Timeline of Chinese history
Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD)1
Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD)2
Jin dynasty (265–420 AD)3
Southern and Northern dynasties (420–589 AD)4
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907–960/976 AD)5
1Some historians consider 202 BC to be the beginning of the Han dynasty. This is the period of ‘Chu-Han contention’ (楚汉相争 Chu Han Xiang Zheng), when Liu Bang 刘邦), founder of the Han dynasty and emperor (206–202 BC) after the fall of the Qin dynasty, was fighting for supremacy with Xiang Yu (项羽), who proclaimed himself ‘Hegemon-King of Western Chu’(西楚霸王, Xichu Bawang).
2Items divided by a bullet point (•) indicate that China was divided at that time and the ruling houses coexisted geographically rather than succeeding each other chronologically.
3Much of the Jin dynasty witnessed ancient China as a divided country. During the later part of the Western Jin dynasty, Jin began to lose its territory in the north to rebellious nomadic groups, which were not only pushing their border south with mass migration but also fought among themselves for territory. These nomadic groups established a number of kingdoms, some coexisting with each other while others succeeded a previous ruler’s territory. Historians name the time when north China was occupied by these coexisting/succeeding kingdoms the ‘Sixteen Kingdoms’ period, because the histories of 16 particular kingdoms were better recorded due to their relatively longer existence and greater regional influence. The nomadic groups’ rebellion was also part of the reason why Jin moved its capital southeast, hence the succession of the Eastern Jin dynasty to the Western Jin.
4The Southern and Northern dynasties was another period when China was divided into different kingdoms (or empires, as each would prefer to call itself). The Liu Song, Qi, Liang and Chen were succeeding dynasties in south China. The Northern Wei started with a fairly small territory during the Sixteen Kingdoms period, and later on unified all the kingdoms in north China. However, it was divided later to be the Western Wei and Eastern Wei, which were succeeded by the Northern Zhou and Northern Qi respectively.
5Some historians consider 976 AD to be the end of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, when the ruler of the Northern Han kingdom surrendered to the Song dynasty