Chinese history traditionally begins with the Shang Dynasty, nearly 4000 years ago, but Chinese civilization goes back much further, to around 9000 years ago when farming started on the Yellow River in northern China.

The Shang kings used oracle bones to ask the gods questions, such as “Will this battle turn out well?” The question was written on an ox bone or a tortoise shell, which was heated until cracks appeared. The shape of the cracks would reveal the answer.

The Chinese invented the world’s first written exams to select candidates to become state officials. The tests lasted up to 72 hours and when a candidate had finished, an official recopied their answers so that their handwriting would not be recognized.

Dates are approximate. Many Chinese inventions predated similar European inventions by several hundred years.

Facts about the forbidden city in China:

  • Built as the imperial palace for the Ming emperors in Beijing.
  • The world’s largest palace complex, it covers an area of 75 hectares (183 acres) and is surrounded by a 10 meter (33 ft) wall high and a moat 6 meter (20 ft) deep.
  • The construction took approximately 15 years and employed more than 1 million workmen.
  • It contains 980 buildings and 9000 rooms.

The Shang Dynasty was the first in a line of imperial dynasties that lasted until 1911.

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