A Brief History
of China

Come learn about the highlights of China’s history,
from its first settlements to the modern day.




“I am Emperor, my descendants will be numerous.
From the second generation to the ten thousandth, my line will not end,”

Qin Shi Huang, first emperor of China and founder of the Q’in Dynasty.

Early History & the Dynasties

China’s origins dates back to settlement of the region by the pre-human Homo Erectus, nearly a million years ago. A proto-Chinese culture dates back to 10,000 years ago, and approximately 7,000 years ago, emerged a civilization in the fertile basin of the Yellow River, which is now considered to be the oldest extant culture in the world.

For millennia, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, i.e. dynasties, beginning with the semi-legendary Xia dynasty. The foremost early dynasty was the Qin Dynasty, dating 226 – 201 BC. Under the Qin, kings subdued the parts of the Han Chinese homeland and united them under a central, legalized government. Following the Qin, it was the Hans who rose to power and ruled for nearly 250 years, until AD 220. The reign of this dynasty is considered the golden age of Chinese history, during which China as an entity was consolidated.

To learn about the amazing relic of the Qin Dynasty, the Terracotta Army, click here.

Post-Dynastic Era

The imperial dynastic framework of China lasted hundreds of years until the Xinhai Revolution, which is also known as the Chinese Revolution or the Revolution of 1911, and which led to the formation of the Republic of China (ROC). ROC was subsequently defeated by the communist People's Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War. The Communist Party established the People's Republic of China in Beijing (commonly known as China today) on October 1st, 1949. 

Unified Nation, Many Different People

Today’s unified China is comprised of over 50 distinct ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Han Chinese, who constitute approximately 92% of the total population and the world's largest single ethnic group.

China’s 1.38 billion people speak 292 different languages. The languages most commonly spoken belong to the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, which contains Mandarin (spoken by 70% of the population), and a number of other Chinese varieties.


over 50 distinct ethnic groups
1.38 billion people
292 different languages


A Snapshot of China’s History

10,000-2,000 BC

China is inhabited by Neolithic cultures.

2100-1600 BC

The first dynasty is established, the Xia (Hsia) Dynasty

700-1046 BC

The Shang Dynasty establishes the first Chinese state for which clear written records remain, uniting much of north central China.

221-206 BC

This is the beginning of the age of Imperial China with King Ying Zheng of Qin, who for the first time unites much of the Chinese heartland, and builds the first Great Wall of China.

206 BC - 220 AD

Reign of the Han Dynasty, ushering in first Chinese cultural "golden age," accompanied by economic growth and the promotion of Confucianism as the state philosophy. Buddhism also makes its first inroads into China during this period.


Age of the Tang Dynasty, which unites China for nearly three centuries, in what is seen as the second high point of Chinese civilization after the Han; with the imperial sphere of influence reaching Central Asia for the first time.


Reign of the Song Dynasty, while weaker than the Tang empire militarily and politically, Song rule marks a high point of Chinese classical culture, with a flowering of literature, scientific innovation and the adoption of Neo-Confucianism as the official state ideology.


Mongols conquer China and establish their own Yuan Dynasty, founded by Kublai Khan. Marco Polo and other Westerners visit. Beijing becomes the capital of a united China.

14th – 19th Century

Ming Dynasty and Manchu Qing Dynasty.


The "Boxer Rebellion" in Northern China seeks to re-establish traditional rule, but is eventually defeated by foreign intervention.


Military revolts lead to proclamation of Republic of China under Sun Yat-sen.


Japan invades and gradually occupies more and more of China.


Mao Zedong, as the country’s leader, proclaims the founding of the People's Republic of China. 


China's "Open-Door Policy" opens the country to foreign investment and encourages development of a market economy and private sector.


Stock markets open in Shanghai and Shenzhen.


Launch of China's first manned spacecraft, when Astronaut Yang Liwei is sent into space by a Long March 2F rocket.


China hosts the Olympic games.


18 points of interest

Enter to learn about the top places to see in this beautiful country.