Timeline
1.6 Million BC ~ 20,000 BC The Early Man  
5,000 BC ~ 2,500 BC The Early Culture  
3000-2070 BC Three Rulers & Five Emperors  
2070-1600 B.C. Xia
1600-1046 B.C. Shang
 
There are three things to know about the Shang: one, they were the most advanced bronze-working civilization in the world; two, Shang remains provide the earliest and most complete record of Chinese writing (there are a few Neolithic pots that have a few characters scratched on them; however, a few characters do not a complete writing system make), scratched out on the shoulder blades of pigs for oracular purposes.
 
1046-256 B.C. Zhou  
 
Most scholars think that the Zhou were much more "Chinese" than the Shang. For one, they used a father-to-son succession system. Also, they weren't too keen on human sacrifice. However, they weren't as good at working bronze as the Shang. Still, it would be centuries before the West was able to cast bronze as well as the Zhou. Some, though not all, scholars believe that the Xia, the Shang, and the Zhou actually were three different cultures that emerged more or less at the same time in different areas of the Yellow River valley. And the historical record supports this view -- the Shang were conquered from outside by the Zhou, as the Xia had been conquered from the outside by the Shang.
 
 
1046-771 BC --Western Zhou
 
770-256 B.C. --Eastern Zhou
  770-476 B.C. -- Spring and Autumn period
475-221 B.C. -- Warring States period
221-207 B.C. Qin
 
In 221 BC, the first Emperor of China,Qin Shihuangdi, conquered the rest of China after a few hundred years of disunity. There are two major reasons why he won; the first is that he was a devout Legalist,and did things like execute generals for showing up late for maneuvers.The other reason is because the state of Qin had a lot of iron, and consequently, at the dawn of the iron age, had many more iron weapons than the other armies did. Qin Shihuangdi had a great many accomplishments, not the least of which was the linking together of many of the old packed-earth defensive walls of the old principalities into the Great Wall of China. This is not to say that he built the massive masonry construction that today is called the Great Wall of China
 
206 B.C.-A.D. 9 Western Han
 
The Han dynasty plays a very important role in Chinese history. For starters, they invented Chinese history as we know it today. Additionally, the overwhelmingly predominant ethnic group in China is called the Han; they are named after the dynasty. But, most importantly, they developed (actually, it was invented by Qin Shihuangdi, but perfected by the Han) the administrative model which every successive dynasty would copy, lock, stock, and barrel.
 
A.D. 9-24 Xin (Wang Mang interregnum)
A.D. 25-220 Eastern Han
A.D. 220-280 Three Kingdoms
While there was a great deal of political activity occurring during this period, most of it, consisting as it was of various wars between different kingdoms (one of the great novels of China, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, is about this period), was not terribly important to the later development of China. Perhaps its greatest accomplishment was to reinforce in Chinese thought the importance of having "one Emperor over China, like one sun in the sky."

 
220-265 -- Wei
221-263 -- Shu
229-280 -- Wu
A.D. 265-316 Western Jin
A.D. 317-420 Eastern Jin
A.D. 420-588 Southern and Northern Dynasties
420-588 Southern Dynasties
420-478 -- Song
479-501 -- Qi
502-556 -- Liang
557-588 -- Chen
386-588 Northern Dynasties
386-533 -- Northern Wei
534-549 -- Eastern Wei
535-557 -- Western Wei
550-577 -- Northern Qi
557-588 -- Northern Zhou
A.D. 581-617 Sui
 
The most important thing to know about this dynasty is that it was very short (by dynastic standards) and that it did a pretty good job of re-unifying China. Because it had a northern power base, it was part barbarian, as was the Tang. Despite the fact that the royal houses of Sui and succeeding Tang were not entirely Han Chinese, both of these dynasties are considered to be Chinese.

 
A.D. 618-907 Tang
 
The Tang are considered to be one of the great dynasties of Chinese history; many historians rank them right behind the Han. They extended the boundaries of China through Siberia in the North, Korea in the east, and were in what is now Vietnam in the South. They even extended a corridor of control along the Silk Road well into modern-day Afghanistan. There are two interesting historical things about the Tang. The first is the Empress Wu, the only woman ever to actually bear the title 'Emperor' .The second was the An Lushan Rebellion, which marked the beginning of the end for the Tang.

 
A.D. 907-960 Five Dynasties
907-923 -- Later Liang
923-936 -- Later Tang
936-946 -- Later Jin
947-950 -- Later Han
951-960 -- Later Zhou
A.D. 907-979 Ten Kingdoms
A.D. 960-1279 Song
The Song (pronounced Soong) dynasty ranks up there with the Tang and the Han as one of the great dynasties. Fifty years after the official end of the Tang, an imperial army re-unified China and established the Song dynasty. A time of remarkable advances in technology, culture, and economics, the Song, despite its political failures, basically set the stage for the rest of the imperial era.

 
960-1127 -- Northern Song
1127-1279 -- Southern Song
A.D. 916-1125 Liao
A.D. 1038-1227 Western Xia
A.D. 1115-1234 Jin
A.D. 1279-1368 Yuan
 
The Yuan dynasty also featured the famous Khubilai Khan, who, among other things, extended the Grand Canal. While in many ways, the Yuan was a disaster, the reluctance of the Mongols to hire educated Chinese for governmental posts resulted in a remarkable cultural flowering; for example, Beijing Opera was invented during the Yuan.

 
A.D. 1368-1644 Ming
 
Then came the Ming. The Ming rulers distinguished themselves by being fatter, lazier, crazier, and nastier than the average Imperial family. After the first Ming Emperor discovered that his prime minister was plotting against him, not only was the prime minister beheaded, but his entire family and anyone even remotely connected with him. Eventually, about 40,000 (no, that is not a misprint) people were executed in connection with this case alone. They were also virulent Neo-Confucianists.

 
A.D. 1644-1911 Qing
 
In 1644, the Manchus took over China and founded the Qing dynasty. The Qing weren't the worst rulers; under them the arts flowered. nd culture bloomed. Moreover, they attempted to copy Chinese institutions and philosophy to a much greater extent than then the Mongols of the Yuan..

 
A.D. 1911-1949 Republic of China (in mainland China)
A.D. 1949- People's Republic of China