From archaeological findings we know that about 500,000-1,000,000 years ago, there were primitive human beings such as Yuanmou Man, Lantian Man and Peking Man in the wide expanse known today as China. After the long period of primitive existence, the Xia Dynasty, the first in Chinese history, was established in the 21st century B.C., heralding the beginning of a slave society in China. The following Shang and Western Zhou dynasties saw further development of the slave society. Then came the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (i.e., the Eastern Zhou Dynasty), periods of transition from slave to feudal society.
In 221 B.C., Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, ended the rivalry among the independent principalities in the Warring States Period and established the first centralized, unified, multi-national state in Chinese history-the Qin Dynasty. Subsequently, one dynasty replaced another. They included the Han, Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, Sui, Tang, Five Dynasties, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing. China remained a feudal society until the Opium War in 1840.
Ancient China was fairly well developed in both economy and culture. During the apex of the Chinese feudal society-the Han and Tang dynasties-agriculture, handicrafts, weaving and shipbuilding were advanced. Transportation both by land and water was convenient; extensive economic and cultural relations were established with Japan, Korea, India, Persia and Arabia. Papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass, four major creations of ancient Chinese science and technology, are embodiments of the wisdom and power of the Chinese people which have exerted an enormously profound influence on the history of mankind.
Meanwhile, famous thinkers in ancient China such as Lao Zi and Confucius were influencing the traditional Chinese culture and even the world civilizations. Sun Zi's Art of War remains an invaluable reference for people of the military and economic circles; Cao Xueqin's A Dream of Red Mansions is considered the representative work of Chinese classical literature and continues to inspire research and study both at home and abroad. Great achievements were also made in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, geography and medicine. The Gan Shi Xing Jing (Gan Shi Catalogue of Stars) of the Warring States Period is the earliest catalogue of fixed stars in the world. Zhang Heng of the Han Dynasty invented the armillary sphere and seismograph. During the Southern and Northern Dynasties Zu Chongzhi calculated the value of PI to be between 3.1415926 and 3.1415927. He was the first person in the world to have accurately calculated the value of PI to seven decimal places. The Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica) by Li Shizhen of the 16th century records more than 1,800 kinds of herbal medicines and over 10,000 prescriptions.