The second dynasty, the loosely feudal Shang, definitely settled along the Yellow River in eastern China from the 18th to the 12th century BCE. They were invaded from the west by the Zhou, who ruled from the 12th to the 5th century BCE. The centralized authority of the Zhou was slowly eroded by warlords. Many strong, independent states continually waged war with each other in the Spring and Autumn period, only occasionally deferring to the Zhou king.
The first unified Chinese state was established by the Qin Dynasty in 221 BCE, when the office of the Emperor was set up and the Chinese language was forcibly standardized. This state did not last long, as its legalist policies soon led to widespread rebellion.
The subsequent Han Dynasty ruled China between 206 BCE and 220 CE, and created a lasting Han cultural identity among its populace that would last to the present day. The Han Dynasty expanded China's territory considerably with military campaigns reaching Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia and Central Asia, and also helped establish the Silk Road in Central Asia.
After Han's collapse, another period of disunion followed, including the highly chivalric period of the Three Kingdoms. Independent Chinese states of this period also opened diplomatic relations with Japan, introducing the Chinese writing system there. In 580 CE, China was reunited under the Sui. However, the Sui Dynasty was short-lived after a failure in the Goguryeo-Sui Wars (598614) weakened it. A 10th-11th century Longquan stoneware vase from Zhejiang province, during the Song Dynasty. A 10th-11th century Longquan stoneware vase from Zhejiang province, during the Song Dynasty.
Under the succeeding Tang and Song dynasties, Chinese technology and culture reached its zenith. The Song dynasty was the first government in world history to issue paper money and the first Chinese polity to establish a permanent standing navy. Between the 10th and 11th centuries, the population of China doubled in size. This growth came about through expanded rice cultivation in central and southern China, along with the production of abundant food surpluses. Within its borders, the Northern Song Dynasty had a population of some 100 million people. The Song Dynasty was a culturally rich period in China for the arts, philosophy, and social life. Landscape art and portrait paintings were brought to new levels of maturity and complexity since the Tang Dynasty, and social elites gathered to view art, share their own, and make trades of precious artworks. Philosophers such as Cheng Yi and Chu Hsi reinvigorated Confucianism with new commentary, infused Buddhist ideals, and emphasis on new organization of classic texts that brought about the core doctrine of Neo-Confucianism.
In 1271, the Mongol leader and the fifth Khagan of the Mongol Empire Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty, with the last remnant of the Song Dynasty falling to the Yuan in 1279. A peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew the Mongols in 1368 and founded the Ming Dynasty. Ming Dynasty thinkers such as Wang Yangming would further critique and expand Neo-Confucianism with ideas of individualism and innate morality that would have tremendous impact on later Japanese thought. Chosun Korea also became a nominal vassal state of Ming China and adopted much of its Neo-Confucian bureaucratic structure. China's capital was moved from Nanjing to...