourished. It was an age of chariots, bowmen, great royal hunts, bronze candlesticks, feudal lords, jade carvings, rich nobles and poor farmers. The Shang and the Chou ruled for nearly two thousand years. For most people, daily life was very similar during both the Shang and Chou dynasties (Shang times and Chou times.)
Moving into the historical period called Imperial China:
Qin Dynasty - China is pulled together as one country! This was a very short lived dynasty. Qin only ruled for 15 years. They were very cruel years, but he got a lot done. You could not disagree with Qin or you would be put to death. The Great Wall was started. Books were burned. Qin developed a system of bureaucracy so that he could control every minute of peoples lives. Under Qin, China was pulled together as one country.
Han Dynasty (Han times) - The Silk Road and many new inventions. The Han Dynasty was not the golden age, but new things were happening like the invention of paper, the beginning of the Silk Road, and free public education.
Age of Division - War! After the Han came a period of several small warlike dynasties. This period is called the Age of Division. It was a rough time. It seemed like war would never stop.
Tang Dynasty (Tang times, also spelled T'ang) - The Golden Age of Ancient China. Finally, much to the relief of the people, the Tang took over. The Tang Dynasty is called the Golden Age of Ancient China. People were happy. The wars were over. There was a gaiety in China in Tang times. Many new things were introduced like bananas. Tea drinking became popular. The Tang Dynasty is famous for it's encouragement of literature, dancing, music, scroll painting, and art. Craftsmen worked with bronze and silver and gold and copper. Scroll painting became popular during Tang times. Pottery was painted with ornate scenes of daily life, and of carriages, and bridges, and signs of the zodiac. People came from as far away as India and Korea to study the arts in China. There were special rooms in the imperial palace for training. You had to have talent, but the opportunity was there.
Moving into the Middle Ages and Age of Exploration:
Song Dynasty - The Age of Invention. Like the Han and the Tang Dynasties, the Song Dynasty was a time of wonderful invention and art. Chinese opera began during the Song Dynasty, as did the art of paper cutting. So many things were invented during Song times that this period in history is sometimes referred to as China's Age of Invention.
Ming Dynasty - The Age of Exploration. The Ming Dynasty was the dynasty in power in China during the Middle Ages. This was China's Age of Exploration. The great Chinese mariners sailed and mapped the world. They brought back treasures from around the globe, some of which are on display today in the fabulous Forbidden Palace.
Each of these dynasties played a part in making China into the fascinating country it is today.