Goal: This series of tables allows you to locate the dates, correct Romanization, and Chinese characters for any dynasty or reign in Chinese history. All Chinese dynasties are numbered, and so are the emperors within them.
Numbering System: The numbering system I have used for dynasties and reigns is briefly explained on the page devoted to Periods of Chinese History, which contains links back to these tables. It is also used elsewhere on this web site, especially in the interactive data base of Chinese terms and names.
Dates: Dates given here are the so-called "long chronology," traditionally used by historical Chinese authors. There is substantial disagreement between chronologies until 841 BC, so it is extremely unlikely that the dates given here before that time are even remotely accurate. Since Chinese history uses lunar years, with new year coming about Western February or so, it is not unusual for a few historical dates to get misconverted by a year in English sources. It rarely makes a significant difference.
How Imperial Names & Titles Work: Each emperor is known to history by a posthumous "temple" name and by a "reign" name.
Before the Míng dynasty (period 20), emperors often changed their reign names, so only the more stable temple names are normally used in historical works, and only temple names are given here.
During the Míng and Qīng periods (periods 20 and 21), however, only one reign name was used per reign, and one temple name was repeated by two different emperors. Therefore historians refer to those monarchs by the reign names rather than the temple names. For those two dynasties, both names are given.
The reign name was not actually the personal name of the emperor; it technically named period of his reign. In English usage, therefore, one does not speak of "Emperor [Reign-name]," but of "the [Reign-name] emperor." (That is, one speaks of "the Kāngxī Emperor," not "Emperor Kāngxī." However for emperors before the Míng, since the temple names are used, one speaks of Emperor [Temple-Name], for example Emperor Wén, not "the Wén Emperor."
Emperors did have personal names, but these were taboo to the populace and occur in historical sources only rarely. They are not included on these tables.
Note that many temple names are duplicated over time. Several dynasties have an emperor called Gāozōng ("great ancestor"), for example. Thus it is conventional in Chinese to precede the name of the emperor with the name of the dynasty: Táng Gāozōng (reign number 12a-3 in these tables). Unfortunately, English authors are less consistent than Chinese authors about this.
How to Find an Emperor: The easiest way to find an emperor is to go to the appropriate dynasty and then just scan the list. (Because these tables include tone marks, the "find" function of your browser will not function correctly unless you include tones as well, which is rarely practical.)
Chinese Characters in the Tables: If you are using a relatively new browser, the characters should appear by themselves. If they do not, then you may need to set the "character set" or "encoding" of your browser to "auto-detect" or Unicode or UTF-8 by hand. Check under the "view" menu.)
Characters are printed in black when the "traditional" and modern "simplified" forms are identical (e.g., 中文). Otherwise, the traditional forms are printed in blue and the simplified forms in red (e.g., 華語, 华语).
Navigation: Because the full table is long, it is divided into seven separate files, each of which contains a series of separate tables. Links at the top and bottom of each page should facilitate navigation.
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The two illustrations repeated throughout these tables are from a poster for a 2007 exhibit
of Sòng dynasty royal portraits at the National Palace Museum, Taipei.