Government in Ancient China – Emperors

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Empress Wu - a Chinese woman with a fancy hat on - Chinese government

Chinese government: Empress Wu of the T’ang Dynasty

The first emperors of China

During the Stone Age, people in China lived in small villages and had big men in charge, and then chieftains. But by the time of the Shang Dynasty, about 1800 BC, China was united into an empire. Chinese government was led by an emperor or empress who ruled over many smaller kings. Under these kings were a bunch of less powerful lords, and these lords ruled individual farmers. The lords collected taxes from the farmers. The lords passed some taxes along to the kings, who passed some along to the emperor.

Examinations to pick good judges

Under the Qin dynasty, about 200 BC, the emperors managed to get a lot more power and control of the government. Instead of letting local kings run local government, Qin sent out governors and judges that he had chosen himself. These governors were loyal to China and not to the local king. During the Han Dynasty, the emperors started to use examinations to choose the smartest men to be their governors and judges (they lost out on a lot of good governors by refusing to pick smart women though).

Religious persecution

By the time of the Sui Dynasty, about 600 AD, the emperors ordered systematic census-keeping so that they would know how much taxes everybody should pay, and it would be more fair. They used those taxes to fight wars, and to dig big canals for transportation and irrigation. The T’ang Dynasty emperors continued the examinations and the census, but they also worked to promote trade as the Silk Road of Central Asia became more important. They fought more wars, and made China much bigger than before. Near the end of the T’ang Dynasty, the emperor Wuzong persecuted Buddhists and Manichaeans for their religion.

Mongols bring new ideas

Under the Song Dynasty the government examinations became more and more important, but with the collapse of the Song Dynasty the Mongols invaded China from the north and Kublai Khan set up his own government. He put his own people – Arabs and Mongols and Jews and Christians – into power instead of Chinese people. Kublai Khan brought a lot of new ideas to China. He used tax policy and laws to encourage Chinese farmers to grow cotton for clothing instead of hemp.

When the Mongol Empire collapsed in the 1300s because of the plague, the Ming Dynasty brought back the old Chinese government examinations, but many Muslims continued to work in the Ming government too.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about ancient Chinese government? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: Chinese terracotta army
Chinese schools

History of China

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Chinese government:

What were schools like in ancient China?
What did Confucius say about government?
Ancient China home

By | 2018-04-18T09:53:31+00:00 June 6th, 2017|China, Government|38 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Government in Ancient China – Emperors. Study Guides, June 6, 2017. Web. April 20, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. sam April 16, 2018 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    i didnt get what i was looking for

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr April 16, 2018 at 6:20 pm

      That’s too bad, Sam! What were you looking for? Did you try clicking on the links in the article?

  2. Hannah April 14, 2018 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Thxxx. I have to do a report and this helped a lot!!!

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr April 14, 2018 at 1:06 pm

      You’re welcome, Hannah! Good luck with your report!

  3. Abigail April 12, 2018 at 8:19 am - Reply

    Thank you for this! I have to do a research paper on ancient China and this helped me a lot 🙂

  4. Victor April 11, 2018 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    How many governor was in china?

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr April 11, 2018 at 6:12 pm

      It depends on the year: the number of governors changed as different emperors rearranged their government, and as different places were conquered or broke free of Imperial rule. Just like in the United States, the number of governors changes as we added more states.

  5. Mikayla April 5, 2018 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    I didn’t find out what i wanted to

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr April 5, 2018 at 4:41 pm

      Go ahead and ask your question here, Mikayla, and I’ll try to answer it.

  6. Shari Wiseman March 24, 2018 at 8:22 am - Reply

    this helped me alot!!

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr March 24, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      That’s great! Thanks for writing to let us know, Shari!

  7. jeffy March 20, 2018 at 2:38 am - Reply

    this is very helpful

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr March 20, 2018 at 9:17 am

      Thanks, Jeffy!

  8. Dr. Peper March 7, 2018 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Also how does one get into Ancient China’s government

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr March 7, 2018 at 11:03 pm

      In various ways: being born a boy, being born into a rich family, being born Han Chinese. But maybe you are thinking of the state examinations? You can read more about them here:

  9. Brooklynne March 5, 2018 at 11:03 am - Reply

    im a sixth grader and hate learning but this made it sound kinda cool

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr March 5, 2018 at 10:45 pm

      I’m delighted! Most people who hate learning discover later that they love learning when they have really good teachers. Keep searching for a teacher who works well for you.

  10. girl February 23, 2018 at 10:32 am - Reply

    what is the copey right date

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 23, 2018 at 11:16 am

      All the citation information is at the end of the article, just underneath it.

  11. spider man February 13, 2018 at 8:46 am - Reply

    my name is jeff

  12. lizzy February 12, 2018 at 7:09 am - Reply

    where is the HAN DYNASTY and MING DYNASTY

  13. Anthony Knight February 6, 2018 at 6:13 am - Reply

    hi i need help answering one question?

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 6, 2018 at 8:58 am

      Sure! What’s your question?

  14. Paulina February 4, 2018 at 1:11 pm - Reply


  15. zack February 1, 2018 at 5:45 am - Reply


    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 1, 2018 at 9:34 am

      Hi Zack! Thanks for visiting!

    • zack February 2, 2018 at 5:45 am

      this was very help full thank i got an A+ on my test thanks allot

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 2, 2018 at 10:31 pm

      Wow, congratulations! I’m sure you worked hard for that.

  16. Tyler January 31, 2018 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    thank you this was very helpful but is all of this true ?

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr January 31, 2018 at 3:55 pm

      Yes, it’s all true 🙂 If you want to check, you can read the books in the bibliography.

  17. fernando January 26, 2018 at 11:47 am - Reply


    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr January 27, 2018 at 12:06 am

      Hi Fernando! Thanks for stopping by!

  18. Ronald January 16, 2018 at 11:51 am - Reply

    This was very helpful

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr January 17, 2018 at 5:13 pm

      Thanks! I’m glad we could help.

  19. Becky Poetter December 6, 2017 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    and I need an answer by the end of today by the way

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr December 6, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      Hi! Thanks for visiting! The citation information is in a box right under the article; it has the date of publication and everything else you need for a citation. (It’s higher up on the page than these comments.)

  20. Becky Poetter December 6, 2017 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    What is the date of publication on this site?

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