Home > China Guide >Chinese History 

China Overview

  • Population: 1.3 billion
  • Currency: yuan
  • Guinness World Records: most people painting each other's faces simultaneously in one location (13,413), largest bottle of cooking oil (containing 3212 litres), most couples hugging (3009 couples).
  • Internet users: 135 million
  • Milk beer: from Inner Mongolia, an alternative to the traditional mare's-milk wine.
  • Squirrel fish: whole mandarin fish deep-fried and manipulated to resemble a squirrel.
  • Number of chinese characters: over 56,000

Chinese History

Chinese history is very profound and informative. It represents one of the earliest and most splendid civilizations. China is regarded as one of the Four Ancient Civilizations. Its civilization is strong and perseverant enough to survive and move forward for thousands of years, while the civilizations of ancient Egypt, ancient India and Babylon were interrupted or perished.

What is the theme of Chinese history?

The pattern of dynastic rise and fall is the theme of Chinese history. A stronger dynasty overtook the weaker one. Due to the improvement of productive efficiency, the Chinese people kept pushing civilization forward. The ups and downs of Chinese dynasties also left numerous stories, some brilliant, some encouraging and some poignant, which have been always widely read and spread by Chinese people.

What are internal and foreign communications like in Chinese history?

Chinese civilization is an open unit. Through continuing communication and fusion, Chinese civilization keeps developing and spreading.

Internal Communication

There are many ethnic groups in China from ancient times. Han people mainly lived in the areas of Yellow River and Yangtze River. There are some minority groups in the north such as Hsiung-nu, Mongol, Khitan, Jurchen, and uighuruigur.  Some other minority groups live in the south, especially in today’s Yunnan, Guizou, Sichuan, Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian Provinces.
Most dynasties were built by Han people because they were more advanced in agriculture, education and society construction. On the other hand, several minority groups built dynasties, both regional and national, because they had stronger body and better horse-riding skills, which made them more competent in wars. For instance, Yuan and Qing Dynasties were two national governments built by Mongol and Jurchen.
Throughout the Chinese history, there were many wars happened between Han and minorities or between minorities. In peaceful times, economic exchanges, cultural communications and marriages both in imperial ranks and among common people all contributed to the fusion and formation of Chinese nation. Han people taught agriculture, manufacture and educational, cultural and social systems to minorities. Many minorities’ food, clothes, customs and technology were learned by Han people.

Foreign Communication

Imperial China had a long tradition of foreign relations. From the Qin Dynasty until the Qing Dynasty, Chinese civilization had an impact on neighboring countries and distant ones. Meanwhile, China's culture was transformed gradually by outside influences as well.
In history, China held that the Chinese Empire was the Celestial Dynasty, the center of world civilization, with the Emperor of China being the leader of the civilized world. This view saw China as equivalent to all under heaven. All other states were considered to be tributaries, under the suzerain rule of China. Some were direct vassals.
China was, from very early history, a center of trade and cultural communication. The capital cities of dynasties were the most active metropolis in the world, such as Chang’an and Luoyang of Tang Dynasty and Beijing of Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Silk Road

The period of the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD) was a groundbreaking era in the history of Imperial China's foreign relations. The most important success is the exploration of “Silk Road”, which consisted of “the Continental Silk Road” and “the Maritime Silk Road”.


Silk Road

During the long reign of Emperor Wu of Han (141 BC–87 BC), the travels of Chinese ambassador Zhang Qian opened up China's relations with many different Asian countries for the first time. He brought back detailed reports of lands that had been previously unknown to the Chinese, including details of his travels to the Greek-Hellenized kingdoms of Fergana (Dayuan) and the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom (Daxia), reports of Anxi (Persian Empire of Parthia), Tiaozhi (Mesopotamia), Shendu (India), and the Wusun Central Asian nomads.
After his travels, the famous land trading route called “the Continental Silk Road” leading from China to the Roman Empire was established. It became a main artery linking China and west Asian countries.
The Han general Ban Chao (AD 32-102) reconquered the states in the Western Regions (modern day Tarim Basin in Xinjiang) after pushing the Hsiung-nu out of the region. The kingdoms of Kashgar, Loulan, and Khotan returned to the control of China. He also sent his emissary Gan Ying even further to reach Rome (Daqin). Gan Ying made it as far as the Black Sea and Roman-era Syria. He brought back reports of the Roman Empire, and evidence showed that Roman sent embassies to China subsequently.
China was not limited to travel across land and mountains. During the 2nd century BC, the Chinese sailed past Southeast Asia and into the Indian Ocean, reaching India and Sri Lanka by sea. “The Maritime Silk Road” was explored.
The sea route became well traveled not only by merchants and diplomats, but also Chinese religious missionaries in search of further Indian Buddhist texts to translate from Sanskrit into Chinese. There were many other Buddhist missionaries as well, including Yuezhi missionaries and Kushan Buddhist missionaries from northern India who introduced Buddhism to China.
Also by the 1st century AD, the Chinese had made sea contacts with Yayoi Period Japan, inhabited by what the Chinese termed as the Wa people. By the 1st century, the Chinese also established relations with the Kingdom of Funan, centered in what is today’s Cambodia, but stretched partly into Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Tang Dynasty’s Foreign Communication

The Tang Dynasty (618-907) represents another highlight of China’s history in terms of its military might, establishment of vassals and tributaries, foreign trade, central political position and preeminent cultural status in East Asia.

Street in Dang Dynasty Chinese trade relations during the Tang Dynasty was extended further west to the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, and Egypt. Chinese goods were brought to foreign ports. The introduction of Islam in China began during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of Tang (649–683AD), with missionaries such as Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas, a maternal uncle to the Prophet Muhammad.

The seaport at Guangzhou in southern China became one of the largest seaports in the world, hosting foreign travelers throughout maritime Asia. Chang'an, Chinese capital in Tang Dynasty became well-known worldwide as a multicultural metropolis filled with foreign travelers, dignitaries, merchants, emissaries, and missionaries. Chinese Buddhist monks such as Xuanzang travelled India in order to gain wisdom, collect Buddhist relics, and translate additional sutras into Chines

Zheng He’s Voyages to the Western Ocean

Zheng He’s Voyages to the Western Ocean

The greatest diplomatic highlight of the Ming Dynasty was the seven voyages to the western ocean led by Zheng He. Zheng He (1371–1433) was a great explorer, diplomat and fleet admiral, who commanded voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Africa, which are collectively called as “Zheng He’s Seven Voyages to the Western Ocean”. His voyages were strongly supported by Emperor Yongle (r. 1402-1424AD), an imperial leader with great talent and bold vision.
Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions to establish and improve links with southeastern and western Asia. Zheng He was placed as the admiral in control of the huge fleet and armed forces that undertook these expeditions.
Zheng He's fleets visited Arabia, East Africa, India, Malay Archipelago and Thailand (at the time called Siam), dispensing and receiving goods along the way. There are speculations that some of Zheng's ships may have traveled beyond the Cape of Good Hope. Zheng He presented gifts of gold, silver, porcelain and silk. In return, China received such novelties as ostriches, zebras, camels, ivory and giraffes. His voyage was more than half century earlier than Columbus’s geography discovery.

Zheng He’s great fleet of gigantic ships was the largest and strongest one in the world, far larger than any other wooden ships in history. Zheng He's first voyage consisted of a fleet of 317 treasure ships holding almost 28,000 crewmen, with each ship housing up to 500. The 1405 expedition consisted of 27,800 men and a fleet of 62 treasure ships supported by approximately 190 smaller ships.

It is hard to imagine that the big fleet was to seek for friendly communication between China and other countries. Zheng He’s mission was to establish diplomatic tie with other Asian countries. No robbery or invasion was permitted in his voyages. The image of the Chinese nation was strong but not bully, powerful but not hegemonic.

Zheng He's Ship

Chinese history is a thick book which needs slow taste. The more you know about Chinese history, the better understanding of the behavior of Chinese people. They are kind, clever, friendly and hard-working, who create Chinese splendid history and culture.

HOTMost Popular Topics