Chinas boundaries have expanded and contracted over time. The six maps show China at selected periods in history. Click on each map heading to see the extent of Chinas borders during that period.
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The Battle oftook place in 1046 BCE in central Henan. It was fought between the Shang and the Zhou, a frontier people from the valleys to the west of thearea.
King Wu of, one the great early Zhou kings, led the Zhou army to a ford of the Yellow River where he met with 800 local leaders. He crossed the river and approached the Shang capital, but then turned back, influenced by signs from heaven. Two years later, he set out again. The Zhou forces and their allies – 45,000 troops and 300 chariots it was said – marched through flat terrain to Mu Ye, where the Shang army assembled to face the Zhou.The Book of Songs, one of Chinas first books, said:
And marshalled in the wilderness of Mu.
But the Zhou army quickly defeated the Shang forces, andthe last emperor of the Shang committed suicide.
A bronze was discovered in 1976 inprovince, which had an inscription on it about the battle of Mu Ye. The inscription is the earliest of the Zhou period, and confirmed that the account given in historical texts was true.
was one of the five capitals of the, a semi-nomadic people, who set up thedynasty. The Khitan Liao emperors ruled much of north China for over two hundred years. Beijing was their Southern Capital. The city had an enclosed imperial area and a palace, and ward divisions, which had been established during the earlier Tang period. The major markets were in the northern part of town. The Khitans spoke a Mongolian language. In some Liao cities, the Liao people lived in tents inside the walls. Khitan women went hunting, could divorce their husbands, and could hold government and military posts. The Khitan Liao were often in conflict with Song China. Some relics of the Liao capital can still be seen in todays Beijing, including include San Miao Road which is one of the oldest streets in the city, the Niujie mosque, founded in 996, and Tianning Temple, built in the 1100s.
is the capital of China, with a population today of over 20 million people. The name Beijing means Northern Capital.
In Confuciuss time, Beijing had been capital of the state of. When China was conquered by the Mongols in the late 1200s, Beijing became the capital of the whole of China for the first time. Ming Emperor, who took the throne in 1402, decided to move the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Building the city took nearly twenty years, with materials brought from all over China. The new palace compound, where the Emperor lived with his family and official business was carried out, was called the Forbidden City. There were hundreds of rooms, including palaces, ceremonial halls, secretarial offices, kitchens, barracks, servants quarters and storehouses. The Forbidden City lay at the heart of a walled government district called the Imperial City, which included lakes and gardens and a zoo with tiger enclosure and a leopard house. The new palace was inaugurated on New Years Day 1421.
To bring rice to Beijing from the south, theGrand Canalwas dredged and new locks built.
Most ordinary inhabitants of Beijing lived in courtyard houses along small winding alleys, some of which still survive today, and which since the Mongol days have been known by the Mongol term.
Beijing has been the capital of China almost without break ever since Yongles reign. The Forbidden City is the worlds largest palace complex.
was the capital ofChina. Today is it known as. The area had been the homeland of thewarriors who conquered Chinas Bronze Agedynasty, and the First Emperor ofhad built his capital here, as did the rulers of the,and Tang dynasties. Changan was regarded by the people of Tang China as the centre of the world. A cosmopolitan city in which Turkic peoples, Tibetans, Persians, Syrians, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Jewish and Arabic people could be found, it had Zoroastrian temples, Christian churches, Islamic mosques, as well as Buddhist and Daoist monasteries and other Chinese temples. The Tang law code controlled traffic in the city. Anyone caught speeding riders or coachmen who galloped their horses or raced their carriages down a street into a crowd of people – was punished by fifty blows, and if they killed someone, they could be executed. If the coachman had a good excuse, such as urgently calling a doctor, or delivering an imperial decree, might be spared from punishment.
, a city in northeast China, was the capital of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo from 1932 to 1945.
Before the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Changchun was a small town on the grasslands at the Manchurian frontier, with various handicraft industries including felt-making and an indigo dye works.
Changchun was transformed by the coming of the railways. The Russians built a settlement at Changchun in 1898, a simple town for the railway laborers, with a few commercial buildings, a workers club and a chapel. In 1906, Japan built a new commercial settlement at Changchun, constructing impressive public buildings, including a railway station, a fine post office, the grand Yamato Hotel, and the railway administration building, which had flush toilets and steam heating. Manchuria was the worlds leading producer of soybeans in the 1920s and 1930s, and Changchun became a major centre of the trade.
In 1932, Changchun went through another transformation when it became capital of Japans puppet state of Manchukuo. The city was transformed into a modern capital, with wide boulevards, a government ministry district, smart residential suburbs, an airfield, and a golf driving range. Visitors to Changchun can still visit the Manchukuo Imperial Palace, where the puppet emperors study and bedroom and temple, as well as his wifes and concubines rooms have been recreated.
Erlitou, capital of Chinas first dynasty, the semi-mythical Xia
is an archaeological site inprovince. The finds at the site date between 2000 BCE and 1600 BCE, a period when Chinas first states were developing. Discoveries from the Erlitou site have convinced some archaeologists that it was the capital of Chinas first dynasty, the semi-mythical. Two large rammed-earth platforms have been found, which were probably palaces – grand buildings consisting of large halls with verandas and a roofed corridor around the whole complex – as well as bronze workshops, several hundred graves, and numerous objects made of bronze, pottery, jade, stone, bone and lacquer.
Fengyang is a county in the Huai River Plain, famous for being the place where the first emperor of thewas born. The region was one of the poorest areas of China. When the first emperor,, was a boy, the area was ravaged by drought, famine and plague. Zhus family were very poor peasants. Zhus parents died, and he became a beggar monk. Uprisings broke out, led by poor farming people who bound their heads with red cloth headbands – hence their name the Red Turbans – and began killing officials and pillaging towns.joined a rebel army, and in an astonishing rise to power, over the course of a few years defeated all rivals and set up his new dynasty, the Ming.
After he became emperor, he ordered that his old home town should be rebuilt into a second capital city, and thousands of families were supposed to move there. But the plan was abandoned. Throughout the Ming and the Qing dynasty that followed it, Zhu Yuanzhangs home region remained a poor place. People said that because one person from there, Zhu Yuanzhang, had risen from beggar to emperor, he had taken all the goodfengshui- good fortune – and there was nothing left for anyone else.
, a port city on Chinas south coast, was a major shipbuilding and engineering centre during Chinas Self Strengthening movement in the late 1800s.
In 1842, Fuzhou was opened to foreign trade, according to the terms of the Treaty of Nanjing. Fuzhou Dockyard was established in 1866, with French support, as part of Chinas Self-Strengthening movement which aimed to revitalise China through learning from the west. The dockyards first ship, a steam-powered warship with six guns, was launched in 1869, and named theor Ten-Thousand-Year Qing Dynasty. An academy was also set up to train naval officers and engineers. Courses on shipbuilding were given by French instructors, and navigation was taught by English experts. A five-year programme included internships in French shipyards and at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, England. By 1884, Chinas Fuzhou-based Southern Fleet was one of four fleets in China, which altogether had 50 modern warships.
The Southern Fleet was almost entirely destroyed by French forces in 1884 during the Sino-French War. After Chinas 1911 Revolution, the Fuzhou Academy became a Naval Engineering Institute.
The Grand Canal, built under theDynasty, is over 1000 miles long and is the worlds longest man-made waterway. Canals had been dug in China since the days of the First Emperor of Qin, but the Sui Grand Canal was on a much grander scale than anything previously built. It first linked Luoyang on the Yellow River toon theRiver, and then was extended south to Hangzhou, and north toward Beijing. The canal connected north and south China, making it possible to bring supplies from the south to support the army and the government in the north, integrating Chinas key economic areas for the first time in history. The millions of labourers who carried baskets of soil and chiselled through rock to build the canal endured much suffering, and many died at their work. Discontent at the human and economic costs contributed to the collapse of the Sui dynasty. But the canal contributed enormously to the prosperity of the Tang dynasty that followed.
The Great Wall protected Chinas northern frontier. The Chinese had built defensive walls from as early as theperiod. The First Emperor ofconnected existing wallsto create an extensive defensive barrier.
After theCrisis in 1449, thedecided to strengthen the wall system along the northern borders. Wall-building efforts were spurred after another serious Mongol raid in 1550, when the invaders even reached the outskirts of Beijing. The walls, which had formerly been made of pounded earth, began to be faced with stone and brick. Building continued to the end of the Ming, by which time the Great Wall was thousands of miles long with nearly 25,000 watchtowers. After the Ming fell to the Manchus in the mid 1600s, the wall ceased to have any purpose, and began to crumble. The Great Wall today is around 13,000 miles long.
The Great Wall of China – early fortifications
Source: Severin.stalder /CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Great Wall of China – Early Fortifications
The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications built to protect China against raids and invasions by nomadic peoples of the steppes. Several walls were built as early as the seventh century BCE and were later joined together and strengthened in 220206 BCE by Shihuangdi, theemperor. The human cost of the construction is unknown, but it has been estimated by some authors that hundreds of thousands, if not up to a million, workers died building the Qin wall. Little of that wall remains, but since then the Great Wall has been rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced through the dynasties. The majority of the existing wall is from theDynasty. The Ming fortifications are over 5000 miles in length.
is a major city in south China with a population of over 13 million people.
During theperiod, Guangzhou was a busy international port, with Arab, Indian and Persian communities, Buddhist monasteries and an Islamic mosque. Tang Guangzhou was a port of call for overseas merchants coming across the Indian Ocean and the China Sea, who traded stoneware, ceramics, spices, as well as silk, gold and silver wares, glass and precious stones. The Tang government appointed a maritime trade commissioner, in charge of management of ships, storage facilities, levying customs and receiving foreign envoys. A posting to serve as a government official here was known to be a good way to get rich quickly. The surrounding area was also known for exotica such as delicious lychee fruits, peacocks, betel nuts, coconuts, as well as deadly mists that gathered in the mountains, and devastating typhoons. At the end of the Tang period in the late 800s, Guangzhou was looted during a major uprising, and the account of an Arab traveller records that thousands of people were massacred. Chinese sources say pirates had also raided and looted the warehouses of foreign merchants in Guangzhou a couple of years previously.
is a port city in south China. Located on the Pearl River close to Hong Kong and Macao, the city is sometimes known in English as Canton. Guangzhou became a major international portduring the Tang period, with Arab, Indian and Persian communities, Buddhist monasteries and an Islamic mosque, which is still there today. In the Qing period, Chinas last dynasty, under the Canton System, Guangzhou became the only place at which westerners were allowed to trade. The foreigners in Guangzhou lived and worked in a row of houses known as the Thirteen Factories, on the banks of the Pearl River.
Women were not allowed to come to the city. In 1829, a British woman made the journey to Guangzhou despite the ban, and the following year, 20-year-old American Harriet Low and her aunt Abigail Low also travelled there, wearing velvet caps and cloaks to disguise themselves, becoming the first two American women in China. Abigails husband was a Massachusetts businessman working for US trading firm Russell & Company. Harriet described her journey in a diary. She said the Chinese, kindled up fires in an instant to behold our faces and we had quite a rabble round us… though they were perfectly civil and made no noise, but only showed a little curiosity
After the Opium Wars, the foreigners in Guangzhou moved to an island in the city called, or Shameen, where trading companies from Britain, the United States and other countries built western-style mansions, which are still there today.
is the capital of Zhejiang province, and is famous for its beautiful West Lake. The city rose to prominence during the Song dynasty when it became capital of the Southerndynasty.
After the fall of the original Song capital inin 1127, Chinese loyalists re-grouped in the south, and established a court at Hangzhou. Hangzhou at first struggled to accommodate 500,000 migrants from the north. But within a few years, new housing was built, and Hangzhou flourished. The loss of the north was a huge blow, but after they moved to Hangzhou, the Song Chinese were able to use the extensive waterways of the south, and enjoyed great prosperity as Chinas commercial revolution continued. Hangzhou was the capital of Song China for over 150 years. The city was besieged and captured by the advancing Mongol armies of Khubilai Khan in 1276, three years before the final collapse of the Song empire. The Venetian merchant Marco Polo wrote about Hangzhou in the late thirteenth century, saying that that the city was greater than any in the world.
is a famous archaeological site close to the modern day city of. It was one of several Neolithic cultures that emerged in China around 5000 BCE. Hemudu is a very well preserved settlement, at the marshy edge of a former lake. At the Hemudu site, researchers found wooden houses on stilts, rice and vegetable remains, and many bone objects, including even musical flutes. The pots found at the site were decorated with birds, petals and leaves, and pigs. Another famous neolithic site is at, in northwest China.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, is now a Special Administrative Region of China.
Britain took possession of Hong Kong island during the First Opium War, and it was ceded to Britain in perpetuity in the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing. Home to a just a few thousand fishing and farming people at the time, Hong Kong island was described by the British foreign secretary at the time as a barren island with hardly a house upon it. The British constructed buildings, roads and other infrastructure, and trading houses including Dent and Co, Jardine Matheson and others established operations. Over the decades, thousands of Chinese migrants settled in the colony, fleeing upheavals in China, such as Taiping Rebellion.
The British extended their territory to include Kowloon in 1860, and in 1898 leased extensive rural areas known as the New Territories for 99 years. Trade expanded, and by 1900 Hong Kong was established as a major international entrepot.
Occupied by Japan during World War II, in the 1950s Hong Kong enjoyed an economic revival based on light industries such as textiles.
In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China, and became a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic, maintaining a separate political and economic system under the principle of one country, two systems. In 2014, pro-democracy demonstrators occupied the city centre for weeks, in protest at the Chinese governments decision to limit voters choices in the 2017 Hong Kong leadership election.
is the site of a major battle fought in 1696 between the Zunghar Mongols andChina.
In the late 1600s, the Zunghar Mongols had been united by a young leader called Galdan, a rough, crafty man who liked fighting, one Chinese account said. Emperorwanted to destroy this dangerous enemy, leading the army himself. Kangxis first campaign against Galdan, in 1690, was inconclusive, and in 1696 the emperor of China set out for a second time into the desert. The Qing army marched north, with six thousand carts to carry grain to the frontier. Soldiers built roads of willow sticks and mud to cross giant sand dunes. The emperor urged his army on, taking regular sightings of the pole star, praying to the spirits of wind and rain, paying attention to the terrain, the grass, the desert sand and stones.
The Qing army crossed the Tula river, and then the Kerulen, pursuing Galdan north, running low on grain and fodder for their animals. Kangxi told his son in a letter that he was in a landscape with no good places for thousands of miles. Finally the two armies met at a place called Jao Modo. Both sides were at the extreme limit of their supply lines. The Qing occupied the hills, and fired their great cannon, and advanced behind a wooden barricade. Galdan was unable to control his troops, who broke ranks and fled. Galdans wife Anu tried to save her husbands life in a counter attack but she was killed. Galdan escaped with only about 40 men. The following year, abandoned by his army, Galdan was reported to have died.
is a famous porcelain manufacturing area in southeast China. As early as the sixth century CE, the town was producing ceramics for the imperial court. During the Mongoldynasty, traders brought cobalt to Jingdezhen from Persia, and Jingdezhen ceramicists began using the cobalt to create the blue and white porcelain that became popular worldwide. Jingdezhen became a busy commercial place, noisy, strewn with pottery garbage, and smoky from the wood fired kilns. The firstemperor set up an imperial manufactory in Jingdezhen, and the town produced vast quantities of ceramics for the court and the government. Luxury ceramics from Jingdezhen were purchased by elite Chinese, as well as foreign consumers from Japan, Korea, and Europe.
is a city near theYellow Riverin north China. A commercial centre on theGrand Canal, Kaifeng was chosen by thefounding emperoras capital of his new dynasty. The emperor ordered the city to be rebuilt and enlarged, and by 1100 Kaifengs population grew to over one million, making it the largest city in the world at the time.Along the River During theQingmingFestival, one of the best-loved works of art in China, depicts everyday life in Kaifeng during the Song dynasty. The scroll shows taverns, wine shops, grain stores, shops selling cookware, bows and arrows, lanterns, medicine and musical instruments, and people from all walks of life – boatmen loading cargoes, storytellers, peddlers, jugglers, beggars, monks, fortune tellers, cooks, metalworkers, and scholars.
Kaifeng was vulnerable to flooding due to its location close to the Yellow River, and has several times over history been devastated by floods.
Kashgar is an oasis city in Chinasprovince, with a population today of around 350,000 people. On the Silk Road between China, Central Asia and Europe, the city has been a centre of trade and cultural exchange for over two thousand years.
Kashgar – along with the rest of what is today Xinjiang province – became part of the Chinese empire as a consequence of Qing Chinas conflicts with the Zunghar Mongols. In the early 1700s, the Zunghar Mongols had conquered Kashgar, along with other oasis cities, and set up puppet rulers. They extracted huge wealth from Kashgar, thousands of ounces of silver, and large amounts of grain. By the mid 1700s, however, the Zunghars were weakening. Qing armies defeated the Zunghar Mongols in 1755, and took control of Kashgar, as well as other oasis cities, extending their rule into Muslim Central Asia in a series of campaigns during the 1750s.
The Kun Iam Temple is one of Macaos most popular places of worship, and it is the site where the first Sino-US trade treaty, the Treaty of Wanghia, was signed in 1844, in the aftermath of the First Opium War.
The representative of Qing China was a bannerman of the Imperial Clan called. He came to Macao and took up lodgings in the Kun Iam Temple, where the negotiations were held. The US representative was Caleb Cushing, a congressman from Massachusetts. The signing ceremony took place in a room at the back of the Kun Iam temple, after which Qiying invited the Americans to enjoy fruits and tea, which turned out to be fine banquet laid out in a larger room of the temple, including a pudding that Qiying had invented himself.
The Kun Iam Temple was founded in the 1500s, and is devoted to Kun Iam or, the Chinese goddess of mercy. Cushing had wished to negotiate inbut the Chinese wanted to keep foreigners away from the capital. The Treaty of Wanghia followed the same lines as the British Treaty of.
Lhasa is a city of over 400,000 people, and the traditional, spiritual and political centre of the Tibetan world. The city contains the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and the Norbulingka, which are UNESCO world heritage sites.
Tibet became part of the expandingChinese empire in the context of the complex politics of Mongol and Tibetan peoples and China during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Tibet was invaded by the Zunghar Mongols in 1717. Concerned at the Mongol advances, Emperorsent two Qing armies to Lhasa. One Qing army approached from the north through Koko Nor, and the other from the east through. The Qing armies conquered the Zunghars, and in 1720 entered Lhasa. They installed a new Dalai Lama who was loyal to the Qing. This began the Chinese military intervention in the politics of Tibet.
The Longmen Grottoes are caves and niches carved into cliffs near the city of, inprovince. There are more than 2,000 caves and niches which contain over 100,000 Buddhist statues. The statues were carved by followers of Buddhism between around 500 CE and 750 CE.
After the spread of Buddhism in China, pilgrimages became an important part of religious practice. People would visit Buddhist sites and contribute money to have inscriptions, niches and statues made. At the Longmen Grottoes, the donors included members of the imperial family such as Emperorand Empress, as well as court officials, aristocrats, nuns and monks, artisans, lay societies, and members of commercial guilds. The largest statue is nearly 60 ft high, and was built for Empress Wu. Legend says that the face of the statue was carved to look like her face. There was originally an enormous roof above the statue.
After the sack of Luoyang during theRebellion, the carving activity here declined. Longmen is one of several important Buddhist cave sculpture sites in China.
Macao is a city in south China, and is a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic of China.
A remote, tiny rocky promontory at the mouth of the Pearl River, Macao did not develop as a major settlement until the Portuguese arrived in the mid 1500s, and were allowed to settle. By 1562 there were around 800 Portuguese living at Macao. They built churches, squares, warehouses, and government offices. Catholic missionaries used Macao as a base for their work in China. Dutch traders, who were expanding their international trading activities, attacked Macao in 1622. The Portuguese defended the city stoutly, and the Dutch retreated.
Macao was returned to China in 1999.
Moon Harbour -in Chinese – was a prosperous smugglers port during thedynasty.
Although the Ming government forbade all foreign trade outside three designated ports, Chinese sailors and merchants up and down the coast continued to trade with Japanese and other foreigners. Originally the main smugglers haven had been closer to modern, but the government smashed it in 1548, and the survivors moved south to Moon Harbour inProvince. Moon Harbour became a prosperous illegal port. Through the 1550s, ships from all over south and southeast Asia called there, trading silk, copper, porcelains, painted fans, pearls and handicrafts, silver, spices, Japanese swords and guns. Although the pirates are known as Japanese, they included a mix of Japanese, Portuguese and South East Asians as well as many Chinese. In 1567, the government decided to partly lift the ban and made Moon Harbour an official port.
Jehol is the site of the Mountain Resort, or northern summer palace of the Qing emperors, which lies 100 miles northeast of Beijing in the modern city of.
The huge site, built between 1703 and 1780, includes a main palace complex, the largest classical gardens in China, and a series of monasteries in Tibetan Buddhist style. TheEmperor first established an imperial residence here, near the Manchu imperial hunting grounds. The complex incorporated Han Chinese, Manchu, Tibetan and Mongolian influences, reinforcing the idea of the unity of the Qing dynasty as a multi-ethnic empire. Emperors Kangxi andoften spent several months of each summer at Jehol, handling government affairs and receiving leaders of ethnic minority peoples and diplomatic envoys from foreign countries. Emperor Qianlong met Britains Macartney Embassy at the palace complex in 1793.
Jehol was calledin Chinese, which means warm river, because there was a hot spring at the site.
is a city of over six million people inProvince. It has a strategic location on south bank of the Yangtze River, one of Chinas longest rivers and main transportation routes. Nanjing became the capital of one of the famous Three Kingdoms after the fall of thedynasty in about 200 CE, and a several short-lived southern dynasties were subsequently based there. As waves of northerners migrated south, the population grew, and industries such as papermaking, copper making, porcelain and silk manufacturing developed. In the late 1300s,, the first emperor of the Ming dynasty, chose Nanjing to be his capital, and built the huge walls that still stand today.
Chinas capital was later moved to, but Nanjing retained important financial functions throughout the. The Yellow Register census records for the entire Chinese population were stored in Nanjing, on three islands in a lake. Finance ministry staff lived at the archives on the islands, along with doctors, cooks, and the boatmen who ferried the documents across the lake. Archive staff applied pepper and mineral powders to try and stop insects damaging the documents, and fire and candlelight were strictly forbidden. The kitchens were located on a special small island reached by a bridge. Each time the national census was carried out, thirty rooms had to be added to the archives to accommodate the new records. The documents were used for calculating tax and managing state finances. In the turmoil that brought down the Ming dynasty in 1644-1645, the archive was destroyed.
is the capital of ChinasProvince. During the last 150 years, Nanjing has been the scene of several momentous events in Chinas history. The city was the capital of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, which fought to conquer theempire. Thousands died in Nanjing when in 1864 the city was finally retaken by Qing troops. There are few traces of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in Nanjing today, but instreet, visitors can still visit the residence of aprince, which is decorated with Taiping wall paintings, and see a recreation of the Taiping leaders golden throne room at the Presidential Palace.
In 1928, Chiang Kai-shek made Nanjing the capital of Nationalist China, choosing Nanjing instead of Beijing in line with Sun Yat-sens original plan to reduce the power of northern general Yuan Shikai. To make Nanjing a modern city, the Nationalists built wide boulevards and grand public buildings. Chiang Kai-shek built a huge memorial to Sun Yat-sen, dedicating a whole mountainside outside the city for his tomb.
In 1937, Nanjing was conquered by Japan during Japans full-scale invasion of China. Nanjings people suffered appallingly at the hands of the Japanese soldiers.
TheMausoleum is adynasty tomb site near. Various