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Ancient Times       New Democratic Revolution Period       Chinese Chronology       Modern Period       Contemporary


Ancient Times

China, one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, has a recorded history of nearly 4,000 years. Anthropologists working in Yuanmou, in Yunnan Province, have uncovered the remains of China’s earliest discovered hominid, “Yuanmou Man,” who lived in this area approximately 1.7 million years ago. “Peking Man,” who lived in Zhoukoudian, to the southwest of modern Beijing 400,000 to 500,000 years ago, had the basic characteristics of Homo Sapiens. Peking Man walked upright, made and used simple tools, and knew how to make fire. Man in China passed from primitive society to slave society in the 21st century B.C., with the founding of China’s first dynasty, that of the Xia. The subsequent dynasties, the Shang (16th-11th century B.C.) and the Western Zhou (11th century-770 B.C.) saw further development of slave society. This era was followed by the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 B.C.), marking the transition from the slave society to feudal society.

China was one of the countries where economic activity first developed. As early as 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, people in the Yellow River valley had already started farming and raising livestock. During the Shang Dynasty (more than 3,000 years ago), people learned how to smelt bronze and use iron tools. White pottery and glazed pottery were produced. Silk production was well developed, and the world’s first figured inlaid silk weaving technique was being used. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.), steel production technologies appeared. During the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), Li Bing and his son directed the construction of the Dujiang Dam near present-day Chengdu in Sichuan Province. This brilliant achievement in water conservancy made possible rationalized irrigation supply, flood diversion and sand discharge, and is still playing a tremendous role in this regard even today. During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, philosophy and other branches of scholarship were unprecedentedly thriving, with the representatives of various schools vying with each other in writing books to discuss politics and analyze society. Hence the appearance of a situation in which “a hundred schools of thought contended.” Famous philosophers in this period included Lao Zi, Confucius, Mo Zi and Sun Zi.

In 221 B.C., Ying Zheng, a man of great talent and bold vision, ended the rivalry among the independent principalities in the Warring States Period and established the first centralized, unified, multi-ethnic state in Chinese history under the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.), and called himself Shi Huang Di (First Emperor), historically known as Qin Shi Huang, or First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. During his reign, Qin Shi Huang standardized the script, currencies, and weights and measures, established the system of prefectures and counties, and constructed the world-renowned Great Wall as well as a large palace, mausoleum and temporary regal lodges respectively in Xianyang, Lishan and other places. The structures of these places above the ground have long been destroyed, but the objects underground are still there. The life-size terracotta horses and armored warriors excavated from sites near the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang are known as the eighth wonder of the world, attracting swarms of Chinese and foreign visitors every day. At the end of the Qin Dynasty, Liu Bang, a peasant leader, overthrew the Qin regime in cooperation with Xiang Yu, an aristocratic general. A few years later, Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu and established the strong Han Dynasty in 206 B.C.

In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), agriculture, handicrafts and commerce were well developed. During the reign of Emperor Wudi (Liu Che, r. 140-87 B.C.), the Han regime reached the period of its greatest prosperity: The emperor conquered the Xiongnu nomads, and sent Zhang Qian as envoy to the Western Regions (Central Asia), and in the process pioneered the route known as the “Silk Road” from the Han capital Chang’an (today’s Xi’an, Shaanxi Province), through Xinjiang and onward, finally reaching the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Along the Silk Road, beautiful silk products made in China were transported to the West in a steady stream. In 33 B.C., Wang Zhaojun, a palace maiden, was married to Huhanxie, chieftain of the Xiongnu, leaving a moving story about marriage ties between the Han and the Xiongnu. The multi-ethnic country became more consolidated. The Han regime existed for a total of 426 years. It was followed by the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265) of Wei, Shu and Wu.

The most famous statesmen during the Three Kingdoms Period were Cao Cao (155-220), Zhuge Liang (181-234) and Sun Quan (182-252). Cao Cao was the founder of the State of Wei. He collected people of talent from all over the country, stationed troops in border areas to open up wasteland, established military farms, and finally gained control over the Yellow River valley. Zhuge Liang was the prime minister of the State of Shu, and a symbol of wisdom in ancient China. For many centuries, his lofty spirit of “bending himself to the task and exerting himself to the utmost till his dying days” has encouraged the Chinese people. Sun Quan was the founder of the State of Wu. He once allied with Liu Bei (161-223) to defeat Cao Cao at the Red Cliff, and later inflicted a crushing defeat on Liu Bei at Yiling. In addition, Sun Quan appointed officials in charge of agriculture, and had garrison troops or peasants open up wasteland and grow grain, thus promoting land reclamation to the south of the Yangtze River. Stories about them can be found in a novel called Three Kingdoms. (r. 626-649)

The Three Kingdoms Period was followed by the Jin (265-420), the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), and the Sui Dynasty (581-618). In 618, Li Yuan founded the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Later, Li Shimin (r. 626-649), son of Li Yuan, ascended the throne as Emperor Taizong, who was one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. Emperor Taizong adopted a series of policies known as the Zhenguan reign period reforms, which pushed the feudal society to the height of prosperity. Agriculture, handicrafts and commerce flourished; technologies for textile manufacture and dyeing, porcelain production, smelting, metal casting and shipbuilding made great progress. During this time, land and water transportation was also fairly well developed, and economic and cultural relations with Japan, Korea, India, Persia, Arabia and other countries were extensive. After the Tang Dynasty, there came the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960). In 960, General Zhao Kuangyin of the Later Zhou Dynasty rose in mutiny, and founded the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In 1206, Genghis Khan unified all the tribes in Mongolia and founded the Mongol Khanate. In 1271, his grandson, Kublai Khan, conquered the Central Plain, founded the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and made Dadu (today’s Beijing) the capital. During the Song and Yuan dynasties, handicraft industry and domestic and foreign trade boomed. Many merchants and travelers came from abroad. Marco Polo came from Venice and traveled extensively in China, later describing the country’s prosperity in his Travels. The “four great inventions” of the Chinese people in ancient times-paper making, printing, the compass and gunpowder-were further developed in the Song and Yuan dynasties, and introduced to foreign countries during this time, making great contributions to world civilization.

In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Nanjing, and reigned as Emperor Taizu. When his son, and successor, Zhu Di, ascended the throne, he started to build the palace, temples, city walls and moat in Beijing. In 1421, he officially made Beijing his capital. In the Ming Dynasty, remarkable progress was made in agricultural production and handicrafts, and toward the end of the dynasty, the rudiments of capitalism appeared. In addition, there were friendly contacts between China and other countries in Asia and Africa.

In the late Ming Dynasty, the Manchus in northeast China grew in strength. Under the leadership of Nurhachi, the Manchus invaded the Central Plain for three generations in succession, and finally founded the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The two most famous emperors of the Qing Dynasty were Emperor Kangxi (r. 1661-1772) and Emperor Qianlong (r. 1735-1796). The Kangxi and Qianlong reign periods were known as the “times of prosperity.” During Qing rule, some novels of high artistic value were created, of which Cao Xueqin’s Dream of Red Mansions is the best known. It describes the decline of a prosperous feudal aristocratic family.

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New Democratic Revolution Period

Under the influence of the October Revolution in Russia, China’s May 4th Movement arose. During this great anti-imperialist, anti-feudal revolutionary movement led by patriotic students, the Chinese proletariat for the first time mounted the political stage. The May 4th Movement marked the change of the old democratic revolution to the new democratic revolution. It enabled Marxism-Leninism to further spread and link up with the Chinese people’s revolutionary practice, and prepared the ideology as well as the cadres necessary for the founding of the Communist Party of China. In 1921, Mao Zedong, Dong Biwu, Chen Tanqiu, He Shuheng, Wang Jinmei, Deng Enming and Li Da, representing the communist groups in different places throughout the nation, held the First National Congress in Shanghai, founding the Communist Party of China (CPC). In 1924, Sun Yat-sen, pioneer of China’s democratic revolution and the founder of the Kuomintang (KMT), worked together with the Communist Party of China to organize workers and peasants for the Northern Expedition (historically known as the Great Revolution). After Sun Yat-sen passed away, the right-wing clique of the KMT headed by Chiang Kai-shek staged a counter-revolutionary coup d’etat in 1927, murdering Communists and revolutionary people, and founded the Kuomintang regime in Nanjing. Thus the Great Revolution ended in failure. After that, the CPC led the Chinese people to wage the 10-year Agrarian Revolution War against the reactionary rule of the Kuomintang, which is also known as the “10-Year Civil War.”

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Chinese Chronology




C.21st-16th century B.C.


C.16th-11th century B.C.

Western Zhou

C.11th century B.C.-770 B.C.

Eastern Zhou (Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods)

770-221 B.C.


221-207 B.C.

Western Han

206 B.C.-A.D. 24

Eastern Han


Three Kingdoms (Wei, Shu and Wu)


Western Jin


Eastern Jin


Southern and Northern Dynasty






Five Dynasties


Northern Song


Southern Song








Republic of China


People's Republic of China


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Modern Period

The Opium War of 1840 marked a turning point in Chinese history. From early in the 19th century, Britain started smuggling large quantities of opium into China, causing a great outflow of Chinese silver and grave economic disruption in China. In 1839, the Qing government sent Commissioner Lin Zexu to Guangdong to put into effect the prohibition on opium trafficking. When, in an effort to protect its opium trade, Britain initiated the First Opium War in 1840, the Chinese people rose in armed struggle against the invaders under the leadership of Lin Zexu and other patriotic generals. But the corrupt and incompetent Qing government capitulated to the foreign invaders time and again, and finally signed the Treaty of Nanjing with Britain, a treaty of national betrayal and humiliation. From then on, China was reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country.

After the Opium War, Britain, the United States, France, Russia and Japan forced the Qing government to sign various unequal treaties, seized “concessions” and divided China into “spheres of influence.” To oppose the twin evils of feudal oppression and foreign aggression, the Chinese people waged heroic struggles, with many national heroes coming to the fore. The Revolution of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in 1851, led by Hong Xiuquan, was the largest peasant uprising in modern Chinese history. The Revolution of 1911, a bourgeois-democratic revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, ended the rule of the Qing Dynasty. The monarchical system that had been in place in China for more than 2,000 years was discarded with the founding of the provisional government of the Republic of China. The Revolution of 1911 is of great significance in modern Chinese history. But the fruits of victory were soon compromised by concessions on the part of the Chinese bourgeoisie, and the country entered a period of domination by the Northern Warlords headed by Yuan Shikai. The people lived in an abyss of misery in this period.

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From September 21 to 30, 1949, the First Plenum of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) was held in Beijing, with the participation of various political parties, popular organizations, non-Party democrats and representatives from all walks of life. The CPPCC drew up a Common Program, which served as a provisional constitution. It elected a Central People's Government Council, with Mao Zedong as Chairman, and appointed Zhou Enlai Premier of the Government Administration Council and concurrently Minister of Foreign Affairs. On October 1, 1949, a grand ceremony inaugurating the People’s Republic of China was witnessed by 300,000 people in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. On that day, Chairman Mao Zedong solemnly proclaimed the formal establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

The early days of New China were a period of economic recovery. While developing production, China gradually established socialist public ownership of the means of production. From 1953 to 1956, large-scale socialist transformation of the national economy was implemented, the First Five-Year Plan (1953-1957) for the development of the national economy was achieved ahead of schedule, and China established and expanded basic industries necessary for full industrialization, hitherto non-existent domestically, producing airplanes, automobiles, heavy machinery, precision machinery, power-generating equipment, metallurgical and mining equipment, high-grade alloy steels and non-ferrous metals.

The 10 years from 1957 to the beginning of the “cultural revolution” in 1966 was the period in which China started large-scale socialist construction. The nation’s total industrial fixed assets quadrupled between 1956 and 1966, and the national income increased by 58 percent in terms of constant prices. The output of essential industrial products increased several-fold, even over tenfold. A group of new and developing industries were founded, and large-scale agricultural capital construction and technological transformation unfolded on a large scale. Both the number of tractors used in agriculture and the volume of chemical fertilizer increased by more than 600 percent. The 12-Year Plan for Scientific and Technological Development (1956-1967) was completed five years ahead of schedule. Outstanding achievements were recorded in many new fields of science and technology.

However, during this dynamic decade, serious mistakes were also made in the Party and government’s guidelines, harming the national economy. The “cultural revolution,” which lasted for 10 years from May 1966 to October 1976, was initiated and led by Mao Zedong, the then chairman of the CPC Central Committee. Taking advantage of Mao Zedong’s mistakes in his later years, the Lin Biao and Jiang Qing counter-revolutionary cliques, unbeknownst to Mao, engaged in activities that brought great calamity to the country and people, causing the most serious setbacks and most damaging losses to the country since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In spite of the grievous mistakes Mao Zedong made during the “cultural revolution,” his lifetime record shows that his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweighed his errors.

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  Information provided by China National Tourism Administration.


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