History of China. Prehistoric humans inhabited China as early as 600,000 years ago. The most notable prehistoric human remains are those of Peking Man, which date back some 300,000 years ago. The ancestors of the present-day Chinese appeared about 20,000 years ago. By about 2000 B.C. they had developed two separate cultures, one along the Huang He and the other on the coastal plain.

Important dates in China
c. 1766-c. 1045 B.C. The Shang dynasty ruled China.
c. 1045 B.C. The Zhou people from the west overthrew the Shang and set up a new dynasty that ruled until 256 B.C.
c. 500 B.C. The philosopher Confucius developed a system of moral values and responsible behavior that influenced China for more than 2,000 years.
221-206 B.C. The Qin dynasty established China's first strong central government.
206 B.C.-A.D. 220 China became a powerful empire under the Han dynasty. Chinese culture flourished.
581-618 The Sui dynasty came to power and reunified China after almost 400 years of division.
618-907 The Tang dynasty ruled China during a period of prosperity and great cultural accomplishment.
960-1279 The Song dynasty ruled the empire and made Neo-Confucianism the official state philosophy.
1279-1368 The Mongols conquered and controlled all of China.
1368-1644 The Ming dynasty governed China.
1644-1912 The Manchus ruled China as the Qing dynasty.
1842 The Treaty of Nanjing gave Hong Kong to the United Kingdom and allowed British trade at five Chinese ports.
1850-1864 Millions of Chinese died in the Taiping Rebellion.
1900 Members of a secret society attacked and killed Westerners and Chinese Christians during the Boxer Rebellion.
1912 The Republic of China was established.
1928 The Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, united China under one government.
1931 The Japanese seized Manchuria (the Northeast).
1934-1935 Mao Zedong led the Chinese Communists on their Long March to Shaanxi.
1937-1945 War with Japan shattered China.
1949 The Chinese Communists defeated the Nationalists and established the People's Republic of China.
1958 The Communists launched the Great Leap Forward, which severely weakened China's economy.
1966-1969 The Cultural Revolution disrupted education, the government, and daily life in China.
1971 China was admitted to the United Nations (UN).
1972 U.S. President Richard M. Nixon visited China.
1976 Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai died.
1979 China and the United States established normal diplomatic relations.
Early 1980's The Communist Party began reforms toward reducing government economic controls.
1989 Demonstrations across China called for more democracy and an end to corruption in government. The military crushed the movement, killing hundreds of protesters.
1997 China regained control of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom.
1999 China regained control of Macao from Portugal.

According to legend, the Hsia dynasty (about 1994 B.C.-1523 B.C.) was China's earliest ruling family. Recorded history begins with the Shang people, whose dynasty (1700's B.C.- about 1122 B.C.) ruled a state centered in the Huang He valley. (Chinese history is commonly discussed in terms of dynasties. A dynasty may be named after a people or a kingdom as well as after a ruling family.) The most important city during the Shang dynasty was Anyang.

Shang dynasty in China.Shang dynasty in China. China's first dynasty, the Shang, arose in the Huang He Valley during the 1700's B.C. It ruled China until about 1122 B.C.

The Shang were conquered by the Chou, a people who came from the northwest. During the Chou dynasty (1028 B.C.-222 B.C.), China was dotted with walled cities surrounded by peasant farms, which were under the protection of feudal lords. Some lords controlled powerful states and gave only nominal allegiance to the Chou king. Transport canals and an extensive irrigation system were built. The region of the Yangtze River came under Chinese domination as the population began settling farther south.

The latter half of the Chou period produced the classical age of Chinese philosophy. Among the great philosophers and scholars of that period were Confucius, Lao-tzu, and Mencius. Followers of Confucius and Mencius made their teachings the basis for a religious movement, Confucianism. Similarly, the teachings of Lao-tzu became the basis for Taoism.

By the end of the fifth century B.C., the Chou king had lost control over the feudal lords, and for two centuries afterward China was divided into warring states. Finally, in 221 B.C., the Chin principality conquered all of China, founding the Chin, or Qin, dynasty and the first Chinese empire.

Qin dynasty in China.Qin dynasty in China. The Qin (Chin) dynasty, in 221 B.C., established China's first empire controlled by a strong central government.