The first emperors of China
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). A lot of boys started to go to school, so they could do well on the examinations and get into political power.
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.
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.
BONUS ANCIENT CHINA FACTS:
Did you know?
- People in China invented paper?
- Peaches come from China?
- A Chinese doctor invented a treatment for malaria?
- The earliest known camera came from China?
Did you find out what you wanted to know about ancient Chinese government? Let us know in the comments!