Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day


  Illustrated History of the World

First Empires - ca. 7000 B.C. - 200 A.D.

First Empires

ca. 7000 B.C. - 200 A.D.


Early China up to the Period of the

"Warring States"

5000-221 B.C.



Although China was one of the first places of human habitation, its civilization is relatively young compared with other ancient high cultures. In the third millennium B.C., the first communities with a sophisticated civilization began to emerge. From around the 18th century B.C., the ruling Shang and Zhou dynasties centralized power and presided over a period of considerable technical innovation. The empire perceptibly decayed from the eighth century B.C. on and finally ended in a war between its constituent parts.

China's Early Period and the Shang Dynasty

Even the earliest cultures in China produced great technical achievements. These early people and their rulers would later be much celebrated and attain a mythical status in Chinese history.

The 2 "Peking Man" is among the oldest hominid finds made in China.

His remains were found in a cave near Beijing (Peking) and are between 300,000 and 400,000 years old. Subsequently, remains of a 700,000 year-old hominid were discovered near Lantian.

Cattle breeders and farmers are known to have settled in villages along the larger rivers in China as early as the Neolithic period. One of the cultures of this period was the Yang-shao culture (ca. 5000 B.C.) in northern China, which produced significant pottery.

Around 3000 B.C. the group was supplanted by the Lung-shan culture, which was characterized by permanent settlements and technical refinements for predominantly domestic purposes.

In Chinese tradition, the first state was formed at the end of the third millennium B.C. According to mythology, it was ruled by the sage-kings Yao, Shun, and Yu. They are said to mark the arrival of civilization, particularly through innovations in agriculture and management of water resources, in the region.

Yu is credited with founding the Xia dynasty, which gave way to the 1, 5, 6 Shang dynasty at the start of the Chinese bronze age around 1800 в.c.

During the period of the Shang dynasty (ca.1766-1100 B.C.), the emperor became the political and cultural leader. He was considered the "representative of heaven" and surrounded himself with a great caste of priests. Permanent walled cities were built, some of them at amazing expense, with palaces and temples.

The emperor often shifted his 3, 4 richly-appointed residences.

The houses of tempered clay had subterranean storage rooms for food supplies. Among the many technical advances developed in this period were polished ceramics, the farming of silkworms, spoke-wheeled wagons and the plow. The Shang script, pictographic with more than 3000 characters, is a direct predecessor of the modern Chinese writing system.

2 Skull of the "Peking Man"
(Homo erectus pekinensis),
discovered in the 1920s

1 Bronze vessel decorated with
human masks and used for ritual
meals during the Shang Dynasty
era, ca. 1766-1100 B.C.

5 Bronze wine vessel in the shape
of a pair of owis, Shang dynasty


6 Bronze knife and dagger, Shang dynasty


3 Bronze vessel used for ritual
use with the inscription "Father Chi"

4 Bronze wine vessel for use in rituals
decorated with depictions of mythical creatures



The Zhou Dynasty and the "Warring States"

The victory of the Zhou dynasty over the Shang ushered in important changes in China's social structure. The feudal system that developed precipitated a decline in central political authority as regional states asserted their autonomy.

The Zhou, who ruled a small kingdom in the west of China during the Shang dynasty, defeated the Shang around 1050 B.C. and assumed power. They ruled their vast lands through vassals, awarding land to loyal clan chiefs and above all to their family members. Thus historians have traditionally ascribed the emergence of China's characteristic feudal system to the Zhou period.

The decentralization of power inherent in this system paved the way for the later formation of more than 1000 "small nations" under the autonomous rule of the local elite. The period also saw traditional social divisions solidify into feudal ones, between the nobility, the military caste and the administrators on the one hand and the serf farmers and craftsmen iihe overwhelming majority) on tin other.

The Zhou are also credited with introducing the concept ofa "mandate of heaven," whereby emperors ruled by divine right. Tin political fortunes of the Zhou dynasty can be divided into two phases.

During the first, known as the 7, 9 Western Zhou period (ca. 1050-771 в.с), a strong central government ruled.

During the second, known as the 8, 10 Eastern Zhou period (771-ca. 256 B.C.), only a puppet ruler, or symbolic figure, remained.

He had no real power and was manipulated by rival regional lords. Some sources divide the Zhou dynasty into three phases: the "Early" period (771-722 в.с); the "Spring and Autumn" period (722-481 в.с), in which a few larger, autonomous vassal states developed; and the period of the "Warring States" (481-221 B.C.), which takes its name from the Book of the Warring States written during the later Han dynasty.

A period of forced consolidation left seven large states to fight for dominance over China's vast territories. Although marked by violence and war, the period was also notable for its intellectual and technological advances. Perhaps most significant was the transition to a more intensive use of agricultural land, including the introduction of new varieties of crop, in particular rice and wheat. Irrigation techniques and road construction methods were substantially improved, and knowledge of ironworking spread. The period of the "Warring States" was also the golden age of classic Chinese philosophy. It ended with the establishment of the Qin military state.


7 Bronze vessel, Western Zhou dynasty,
ca. 1050-771 B.C.

9 Bronze wine vessel inscribed with
the words "for Chi-Fu,"
Western Zhou period

8 Richly decorated dagger handle,
made of plaited gold and turquoises,
Eastern Zhou dynasty, 771-ca. 256 B.C.


10 War drum decorated with dragon handle, from the Eastern Zhou dynasty




The Time of 100 Schools of Thought

In the shadow of the rival lords' conflicts during the period of the Warring States, a number of philosophical schools developed! Almost all of these schools took a position on political questions and endeavored to gain the favor of the rulers. Sine of these schools eventually came to dominate. Among them were the School of Literati (Confucianism); the Taoists; the Mohists, whose moral code shows many parallels with utilitarianist thought; and the Legalists, who advocated strong leadership with strict legal controls. Legalist teachings became state dogma under the Qin dynasty while Mohism died out.