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Reign Periods of the Ming and Qing Dynasties










































































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Chronology of Chinese Dynasties



































70 th – 21 th BC

21 th – 16 th BC

16 th – 11 th BC

11 th – 221 BC



221 – 206 BC

206 BC – AD 22O




220 – 280




234 – 581







581 – 618

618 – 906

906 – 960

907 – 1125

960 – 1279



1125 – 1234

1279 – 1368

1368 – 1644

1644 – 1912






Western Zhou

Eastern Zhou



Western Han


Eastern Han



Shu Han



Westen Jin

Eastern Jin










Northern Song

Southern Song






11 th – 771 BC

770 – 221 BC



206 BC – AD 8

9 – 23

25 – 220


222 – 280

221 – 263

220 – 264


265 – 317

317 – 349

420 – 477

479 – 502

502 – 556

557 – 589






960 – 1127

1127 – 1279


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Porcelain history


Chinese pottery dates back to the Neolithic Age (approximately 8000-2000 BC). The earliest Chinese pottery was often red, brown, and gray. As society progressed, the quality of pottery gradually improved. Archaeological finds show that primitive celadon were made during the Shang (16th-11th century BC). Although archaeological finds have revealed that glazed pottery was produced as early as the Western Zhou dynasty (1100-771 B.C.), yet the production of glazed wares was not common until the Han Dynasty Tests have shown that primitive celadon takes in less water and has a better ring than pottery; therefore it is considered similar to porcelain. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) great progress was made in the application of colors and glazes on items for everyday use. Among the artifacts excavated from the tombs of the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280) was a celadon urinal made in the year 251. It indicates that there were specialized teams for porcelain-making at the time. An obvious change in the attitude of figure modelling in the Six Dynasties (265-588 A.D.) was the inclination to include more details, an effort to make the models look more real. Six Dynasties potters also succeeded in improving the quality of early celadon wares both in glaze colour and in body clay. The production of glazed proto-porcelain was a significant achievement in Chinese ceramic history. The greatest advance came in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when potters made further contributions to the production of painted porcelain. Tang artists created beautiful simple monochrome porcelain finished in tints of burgundy, blue, and celadon. They also produced the famous figurines of people and horses in these three colors that are so loved in the modern world. In the following Song Dynasty (960-1279) many porcelain kilns were built and different porcelain schools appeared. Song artists continued to produce beautiful monochrome porcelain and perfected the application of both vivid and subtle colors. Song potters also discovered the secret of "crackled" pottery and porcelain which appears so delicate that it seems it might break if touched. Connoisseurs both in China and abroad consider monochrome Song porcelain among the finest examples of Chinese genius in porcelain making. Later in the Yuan (1271-1368) and especially in the Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries, artists continued Song traditions. The production of blue and white wares at the end of the Yuan dynasty and the beginning of the Ming dynasty was generally of a poorer quality, possibly due to the shortage of imported cobalt during the period of political instability. In YongLe reign (1403-1424), both the potting and glazing techniques improved and wares attained a whiter body and richer blue than those of Yuan dynasty ware. The underglaze blue of the Yongle wares and Xuande (1426-1435) wares noted or their rich blue tone. Throughout the Ming dynasty, dragon and phoenix were the most popular decorative motifs on ceramic wares. Other animals, plant forms, and human figures in garden and interior setting were often used as decors for blue and white wares. It has been noted that after Wanli (1573-1620), very few ceramic wares of the Ming dynasty bear reign marks. The fashionable wucai wares of Jiajing (1522-1566) and Wanli (1573-1620) periods are usually fully covered with colourful patterns. Very often the colours are a bit too heavy. The colours used include red, yellow, light and dark green, brown, aubergine and underglaze blue. In Ming dynasty, a variety of porcelain wares were decorated with motifs coming up on coloured ground instead. They included wares with green glazed pattern on a yellow ground, yellow glazed pattern on a blue ground, green glazed pattern on a red ground and other colour combinations. Another remarkable category of coloured wares produced in the Ming dynasty was the susancai or 'tri-colour'. The major three colours are yellow, green and aubergine. Tri-colour wares of the Ming dynasty appeared in the reigns of Xuande, Jiajing and Wanli. The peak of Chinese ceramic production was seen in the reigns of Kangxi (1622-1722). Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1736-1796) of the Qing dynasty during which improvement was seen in almost all ceramic types, including the blue and white wares, polychrome wares, wucai wares, etc. The improved enamel glazes of early Qing dynasty being fired at a higher temperature also acquired a more brilliant look than those of the Ming dynasty. The production of doucai wares in the Yongzheng period reached new height both in quantity and technical perfection. The use of fencai enamel for decorating porcelain wares was first introduced in Kangxi period. The production of fencai enamel wares reached a mature stage in the Yongzheng era. As the improved fencai enamels had a wider range of colours and each could be applied in a variety of tones, they could be used to depict some of the highly complicated pictorial compositions of flower and plant forms, figures and even insects. Qing dynasty is a period specially noted for the production of colour glazes. In the area of monochromes, Qing potters succeeded in reproducing most of the famous glaze colours found in ceramic wares on the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. In addition, they created a number of new glazes, especially the monochromes. Among them were the Sang-de-boeuf, the rough-pink, the coral red and the mirror black. All these four glazes were invented in the reign of Kangxi. Yongzheng potters invented a flambe glaze know as Lujun, or robin's egg which was produced in two firings. Another significant colour glaze successfully produced by the Qing potter was 'tea-dust'. It is an opaque glaze finely speckled with colours in green, yellow and brown. When Ming was taken over by Qing (about 1639-1700 AD), and when Qing was taken over by the Republic of China (about 1909-1915 AD), the disturbances in these two periods resulted in the collapse of the official kilns. In their places, private kilns were established by the operators and artists who previously worked in the official kilns. With their expertise, they produced high quality porcelain wares, such as the 'export porcelain wares made during the transition of Ming to Qing', which earned a high praise in overseas markets, and the excellent imitations of Song, Yuan and Qing wares are made during "the early stage of the Republic of China," which were almost true to the originals. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the government has tried, with impressive success, to further develop the art of porcelain. Artists, scholars and potters have not only worked hard to restore porcelain to its honored place in the Chinese decorative arts, but also made bold innovations to improve pottery and porcelain. Today, the main porcelain centres include Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province, Langshan in Hebei Province, Yixing in Jiangsu Province, Longquan and Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province, and Zibo in Shandong Province. Chinese pottery and porcelain has been exported for far longer than is usually assumed. Pieces of Chinese pottery have been discovered in archaeological excavations in the ancient Roman Empire. By the twelfth century large quantities of porcelain passed along the Silk Road and found favor among Arabian potentates who believed that blue and white porcelain would turn black if poisoned food were served on it. In the sixteenth century, after the Dutch dominated the sea lanes to the Orient, large exportations of Ming porcelain went to Europe where it appealed to both aristocratic and middle class families who had previously used more crude local pottery. Chinese porcelain makers changed designs to satisfy European demand, even adding coats-of-arms of prominent families who ordered large consignments. During the nineteenth century, the export of Chinese porcelain to the western world fell drastically. It is only after Liberation that the exporting of high quality, handmade porcelain began to rise.

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How porcelain is made.


The primary ingredient of ceramics is clay. Different clays produce differing qualities in the ceramic, and this enables historians to be able to precisely date a piece of ceramic, as well as differentiate between the people whom made the ceramic. Modern ceramics will not be as easily seen should historians look at them, because the process of making the ceramics has become standardized, with international companies building ceramics factories around the world, using the same process in each factory with the clays being brought from large quarries. Traditional ceramic makers did not benefit from the modern transport system, and therefore were restricted to using locally quarried clay. This led to the best ceramics manufacturers being centralized where the best clay was locally available. Cities like Jindezhen in China became the foremost producers of fine porcelain, because there was a plentiful supply of the correct clays. This citie was built around the ceramics industry and still function today as the primary manufacturers of fine porcelain. Once the clay has been quarried the potter then takes the clay and forms it into shape. Early pottery was made purely by hand and this can be seen were early pots are roughly formed and still show the finger marks of the potter. Eventually the potters wheel became to be used as it was found that pottery, could be produced faster and more uniformly. Even today the potters wheel is in use, but where it was hand driven now it is an electric motor that does the work. Now mass produced pottery is formed by machines without a human hand touching the clay. The mixing of clays from different places is common practice to produce a better potters clay. In Jindezhen it was found that they could produce fine porcelain consistently when they used a mixed clay. Once the pot has been formed it then requires decorating or firing. Firstly we will look at the process of firing ceramics. Ceramics are formed at temperatures above 800° C the process by which a ceramic is formed is called vitrification. Differing styles of ceramic are formed at different temperatures. Earthen ware is produced with in a temperature range of 800° C to 1100° C and forms a white, pink or grey pot. Stoneware is produced within a temperature range of 1200° C to 1280° C and forms a white or coloured pot which does not have the density of porcelain. Porcelain is formed within a temperature range of 1200° C to 1400° C, Porcelain is white, glassy and very dense and if struck will ring with a high tone. The control of Kiln temperature traditionally was hard and different parts of the kiln would have different temperatures. Traditional Chinese potters did not have the temperature measurement equipment available today and their Kiln was heated by wood, charcoal or coal. The Kiln relied upon the updraft created by the exhaust chimney to draw air over the fire and heat the inside of the Kiln. Vents built into the kiln and blocked with stoppers could be unblocked to allow air flow to cool slightly the kiln but this was the only method of control apart from the fire available. The Traditional style of Kiln produced many differing quality pieces as the temperature profile through the kiln could not be controlled as well as today's modern Kilns. A Modern Kiln uses gas or electricity to heat air which is then blown through the kiln in large kilns. The temperature of the air can be precisely controlled before it even enters the kiln enabling mass production of ceramics with a known quality by producing a known temperature profile through the kiln. Modern kiln's for mass production will be open ended with the damp pots entering the kiln process on an automatic conveyor. The first process will be the preheating and drying of the pots and as the conveyor progresses further into the kiln the temperature is increased. Firing a pot takes a long time and the conveyor will keep the pot within the kiln for just the right amount of time to vitrify the clay. The principle enemy of both the modern and traditional potter is air bubbles within the clay. Air expands when heated and will cause a pot to explode within the kiln as the pot is fired. Another problem occurs when there are differing thickness profiles in the walls and base of the pot. The pot will vitrify at different rates if there are large differences in the thickness of the clay causing the pot to crack during the firing process. Rapid cooling of the ceramic after firing also causes problems with the pots creating colouring or breakage's although cooling of the pot is sometimes used as a creative rather than destructive process. Glazing of the pot's can take place either before or after the first firing. If a pot is required to have a base colour and then possibly decoration upon the base colour the pot will be glazed prior to first firing. It is also possible especially in the case of porcelain that the pot be fired with a decoration painted onto the base. Traditional glazes will have been applied by either dipping the piece into glaze or by hand painting the glaze onto the piece. It is normal on traditional pieces to find that a part of the pot remains unglazed normally the base, this was done to prevent the piece sticking whatever it was standing on. Application of a glaze as a base colour before decoration is called Underglaze where as the application of a normally transparent glaze over decoration is called Overglaze. Painting the porcelain surface may be done in several ways. A deep blue made from the metal cobalt is the most dependable color used for underglazing. Cobalt blue has been widely used both in China and in Europe. Paints that are applied over the glaze are commonly called enamels. A large variety of enamel colors were perfected at an early period. Most of them are made from metallic oxides, such as iron, copper, and manganese. Enamel colors require a second firing to make them permanent. Chinese decorators separated each color from the next with a dark outline, but European artists blended colors together with no separating line. In addition, Europeans used decorations purely for their artistic value, but Chinese decorations were symbolic. For example, a pomegranate design symbolized a wish for many offspring because a pomegranate has many seeds.

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The yin (latter half of Shang) left written historic records containing information on the politics, economy, culture, religion, geography, astronomy, calendar, art and medicine of the period, and as such provides critical insight toward the early stages of the Chinese civilization. The site of the Yin capital, later historically called the Ruins of Yin, is near modern day Anyang. Archaeological work there uncovered 11 major Yin royal tombs and the foundations of palace and ritual sites, all of them containing weapons of war. Tens of thousands of bronze, jade, stone, bone and ceramic artifacts have been obtained; the workmanship on the bronzes attests to a high level of civilization. In terms of inscribed oracle bones alone, more than 20,000 were discovered. The Shang dynasty is believed to have been founded by a rebel leader who overthrew the last (still legendary) Xia ruler. Its civilization was based on agriculture, augmented by hunting and animal husbandry. The Records of the Grand Historian states that the Shang Dynasty moved its capital six times. The final and most important move to Yin in 1350 BC led to the golden age of the dynasty. The term Yin Dynasty has been synonymous with the Shang dynasty in history, although lately it has been used specifically in reference to the latter half of the Shang. A line of hereditary Shang kings ruled over much of northern China, and Shang troops fought frequent wars with neighboring settlements and nomadic herdsmen from the inner Asian steppes. The capitals, particularly in Yin, were centers of glittering court life. Court rituals to propitiate spirits and to honor sacred ancestors were highly developed. In addition to his secular position, the king was the head of the ancestor- and spirit-worship cult. Evidence from the royal tombs indicates that royal personages were buried with articles of value, presumably for use in the afterlife. Perhaps for the same reason, hundreds of commoners, who may have been slaves, were buried alive with the royal corpse.The Shang dynasty marked the beginning of the development of writing. Iron casting and pottery also advanced in Shang. In astronomy, the Shang astronomers found Mars and various comets. Many musical instruments were also invented at that time. Shang Zhou, the last Yin king, committed suicide after his army was defeated by the Zhou people. Legends say that his army betrayed him by joining the Zhou rebels in a decisive battle. A classical novel Fengshen Yanyi is about the war between that of Yin and Zhou, in which each was supported by one group of gods.After the Yin's collapse, the surviving Yin ruling family collectively changed their surname from their royal to the name of their fallen dynasty, Yin. The family remained aristocratic and often provided needed administrative services to the succeeding Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou King Cheng through the Regent, his uncle the Duke of Zhou Dan, enfeoffed the Shang King Zhou's brother the Viscount of Wei, in the old Shang capital at Shang with the territory becoming the state of Song The State of Song and the royal Shang descendants maintained rites to the dead Shang kings and lasted until 286BC. BothKorean and Chinese legends state that a disgruntled Yin prince named, who refused to cede power to the Zhou, left China with his garrison and founded Gija Joseon near modern day Pyongyang to what would become one of the early Korean states (Go-, Gija-, and Wiman-Joseon). Though Jizi is mentioned only a few times in Shiji, it is thought that the story of his going to Joseon is but a myth.



Zhou Dynasty (690 - 705 AD); Later Zhou Dynasty (951 - 960)


The Zhou Dynasty (late 10th century BC or 9th century BC to 256 BC) followed the Shang (Yin) Dynasty and preceded the Qin Dynasty in China. The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other in Chinese history, and the use of iron was introduced to China during this time. In the Chinese historical tradition, the rulers of the Zhou displaced the Yin and legitimized their rule by invoking the Mandate of Heaven, the notion that the ruler (the "son of heaven") governed by divine right but that his dethronement would prove that he had lost the mandate. The Mandate of Heaven established the Zhou's assumed divine ancestor, the Tian-Huang-Shangdi, above the Shang's divine ancestor, the Shangdi. The doctrine explained and justified the demise of the Xia and Shang and at the same time supported the legitimacy of present and future rulers. The Zhou dynasty was founded by the Ji family and had its capital at Hao (near the present-day city of Xi'an). Sharing the language and culture of the Shang (Yin), the early Zhou rulers, through conquest and colonization, gradually sinicized, that is, extended Shang (Yin) culture through much of China Proper north of the Yangtze River. In Western histories, the Zhou period is often described as feudal because the Zhou's early decentralized rule invites comparison with medieval rule in Europe. However, historians debate the meaning of the term feudal; the more appropriate term for the Zhou Dynasty's political arrangement would be from the Chinese language itself: the Fengjian system. The Zhou amalgam of city-states became progressively centralized and established increasingly impersonal political and economic institutions. These developments, which probably occurred in the later Zhou period, were manifested in greater central control over local governments and a more routinized agrarian taxation. Initially the Ji family was able to control the country firmly. In 771 BC, after King You had replaced his queen with a concubine Baosi, the capital was then sacked by the joint force of the queen's father, who was the powerful Marquess of Shen, and the barbarians. The queen's son Ji Yijiu was proclaimed the new king by the nobles from the states of Zheng, Lü, Qin and the Marquess of Shen. The capital was moved eastward in 722 BC to Luoyang in present-day Henan Province. Because of this shift, historians divide the Zhou era into Western Zhou from late 10th century BC to late 9th century up until 771 BC and Eastern Zhou from 770 up to 221 BC. The beginning year of Western Zhou has been disputed - 1122 BC, 1027 BC and other years within the hundred years from late 12th century BC to late 11th century BC have been proposed. Chinese historians take 841 BC as the first year of consecutive annual dating of the history of China, based on the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian. Eastern Zhou divides into two subperiods. The first, from 722 to 481 BC, is called the Spring and Autumn Period, after a famous historical chronicle of the time; the second is known as the Warring States Period. With the royal line broken, the power of the Zhou court gradually diminished; the fragmentation of the kingdom accelerated. From Ping Wang onwards, the Zhou kings ruled in name only, with true power lying in the hands of powerful nobles. Towards the end of the Zhou Dynasty, the nobles did not even bother to acknowledge the Ji family symbolically and declared themselves to be kings. They wanted to be the king of the kings. Finally, the dynasty was obliterated by Qin Shi Huang's unification of China in 221 BC. Agriculture in Zhou Dynasty was very intensive and in many cases directed by the government. All farming lands were owned by nobles, who then gave their land to their serfs, similar to European feudalism. For example, a piece of land was divided into nine squares in the shape of the character jing (Nď), with the grain from the middle square taken by the government and that of surrounding squares kept by individual farmers. This way, the government was able to store surplus food and distribute them in times of famine or bad harvest. Some important manufacturing sectors during this period include bronze making, which was integral in making weapons and farming tools. Again, these industries were dominated by the nobility who direct the production of such materials



The Qin Dynasty - 221 BC - 207 BC - was preceded by the Zhou Dynasty and followed by the Han Dynasty in China. Qin, which has a pronunciation similar to the English word "chin," is a possible origin of the word "China". The unification of China 221 BC under the First Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) marked the beginning of imperial China, a period that lasted until the fall of the Qing Empire in 1912. The Qin Dynasty left a legacy of a centralized and bureaucratic state that would be carried onto successive dynasties. Much of what came to constitute China proper was unified for the first time in 221 B.C. In that year the western frontier state of Qin, the most aggressive of the Warring States, subjugated the last of its rival states, putting an end to the Warring States Period. The King of Qin, Zheng, named himself Shi Huangdi (First Emperor), a formulation of titles previously reserved for deities and the mythological sage-emperors. He is known by historians as Qin Shi Huang. He wanted his successors to rule China forever with the title "Second Emperor", "Third Emperor", etc. In consolidating power, Qin Shi Huang imposed the State of Qin's centralized, non-hereditary bureaucratic system on his new empire in place of the Zhou's feudalistic one. The Qin Empire relied on the philosophy of legalism (with skillful advisors like Han Fei and Li Si). Centralization, achieved by ruthless methods, was focused on standardizing legal codes and bureaucratic procedures, the forms of writing and coinage, and the pattern of thought and scholarship. Characters from the former state of Qin became the standard for the entire empire. The length of the wheel axle was also unified and expressways standardized to ease transportation throughout the country. To silence criticism of imperial rule, the emperor banished or put to death many dissenting Confucian scholars and confiscated and burned their books. To prevent future uprisings, Qin Shi Huang ordered the confiscation of weapons and stored them in the capital. In order to prevent the resurgence of feudal lords, he also destroyed the walls and fortifications that had separated the previous six states. A national conscription was devised: every male between the ages of seventeen and sixty years was obliged to serve one year in the army. Qin aggrandizement was aided by frequent military expeditions pushing forward the frontiers in the north and south. To fend off barbarian intrusion (mainly against the Xiongnu in the north), the fortification walls built by the various warring states were connected to make a wall; this was an early precursor of the 5,000- kilometer-long Great Wall of China built later during the Ming Dynasty. A number of public works projects, including canals and bridges, were also undertaken to consolidate and strengthen imperial rule. A lavish tomb for the emperor, complete with a Terracotta Army, was built near the capital Xianyang, a city half an hour from modern Xi'an. These activities required enormous levies of manpower and resources, not to mention repressive measures. Endless labor in the later years of Qin Shi Huang's reign started to provoke widespread discontent. However, the emperor was able to maintain stability thanks to his tight grip on every aspect of the lives of the Chinese. During his reign Qin Shi Huang made five inspection trips around the country. During the last trip with his second son Huhai in 210 BC, Qin Shi Huang died suddenly at Shaqiu prefecture. Huhai, under the advice of two high officials the Imperial Secretariat Li Si and the chief eunuch Zhao Gao forged the altered Emperor's will. The faked decree ordered Qin Shi Huang's first son, the heir Fusu, to commit suicide, instead naming Huhai as the next emperor. The decree also stripped the command of troops from Marshal Meng Tian a faithful supporter of Fusu and sentenced Meng's family to death. Zhao Gao step by step seized the power of Huhai, effectively making Huhai a puppet emperor. Within three years of Qin Shi Huang's death, widespread revolts by peasants, prisoners, soldiers, and descendants of the nobles of the Six Warring States sprang up all over China. Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, two in a group of about 900 soldiers assigned to defend against the Xiongnu, became the leaders of the first revolution by commoners. In the beginning of October 207 BC, Zhao Gao forced Huhai to commit suicide and replaced him with Fusu's son, Ziying. The title of Ziying was "King of Qin" to reflect the fact that Qin no longer controlled the whole of China. The Chu-Han contention ensued. Ziying soon killed Zhao Gao and surrendered to Liu Bang in the beginning of December 207 BC. But Liu Bang was forced to hand over Xianyang and Ziying to Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu then killed Ziying and burned down the palace in the end of January 206 BC. Thus the Qin dynasty came to an end, three years after the death of Qin Shi Huang, and less than twenty years after it was founded. Although the Qin Dynasty was short-lived, its legalist rule had a deep impact on later dynasties in China. The imperial system initiated during the Qin dynasty set a pattern that was developed over the next two millennia