Top 6 Greatest Dynasties of China

There are 24 dynasties in ancient China, spanning around 4000 years from 2070BC to 1912AD. In the heyday of ancient Chinese history, China’s territory was once extended to Central Asia and Siberia. Today when we visit the historical sites like the Great Wall and Forbidden City, we still find traces of the powerful dynasties of China and picture those extraordinary times. Then wonder what the greatest Chinese dynasties are? And why? It is probably that everyone has his/her own answers, and even the historians are still arguing over it endlessly.

In general, people agree that the 6 greatest and most powerful Chinese dynasties in history are Tang Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty, Ming Dynasty, Han Dynasty, Qin Dynasty and West Zhou Dynasty.

1. Tang Dynasty – once the center of the world and witnessed the zenith of Chinese economy, culture and political power

Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty - one of the greatest Chinese dynasties

(Emperor Taizong of Tang)

Time: 618 - 907

Founder: Emperor Tang Gaozu

Maximum Area: about 20.37 million square kilometers

Largest population: 80 to 90 million

Military power: In his later years of Emperor Xuanzong's reign, the total number of troops in China was about 570,000,

Economy: In the reign of Empress Wu Zetian, GDP was equal to about $23.9 billion.

The Tang Dynasty was a unified dynasty following the Sui Dynasty (581 - 618). It lasted for two hundred and eighty-nine years and was generally recognized as one of the most powerful dynasties of China. Besides its superior military power, it was also a period of great prosperity in political, economic, cultural and institutional aspects.

At its height, the Tang Empire stretched from the Korean Peninsula in the east to The Area of Hue, Vietnam in the south, to the Aral Sea and Khorasan in central Asia in the west, and to Lake Baikal in the north.

The Tang dynasty not only conquered the neighboring countries with its military strength, but also, more importantly, influenced greatly the neighborin g countries like Japan, Silla, Siam, Chenla, Vietnam, and Persia with its culture and economy. The Tang Dynasty adopted a very tolerant attitude towards other cultures and religions, and encouraged all nations at home and abroad for cultural exchange and study, thus forming a wide and open international culture. At that time, people from all over the world could come to Chang'an (today’s Xian City) to travel around, study and settle down. Chang'an was like an international metropolis.

The Tang Dynasty and the Arab Empire were the most powerful empires in the world at that time. Their reputation spread far and wide, and they had contacts with Asian and European countries. Today, Chinatowns (Tang people’s streets) are built in the most prosperous places in the world; some countries still call China Tangshan, and call the Chinese Tang People – all indicating that the Tang Dynasty was so powerful.

2. Yuan Dynasty - nomadic people conquered the world and built the largest territory in history

The statue of Genghis Khan of Yuan Dynasty

(Statue of Genghis Khan)

Time: 1271 - 1368

Founder: Genghis Khan

Maximum Area: about 21.00 million square kilometers

Largest population: 85 million

Military power: Yuan Dynasty had relatively strict control over the number of troops, due to the Mongols’ large number of cavalr and ethnic division system. The number of troops in this period was about 500,000.

Economy: In the early years of the Yuan Dynasty, the GDP was equal to about $32 billion.

The Yuan Dynasty was founded by the Mongols and established its capital as Dadu (today’s Beijing). It had 11 emperors and lasted for 98 years. It ended the division since the late Tang dynasty and the Five Dynasties and united China again.

The Yuan Empire, dominated by present-day China, was the largest in Chinese history, with an area of more than 21 million square kilometers, reaching to the north of Yinshan Mountain in the north, Nanhai Islands in the south, Sakhalin Island in the northeast, and Xinjiang and Central Asia in the northwest. Today’s Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan, northeast China, some islands in Taiwan, and Nanhai Zhudao are all under Yuan Dynasty’s rule.

The establishment of the provinces in the first administrative region of China created by the Mongols is still in use today. The Mongols made Tibet an inalienable part of Chinese territory for the first time. The Mongols eliminated the Dali regime and set up Yunnan Province, ending the situation in which the Yunnan region had been separated from the central government for nearly a thousand years since the Northern and Southern Dynasties.

3. Han Dynasty - the Huaxia people have been called the Han Chinese since the Han Dynasty

- one of the greatest Chinese dynasties

(Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty played by Chen XIao on TV series)

Time: 202BC - 220 AD

Founder: Emperor Han Gaozu

Maximum Area: about 6 million square kilometers

Largest population: 60 million

Military power: The Han Dynasty implemented the policy of recuperation. The number of troops in the early Han Dynasty was about 300,000

Economy: The GDP of the Han Dynasty was equal to about $26.55 billion.

The Han Dynasty (including West Han and East Han) in Asia and the Roman Empire in Europe were ranked as the most advanced civilization and powerful empires in the world at that time.

In its heyday of the Han Dynasty, China’s territory reached Korea in the east, Vietnam in the south, Congling in the west and Daggobi in the north. It had a population of about 60 million, accounting for one third of the world at that time.

In Han Dynasty, the Chinese culture was unified. The traditional Han culture, represented by the Confucian culture, was formally formed. The two Han Dynasties also made great achievements in the field of science and technology, for example, Cai Lun improved paper making, which become one of the four great inventions of China, while Zhang Heng invented the seismograph and armillary sphere.

During the reign of Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty, Zhang Qian was sent on a mission to the Western Regions to connect China with the nomadic countries in the Western regions and open up the Silk Road. Ban Chao, during the reign of Emperor Hedi of the Han Dynasty, extended the Silk Road to Europe, further enhancing the cultural and economic exchange. In 100 AD, the Roman Empire sent envoys to the Imperial Court of the Han Dynasty.

4. Ming Dynasty – it had the most powerful fleet in the 15th Century

Zhenghe and his fleet

(Painting of Zhengyang and his fleet)

Time: 1368 - 1644

Founder: Emperor Ming Taizu

Maximum Area: about 9.97 million square kilometers

Largest population: 71.85 million (some say over two hundred million)

Military power: The Ming Dynasty had the only ocean-going fleet in the world. The total number of troops was about 1 to 2 million.

Economy: The GDP of the Ming Dynasty was equal to about $33.9 billion.

The Ming Dynasty lasted for 276 years and had sixteen emperors. In the early stage, Nanjing was established as the capital, but later in 1421, Beijing became the capital.

The Ming Dynasty is one of the greatest Chinese dynasties. Firstly it was the only dynasty in Chinese history that had a navy – Zheng He’s Fleet, which was the world’s most powerful navy and the only ocean-going fleet. Zheng He and his fleet had 7 voyages to the “ancient Western Seas” (including today’s Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sumatra and Java of Indonesia, Malacca, Sri Lanka, Maldives and some other counties and areas) were the largest-ever navigation in ancient China, with the largest number of ships and sailors and the longest time. They were also the largest series of maritime expeditions in the history of the world before the voyages of European geographical discoveries at the end of the 15th century.

Secondly, the Ming Dynasty army could defeat the invincible Mongols. Thirdly, The Ming dynasty was also one of the few countries in the world that could manufacture and equip themselves with gunpowder. The gunpowder weapons of the Ming Dynasty were the most advanced and large-scale in the world at that time.

Economically, the absolute GDP of the Ming Dynasty was larger than that of the Han and Tang dynasties, accounting for about 40% of the world's total GDP during the same period. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ming Dynasty was one of the most prosperous countries in the world in terms of industry and economy.

5. Qin Dynasty - the first feudal dynasty in Chinese history

The Terracotta Army of Qin Dynasty

(The mighty Terracotta Amry of Emperor Qinshihuang)

Time: 221 BC- 207 BC

Founder: Emperor Qinshihuang

Maximum Area: about 3.4 million square kilometers

Largest population: Between 25 and 30 million

Military power: The Ming Dynasty had the only ocean-going fleet in the world. The total number of troops was about 1.5 million.

The first feudal dynasty of China, Qin Dynasty lasted only for 14 years, with only two emperors. But it has been regarded one of the most powerful dynasties and had great influence on Chinese history.

It took ten years for the first Emperor of Qin to sweep through the six kingdoms, complete the unification of China, and assume the throne as emperor. After the unification of China, the Qin Dynasty built the Great Wall to fight against the northern Huns and other nomadic peoples. It had a great army consisting of daredevil soldiers and talented generals. Bai Qi was one of them. He conducted more than seventy wars in his life and never lost, thus celebrated as “God of Wars”.

The Qin Dynasty established the imperial system and the central official system, abolished the system of enfeoffment of the Western Zhou Dynasty and replaced it with the system of prefectures and counties, maintained the unification of the country and strengthened the central government's control over the local areas. It promoted the unification of customs and writing, and standardized the weights and measures, thus strengthening the cohesion of the unification.

Today, when people visit the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shihuang, they can still imagine the power and splendor of the Qin Empire over 2,000 years ago.

6. West Zhou Dynasty - the longest dynasty in the history of China

Ancient Chinese music of West Zhou Dynasty - one of the greatest dynasty of China

(Ancient Chinese music of West Zhou Dynasty)

Time: 1046 BC- 771 BC

Founder: Emperor Zhou Wuwang

The West Zhou dynasty had 12 emperors ruling China for almost 8 centuries. It has two capitals – today’s Xian and Luoyang. The West Zhou Dynasty was the heyday of China’s slave society.

The productivity of the society was more improved than that of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC -1046 BC). Agriculture flourished and culture further developed. Patriarchal clan system and the “nine squares” system of land ownership were the basic social political and economic systems.

During its heyday, the territory reached across the Yangtze River in the south, Liaoning province in the northeast, Gansu Province in the west, and Shandong Province in the east.

Ever since the West Zhou Dynasty, China’s ethnic groups and tribes are constantly blending. The Chinese nation gradually formed.