The Chinese Communist Party, which recently celebrated its centenary, has governed mainland China for 72 years. While it may seem like a long time, in the contexts of longer-lived imperial dynasties, such as the Han (which lasted 422 years), Tang (289 years), Song (319 years), Ming (276 years) and Qing (268 years), the first seven decades are considered the “early period” of each dynasty. What was state of the nation like in these early periods? The founding emperor of the Han dynasty (202BC-AD220) reigned for seven short years and following his death, his widow Empress Lu ruled for the next 15 years. After she died, the realm enjoyed peace and prosperity for 40 years under two benign emperors. In 130BC, 72 years after the Han’s founding, Emperor Wu, “the martial emperor”, had reigned for 11 years. His long 54-year reign would witness the expansion of Han territories to include much of present-day southern and western China, Central Asia, and the northern parts of Korea and Vietnam. In the year 690, 72 years after the founding of the Tang dynasty (618-907), an unprecedented event, and one that has yet to be repeated, occurred on Chinese soil: a woman formally became the head of state. Empress Wu Zetian, who had been the de facto ruler for decades, decided to make herself huangdi (“emperor”) and founded her own dynasty. Wu reigned for 15 years and after her death, power was restored to the imperial family of the Tang dynasty, which went on to achieve a golden age of military and cultural power under the long reign of her grandson Emperor Xuanzong. After the accomplished rule of its first three emperors, the Song dynasty (960-1279) in 1032 was in good shape. The reigning Emperor Renzong would take over the reins of government the following year after the death of his regent and stepmother, Empress Dowager Liu, and take China into a high point of economic, cultural and technological development. At the same time, however, Renzong’s reign also witnessed increasing belligerence of the Khitan state of Liao to its north and the Tangut state of Western Xia to its northwest. China’s neighbours at its frontiers would continue to plague the Song dynasty for the rest of its existence. In 1440, the glory days of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when its navy of the largest ships in the world led by Admiral Zheng He commanded the awe of foreign nations, were over. A teenaged emperor was on the throne and his grandmother, Grand Empress Dowager Zhang, was regent. When the capable Zhang, who had held the empire together with a coterie of senior ministers, died two years later, Emperor Zhengtong fell under the influence of the eunuch Wang Zhen. An ancient alien civilisation in China? That’s what some believe In 1449, Zhengtong personally led an ill-advised war against the Mongols and was taken by the enemy. His shameful capture, his eventual return to China and the struggle for the throne with his brother afterwards spelt the beginning of a long decline for the Ming dynasty. In the early 18th century, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) was nearing the end of his glorious 61-year reign. Only the second Manchu emperor to rule China, Kangxi strengthened his empire by conquering territories in present-day Mongolia and Tibet. He also put down armed rebellions in southern China and retook Taiwan from the Ming dynasty loyalists in 1683. When he died in 1722, he bequeathed a strong and prosperous country to his son and grandson, who received the British diplomatic mission led by Lord Macartney near the end of his reign in 1793, an event that was one of the forerunners of China’s “century of humiliation” that the 100-year-old Communist Party is determined to put a definitive end to.