China History Overview


China with a long and rich history, is always proud of her countless historical sites and cultural relics. Almost everywhere people encounter amazing miracles or natural beauties together with their everlasting legends and myths.

Despite a lack of written records in prehistoric China, through rich archaeological finds, it’s possible to build a picture what life was like during this period. Fossils of an ancient humanoid dating back 1.7 million years were found in Yuanmou County in Yunnan Province. The Yuanmou fossils are the earliest trace of homo sapiens in China Research has shown that during the prehistoric era there were many patches of human inhabitation throughout China. Unearthed jade and pottery show the civilization of that time was technologically advanced.


 Xia (22nd-17th Century BC)

The Xia is the first dynasty recorded in China’s history. The Xia Dynasty is traditionally supposed to begin with Yu the Great and end with the tyrant, Jie. It lasted more than 400 years with 17 monarchs over 14 generations.

Shang (17th – 11th Century BC)


The Shang Dynasty was the earliest one to have written history. Traditional Chinese history indicates that the Shang Dynasty lasted almost 600 years with 30 kings over 17 generations.

Relics of the Shang Dynasty, the Yin ruins, were discovered by archaeologists at Xiaotun Village in Henan Province. At the site they unearthed numerous tortoise shells and animal bones inscribed with Jiaguwen the precursor to modern Chinese characters. A significant amount of bronze ware was also excavated.


Zhou (11th Century – 256 BC)


The Zhou Dynasty would become longest ruling dynasty in Chinese history, lasting over 770 years with 37 generations of kings and was conquered by the Qin in 206 BC. In 770 BC, King Ping removed the capital to Luoyi. Since then, the Zhou Dynasty was called the Eastern Zhou while the other (before 770 BC) was called the Western Zhou.



Qin(221-206 BC)  

In 221 BC, King Ying Zheng conquered its six rival states of the Warring States Period, put the long-time separatist lord regime to an end and found the first unified, autocratic And power-centralized feudal empire in Chinese history, making Xianyang as the capital city. The Qin enacted various important political and economic laws to consolidate the unification, which laid foundation for the establishment and development of Chinese feudalism. One of the emperor’s grandiose projects was the Terracotta Army. Excavated in Shaanxi Province, this is part of the emperor’s massive mausoleum. After the emperor’s death widespread rebellions broke out. Eventually a rebel army led by Liu Bang, a former local official, established the Han Dynasty.


 Han (206 BC – AD 220)

The Han Dynasty is divided into two phases, the Western Han with its capital at Xian and the Eastern Han with its capital at Luoyang in AD 25. The emperor and his chancellors realized that it wasn’t feasible to rule a vast kingdom solely on a strict legal system. The monarch relaxed the “legalist system” and allowed the economy to recover. By Emperor Wudi’s reign, the Han dynasty was a thriving and powerful empire. One of his most enduring legacies was promoting Confucianism as the official ideology and applying it to the bureaucracy. Ministers were selected based on their knowledge of the Confucian classics, a system that was continued by succeeding dynasties up until the end of the Qing dynasty. On the economic side, new trade routes were established between China and Central Asia. Chinese silk was exported along these routes, which would become known as the Silk Road.

 Disunion (220-589)

From the 2nd to the 6th century, China went through a period of disunity. The disintegration began with the displacement of the Eastern Han by three regimes, the Wei, Shu and Wu. Numerous petty kingdoms rose and fell during this time. Groups of northern “barbarians” made inroads into China during this time, establishing a series of kingdoms in the vulnerable north. Eventually the Turgut tribe of the Xianbei unified northern China and established the Northern Wei dynasty.

It was during Han dynasty when Buddhism first came to China from India. Temples and stupas, the architecture that people associate with Chinese Buddhism began to sprout throughout the land. As a sign of devotion, Buddhist cave carvings were begun in northern China. The ones at Yungang and Longmen continue to awe and inspire visitors.

 Sui (581 – 618)


The Sui dynasty unified China in AD 581 after more than 400 years of disunity, yet it only lasted 38 years. Much was accomplished during this dynasty’s short reign – a population census, reformation of the bloated regional administration system and consolidation the southern regions. One of the Sui’s most important legacies was building the Grand Canal, which linked Hangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north. The network of canals aided and enhanced economic and cultural exchange between the south and north and would greatly influence China’s development.


  Song ( 960 – 1279)

In 960, Zhao Kuangyin, a former military official, donned the “Dragon Robe” the symbol of imperial power and established the Northern Song dynasty. The second Northern Song emperor completed the reunification of the country when he destroyed the remaining opposition.

The Juechen tribe from northern China eventually defeated the Northern Song and established the Jin dynasty. The Song court fled to Hangzhou where they established the Southern Song dynasty, which only controlled south China. The regime was run by a powerful coterie of chancellors that was befit with political infighting. This weakened the dynasty until it was finally overtaken by the powerful Mongols from the north.

Yuan (1206 – 1368)

At the beginning of 13th century, Genghis Khan united the feuding Mongolian tribes and created the world’s most formidable war machine. Sweeping across Eastern Europe and Asia, he created the largest empire the world. Kublai Khan, Genghis’ grandson, established the Yuan dynasty after sweeping away the Jin dynasty in the China’s north and the remnants of the Song to the south. Adopting the Chinese bureaucracy, Kublai Khan officially established the Yuan dynasty in 1271.

The rule of the Yuan dynasty, though harsh, did see significant cultural exchanges due to the large size of their territory. Extensive trade routes were established, it was during the Yuan dynasty when Marco Polo supposedly visited China.


Ming (1368 – 1644)


Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming dynasty after the fall of the turbulent Yuan dynasty. He established a standardized bureaucracy with a strong central authority. Culture enjoyed a liberal revival when the Yongle emperor ascended the Dragon Throne. The Yongle Canon, a massive encyclopedia, was compiled during his reign. To reinforce the frontier defenses in the north, he moved his capital from Nanjing to Beijing which was also his powerbase. His reign saw the Ming’s greatest expansion.

The closing years of the Ming saw the rise of peasant revolts. The largest of these revolts was led by Li Zicheng. Though he managed to overthrow the Ming, he failed to unify China. Manchu forces from China’s northeast had begun to encroach into the Ming’s frontier and in 1644 they defeated Li Zichang’s undisciplined forces in Beijing and founded the Qing dynasty.


Qing (1616 – 1911)


The Qing dynasty saw its height of power under three exceptional emperors: Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong. Under their rule, China saw huge advances in literature and military technology. Because the Qing rulers weren’t ethnic Han Chinese, they imposed tight controls to maintain their rule. However, the Qing had to work closely with Han Chinese scholars and within the Confucian bureaucratic framework to rule their empire effectively. The Qing emperors expanded the frontiers of their empire and consolidated the borders of what would become modern China.

In the 19th century, Britain began exporting opium to China to reduce a trade imbalance that had arisen with British demand for tea, silk and porcelain. China wealth was drained as the nation became addicted to opium. The Qing government’s restrictions on the opium trade led to the first Opium War in 1840. The Qing was thus forced to face modernity.


Modern China (1840 – 1949)

Chinese modern history begins with the 1840 Opium War, which was fought between China and Britain. Before the war, the Qing government had already fought a series battles with Western nations, but it was the Qing defeat during the Opium War that led to the debilitating ”Unequal Treaties”. Under these treaties, Western nations were able to strip China of its resources, take advantage of its people.

During this era, China lost control of Macau and Hong Kong, and the Old Summer Palace was burned by Anglo-French force in 1860.

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Proposed Itinerary for Archaeology & History Study Abroad in China




Culture Visits

Unit Visits

Day 1


Arrive in Beijing and check in the hotel.



Day 2


Visit National Museum.Tour Tiananmen Square.Visit Forbidden City.Taste Peking roast duck at dinner.

Tiananmen Square

Forbidden City

National Museum

Day 3


Visit the Institute of Archaeology

Tour the Great Wall

Option: Peking Opera in the evening

Great Wall


Institute of Archaeology


Day 4


Visit Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian.Tour the Old Summer Palace.Guest lecture

Old Summer Palace

Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian

Day 5



Take a train from Beijing to Datong and enjoy some fascinating parts of China’s countryside.Visit Huayan Temple with Liao Dynasty sculpture

Huayan Temple


Day 6


Spend a full day exploring Yungang Grottoes – one of World Cultural Heritages.

Yungang Grottoes


Day 7



Tour the Hanging Cliff Temple where Buddha, Laotzu and Confucius are enshrined together.



Day 8



Visit Qiao Family Compound

Pingyao Ancient Town



Day 9




Visit Zhengguo Temple with unique architecture and fine 10th century sculptures.Tour Jinci Temple – a famous architectural park with beautiful ancient building over 1000 years.Fly to Xian and check in the hotel in the evening.



Day   10


Visit the Qianling Sites - the tombs of the 7th century Tang Emperor Gaozong and the Empress Wu Zetan

Tour Famen Temple -  renowned for storing the veritable Finger Bone of the Sakyamuni Buddha



Day   11


Visit the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th Century, the life-size Terracotta Warriors, Have a half day city tour

Feast on a Chinese traditional dumpling banquet whilst enjoying Tang dynasty style dance show

Option: Practice Taiji on the top of City Wall under the direction of a Taiji master.

Terracotta Warriors

City Wall.Shaanxi History Museum

Tang dynasty style dance show

Take a behind-the-scenes tour in the museum

Day   12


Tour the Han Yang Ling Museum -  the first underground museum in China .Learn about ongoing excavations at tome on Jingdi.

Then, fly to Shanghai – the biggest city and financial center of China.

Han Yang Ling Museum


Day   13


Shanghai Museum visit.Yu Yuan Garden visit.Bund and Pudong financial area sightseeing

Option: acrobatic show in the evening

Shanghai Museum Yu Yuan Garden

Acrobatic Show


Day   14


Bus to the Pudong International Airport and fly to your next destination.




This proposed itinerary and schedule is tentative and subject to change. Best efforts will be used to plan site visits and academic exchanges as indicated, but due to many complex factors, any of the planned academic exchanges may be possibly cancelled or taken place on different days than indicated in the above schedule.  

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