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Yangtze River, China - a wide, green river with green plants growing on the banks

Chinese history: The Yangtze River, China

When did people first come to China?

Modern humans first came to China from Central Asia and/or India about 50,000 BC. These were Stone Age people, who lived in caves with their dogs and wore fur and leather. They hunted and gathered their food. Around 14,000 BC they started to make pottery jars. They were the first people in the world to make pottery.

By around 8000 BC, these people were starting to farm rice, and by 6000 BC they kept sheep and chickens.

More about Stone Age China
All our History of China articles

The Bronze Age in Chinese history

Soon after 3000 BC, people in China learned from Central Asian people how to use horses to pull wheeled chariots. By 2000 BC, Chinese people had entered the Bronze Age and had started to use writing. Soon afterwards, about 1800 BC, the Shang Dynasty conquered most of China and ruled it under one Emperor. From this point on, people measure most Chinese history in dynasties – one family of related rulers.

Writing in China
Shang Dynasty China
More about the Bronze Age

stone carving of people hunting

Zhou dynasty hunting scene, Luoyang (ca. 1000 BC)

The Iron Age in Chinese history

About 1100 BC, the Zhou dynasty conquered China. They learned to fight from horseback instead of from chariots. Then China’s army needed a lot more horses, and China started to trade more with Central Asia, selling silk cloth to get horses.

Zhou Dynasty China
Where do horses come from?
The history of silk

By about 700 BC, Chinese metal-workers learned to make iron tools and weapons. This was the time of Confucius. But beginning in 481 BC, China fell apart into many little Warring States that fought each other.

Who was Confucius?
What are the Warring States?

Map shows Han Dynasty China, the Mauryan Empire, the Sogdians, Tibet, and the Parthian Empire

Map of Asia in the time of the Han Dynasty

Who built the Great Wall of China?

In 221 BC, the Qin dynasty succeeded in putting China back together again. They made China even bigger than it had ever been before, and they built the Great Wall of China.

More about the Great Wall
Qin Dynasty China

Han Dynasty China

But the Qin dynasty only lasted a short time before the Han dynasty took over in 202 BC. The Han dynasty was very successful. They traded along the Silk Road with the Sogdians, and bought things from as far away as the Parthians, the Roman Empire, and East Africa. They invaded India and brought back Buddhism to China. But by 220 AD, China had fallen apart again.

More about the Han Dynasty
What is the Silk Road?

Go on to medieval China’s history

Looking for more detail? Start with our long article on Stone Age China.

Learn by Doing – China History Bingo

Bibliography and further reading about China:

More Chinese history
Ancient China