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Chinese Food History Timeline
A chronology of Chinese Cuisine.

The culinary history of China goes back much further than 5,000 years. Here we trace the development of Chinese cuisine from the most ancient times, through the rise and fall of the many dynasties, to the modern period and the food that is cooked and eaten by Chinese people today.



1.5–0.5 million years ago

• Homo erectus living in China near Beijing, Lantian, Yuanmou and other sites.

0.5 million years ago

• Peking Man may have known cooking (roasting meat).

c. 80000 BC

Homo sapiens, modern man, appears in China.

9000 BC

• Beginnings of agriculture.

8000 BC

• First rice grown (Yuchanyan, Hunan).

7000 BC

Millet grown in north China.
• Wine making in Jiahu, Henan – world's oldest (fermented from rice, honey and fruit).

6000 BC

• Domestication of pigs.

4000 BC

• Widespread cultivation of several plant & animal species.

3000 BC

• Agriculture common in easily cultivated areas; social stratification; large villages; moves towards civilisation.

3000–2000 BC

• Wheat and barley introduced from the Middle East.

c. 2700 BC

• Shen Nong, the "Divine Farmer," father of agriculture, medicine, and discoverer of tea.

2550 BC

• Yellow Emperor (legendary) reign begins.

2140 BC

• Yu the Great controls the great flood.

2100 BC

• Chinese Bronze Age begins. First written records from this period.

2000 BC

• Civilised society in North China & Manchuria.
• Noodles (made from millet flour)

1500 BC

• Fish Farming: carp in ponds.

1200 BC

Wooden chopsticks dug from graves from this era.

c. 1050–256  BC

• Soybean cultivation.

1100 BC

• Strong ale (e.g. rice wine).

600 BC

• The iron plough.
• Ro
w cultivation.
• Intensive hoeing.

c. 551–c. 479

• Life of Confucius.

400 BC

• Cast iron.

400 & 300 BC

• Efficient horse harnesses.

200 BC

• The rotary winnowing fan.
• The modern seed drill.
• Steel production from cast iron.
• Ice used for refrigeration.

140 BC

• Confucianism becomes state philosophy.



c.  68

• Buddhism arrives in China, though its influence is not widely felt until the Tang Dynasty (618–907).


• Soy milk and tofu processing.


• Tea drinking begins to spread throughout China.


• The fishing reel.
• Porcelain.
• Biological pest control.
Understanding of deficiency diseases.


Ginger grown on ships. Ginger contains vitamin C, which guards against scurvy. (Whether Chinese understood this at the time or not, they gradually came to see a correlation between diet and shipboard health. The ships of Zheng He's voyages in the early 15th century had vegetable patches. Ginger is also effective against sea sickness).


Grand Canal completed (linking the Yangtze with the Yellow River), allowing mass shipment of food from the south to the north.

Tang Dynasty)

• Golden era of Chinese Buddhism. Vegetarianism and new attitudes to other creatures prevalent.
• Tea drinking
elevated to an art.


• Publication of Lu Yu's Classic of Tea, the first comprehensive handbook on tea. It described the cultivation, processing, and use of tea.


• Brandy and whisky.


• Soy sauce becomes a common flavouring.


• Flooding changes the course of Yellow River.


• Mongol conquest of north China complete.


• Marco Polo abroad (including 17 years in China).


• Khubilai Khan completes Mongol conquest of China.

c. 1290

• Grand Canal rebuilt & extended to Beijing.


• The Ming voyages of Zheng He.


• Gradual introduction of New World food: sweet potatoes, maize, potatoes, peanuts, peppers, tomatoes etc.


• Portuguese ships reach China.


• Maize first mentioned in literature, after arriving sometime earlier in the century via the Philippines.


• Tea arrives in Europe.


• Chinese food arrives in America with the first Chinese gold prospectors.


• Flooding changes course of Yellow River, emptying the northern section. River falls into disuse.


• The Great Leap Forward, collectivisation of all agriculture into large communes – greatest famine in human history.


• Cultural Revolution, many culinary traditions dispensed with.


• Coca-Cola re-enters China market after a 30-year enforced absence.


• Deng Xiao Ping's Open Door Policy.


• American fast food arrives in China: KFC.


• China joins WTO.


Chinese Dynasties Timeline
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