In much the same way as English speakers say “The Renaissance” or “The Middle Ages” to denote an era and the events associated with it, Chinese people use the names of dynasties to comprehend the history of their country. We’ve all heard terms like The Ming Dynasty or The Tang Dynasty – usually with respect to exquisite vases and plates – but probably like me in not knowing the time periods they referred to. I adapted this next table from the one Michael Tsin created for Columbia University. This categorization takes some time to get used to but is the standard frame of reference. Given the times and distances involved, it’s no surprise this way of organizing history has little to do with the Western one.
|People’s_Republic of China||1949~present||Economic emergence. Communist government. Catastrophes such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.|
|Republic Period||1912~1949||Weak central government following the collapse of dynastic system in 1911-12. Western influence during the New Culture Movement. Nationalist attempts to control the entire country thwarted by domestic revolts and Japanese occupation (1937-45).|
|Qing Dynasty||1644~1912||Continued economic development led to prosperity and large population increase. Addition of new territories causes political strain.|
|Ming Dynasty||1368~1644||Foundations of the political culture. An inward-looking state with an emphasis on agrarian base. Growing commercial sector coupled with important changes in the economy and social relations in the latter part of the dynasty. Flowering of arts.|
|Yuan Dynasty||1279~1368||Founded the Mongols as part of their conquest of much of the then-known world. Rich culture of drama.|
Southern Song Dynasty
|Economic growth and social change; maritime trade; urban expansion and technological innovation. Rise of political and social order based on Neo-Confucianism.|
|Tang Dynasty||618~906||Cosmopolitan time of cultural flowering. The height of Buddhist influence until its repression around 845. Active territorial expansion until defeat by the Arabs at Talas in 751.|
|Sui Dynasty||581~618||China reunified.|
|Six Dynasties Period||220~589||Empire fragmented with north dominated by invaders from the bordering steppes and south ruled by successive “Chinese” dynasties. Spread of Buddhism.|
Eastern/Later Han Dynasty
|Modified and consolidated the foundation of the imperial order. Confucianism established as orthodoxy and open civil service examinations introduced.|
|Qin Dynasty||221~206_BCE||Unitary state with centralized administration and standardized writing script, weights and measures. Known for its harsh rule.|
|Eastern Zhou Dynasty|
Western Zhou Dynasty
|The Zhou royal house’s hierarchical political and social system based on ancestral cults. The time of Confucius 551-479 BCE.|
|Shang Dynasty||1600~1050 BCE|
|Xia_(Sia)_Dynasty||2100~1600 BCE||The first dynasty in traditional Chinese historiography. According to tradition, the Xia dynasty was established by the legendary Yu the Great, after Shun, the last of the Five Emperors (a group of mythological rules in ancient northern China circa 3162 BCE to 2070 BCE.)|
Cities in China are grouped into tiers that give a rough indication of their size and level of development. It’s not an official classification or even a uniform one. Four of the six largest cities are self-governing municipalities and not part of any province. The information is mostly from here and the population data is for 2020/2021 (W) for China and from here for the last column for well-known cities of comparable size. Population statistics from even two different sources are notoriously variable and I present them only as approximations.
|Tier One Cities||Shanghai (Municipality)||上海||N/A||27,795,702||Delhi|
The four Tier 1 cities are usually the only ones persons outside of China have heard of. They’re all huge with populations of 15 to 25 million.
|Tier Two Cities||Chongqing (Municipality)||重庆||N/A||16,382,000|
|Tianjin (Municipality)||天津||N/A||13,866,009||Rio de Janeiro|
|Xi’an||西安||Shaanxi||8,989,000||Ho Chi Min City|
|Dongguan||东莞||Guangdong||8,342,500||New York City|
The Tier 2 Cities are also known as New Tier 1 Cities and generally have populations of between 5 and 15 million. They range from the comfortable to the huge. Nanjing was the former capital where 300,000 were killed in the Japanese army Nanjing Massacre of December 12, 1936. Wuhan we know as the city where the coronavirus was first identified. Chongqing was the seat of the Chinese government during the Japanese occupation. Tianjin is the former German concession and has many solid Germanic buildings. Xi’an is an ancient several-times capital of China, best known worldwide for the Terracotta Army. The province of Sichuan has a particularly rich food culture now gaining in popularity around the world.
|Tier Three Cities||Quanzhou||泉州||Fujian||8,782,285|
Tier 3 Cities have populations between 1.5 and 9 million but the average is probably about 3 or 4 mil. There are also 90 Tier 4 cities spread across 20 provinces and another 123 Tier 5 cities in 23 different provinces. Some classifications also identify Tier 6 cities. The tier classification is basically an indicator of level of development and doesn’t necessarily correspond with population. For example, an underground metro network is usually an indicator of a Tier 2 city. Of the Tier 3 cities, Wenzhou (pop. 3.6 mil.) is the 34th largest city in China and where I live and work. Nantong (pop. 2.3 mil.) is the 44th largest city in China and the subject of next week’s post.
There’s always much to say about the large cities because they’ve developed through some fortuitous combination of geography and history that made them nodes of transportation and trade that, over time, have left them with an abundance of the history and artifacts of development. Such cities probably couldn’t have been anything else but large cities. Nantong has always prospered because of its proximity to Shanghai but has stayed small at 2.6 mil. and distinct, separated as it is by the Yangtze River that passes between them vast and profound like an ocean.