Dividing Chinese history into periods ruled by dynasties is a convenient method of periodization. Accordingly, a dynasty may be used to delimit the era during which a family reigned, as well as to describe events, trends, personalities, artistic compositions, and artifacts of that period. For example, porcelain made during the Ming dynasty may be referred to as "Ming porcelain". The word "dynasty" is usually omitted when making such adjectival references.
Chinese dynasties often referred to themselves as "Tiāncháo" (天朝; "Celestial Dynasty" or "Heavenly Dynasty"). As a form of respect and subordination, Chinese tributary states referred to Chinese dynasties as "Tiāncháo Shàngguó" (天朝上國; "Celestial Dynasty of the Exalted State") or "Tiāncháo Dàguó" (天朝大國; "Celestial Dynasty of the Great State").
In the Chinese language, the character "cháo" (朝) originally meant "morning" and "today". Politically, the word is taken to refer to the regime of the incumbent ruler.
The following is a list of terms associated with the concept of dynasty in Chinese historiography:
cháo (朝): a dynasty
cháodài (朝代): an era corresponding to the rule of a dynasty
wángcháo (王朝): while technically referring to royal dynasties, this term is often inaccurately applied to all dynasties, including those whose rulers held non-royal titles such as emperor
huángcháo (皇朝): generally used for imperial dynasties
As the founder of China's first orthodox dynasty, the Xia dynasty, Yu the Great is conventionally regarded as the inaugurator of dynastic rule in China.[a] In the Chinese dynastic system, sovereign rulers theoretically possessed absolute power and private ownership of the realm, even though in practice their actual power was dependent on numerous factors.[d] By tradition, the Chinese throne was inherited exclusively by members of the male line, but there were numerous cases whereby the consort kins came to possess de facto power at the expense of the monarchs.[e] This concept, known as jiā tiānxià (家天下; "All under Heaven belongs to the ruling family"), was in contrast to the pre-Xia notion of gōng tiānxià (公天下; "All under Heaven belongs to the public") whereby leadership succession was non-hereditary.
An illustration of the Battle of Shanhai Pass, a decisive battle fought during the Ming–Qing transition. The victorious Qing dynasty extended its rule into China proper thereafter.
The rise and fall of dynasties is a prominent feature of Chinese history. Some scholars have attempted to explain this phenomenon by attributing the success and failure of dynasties to the morality of the rulers, while others have focused on the tangible aspects of monarchical rule. This method of explanation has come to be known as the dynastic cycle.
Cases of dynastic transition (改朝換代; gǎi cháo huàn dài) in the history of China occurred primarily through two ways: military conquest and usurpation. The supersession of the Liao dynasty by the Jin dynasty was achieved following a series of successful military campaigns, as was the later unification of China proper under the Yuan dynasty; on the other hand, the transition from the Eastern Han to the Cao Wei, as well as from the Southern Qi to the Liang dynasty, were cases of usurpation. Oftentimes, usurpers would seek to portray their predecessors as having relinquished the throne willingly—a process called shànràng (禪讓; "voluntary abdicating and passing the throne")—as a means to legitimize their rule.
A photograph of the Xuantong Emperor, widely considered to be the last legitimate monarch of China, taken in AD 1922.
Dynastic rule in China collapsed in AD 1912 when the Republic of China superseded the Qing dynasty following the success of the Xinhai Revolution. While there were attempts after the Xinhai Revolution to reinstate dynastic rule in China, they were unsuccessful at consolidating their rule and gaining political legitimacy.
During the Xinhai Revolution, there were numerous proposals advocating for the replacement of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty by a new dynasty of Han ethnicity. Kong Lingyi (孔令貽), the Duke of Yansheng and a 76th-generation descendant of Confucius, was identified as a potential candidate for Chinese emperorship by Liang Qichao. Meanwhile, gentry in Anhui and Hebei supported a restoration of the Ming dynasty under Zhu Yuxun (朱煜勳), the Marquis of Extended Grace. Both suggestions were ultimately rejected.
The Empire of China (AD 1915–1916) proclaimed by Yuan Shikai sparked the National Protection War, resulting in the premature collapse of the regime 101 days later. The Manchu Restoration (AD 1917) was an unsuccessful attempt at reviving the Qing dynasty, lasting merely 11 days. Similarly, the Manchukuo (AD 1932–1945; monarchy since AD 1934), a puppet state of the Empire of Japan during World War II with limited diplomatic recognition, is not regarded as a legitimate regime. Ergo, historians usually consider the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor on 12 February 1912 as the end of the Chinese dynastic system. Dynastic rule in China lasted almost four millennia.
Imperial seal of the Qing dynasty with "Dà Qīng Dìguó zhī xǐ" (大清帝國之璽; "Seal of the Great Qing Empire") rendered in seal script. Seals were a symbol of political authority and legitimacy.
Relations between Chinese dynasties during periods of division often revolved around political legitimacy, which was derived from the doctrine of the Mandate of Heaven. Dynasties ruled by ethnic Han would proclaim rival dynasties founded by other ethnicities as illegitimate, usually justified based on the concept of Hua–Yi distinction. On the other hand, many dynasties of non-Han origin saw themselves as the legitimate dynasty of China and often sought to portray themselves as the true inheritor of Chinese culture and history. Traditionally, only regimes deemed as "legitimate" or "orthodox" (正統; zhèngtǒng) are termed cháo (朝; "dynasty"); "illegitimate" or "unorthodox" regimes are referred to as guó (國; usually translated as either "state" or "kingdom"[f]), even if these regimes were dynastic in nature.
Such legitimacy dispute existed during the following periods:
All dynasties during this period saw themselves as the legitimate representative of China; the Northern dynasties referred to their southern counterparts as "dǎoyí" (島夷; "island dwelling barbarians"), while the Southern dynasties called their northern neighbors "suǒlǔ" (索虜; "barbarians with braids").
The Ming dynasty recognized the preceding Yuan dynasty as a legitimate Chinese dynasty, but asserted that it had succeeded the Mandate of Heaven from the Yuan, thus considering the Northern Yuan as illegitimate.
Northern Yuan rulers maintained the dynastic name "Great Yuan" and claimed traditional Han-style titles continuously until AD 1388 or AD 1402; Han-style titles were restored on several occasions thereafter for brief periods, notably during the reigns of Taisun Khan, Choros Esen, and Dayan Khan.
The historian Rashipunsug argued that the Northern Yuan had succeeded the legitimacy from the Yuan dynasty; the Qing dynasty, which later defeated and annexed the Northern Yuan, inherited this legitimacy, thus rendering the Ming illegitimate.
The Tokugawa shogunate of Japan did not accept the legitimacy of the Qing dynasty and instead saw itself as the rightful representative of Huá (華; "China"); this narrative served as the basis of Japanese texts such as Chūchō Jijitsu and Kai Hentai.
Traditionally, periods of disunity often resulted in heated debates among officials and historians over which prior dynasties could and should be considered orthodox, given that it was politically imperative for a dynasty to present itself as being linked in an unbroken lineage of moral and political authority back to ancient times. However, the Northern Song statesman Ouyang Xiu propounded that such orthodoxy existed in a state of limbo during fragmented periods and was restored after political unification was achieved. From this perspective, the Song dynasty possessed legitimacy by virtue of its ability to end the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period despite not having succeeded the orthodoxy from the Later Zhou. Similarly, Ouyang considered the concept of orthodoxy to be in oblivion during the Three Kingdoms, the Sixteen Kingdoms, and the Northern and Southern dynasties periods.
Traditionally, as most Chinese historiographical sources uphold the idea of unilineal dynastic succession, only one dynasty could be considered orthodox at any given time. Most historical sources consider the legitimate line of succession to be as follows:
There were several groups of Chinese dynasties that were ruled by families with patrilineal relations, yet due to various reasons these regimes are considered to be separate dynasties and given distinct retroactive names for historiographical purpose. Such conditions as differences in their official dynastic title and fundamental changes having occurred to their rule would necessitate nomenclatural distinction in academia, despite these ruling clans having shared common ancestral origins.
Additionally, numerous other dynasties claimed descent from earlier dynasties as a calculated political move to obtain or enhance their legitimacy, even if such claims were unfounded.
The agnatic relations of the following groups of Chinese dynasties are typically recognized by historians:
A German map of the Chinese Empire during the height of the Qing dynasty. The Qing dynasty is considered to be a "Central Plain dynasty", a "unified dynasty", and a "conquest dynasty".
Central Plain dynasties
The Central Plain is a vast area on the lower reaches of the Yellow River which formed the cradle of Chinese civilization. "Central Plain dynasties" (中原王朝; Zhōngyuán wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China that had their capital cities situated within the Central Plain. This term could refer to dynasties of both Han and non-Han ethnic origins.
"Unified dynasties" (大一統王朝; dàyītǒng wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China, regardless of their ethnic origin, that achieved the unification of China proper. "China proper" is a region generally regarded as the traditional heartland of the Han people, and is not equivalent to the term "China". Imperial dynasties that had attained the unification of China proper may be known as the "Chinese Empire" or the "Empire of China" (中華帝國; Zhōnghuá Dìguó).[g]
According to the historian and sinologist Karl August Wittfogel, dynasties of China founded by non-Han peoples that ruled parts or all of China proper could be classified into two types, depending on the means by which the ruling ethnic groups had entered China proper.
"Infiltration dynasties" or "dynasties of infiltration" (滲透王朝; shèntòu wángcháo) refer to Chinese dynasties founded by non-Han ethnicities that tended towards accepting Han culture and assimilating into the Han-dominant society. For instance, the Han Zhao and the Northern Wei, established by the Xiongnu and Xianbei ethnicities respectively, are considered infiltration dynasties of China.
"Conquest dynasties" or "dynasties of conquest" (征服王朝; zhēngfú wángcháo) refer to dynasties of China established by non-Han peoples that tended towards resisting Han culture and preserving the identities of the ruling ethnicities. For example, the Liao dynasty and the Yuan dynasty, ruled by the Khitan and Mongol peoples respectively, are considered conquest dynasties of China.
These terms remain sources of controversy among scholars who believe that Chinese history should be analyzed and understood from a multiethnic and multicultural perspective.
It was customary for Chinese monarchs to adopt an official name for the realm, known as the guóhào (國號; "name of the state"), upon the establishment of a dynasty. During the rule of a dynasty, its guóhào functioned as the formal name of the state, both internally and for diplomatic purposes.
The formal name of Chinese dynasties was usually derived from one of the following sources:
The name of the ruling tribe or tribal confederation
e.g., the Xia dynasty took its name from its ruling class, the Xia tribal confederation
The noble title held by the dynastic founder prior to the founding of the dynasty
A term with auspicious or other significant connotations
e.g., the Yuan dynasty was officially the "Great Yuan", a name derived from a clause in the Classic of Changes, "dà zāi Qián Yuán" (大哉乾元; "Great is the Heavenly and Primal")
There were instances whereby the official name was changed during the reign of a dynasty. For example, the dynasty known retroactively as Southern Han initially used the name "Yue", only to be renamed to "Han" subsequently.
The official title of several dynasties bore the character "dà" (大; "great"). In Yongzhuang Xiaopin by the Ming historian Zhu Guozhen, it was claimed that the first dynasty to do so was the Yuan dynasty. However, several sources like the History of Liao and the History of Jin compiled by the Yuan historian Toqto'a revealed that the official dynastic name of some earlier dynasties such as the Liao and the Jin also contained the character "dà". It was also common for officials, subjects, or tributary states of a particular dynasty to include the term "dà" (or an equivalent term in other languages) when referring to this dynasty as a form of respect, even if the official dynastic name did not include it. For instance, The Chronicles of Japan referred to the Tang dynasty as "Dai Tō" (大唐; "Great Tang") despite its dynastic name being simply "Tang".
While all dynasties of China sought to associate their respective realm with Zhōngguó (中國; "Central State"; usually translated as "Middle Kingdom" or "China" in English texts) and various other names of China, none of these regimes officially used such names as their dynastic title. Although the Qing dynasty explicitly identified their state with and employed "Zhōngguó"—and its Manchu equivalent "Dulimbai Gurun" (ᡩᡠᠯᡳᠮᠪᠠᡳ ᡤᡠᡵᡠᠨ)—in official capacity in numerous international treaties beginning with the Treaty of Nerchinsk dated AD 1689, its dynastic name had remained the "Great Qing". "Zhōngguó", which has become nearly synonymous with "China" in modern times, is a concept with geographical, political, and cultural connotations.
The adoption of guóhào, as well as the importance assigned to it, had promulgated within the Sinosphere. Notably, rulers of Vietnam and Korea also declared guóhào for their respective realm.
In Chinese historiography, historians generally do not refer to dynasties directly by their official name. Instead, historiographical names, which were most commonly derived from their official name, are used. For instance, the Sui dynasty is known as such because its formal name was "Sui". Likewise, the Jin dynasty was officially the "Great Jin".
When more than one dynasty shared the same Chinese character(s) as their formal name, as was common in Chinese history, prefixes are retroactively applied to dynastic names by historians in order to distinguish between these similarly-named regimes. Frequently used prefixes include:
e.g., Shu Han (the prefix "Shu" is a reference to the realm's geographical location at Sichuan), Hu Xia (the prefix "Hu", meaning "barbarian", refers to the dynasty's ethnic Xiongnu origin)
A dynasty could be referred to by more than one retroactive name in Chinese historiography, albeit some are more widely used than others. For instance, the Western Han is also known as the "Former Han", and the Yang Wu is also called the "Southern Wu".
In Chinese sources, the term "dynasty" (朝; cháo) is usually omitted when referencing dynasties that have prefixes in their historiographical names. Such a practice is sometimes adopted in English usage, even though the inclusion of the word "dynasty" is also widely seen in English scholarly writings. For example, the Northern Zhou is also sometimes referred to as the "Northern Zhou dynasty".
Often, scholars would refer to a specific Chinese dynasty by attaching the word "China" after the dynastic name. For instance, "Tang China" refers to the Chinese state under the rule of the Tang dynasty and the corresponding historical era.
Approximate territories controlled by the various dynasties and states throughout Chinese history, juxtaposed with the modern Chinese borders.
Territorially, the largest orthodox Chinese dynasty was either the Yuan dynasty or the Qing dynasty, depending on the historical source.[c] This discrepancy can be mainly attributed to the ambiguous northern border of the Yuan realm: whereas some sources describe the Yuan border as located to the immediate north of the northern shore of Lake Baikal, others posit that the Yuan dynasty reached as far north as the Arctic coast, with its western boundary with the Golden Horde in Siberia delimited by the Obʹ and Irtysh rivers until the latter met the boundary of the Chagatai Khanate. In contrast, the borders of the Qing dynasty were demarcated and reinforced through a series of international treaties, and thus were more well-defined.
Apart from exerting direct control over the Chinese realm, various dynasties of China also maintained hegemony over other states and tribes through the Chinese tributary system. The Chinese tributary system first emerged during the Western Han and lasted until the 19th century AD when the Sinocentric order broke down.
The modern territorial claims of both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China are inherited from the lands once held by the Qing dynasty at the time of its collapse.
List of major Chinese dynasties
This list includes only the major dynasties of China that are typically found in simplified forms of Chinese historical timelines. This list is neither comprehensive nor representative of Chinese history as a whole.
Dynasties counted among the "Ten Kingdoms" within the broader "Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms"
Criteria for inclusion This list includes only the major dynasties of China that are typically found in simplified forms of Chinese historical timelines. There were many other dynastic regimes that existed within or overlapped with the boundaries defined in the scope of Chinese historical geography.[cb] These were:
^ abWhile the Xia dynasty is typically considered to be the first orthodox Chinese dynasty, numerous sources like the Book of Documents mention two other dynasties that preceded the Xia: the "Tang" (唐) and the "Yu" (虞) dynasties. The former is sometimes called the "Ancient Tang" (古唐) to distinguish it from other dynasties named "Tang". Should the historicity of these earlier dynasties be attested, Yu the Great would not have been the initiator of dynastic rule in China.
^All attempts at restoring monarchical and dynastic rule in China after the success of the Xinhai Revolution ended in failure. Hence, the abdication of the Xuantong Emperor in AD 1912 is typically regarded as the formal end of the Chinese monarchy.
^ abAs per contemporary historiographical norm, the "Yuan dynasty" in this article refers exclusively to the realm based in Dadu. However, the Han-style dynastic name "Great Yuan" (大元) as proclaimed by the Emperor Shizu of Yuan and the claim to Chinese political orthodoxy were meant for the entire Mongol Empire. In spite of this, "Yuan dynasty" is rarely used in the broad sense of the definition by modern-day scholars due to the de factodisintegrated nature of the Mongol Empire.
^The term "kingdom" is potentially misleading as not all rulers held the title of king. For example, all sovereigns of the Cao Wei held the title huángdì (皇帝; "emperor") during their reign despite the realm being listed as one of the "Three Kingdoms". Similarly, monarchs of the Western Qin, one of the "Sixteen Kingdoms", bore the title wáng (王; usually translated as "prince" in English writings).
^The English and Chinese names stated are historiographical denominations. These should not be confused with the guóhào officially proclaimed by each dynasty. A dynasty may be known by more than one historiographical name.
^ abThe English names shown are based on the Hanyu Pinyin renditions, the most common form of Mandarin romanization currently in adoption. Some scholarly works utilize the Wade–Giles system, which may differ drastically in the spelling of certain words. For instance, the Qing dynasty is rendered as "Ch῾ing dynasty" in Wade–Giles.
^ abThe Chinese characters shown are in Traditional Chinese. Some characters may have simplified versions that are currently used in mainland China. For instance, the characters for the Eastern Han are written as "東漢" in Traditional Chinese and "东汉" in Simplified Chinese.
^While Chinese historiography tends to treat dynasties as being of specific ethnic stocks, there were some monarchs who had mixed heritage. For instance, the Jiaqing Emperor of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty was of mixed Manchu and Han descent, having derived his Han ancestry from his mother, the Empress Xiaoyichun.
^The status of a dynasty was dependent upon the supreme title bore by its monarch at any given time. For instance, since all monarchs of the Chen dynasty held the title of emperor during their reign, the Chen dynasty was of imperial status.
^The monarchs listed were the de facto founders of dynasties. However, it was common for Chinese monarchs to posthumously honor earlier members of the family as monarchs. For instance, while the Later Jin was officially established by the Emperor Gaozu of Later Jin, four earlier members of the ruling house were posthumously accorded imperial titles, the most senior of which was Shi Jing who was conferred the temple name "Jingzu" (靖祖) and the posthumous name "Emperor Xiao'an" (孝安皇帝).
^In addition to the ancestral name Si (姒), the ruling house of the Xia dynasty also bore the lineage name Xiahou (夏后).
^ abYouqiong Yi, surnamed Youqiong (有窮), was of Dongyi descent. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
^ abYun Zhuo, surnamed Yun (妘), was of Dongyi descent. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
^ abcThe names of the Jin dynasty (晉朝) of the Sima clan and the Jin dynasty (金朝) of the Wanyan clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Jin".
^ abThe Sixteen Kingdoms are also referred to as the "Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians" (五胡十六國; Wǔ Hú Shíliù Guó), although not all dynasties counted among the 16 were ruled by the "Five Barbarians".
^The ruling house of the Han Zhao initially bore the surname Luandi (攣鞮).Liu (劉) was subsequently adopted as the surname prior to the establishment of the Han Zhao.
^As Jin Zhun, surnamed Jin (靳), was not a member of the Liu (劉) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.
^ abcSome historians consider AD 350, the year in which the Emperor Huiwu of Former Qin was proclaimed "Prince of Three Qins", to be the start of the Former Qin. Accordingly, the Former Qin was founded by the Emperor Huiwu of Former Qin and lasted 44 years.
^As Lan Han, surnamed Lan (蘭), was not a member of the Murong (慕容) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.
^ abThe Emperor Huiyi of Yan was of Gaogouli descent. Originally surnamed Gao (高), he was an adopted member of the Murong (慕容) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
^The Western Qin was interrupted by the Later Qin between AD 400 and AD 409. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed up to AD 400 and the realm restored in AD 409. The Prince Wuyuan of Western Qin was both the last ruler before the interregnum and the first ruler after the interregnum.
^ abThe names of the Later Liang (後涼) of the Lü clan and the Later Liang (後梁) of the Zhu clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Liang".
^The ruling house of the Southern Liang initially bore the surname Tuoba (拓跋). Tufa Pigu subsequently adopted Tufa (禿髮) as the surname prior to the establishment of the Southern Liang.
^The Southern Liang was interrupted by the Later Qin between AD 404 and AD 408. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed up to AD 404 and the realm restored in AD 408. The Prince Jing of Southern Liang was both the last ruler before the interregnum and the first ruler after the interregnum.
^The ruling house of the Hu Xia initially bore the surname Luandi (攣鞮).Liu (劉) was adopted as the surname prior to the establishment of the Hu Xia. The Emperor Wulie of Hu Xia subsequently adopted Helian (赫連) as the surname in AD 413 after the establishment of the Hu Xia.
^The ruling house of the Sui dynasty initially bore the surname Yang (楊). The Western Wei later bestowed the surname Puliuru (普六茹) upon the family. The Emperor Wen of Sui subsequently restored Yang as the surname in AD 580 prior to the establishment of the Sui dynasty.
^The ruling house of the Tang dynasty initially bore the surname Li (李). The Western Wei later bestowed the surname Daye (大野) upon the family.Li was subsequently restored as the surname in AD 580 prior to the establishment of the Tang dynasty.
^The Tang dynasty was interrupted by the Wu Zhou between AD 690 and AD 705. Chinese historiography does not make a distinction between the realm that existed up to AD 690 and the realm restored in AD 705. The Emperor Ruizong of Tang was the last ruler before the interregnum; the Emperor Zhongzong of Tang was the first ruler after the interregnum.
^ abLi Congke was of Han descent. Originally surnamed Wang (王), he was an adopted member of the Li (李) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
^ abThe names of the Later Jin (後晉) of the Shi clan and the Later Jin (後金) of the Aisin Gioro clan are rendered similarly using the Hanyu Pinyin system, even though they do not share the same Chinese character for "Jin".
^The Emperor Shizong of Later Zhou, originally surnamed Chai (柴), was an adopted member of the Guo (郭) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
^ abcSome historians consider AD 902, the year in which the Emperor Taizu of Yang Wu was proclaimed "Prince of Wu", to be the start of the Yang Wu. Accordingly, the Yang Wu was founded by the Emperor Taizu of Yang Wu and lasted 35 years.
^As Zhu Wenjin, surnamed Zhu (朱), was not a member of the Wang (王) clan by birth, his enthronement was not a typical dynastic succession.
^The ruling house of the Jingnan initially bore the surname Gao (高). The Prince Wuxin of Chu subsequently adopted Zhu (朱) as the surname, only to restore the surname Gao prior to the establishment of the Jingnan.
^ abLiu Ji'en was of Han descent. Originally surnamed Xue (薛), he was an adopted member of the Liu (劉) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
^ abThe Emperor Yingwu of Northern Han was of Han descent. Originally surnamed He (何), he was an adopted member of the Liu (劉) clan. His enthronement was therefore not a typical dynastic succession.
^ abcTraditional Chinese historiography considers the Northern Yuan to have ended in either AD 1388 or AD 1402 when the dynastic name "Great Yuan" was abolished. Accordingly, the Northern Yuan lasted either 20 years or 34 years, and its last ruler was either the Tianyuan Emperor or the Örüg Temür Khan. However, some historians regard the Mongol-ruled regime that existed from AD 1388 or AD 1402 up to AD 1635—referred to in the History of Ming as "Dada" (韃靼)—as a direct continuation of the Northern Yuan.
^ abcSome historians consider AD 1664, the year in which the reign of the Dingwu Emperor came to an end, to be the end of the Southern Ming. Accordingly, the Southern Ming lasted 20 years and its last ruler was the Dingwu Emperor. However, the existence and identity of the Dingwu Emperor, supposedly reigned from AD 1646 to AD 1664, are disputed.
^As proposed by scholars such as Tan Qixiang, the geographical extent covered in the study of Chinese historical geography largely corresponds with the territories once ruled by the Qing dynasty during its territorial peak between the AD 1750s and the AD 1840s, prior to the outbreak of the First Opium War. At its height, the Qing dynasty exercised jurisdiction over an area larger than 13 million km2, encompassing:
Modern Chinese historiography considers all regimes, regardless of the ethnicity of the ruling class, that were established within or overlapped with the above geographical boundaries to be part of Chinese history. Similarly, all ethnic groups that were active within the above geographical boundaries are considered ethnicities of China. Regions outside of the above geographical boundaries but were under Chinese rule during various historical periods are included in the histories of the respective Chinese dynasties.
^The dynastic regimes included in this timeline are the same as the list above.
China Handbook Editorial Committee, China Handbook Series: History (trans., Dun J. Li), Beijing, 1982, pp. 188–189; and Shao Chang Lee, "China Cultural Development" (wall chart), East Lansing, 1984.
Wilkinson, Endymion Porter (2018). Chinese History: A New Manual (5th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center. ISBN9780998888309. Specifically Section A.2 "Dynasties", in this and earlier editions, which includes subsections on "Naming the Dynasties", "Sets of Dynasties", "The Dynastic Cycle", "Legitimate Succession", "Grade School History" (the effect on common understanding of China's history).