Chinese Empire

The Chinese Empire was one of Asia's great civilizations. Though the Chinese civilization has existed since the 3rd millennium BCE, the Empire was finally united in 221 BCE and fell with the revolution in 1911.

The Chinese name for their country is zhong guo, often translated as "Middle Kingdom", while everywhere else is wai guo, literally "outside kingdoms" but sometimes translated as "barbarians". This view is rather similar to the Roman notion that the Mediterranean Sea (latin medi, middle + terra, earth) was the centre of the world.

The borders of the empire varied greatly over time and Chinese influence has always extended well beyond those borders. This influence can be seen in many aspects of culture, perhaps most obviously in the fact that Japanese can still be written in characters based on the Chinese ones and both Vietnamese and Korean used to be written mostly in Chinese characters. Social etiquette in Vietnam, Korea and Japan continue to be strongly influenced by Confucianism, and their traditional architecture, particularly of Buddhist temples, continue to bear a distinct resemblance to that of China.

In addition to areas that were directly ruled as part of the empire, there were a number of tributary states. At various times these included Vietnam, Korea, Burma, Tibet, Okinawa, Manchuria, Mongolia, Malacca, the areas that are now part of the Chinese state as Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, and a large chunk of what is now the Russian Far East. Some writers use China proper to indicate the core regions of China, excluding tributary states.

Formally, all these states recognised the Son of Heaven (Chinese emperor) as their overlord, but this form covered a range of relationships. In some cases it was merely a formality, while in others a Chinese legate to the tributary court had a great deal of influence, and in some the local ruler was a puppet. In still others it was mainly a way for the Emperor to save face while bribing a powerful neighbour not to attack; the outside ruler would come to court, formally submit and pay tribute, then go home laden with outrageously rich gifts.

An important concept in Chinese historiography was the Mandate of Heaven (天命; tiānmìng) bestowed upon emperors. Incompetent or tyrannical emperors were said to have lost the Mandate of Heaven.

The last dynasty to rule the empire, the Qing, fell in 1911. For Chinese history after that, see Chinese revolutionary destinations, Long March, and Pacific War.


Dynasties and capitals

China was an empire from at least 1700 BCE until 1911 CE, and the names of various ruling dynasties, rather than dates, are often used to refer to time periods, much as people in the west might refer to "Elizabethan England" or "pre-Columbian Mexico". The great golden ages of Chinese civilisation were the Han (206 BCE to 200CE) and Tang (618-907) dynasties.

Many cites have served as the capital of China, or of various smaller states in periods when China was divided. Beijing and Nanjing mean northern capital and southern capital respectively; each has been the capital several times, and so has Xi'an.


See also

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