China is one of the world's oldest civilizations and is regarded as the oldest continuous civilization. For centuries, it possessed the most advanced society and economy in the world through successive dynasties though it subsequently missed the industrial revolution and began to decline. In the 19th and 20th century, imperialism, internal weakness and civil wars damaged the country and its economy and led to the overthrow of imperial rule.
In 1949, when major combat ended in the Chinese Civil War, two political entities emerged having the term "China" in their names:
The People's Republic of China (PRC), established in 1949, commonly known as China, has control over mainland China and the largely self-governing territories of Hong Kong (since 1997) and Macau (since 1999).
The Republic of China (ROC) established in 1912 on mainland China, now commonly known as Taiwan, has control over the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu.
In the 1950s, change to economic policies in the Republic of China (Taiwan) transformed the island into a technology-oriented industrialized developed economy after a period of high growth rates and rapid industrialization. In mainland China, in the 1970s, reforms known as the Four Modernizations modernized the agriculture, industry, technology and defense, vastly raising living standards, and making the PRC one of the great powers.
Historically, China's cultural sphere has extended across East Asia as a whole, with Chinese religion, customs, and writing systems being adopted to varying degrees by neighbors such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Through its history, China was the source of many major inventions. It has also one of the world's oldest written language systems. The first evidence of human presence in the region was found at the Zhoukoudian cave. It is one of the earliest known specimens of Homo erectus, now commonly known as the Peking Man, estimated to have lived from 300,000 to 780,000 years ago.