China's history is sometime marked to have begun as early as the 16th century BC, but in terms of physical evidence, tortoise shells with carving similar to ancient Chinese writing from the Shang Dynasty have been given carbon dates of approximately 1500 BC. This suggests that Chinese civilization began with unconnected "city-state" forms of settlements in the Yellow River valley. What we think of as China today, however, was not unified under a large kingdom or empire until 221 BC—just over 2,225 years ago.
There were two events in that era that we look back to as cornerstones of what is now considered the Chinese civilization. First, the Qin Emperor imposed a common system of writing for all his subjects in the 3rd century BC. Second, a state ideology based on Confucianism emerged in the 2nd century BC. To characterize China's history in very general terms, historians say that China has alternated politically between periods of unity and disunity, sometimes being conquered by outsiders, some of whom end up being assimilated into the Chinese population.
Despite China's claim to one of the longer recorded cultural histories in the world, however, Chinapedia divides that history into just five sections.
For a more thorough background in Chinese history, we recommend the following two books:
For our historical background of China, refer to the following pages: