Brief History of China

I’m going to walk you through the 5,000 years brief history of China, from the perspective of travelers.

Most of the sights you see along the golden route of China tours are tightly bond with China history. When I travel, I always take notes to refresh my memory after the tour. I hope this page will save you time in taking notes.

I have summarized the things you are going to see along the golden route. I then present them in the format of brief history of China.

This page serves as a quick reference guide. If you have questions about when, who, where and what, you can come to this page for a quick answer. Of course I have included some important and critical events in the history of China.

Let me make a note before I start. Xian used to be called Changan in the olden days. Beijing also has other names. I write Xian and Beijing throughout my website just to keep a consistency.

Ready? Let’s start.

Brief History of China One
Pre-dynastic China

200,000 – 700,000 years from now

  • Beijing Man, unearthed in 1927, southwest of Beijing at Zhoukoudian. It is one of the oldest Stone Age sites found in China. Significant usage of fire was found.

Banpo Village water pot

6,000 – 10,000 years from now

  • Banpo Neolithic Village located at the rural area of Xian. It has distinct features of a matriarchal society. People at this stage could only recognise their mother and were unable to identify their father.

Brief History of China Two
Ancient China

Around 2070 BC - Xia Dynasty

  • Xiayu was famous for solving China’s flooding problem. However flooding remained a major disaster through now.

  • This was a verbal period in China history.
  • People at this stage had names only. Family names were not widely used.

Shang Dynasty wine mug

16th – 11th Century BC - Shang Dynasty

  • The oldest Chinese inscriptions so called Oracle Script existed in late Shang Dynasty around 1200 BC.

  • Archaeological findings show that people of Shang did a lot trades. Even nowadays we call businessman or traders ‘shangren’.

11th Century – 771 BC - West Zhou Dynasty, founded by the Ji Family
  • The allied emperor of Zhou assigned territories to state emperors as a defense to the central kingdom.

  • Chinese rulers implied Feudalism since then.

  • Great Wall was built to defend against foreign tribes beyond the northern frontier by various state emperors. Xiongnu was the most strong and threatening tribe.

  • Building of Li Palace (Huaqing Chi), the hot spring resort in Xian.

770 – 476 BC - East Zhou Dynasty – Spring & Autumn Period
  • Emperor Zhouyouwang made a fool of state emperors by lighting false signal fire on Li Mountain, Xian. Zhou Dynasty hence declined.

  • Spring & Autumn Period was named after a book in the same name written by Confucius about China history of this period.

  • State emperors fought against each other without respecting the allied emperor of Zhou.

475 – 221 BC - East Zhou Dynasty – Warring States Period
  • Only seven warring states managed to survive through this period. Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei, Qin were generally similar in power.

  • Warring States Period was the most prosperous period in terms of sociology, psychology, warfare strategies etc. ever in the history of China.

  • People competed to sell their ideas to various emperors with a hope to save people from hot waters.

  • There was no sense of loyalty. People worked for whomever state emperor who bought their thoughts.

Brief History of China Three
Middle Ages China

221 BC - Qin Dynasty, founded by the Ying Family

  • The first united empire in the history of China. Capital city Xianyang, nearby Xian.

  • Qin Shi Huang (First Qin Emperor) implemented a central-powered government. Imperialism started in China.

  • Standardization of Chinese characters and measurements.
  • Massive building of the Great Wall.
  • Qin Shi Huang built the Terra Cotta Army and his Royal Mausoleum nearby Li Mountain, Xian.

Han Dynasty flying horse

206 BC – 220 AD - West Han Dynasty, founded by the Liu Family

  • Liu Bang conquers China after a five-year war with Chu leader Xiangyu. Capital city Xian.

  • Building of Xian city and the Xian City Wall. (202 BC)

  • Restoring of the Great Wall.
  • Wudi (King of Military) suppressed all thoughts and retained only Confucious' (134 BC). Confucianism hence governed the thoughts of Chinese for 2,000 years.

  • Wudi was the Emperor’s royal title. His name was Liu Che. Starting from Han Dynasty, Chinese rulers and their family members had royal titles.

220 – 280 - East Han Dynasty - Three Kingdom Period (Wei, Shu, Wu)
  • Han Emperor existed in name only. Prime Minister Cao Cao was the effective ruler.

  • The famous novel The Three Kingdoms (written in Ming Dynasty) is still a best-selling book nowadays.

281 – 617
  • Jin Dynasty conquered the three kingdoms, however lasted short. China was in disorder, though there were some short periods of unity and peace. The five foreign tribes beyond the northern frontier invaded mainland China. Period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms lasted over 200 years. The chaotic period was ended by Sui Dynasty, however also lasted short.

Tang Dynasty 3 color horse

618 – 907 - Tang Dynasty, founded by the Li Family

  • An extremely strong empire ever in the history of China. Capital City Xian.

  • Chinese literature and poem made brilliant achievements. The Three Hundred Tang Poems is still a best-selling book nowadays.

  • In mid Tang Dynasty, Wu Zetian took over the throne from the Li Family for a short period. She became the first and only female king ever in China history.

  • Tang Dynasty was so strong and left Chinese with sweet memories. Even nowadays, Tangren means Chinese. Tangrenjie means China Town.

  • Building of the Wild Goose Pagoda (701), Drum Tower and Bell Tower. (652).

960 - 1279 - Song Dynasty, founded by the Zhao Family
  • A generally weak empire staffed with civilian scholar-officials. The military king implied such strategy in order not to be threatened by his military staff.

  • The life span of Song was a matter of defending against foreign tribes. They have the most foreign invasions among all dynasties ever in the history of China. Major foreign invasion came from Xixia, Liao, Jin and Mongolian. Song emperors were forced to move their capital city from Kaifeng to Hangzhou.

1279 – 1368 - Yuan Dynasty, founded by Mongolian, Khan Family
  • Kublai Khan was the first foreign ruler ever in China history. He suppressed his rivals and expanded China’s territory from the Pacific to the Black Sea.

  • China had her largest territory ever in history.
  • Beijing became a capital city (1279) for the first time.
  • More information about the Mongol Empire of Yuan Dynasty.

1368 – 1644 - Ming Dynasty, founded by the Zhu Family
  • Capital city Beijing. Ming Dynasty was actually end up in hands of so called Robbers. Li Zicheng shook up the empire and created opportunity for the foreign tribe Nuzhen to invade China.

  • Restoring of the Great Wall.
  • Building of Forbidden City (1420), Temple of Heaven (1420) and Ming Tombs (1409-1644).

Qing Dynasty royal stamp

Brief History of China Four
Modern China

1644 – 1911 - Qing Dynasty, founded by Nuzhen, Ai Xin Jue Luo Family

  • Capital city Beijing.
  • Nuzhen was the second foreign tribe ever ruled in China.
  • The kings of Kangxi, Yongzheng & Qianlong brought around 150 years of peace to China.

  • Empress Dowager Cixi governed China for half a century in late Qing Dynasty.

  • Building of the Summer Palace by Empress Dowager Cixi (1888).
  • Opium War between China and the Great Britain. China was defeated and signed the Treaty of Nanking.

  • Hong Kong became a British Colony under the Treaty of Nanking.
  • Revolution lead by Dr. Sun Yat Sen overthrown Qing Dynasty - end of Imperialism in China.

  • Establishment of Republic of China (ROC). Capital city Nanking.
  • Following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, China was in chaos. Communism began to grow in China.

Brief History of China Five
Recent China


  • Forbidden City became a museum.
1927 - 1937
  • Ten-year civil war between Kuomintang (KMT, lead by Chiang Kai Shek) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP, lead by Mao Zedong).

Dec 12, 1936
  • Xian Incident - Chiang Kai Shek agreed to go hand in hand with the CCP to form a united front against Japanese.

January, 1937
  • Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek & Madame Soong May Ling named Person of Year by Time.

July 7, 1937
  • Lugouqiao Incident – China started her eight-year defending war against Japanese invasion.

April 23, 1949
  • Chiang Kai Shek relocated ROC to Taiwan. Capital city Taipei.

China flag

October 1, 1949

  • Establishment of People’s Republic of China (PRC). Capital city Beijing. Mao Zedong was the first Chairman. Inaugural ceremony held at Tiananmen Square.

  • Discovery of the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses in Xian.
  • UNESCO listed the Great Wall and Forbidden City as World Cultural Heritages.

Hong Kong flag

July 1, 1997

  • Hong Kong returned to the sovereignty of China.
  • China history since then has two new terms: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and One Country Two Systems.

June, 1998
  • US President Bill Clinton visited China. Cities visited included Xian, Beijing, Shanghai, Guilin and Hong Kong.

Dec 20, 1999
  • Macau returned to the sovereignty of China and became the second SAR.

  • UNESCO listed the Ming Tombs as a World Cultural Heritage.

Olympics logo


  • Beijing hosts the Summer Olympics.
  • Hong Kong co-hosts the Equestrian events.

Anna's Notes
This brief history of China is actually a summary of the sights along the golden route. Please refer to a formal history book if you are interested in the history of China.

History of China
A site that offers overall China history information from prehistoric age to Qing Dynasty.

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