What Was China Like in Ancient Times?

China is a country with a rich and fascinating history, spanning thousands of years. Ancient China was a vastly different place than the modern country we know today. In this article, we will explore what China was like in ancient times.

The Early Dynasties

China’s history can be traced back to the Xia dynasty, which ruled from around 2100 BCE to 1600 BCE. The Xia dynasty was followed by the Shang dynasty (1600 BCE-1046 BCE) and then the Zhou dynasty (1046 BCE-256 BCE).

During this time, China was primarily an agricultural society, with rice being the main crop. The early dynasties were ruled by kings who had divine authority over their subjects. The rulers were supported by a class of nobles who owned large estates and controlled vast resources.

Arts and Culture

The early dynasties of China were known for their artistic and cultural achievements. The Shang dynasty is particularly well-known for its bronze artistry, including intricate bronze vessels used for ritual purposes.

The Zhou dynasty is often referred to as the “golden age” of Chinese philosophy and literature. This period saw the rise of Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism as major schools of thought.

Trade and Commerce

During the ancient times in China, trade flourished along the Silk Road, a network of trade routes that stretched from China to Europe. Chinese merchants traded silk, tea, porcelain, and other luxury goods for horses, spices, gold, and other commodities.

The Imperial Era

The imperial era of China began with the Qin dynasty (221 BCE-206 BCE) and continued through various dynasties until the last emperor was overthrown in 1911 CE.

Imperial Government

The imperial era saw the rise of a centralized government with an emperor as the ultimate authority. The emperor was supported by officials who were chosen through a rigorous examination system, which tested their knowledge of Confucianism and other important subjects.

The imperial era was marked by many artistic and cultural achievements. One of the most significant was the creation of the Great Wall of China, which was built to protect China from invaders.

The Tang dynasty (618 CE-907 CE) is often referred to as the “golden age” of Chinese culture. This period saw great advances in poetry, literature, and art.

Trade continued to flourish during the imperial era, with China exporting silk, tea, porcelain, and other luxury goods to Europe and other parts of Asia. The imperial era also saw the rise of sea trade with neighboring countries.

The End of Imperial China

In 1911 CE, a revolution led by Sun Yat-sen overthrew the last emperor and established a republic in China. This marked the end of imperial China and the beginning of a new era in Chinese history.

The end of imperial China saw many changes in Chinese arts and culture. Western influences began to seep into Chinese society, leading to new forms of literature, art, music, and dance.

With the establishment of a republic in China came new opportunities for trade and commerce. Modern factories were built, producing goods for both domestic use and export.


China’s long history is marked by many periods of great achievement in arts, culture, trade, commerce, governance etc., each with its own unique characteristics. By exploring what China was like in ancient times we can gain a better understanding of where this great country has come from and where it is headed.