Chinese military history

Sui Dynasty581–619 CE
History of China
ANCIENT
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2070–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty 1122–256 BCE
  Western Zhou
  Eastern Zhou
    Spring and Autumn Period
    Warring States Period
IMPERIAL
Qin Dynasty 221 BCE–206 BCE
Han Dynasty 206 BCE–220 CE
  Western Han
  Xin Dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280 CE
  Wei, Shu & Wu
Jin Dynasty 265–420 CE
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin16 Kingdoms
304–439 CE
Southern & Northern Dynasties 420–589 CE
Tang Dynasty 618–907 CE
5 Dynasties &
10 Kingdoms

907–960 CE
Liao Dynasty
907–1125 CE
Song Dynasty
960–1279 CE
  Northern SongW. Xia Dyn.
  Southern SongJin Dyn.
Yuan Dynasty 1271–1368 CE
Ming Dynasty 1368–1644 CE
Qing Dynasty 1644–1911 CE
MODERN
Republic of China 1911–present
People's Republic
of China
1949–present
Republic of China
(on Taiwan)

Timeline of Chinese history
Dynasties in Chinese history
Military history of China
History of Chinese art
History of science and technology in China
History of Education in China
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The military history of China extends from around 1500 BC to the present day. China has the longest period of continuous development of military culture of any civilization in world history and had the world's most advanced military for the longest time, from 200 BC to the 16th century. Like the history of China, it is conventionally divided into three periods: ancient China (c. 1500-221 BC), imperial China (221 BC-1912), and Modern China (1912-present). Throughout most of the first two periods, the Chinese military was shaped by the military threat from the nomadic societies of Mongolia, Manchuria and central Asia, as well as legalism and later, the persistence of Confucian values. The third period relates to the efforts of the Chinese military to respond technologically and structurally to the West.

Warfare in ancient China

The first important recorded warfare in the history of China is where Yellow Emperor defeated Chiyou,and settled Huaxia in the Yellow River Valley.

Ancient China during the Shang Dynasty was a Bronze Age society based on chariot armies. Archaeological study of Shang sites at Anyang have revealed extensive examples of chariots and bronze weapons. The overthrow of the Shang by the Zhou Dynasty saw the creation of a feudal social order, resting militarily on a class of aristocratic chariot warriors (士).

Most armies of the time was organized in to three divisions, but can vary sometimes. Most infantry was armed with dagger-axe and spear. Around the 4th century B.C. the crossbow was introduced, which led to the decline of the chariots.

In the Spring and Autumn Period, warfare increased exponentially. The Zuo Zhuan describes the wars and battles among the feudal lords during the period. Warfare continued to be stylised and ceremonial even as it grew more violent and decisive. The concept of military hegemon (霸) and his "way of force" (霸道) came to dominate Chinese society.

Warfare became more intense, ruthless and much more decisive during the Warring States Period, in which great social and political change was accompanied by the end of the system of chariot warfare and the adoption of mass infantry armies. Cavalry was also introduced from the northern frontier, despite the cultural challenge it posed for robe-wearing Chinese men. Siege warfare became increasingly sophisticated, and crossbows also came into heavy usage during the later stages of the period. Military strategy shifted toward an emphasis on deception, intelligence, and strategies as codified in Sun Tzu's military treatise, The Art of War.

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Legalism and Confucianism

Legalist thinkers from Shang Yang to Li Si, both Prime Ministers of Qin, held that the society should be socially regimented and bureaucratically administered. It left the structure of an autocratic, centralised empire that remained the master institution of Chinese military history. Officials of successive dynasties thus had the means to raise tax revenues and to mobilize the population for war to a degree that was unusual for a pre-industrial society.

From the Han Dynasty onwards, Confucian values gained dominance in Chinese society. Formal histories, including military history, are composed overwhelmingly from a viewpoint that can properly be called Confucian. (see Twenty-Four Histories) The ideal was the monarch who had received the Mandate of Heaven because of his virtue and who ruled through ritual and moral example. Emperors who were warlike were usually opposed by their officials and condemned by history (examples include Qin Shi Huang, Yongle Emperor), while Emperors who decisively moved from war to peace, and from military to civil values (such as Emperor Gao of Han) were correspondingly praised.

The northern frontier

The barbarians of the northern frontier, commonly called hu (胡), include the nomadic Xiongnu, Turks, Khitan, Mongols. Others include the Xianbei and Jurchen, who combined nomadism with agriculture. All of these non-Chinese peoples were formidable because their male populations of military age were all warriors bred to the saddle and trained in the mounted archer mode of fighting that dominated Central Asia. Up until the modern age, the non-Chinese of the northern frontier were the only serious threat.

Chinese responses to their periodic invasions were multi-faceted. One of the most obvious is the building of large-scale fortifications such as the Great Wall. Other strategies included the recruitment of ethnic Chinese cavalry, the recruitment of non-Chinese cavalry forces , and the use of diplomacy and trade to neutralise the hostile intent of the barbarians.

Weapons and military technology

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Sword of Gou Jian, about 500BC


China has been an advanced country in terms of military technology, until around the 17th century. In the Qin and Han conscript armies, infantry were armed with spears, bows, and in particular crossbows (弩), a weapon in whose technology the Chinese remained superior. Even though infantry bearing shields, swords and spears existed, there is no trace of either a "phalanx" or a "legion" style of infantry fighting except the Qin's army which has a division fighting like Phalanx, preferring firepower style warfare with powerful missile weapons such as the composite bow and crossbow in fire-aim-load rows of missile infantry the norm.

The Chinese also developed catapults and siege crossbows very early. The earliest documented occurrence of ancient siege artillery pieces in China was the levered principled traction catapult and an 8foot high siege crossbow from the Mozi (Mo Jing), a Mohist text written at about the 4th - 3rd century B.C by followers of Mozi who founded the Mohist school of thought during the late Spring and Autumn Period and the early Warring States period. Much of what we now know of the siege technology of the time came to us from Books 14 and 15 (Chapters 52 to 71) on Siege Warfare from the Mo Jing. Recorded and preserved on bamboo strips, much of the text is now unfortunately extremely corrupted. However, despite the heavy fragmentation, Mohist diligence and attention to details which set Mo Jing apart from other works, ensured that highly descriptive details of the workings of mechanical devices like Cloud Ladders, Rotating Arcuballistas and Levered Catapults, records of siege techniques and usage of siege weaponry can still be found.[1]

Most Chinese armour was of the scale or lamellar variety, in which overlapping leather or metal plates of varying size are sewn onto a cloth background. Such armour is relatively light and flexible at the expense of protective strength. There are few examples of the larger plate armour seen in the west.

The stirrup became widespread in China around the fifth century. It is associated with the development of armoured cavalrymen, mounted on an armoured (barded) horse and armed with a lance. In China, heavy armor appeared before the use of the stirrup. Though knight-like cavalry were part of the ruling class of north China during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period, China did not evolve into feudalism as occurred in the West. The later stages of the Northern and Southern Dynasties period marked the return of more mobile light cavalry.

One of the most important Chinese contributions to military history is the formula for gunpowder, which was known in Song times. Firearms added to the defensive strength of the Great Wall and gunners were used extensively during the Ming Dynasty. However, historians cannot discern a "gunpowder revolution" in Chinese military history. In China, firearms remained just another missile weapon and no effort was made to standardize manufacture, reduce the number of calibers, or create new tactics and organization to exploit the potential of a new weapons system. Competition between European powers was far more involved in shock tactics in which speed was discarded for increased protection. China's lighter, more mobile enemies gives different challenges; its enemies were far faster and lighter, thus slow, inaccurate gunpowder weapons would have been unsuitable to counter these threats. In contrast the superior penetrative power of gunpowder weapons were able to punch through any protective covering of contemporary armies, yet this advantage over China's military enemies was already achieved with Chinese crossbows. The Chinese government thus systematically suppressed the development of early modern weapons systems.

Military institutions in Imperial China

Era of division

See also:


The military systems of the Three Kingdoms, the Western Jin, and the later south China regimes collectively called the Six Dynasties evolved from the Han state of affairs in which rival warlords controlled armies of dependent soldiers (部曲). Many scholars believe that under these dynasties peasants were reduced to the status of serfs, and that armies also were composed of soldiers who were unfree dependents. The Sui conquest of Nanjing ended this line of evolution.

The non-Chinese regime of the Northern Wei created the earliest forms of the equal field (均田) land system and the Fubing system (府兵) military system, both of which became major institutions under Sui and Tang. Under the fubing system each headquarters (府) commanded about one thousand farmer-soldiers who could be mobilized for war. In peacetime they were self-sustaining on their land allotments, and were obliged to do tours of active duty in the capital.

Sui and Tang dynasties

During the Sui Dynasty, the military was used to reinvade northern Vietnam (Annam) and the southern kingdom of Champa, as well as against the northern Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, in the Goguryeo-Sui Wars. The subsequent Chinese Tang Dynasty aided the Korean Silla tribe in expelling Yamato Japanese forces, conquering Baekje and Goguryeo, and thus bringing about Unified Silla.

During the Sui and Tang, most of the fubing unit were located in the northwest. The system was best suited for the annual campaigning cycle of an expanding empire. Under Empress Wu the fubing system declined, and under Xuanzong a standing army stationed on the northern frontier evolved in its place. During the An Lushan rebellion, the Tang court had no central army to resist and could only appeal to other frontier commanders.

Recognising the need for a central army as a counterweight to the troops of the regional warlords, the post-An Lushan Tang emperor created the Divine Strategy (神策) Armies, whose eunuch commanders grew increasingly powerful as the Tang declined. The Privy Council (樞密院), which dealt with military affairs, was originally a eunuch agency but was taken over by generals during the Five Dynasties period.

Song Dynasty

The Song founder Emperor Taizu of Song China continued the military system of the late Tang. He retired his principal generals and turned the Privy Council into a department controlled by civil officials. The chain of command over the central army troops concentrated in the capital area was changed regularly to prevent any general from developing a dangerous personal ascendancy over a particular body of troops. The long term trend in the Northern Song was for the central army to become larger and more expensive, while its soldiers became less capable militarily.

The relative ease with which the Jurchens conquered the capital Kaifeng illustrates the decay of the Song military system. The Hangzhou-based Southern Song depended militarily on an exiguous combination of warlord-led improvised armies and naval power. Often it was necessary to remove prominent military leaders in order to restore political stability.

In the 11th century, the Song court set up a national military school Wu Xue (). By the early 12th century, in order to combat the Jin, the Song Dynasty established China's first permanent standing navy. They also pioneered the use of gunpowder weapons (early flamethrowers, grenades, firearms, and cannons) in order to fight against the Tanguts, Jurchens, and then the Mongols.

The Song had the best-equipped heavy infantry in Chinese history, their armor is about 29.8 kg, consisted of 1825 iron pieces. Archers, for the needs of defending themselves in close combat, were equipped with the heaviest armor, which is about 28-33kg. Thick armor gave the Song army the ability to resist Jin cavalry. For the same reason, the Song always used Intensive Lineup in battles.

Yuan Dynasty

The Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty created military systems based on previous conquest dynasties such as the Khitan Liao and the Jurchen Jin. Both of these dynasties organized their tribal populations into military units that were also social organizations (Jin meng'an-mouke system). Both dynasties also assigned troop to princely appanages (ordo).

Genghis Khan ordered that every warrior, with his family and possessions, be assigned to a particular unit and forbidden to leave it on pain of death. The units were decimal: tumen (10,000), mingghan (1000), jaghun (100), and arban (10).

Ming Dynasty

See also:


The Ming dynasty derived their own soldier-farmer (weisuo) system from the Mongol model. Hereditary military personnel were assigned military colony lands to cultivate, and armies were mobilized from this pool of personnel. In a process somewhat resembling the Tang fubing, the Ming weisuo system evolved into a recruiting agency for a standing army based on the northern frontier, whose military efficacy was based on the spread of firearms technology, and later on the building of the Great Wall.

See also:


During the Japanese invasion of Korea, the Ming dynasty sent military forces to assist the Joseon military against the Japanese.

Qing Dynasty

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A Chinese paddle-wheel driven ship from a Qing Dynasty encyclopedia published in 1726.
In the early 17th century Nurhaci and his son Hong Taiji organized the Manchu people into the Eight Banner system, a system which could be traced to the Mongols and their predecessors. Before the Manchus conquered all of China, they organized some conquered Chinese and Mongols into the Chinese and Mongol Eight Banners. The banner forces combined Central Asian cavalry skills with Chinese abilities in engineering and firearms. However, Manchu officials were slow to adopt modernity and suspicious of social and technological advances which they viewed as a threat to their absolute control over China. While it is commonly believed that the Qing had forbidden the use of gunpowder weapons, this is simply not true. For example after a military campaign near the Sichuan border in the Qianlong era the regional government stockpiled several million cannonball in the region in case of another war.

Defected Ming armies formed the Green Standard Army, who played an important part in the Qing conquest of south China. They also provided the personnel for naval operations. By the end of the Qianlong reign, with Qianlong's Ten Great Campaigns, the Manchus had seemingly answered conclusively all of the military challenges posed by the history of Imperial China.

In the 19th century the enormous Taiping Rebellion resulted in 14 years (1851–1864) of continuous war in which between 20 million and 50 million died. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom created a highly disciplined army of well over a million men. To oppose this the traditional Manchu army was augmented by massive local militia forces and a number of foreign mercenaries bringing total imperial forces to more than two million. Eventually the Imperial generalissimo, Zeng Guofan, seized the Taiping capital of Tianjing (Nanking) following the death of the Heavenly King, Hong Xiuquan and ended the war.

Modern China

From the first Opium War in 1839 onwards, changes to military technology, institutions and outlook in China became driven by the West. For the first time in her history, China was confronted with a major threat from the sea. In the late 19th century the regional leader Li Hongzhang built up the Beiyang Fleet, only to see it destroyed in the First Sino-Japanese War. Lacking the advanced industrial economy needed to build up sea power, China remained vulnerable to attack by sea for the first half of the 20th century. This allowed Japan to maintain a sphere of influence in the region. For China's military history during World War II and the Second Sino-Japanese War, see the second link for more details.

The modern armies' New Army created after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 (such as the Beiyang Army) were instrumental in overthrowing the traditional Confucian government. But they proved to be more effective in fighting each other than defeating foreign enemies. Many of these were eventually overwhelmed in the Northern Expedition by the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) .

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The grave of a Chinese military hero, marked prominently by the communist symbol of a red star.


The People's Liberation Army (PLA) developed a peasant-based style of revolutionary war that ultimately prevailed in the 1946-1949 civil war and the subsequent conquests of Hainan and Tibet. The National Revolutionary Army after its defeat fled to Taiwan and was renamed as Republic of China Army. Afterwards the PLA fought in the Korean War. Their performance is open to a great deal of interpretation but is seen as a victory in China as the Chinese army was able to inflict defeat then stalemate on western powers in over a century. While they were able to dislodge the UN forces under the command of General MacArthur from the Yalu River and force them back into South Korea, Mao Zedong's son, Mao Anying, was one of the many killed in the PLA counterattack. Factors such as the PLA's unfamiliarity with front warfare and poor ammunition supply led to these problems.

However, as Chinese industry modernized, the military ability of the PLA followed apace as shown in the victorious 1962 Sino-Indian War. However, some analysts were not impressed with the PLA's performance in the brief conflict with Vietnam in 1979. In recent years the PLA has made strenuous efforts to upgrade much of its obsolete inventory through domestic research and development, plus arms and technology transfers from Russia, but progress was hindered by continued regional loyalties and the PLA's unwillingness to divest from economic enterprises. The PLA's subsequent divestment from nonmilitary enterprises and reorganization has helped expedite the modernization process.

On August 2007, China and Russia started joint military exercises in a large operation which involves troops, tanks and aircrafts. By that, it would be the first time ever, China participates on such a combined mission abroad. Both countries, along with 4 others, are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) whose charter aims to strengthen security and stability in Central Asia region. The SCO is being labeled as 'Warsaw Pact 2' in reference to NATO.[2]

Naval History



The naval history of China dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (722 BC-481 BC), with archives extending back very early about the ancient navy of China. Although there were many naval battles before the year 1132, this marked the date of the establishment of China's first standing navy, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). But considering China was a country which was longtime menaced by land-based nomadic tribes to the north such as the Xiongnu, Xianbei, Göktürks, Khitans, Jurchens, Mongols and so on, the navy was always seen as an adjunct rather than an important military force. The Chinese navy was seen as a valuable military force mostly when southern China was under attack, such as Emperor Wen of Sui's (r. 581-604) enormous naval invasion force pitted against the Chen Dynasty (557-589) or the Battle of Tangdao and Battle of Caishi on the Yangtze River in 1161 AD. With the Opium Wars, which shook up the generals of the Qing Dynasty, the navy was once again attached greater importance.

Notes

1. ^ Liang, Jieming (2006). Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity, pp. Appendix D
2. ^ Putin praises strength of 'Warsaw Pact 2'. The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved on 2007-08-19.

References

  • Liang, Jieming (2006). Chinese Siege Warfare: Mechanical Artillery & Siege Weapons of Antiquity. ISBN 981-05-5380-3. 
  • Graff, David A., Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300-900. ISBN 0-415-23954-0

External links

See also

The history of China is told in traditional historical records that refer as far back as the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors about 5,000 years ago, supplemented by archaeological records dating to the 16th century BC. China is one of the world's oldest continuous civilizations.
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The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors (Chinese: 三皇五帝; Pinyin: Sānhuáng wǔdì; Wade-Giles: San-huang wu-ti) were mythological rulers of China during the period from c.
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The Xia Dynasty (Chinese: 夏朝; Pinyin: xià cháo; Wade-Giles: hsia-ch'ao), ca.
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Shang Dynasty (Chinese: ) or Yin Dynasty () (ca. 1750 BC - ca. 1045 BC) is the second historic Chinese dynasty and ruled in the northeastern region of the area known as "China proper", in the Yellow River valley.
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Zhou Dynasty (Chinese: ; Pinyin: Zhōu Cháo; Wade-Giles: Chou Ch`ao; 1123 BC to 256 BC[1]) preceded by the Shang Dynasty and followed by the Qin Dynasty in China.
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Zhou Dynasty (Chinese: ; Pinyin: Zhōu Cháo; Wade-Giles: Chou Ch`ao; 1123 BC to 256 BC[1]) preceded by the Shang Dynasty and followed by the Qin Dynasty in China.
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Zhou Dynasty (Chinese: ; Pinyin: Zhōu Cháo; Wade-Giles: Chou Ch`ao; 1123 BC to 256 BC[1]) preceded by the Shang Dynasty and followed by the Qin Dynasty in China.
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Spring and Autumn Period (Chinese: 春秋時代; Pinyin: Chūnqiū Shídài
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History of China
ANCIENT
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2070–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty
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Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 漢朝; Simplified Chinese: 汉朝
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Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 漢朝; Simplified Chinese: 汉朝
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Xin Dynasty (Chinese: 新朝; Pinyin: Xīn Cháo; literally "New Dynasty"; 9-23) was a "dynasty" (contrary to the usual meaning of a dynasty, it had only one emperor).
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Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 漢朝; Simplified Chinese: 汉朝
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The Three Kingdoms era (Traditional Chinese: 三國; Simplified Chinese: 三国; Pinyin: Sānguo
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Cao Wei (Chinese: 曹魏; Pinyin: Cáo Wèi; Wade-Giles: Ts'ao Wei) was one of the regimes that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period.
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Shu Han (Traditional Chinese: 蜀漢, pinyin: Shǔ Hàn), sometimes known as the Kingdom of Shu (蜀 shǔ) was one of the Three Kingdoms competing for control of China after the fall of the Han Dynasty, based on areas around Sichuan which was then known
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Eastern Wu (Chinese: 東吳; pinyin: Dōng Wú), also known as Sun Wu
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16 Kingdoms
Cheng Han
Han Zhao
Later Zhao
Former Liang
Later Liang
Western Liang
Northern Liang
Southern Liang
Former Qin
Later Qin
Western Qin
Former Yan
Later Yan
Northern Yan
Southern Yan
Xia
Not included

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Southern and Northern Dynasties (Chinese: 南北朝; Pinyin: nánběicháo; 420-589 AD) followed the Sixteen Kingdoms and preceded Sui Dynasty in China.
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Sui Dynasty (Chinese: ; Pinyin: Suí cháo; 581-618 AD[]) followed the Southern and Northern Dynasties and preceded the Tang Dynasty in China.
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History of China
ANCIENT
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2070–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty
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The Song Dynasty (Chinese: 宋朝; Pinyin: Sòng Cháo; Wade-Giles: Sung Ch'ao) was a ruling dynasty in China between 960–1279 AD; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms era, and
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Released March 27, 2003
Recorded Peter Gabriel's studio
Genre Pop
Length 3:33
Label EMI
Writer(s) Ruslana
Composer(s) Ruslana
Producer(s) Ruslana , O.
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History of China
ANCIENT
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2070–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty
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The Song Dynasty (Chinese: 宋朝; Pinyin: Sòng Cháo; Wade-Giles: Sung Ch'ao) was a ruling dynasty in China between 960–1279 AD; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms era, and
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The Yuan Dynasty (Chinese: 元朝; pinyin: Yuáncháo; Classical Mongolian: Yuan Guren) was a khanate of the Mongol Empire, one of the four major divisions of the empire, lasting officially from 1271 to 1368, followed the
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History of China
ANCIENT
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2070–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty
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History of China
ANCIENT
3 Sovereigns and 5 Emperors
Xia Dynasty 2070–1600 BCE
Shang Dynasty 1600–1046 BCE
Zhou Dynasty
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