Chinese history, which dates back more than 5,000 years, is extraordinarily rich, complex-and potentially confusing. Understanding at least its basic chronology and some of its most notable events and developments is made somewhat easier by virtue of its ancient system of dynasties.
The word dynasty means, quite simply, a succession of rulers from the same family. Beginning with the Bronze Age Shang dynasty, historical eras in China have borne the name of the family or clan that dominated during that period.
Some dynasties, such as the Zhou and the Ming, lasted for centuries. Others, such as the Qin and the Sui, ended after a few decades. Some have been relatively tranquil; others have been turbulent.
Over the lengthy span of Chinese history, each dynasty is distinguished both by its name and by the impact of individuals, outside influences, and technological advances on all aspects of its culture-economic, political, artistic, and religious.