The distinction between East and West gathered meaning around 7000-6000 BCE as agricultural communities developed in the Yangtze and Yellow River valleys. Just as agriculture had radiated out from the Mesopotamian core so a similar radiation occurred from the Chinese core in East Asia.
Rice and millet were well established in China by 6000 BCE, Korea by 4400 BCE, but took longer to arrive in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and NW Borneo with evidence pointing to around 2000 BCE. Millet is recorded in Japan by 2600 BCE but agriculture was not seriously adopted until about 600-500 BCE when there is evidence of rice paddies in Kyushu (cited in Morris p. 128). These dates correspond roughly to the development of agriculture and civilizations in the New World.
Divergence from the Chinese core
c. 2070 BCE -1949 AD – Chinese dynasties and empire
Succession of Chinese dynasties and kingdoms including the imperial period under Emperor Huang commencing in 221 BCE Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons SY – Accessed 10 October 2017 Rt-click to enlarge
China’s first settled communities emerged in prehistory along the northern Yellow (Huanghe) and southern Yangtze River valleys with divergent traditions. The harsh northern loess plains proved amenable to the cultivation of millet first recorded c. 7000 BCE while the warmer and wetter south was more suited to rice whose cultivation began c. 5000 BCE. dating back to the Neolithic era and the Xia dynasty (c. 2070-1600 BCE) although evidence of hierarchical society, bronze work, and writing on durable media did not develop until the Shang dynasty and culture of the Huanghe valley (c. 1600-1046 BCE) with its many similar but smaller and semi-independent centres. These societies were concerned with order, harmony, and tradition reminiscent of Egypt in the West.
The earliest decipherable written text occurs as inscriptions on bronze vessels and oracle (divination) bones of the Longshan culture in the late Shang period c. 2500-2000 BCE.
Philosophy and literature developed during the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE) which was strained by both external and internal pressures in the 8th century BCE fragmenting into smaller states in the Spring and Autumn period and reaching full expression in the Warring States period. Between eras of kings and warlords, various dynasties have ruled parts or all of China extending on occasion to Xinjiang and Tibet.
In 221 BCE Qin Shi Huang united warring kingdoms calling himself ’emperor’ (huangdi) of the Qin dynasty, marking the beginning of imperial China. Successive dynasties then developed academic bureaucratic systems to administer wide-ranging territories. The last Qing dynasty (1644-1912) was supplanted by the Republic of China in 1912 and, on the mainland, by the People’s Republic of China in 1949, resulting in two de facto states claiming to be the legitimate government of all China.
From 206 BC until 1912 CE administration was by elite Scholar-gentlemen’ selected by stringent examination and well-versed in calligraphy and philosophy. Overall periods of unity and disunity alternated with periods dominated by steppe peoples who were eventually assimilated into the Han population.
Early modern period
At the dawn of the Early Modern Period and European Age of Discovery, China was a technologically and intellectually more sophisticated society. Among the many accomplishments made in advance of the West were: the seed drill, the compass and astronomical observation, the mechanical water-clock, gunpowder, the printing press, ink, paper and printed money, the suspension bridge and massive ocean-going ships ten times the size of the Santa Maria that Columbus sailed to America. But in 1424 the Chinese emperor Zhu Di died and Chinese society turned inward.