China’s longest lasting dynasties survived due to one or more great emperors.
After China was unified by Qin Shi Huangdi (221 – 207 BC), there were only five dynasties that survived for long periods — the Han, Tang, Sung, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.
Although China’s civilization survived, the country’s history is rampant with rebellions, palace coups, corruption among palace officials, and insurrections. Between the five longest dynasties, the country usually fell apart into warring states as it did after 1911.
The most successful emperors managed to stabilize the country while managing wisely as the Communist Party has done since 1976.
Emperor Han Wudi (ruled 141 – 87 B.C.) of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 219 A.D.) was fifteen when he first sat on the throne.
Wudi is considered one of the greatest emperors in China’s history. He expanded the borders, opened the early Silk Road, developed the economy, and established state monopolies on salt, liquor and rice.
After the Han Dynasty collapsed, China fell apart for almost 400 years before the Tang Dynasty was established (618 -906). The Tang Dynasty was blessed with several powerful emperors.
The first was Emperor Tang Taizong (ruled 627-649).
According to historical records, Wu Zetain, China’s only woman emperor also ruled wisely.
Emperor Tang Zuanzong , Zetain’s grandson, ruled longer than any Tang emperor and the dynasty prospered while he sat on the throne.
After the dynasty fell, there would be short period of about 60 years before the Sung Dynasty reestablished order and unified the country again.
The second emperor of the Sung Dynasty, Sung Taizong (ruled 976 – 997) unified China after defeating the Northern Han Dynasty. The third emperor, Sung Zhenzong (ruled 997-1022) also deserves credit for maintaining stability.
The Sung Dynasty then declined until a revival by Sung Ningzong (ruled 1194 – 1224) After he died, the dynasty limped along until Kublai Khan defeated the last emperor in 1279.
After conquering all of China, Kublai Khan founded the Mongol, Yuan Dynasty (1277-1367). Not long after Kublai died, the dynasty was swept away.
In 1368, a peasant rebellion defeated the Yuan Dynasty and drove the Mongols from China.
The Ming Dynasty (1271 – 1368) is known for rebuilding, strengthening and extending the Great Wall among a list of other accomplishments.
Historical records show that the rule of the third Ming Emperor, Ming Chengzu (ruled 1403 – 1424), was the most prosperous period.
After Chengzu, the dynasty would decline until 1567 when Emperor Ming Muzong reversed the decline.
His son, Emperor Ming Shenzong, also ruled wisely from 1573 to 1620.
After Shenzong’s death, the Ming Dynasty quickly declined and was replaced by the Qing Dynasty in 1644.
The Opium Wars started by England and France and the Taiping Rebellion led by a Christian convert in the 19th century would contribute to the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.
The Qing Dynasty was fortunate to have three powerful, consecutive emperors: Emperor Kangxi (1661 – 1722), Yongzhen (1722-1735) and Qianlong (1735-1796). For one-hundred-and-thirty-five years, China remained strong and prosperous.
After the corrupt Qing Dynasty was swept aside in 1911 by a rebellion led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, China fell apart and warlords fought to see who would rule China.
When Sun Yat-sen died, the republic he was building in southern China fell apart when Chiang Kai-shek broke the coalition that Sun Yat-sen had formed between the Nationalist and Communist Parties. Mao’s famous Long March shows how the Communists survived.
Then Japan invaded, and China would be engulfed in war and rebellion until 1945 when World War II ended. After World War II, the rebellion between the Nationalist and Communists ended in victory for the Communists in 1949.
This victory was made possible because the Communists were supported by China’s peasants that hated, despised and distrusted the Nationalist Party, which represented China’s ruling elite.
The Communists gained the support of the peasants by treating the peasants with respect and promising reforms that would end the suffering.
Then Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution extended the peasants suffering.
However, since the early 1980s, the Communist Party has been working to fulfill the promises made during the revolution, and the lifestyles of China’s peasants are slowly improving.
There are many impatient voices in the West and a few in China that are not happy with the speed of China’s reforms or how the Party has handled them.
In fact, China has modernized and improved lifestyles in China since the early 1980s at a pace that has never been seen before in recorded history.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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