Historical sources point to the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BC) as the first rulers of China. They were later defeated and dominated by the Zhou dynasty.
Around 750 BC, after a barbaric invasion, local rulers created sovereign districts (fiefdoms) which fought each other for centuries. For this reason the period from 476 until 221 BC was known as The Period of Warring States.
In 221 BC Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (First Emperor) was the first ruler to unite the Chinese Empire. He founded the Qin dynasty, which ruled until 206 BC.
After his death, clashes for power resulted in Liu Ban founding the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). China’s territory expanded during the reign of the Han dynasty.
The fall of the Han dynasty in the early 3rd century marked a long period of wars between small and short-reigning dynasties, which lasted several centuries.
In the beginning of the 7th century the Tang dynasty took power. Its reign marked an age of prosperity and technological progress for China. During this era Buddhism became the main religion. It was also a time of extensive trade with foreign nations, which led many foreign merchants to China. The Tang dynasty managed trade routes to the west and the south.
In 860 the Tang Dynasty faced a series of rebellions in China which lead to its fall in the early 10th century.
From the fall of the Tang dynasty until the 13th century China was ruled by nine dynasties. Five of these reigned at the same time - a period known as “Five dynasties and Ten kingdoms”.
In the late 13th century the Mongols conquered both the Jurchen Jin dynasty and the Southern Song that ruled at the time. Kuhlai Khan became the first non-Chinese emperor and founded the Yuan dynasty. The Yuan Dynasty marked the rule of Mongols over the Chinese.
The Yuan Dynasty was overthrown by the Ming Dynasty in 1368 after peasant rebellions which started in the 1340s.
Under the Ming dynasty the population grew. Large urban centers such as Nanjing and Beijing were established. It was a time of extensive foreign trade and contact with the international scene. There was a more complex division of labour; industries expanded. China’s merchants explored a great part of the Indian Ocean. They even reached East Africa.
The end of the Ming dynasty came with emperor Chongzhen committing suicide when Beijing was captured during Li Zicheng’s peasant rebellions in 1644. The Qing Dynasty took over various areas, many of which were originally ruled by the Ming dynasty. Their influence reached Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet.