Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in theNeolithic era, but the Yellow River is said to be the cradle of Chinese civilization. With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world's oldest civilizations.  The written history of China can be found as early as the Shang Dynasty (c. 1700–1046 BC), although ancient historical texts such as the Records of the Grand Historian (ca. 100 BC) and Bamboo Annals assert the existence of a Xia Dynasty before the Shang.
 Much of Chinese culture, literature andphilosophy further developed during the Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BC). The Zhou Dynasty began to bow to external and internal pressures in the 8th century BC, and the kingdom eventually broke apart into smaller states, beginning in the Spring and Autumn Period and reaching full expression in the Warring States period. This is one of multiple periods of failed statehood in Chinese history (the most recent of which was the Chinese Civil War).
In between eras of multiple kingdoms and warlordism, Chinese dynasties have ruled all of China (minus Xinjiang and Tibet) (and, in some eras, including the present, they have controlled Xinjiang and/or Tibet as well). This practice began with the Qin Dynasty: in 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang united the various warring kingdoms and created the first Chinese empire. Successive dynasties in Chinese history developed bureaucratic systems that enabled the Emperor of China to directly control vast territories.
The conventional view of Chinese history is that of alternating periods of political unity and disunity, with China occasionally being dominated by steppe peoples, most of whom were in turn assimilated into the Han Chinese population. Cultural and political influences from many parts of Asia, carried by successive waves of immigration, expansion, and cultural assimilation, are part of the modern culture of China. ------------------------------------------------- Prehistory Paleolithic See also: List of Paleolithic sites in China What is now China was inhabited by Homo erectus more than a million years ago.
 Recent study shows that the stone tools found at Xiaochangliang site aremagnetostratigraphically dated to 1. 36 million years ago.  The archaeological site of Xihoudu in Shanxi Province is the earliest recorded use of fire by Homo erectus, which is dated 1. 27 million years ago.  The excavations at Yuanmou and later Lantian show early habitation. Perhaps the most famous specimen of Homo erectus found in China is the so-called Peking Man discovered in 1923-27. Neolithic See also: List of Neolithic cultures of China The Neolithic age in China can be traced back to between 12,000 and 10,000 BC.
 Early evidence for proto-Chinese millet agriculture is radiocarbon-dated to about 7000 BC.  ThePeiligang culture of Xinzheng county, Henan was excavated in 1977.  With agriculture came increased population, the ability to store and redistribute crops, and the potential to support specialist craftsmen and administrators.  In late Neolithic times, the Yellow River valley began to establish itself as a cultural center, where the first villages were founded; the most archaeologically significant of those was found at Banpo, Xi'an.
 The Yellow River was so named because of loess forming its banks gave a yellowish tint to the water.  The early history of China is made obscure by the lack of written documents from this period, coupled with the existence of accounts written during later time periods that attempted to describe events that had occurred several centuries previously. In a sense, the problem stems from centuries of introspection on the part of the Chinese people, which has blurred the distinction between fact and fiction in regards to this early history.
By 7000 BC, the Chinese were farming millet, giving rise to the Jiahu culture. At Damaidi in Ningxia, 3,172 cliff carvings dating to 6000-5000 BC have been discovered "featuring 8,453 individual characters such as the sun, moon, stars, gods and scenes of hunting or grazing. " These pictographs are reputed to be similar to the earliest characters confirmed to be written Chinese.  Later Yangshao culture was superseded by the Longshan culture around 2500 BC. * What are the characteristics of their language? The Han people have their own spoken and written languages, namely Chinese.
It is the most commonly used language in China, and one of the most commonly used languages in the world. All China's 55 minority peoples have their own languages except the Hui and Manchu who use Chinese; 22 of them have their own scripts, in which 28 languages are written. Nowadays, school classes in predominantly ethnic minority areas are taught in the local language, using local-language textbooks. Meanwhile courses are also set up to popularize Putonghua Chinese - the official national language, which is commonly used throughout the country.
The official Chinese language is Mandarin (or Putonghua). There are also numerous dialects spoken throughout different parts of China, including Cantonese. The Lonely Planet phrasebook is recommended for those wanting to learn more about Chinese languages. To help you get the most out of your contact with the Chinese, try learning how to say these key phrases: Mandarin Chinese English Ni Hao Hello (or hi) Ni Hao Ma? How are you? Wo Hen Hao I’m fine Xie Xie Thank you Duo Shao Qian? How much is …? Bu No Dui Yes Dui Bu Qi Excuse me / I’m sorry
Mei Guangxi No need Zai Jian Good-bye! * Famous literary texts There is a wealth of early Chinese literature dating from the Hundred Schools of Thought that occurred during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty(770-256 BCE). The most important of these include the Classics of Confucianism, of Daoism, of Mohism, of Legalism, as well as works of military science and Chinese history. Note that except for the books of poems and songs, most of this literature is philosophical and didactic; there is little in the way of fiction.
However, these texts maintained their significance through both their ideas and their prose style. The Confucian works in particular have been of key importance to Chinese culture and history, as a set of works known as the Four Books and Five Classics were, in the 12th century CE, chosen as the basis for the Imperial examination for any government post. These nine books therefore became the center of the educational system. They have been grouped into two categories: the Five Classics, allegedly commented and edited by Confucius, and the Four Books.
The Five Classics include: 1. The I Ching, or Book of Changes, a divination manual attributed to the mythical emperor Fu Xi and based on eight trigrams. TheI Ching is still used by adherents of folk religion. 2. The Classic of Poetry, a collection of poems, folk songs, festival and ceremonial songs, and religious hymns and eulogies. 3. The Classic of Rites or Record of Rites 4. The Classic of History, a collection of documents and speeches allegedly written by rulers and officials of the early Zhou periodand before. It contains the best examples of early Chinese prose. 5.
The Spring and Autumn Annals, a historical record of Confucius' native state, Lu, from 722 to 479 BCE. The Four Books include: the Analects of Confucius, a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples;Mencius, a collection of political dialogues; the Doctrine of the Mean, a book that teaches the path to Confucian virtue; and the Great Learning, a book about education, self-cultivation and the Dao. Other important philosophical works include the Mohist Mozi, which taught "inclusive love" as both an ethical and social principle, andHanfeizi, one of the central Legalist texts.
Important Daoist classics include the Dao De Jing, the Zhuangzi, and the Classic of the Perfect Emptiness. Later authors combined Daoism with Confucianism and Legalism, such as Liu An (2nd century BCE), whose Huainanzi (The Philosophers of Huai-nan) also added to the fields of geography and topography. Among the classics of military science, The Art of War by Sun Tzu (6th century BCE) was perhaps the first to outline guidelines for effective international diplomacy.
It was also the first in a tradition of Chinese military treatises, such as the Wujing Zongyao (Collection of the Most Important Military Techniques, 1044 CE) and the Huolongjing (Fire Dragon Manual, 14th century CE). * Famous Chinese poets/writers * The rich tradition of Chinese poetry began with two influential collections. In northern China, the Shijing or Classic of Poetry (approx. 10th-7th century BCE) comprises over 300 poems in a variety of styles ranging from those with a strong suggestion of folk music to ceremonial hymns.
 The word "shi" has the basic meaning of poem or poetry, as well as its use in criticism to describe one of China's lyrical poetic genres. Confucius is traditionally credited with editing the Shijing. Its stately lines are usually composed of four characters or four syllables (Chinese characters are monosyllabic). Many of these early poems establish the later tradition of starting with a description of nature that leads into emotionally expressive statements, known as bi, xing, or sometime bixing.
 Separately in southern China, the Chuci is ascribed to Qu Yuan (c. 340-278 BCE) and his follower Song Yu (fl. 3rd century BCE) and is distinguished by its more emotionally intense affect, often full of despair and descriptions of the fantastic.  Metrically its six-character lines are formed into couplets separated in the middle by a strong caesura character (as the seventh character of the first line), producing a driving and dramatic rhythm. Both the Shijing and the Chuci have remained influential throughout Chinese history.
* During the greater part of China's first great period of unification, begun with the short-lived Qin Dynasty (221 BCE - 206 BCE) and followed by the centuries-long Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), the shi form of poetry underwent little innovation. But a distinctively descriptive and erudite fu form (not the same fu character as that used for the bureau of music) developed that has been called "rhyme-prose," a uniquely Han offshoot of Chinese poetry's tradition.  Equally noteworthy is Music Bureau poetry (yuefu), collected and presumably refined popular lyrics from folk music.
The end of the Han witnesses a resurgence of the shi poetry, with the anonymous "19 Old Poems. " This collection reflects the emergence of a distinctive five-character line that later became shi poetry's most common line length.  From the Jian'an reign period (196 - 220 CE) onward, the five-character line became a focus for innovations in style and theme.  The Cao family, rulers of the Wei Dynasty (220 - 265 CE) during the post-Han Three Kingdoms period, distinguished themselves as poets by writing poems filled with sympathy for the day-to-day struggles of soldiery and the common people.
Taoist philosophy became a different, common theme for other poets, and a genre emphasizing true feeling emerged led by Ruan Ji (210-263).  The landscape genre of Chinese nature poetry emerged under the brush of Xie Lingyun (385-433), as he innovated distinctively descriptive and complementary couplets composed of five-character lines.  A farmland genre was born in obscurity by Tao Qian (365-427) also known as Tao Yuanming as he labored in his fields and then wrote extolling the influence of wine.
 Toward the close of this period in which many later-developed themes were first experimented with, the Xiao family of the Southern Liang Dynasty (502-557) engaged in highly refined and often denigratedcourt-style poetry lushly describing sensual delights as well as the description of objects. * Reunified China's Tang Dynasty (618-907) high culture set a high point for many things, including poetry. Various schools of Buddhism flourished, a successfully imported and modified cultural influence from India, as represented by the Chan or Zen beliefs of Wang Wei (701-761).
 His quatrains (jueju) describing natural scenes are world-famous examples of excellence, each couplet conventionally containing about two distinct images or thoughts per line.  Tang poetry's big star is Li Bai (701-762) also pronounced and written as Li Bo, who worked in all major styles, both the more free old style verse (gutishi) as well as the tonally regulated new style verse (jintishi).  Regardless of genre, Tang poets notably strove to perfect a style in which poetic subjects are exposed and evident, often without directly referring to the emotional thrust at hand.
 The poet Du Fu (712-770) excelled at regulated verse and use of the seven-character line, writing denser poems with more allusions as he aged, experiencing hardship and writing about it.  A parade of great Tang poets also includes Chen Zi'ang (661-702), Wang Zhihuan (688-742), Meng Haoran (689-740), Bai Juyi (772-846), Li He (790-816), Du Mu (803-852), Wen Tingyun (812-870), (listed chronologically) and Li Shangyin (813-858), whose poetry delights in allusions that often remain obscure, and whose emphasis on the seven-character line also contributed to the emerging posthumous fame of Du Fu, now ranked alongside Li Bai.
The distinctively different ci poetry form began its development during the Tang as Central Asian and other musical influences flowed through its cosmopolitan society.  * China's Song Dynasty (960-1279), another reunification era after a brief period of disunity, initiated a fresh high culture. Several of its greatest poets were capable government officials as well including Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072), Su Shi (1037–1101), and Wang Anshi (1021–1086).
The ci form flourished as a few hundred songs became standard templates for poems with distinctive and variously set meters.  The free and expressive style of Song high culture has been contrasted with majestic Tang poems by centuries of subsequent critics who engage in fierce arguments over which dynasty had the best poetry.  Additional musical influences contributed to the Yuan Dynasty's (1279–1368) distinctive qu opera culture and spawned the sanqu form of individual poems based on it.
 * Classical Chinese poetry composition became a conventional skill of the well educated throughout the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. Over a million poems have been preserved, including those by women and by many other diverse voices.  Painter-poets, such as Shen Zhou (1427–1509), Tang Yin (1470–1524), Wen Zhengming(1470–1559), and Yun Shouping (1633–1690), created worthy conspicuous poems as they combined art, poetry and calligraphy with brush on paper.
 Poetry composition competitions were socially common, as depicted in novels, for example over dessert after a nice dinner.  The Song versus Tang debate continues through the centuries.  While China's later imperial period does not seem to have broken new ground for innovative approaches to poetry, picking through its vast body of preserved works remains a scholarly challenge, so new treasures may yet be restored from obscurity.