Where did Chinese writing come from? It appears that the first characters were not written with brush and ink, but rather inscribed on bones. It was in the Shang Dynasty (商朝， c. 1600-1050 BCE) that characters first appeared as a fully developed linguistic system. Although there have been clear examples of meaningful marks on artifacts from slightly before the Shang, these did not often appear in sequence, and are thought to be clan markings denoting ownership of elite goods.
It is not clear exactly what brought about the decline of the Shang (商) civilization. What is clear is that in approximately 1050 BCE, the Shang was defeated and replaced by the incumbent Zhou (周/Chou) state. By way of comparison with Western history, this was slightly after the end of the Egyptian New Kingdom, and slightly before the assumed birth date of the Biblical King David.
The Warring States (戰國時代 / Zhan Guo Shi Dai): the Decline of Zhou
As time passed, cracks began to form in the Zhou kingdom. Managing a feudal state the size of China was difficult to manage when it relied largely on the strength of lineage relationships, many of which were incredibly distant. (Map) As these relationships decayed, the lower ranks began to assert greater an greater degrees of autonomy, until it was not the nominal ‘rulers’ who wielded political power, but their subordinates. Eventually, all ties to a central Zhou ruler would be severed and China as we know it was divided up into a considerable number of smaller states that warred more or less continuously for about 200 years, from 475 BCE to 221 BCE.
In 221 BCE, the state of Qin finally conquered the remaining states that had made up the Warring States and proclaimed the formation of a new dynasty under a centralized government. This essentially began the Imperial period of Chinese history, with the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di (秦始皇帝/Ch’in Shih Huang Di) effectively controlling the entirety of China.