Ningbo has a history dating back to 4,800 BC, when a Neolithic group was based here known as the Hemudu Culture. The people left evidence of their progression from a nomadic to an agricultural community, which was unearthed in the 1970s, and is now on display at the Hemudu Culture Relics site.

Korea began to use the city as a port for its exports to China's southern capital Nanjing during the 5th century. The city grew further when Hangzhou became the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, and retained its significance through the Song and Yuan Dynasties.

The international trade was not to last: in the Ming Dynasty, shipbuilding was severely restricted and the flow of trade through the port in Ningbo was stemmed. Some trade continued with Korea, and the port became the target of Japanese pirates, necessitating the fortification of the city and its role change into a defensive port. As the financial injections into the city slowed, the city's economy stalled, until the 15th century when the rural land lying behind the port began to pick up.

European traders began illegally trading goods with Ningbo in the 16th century. Portuguese, Dutch and British ships flooded in and goods moved from the city up into the rest of China, Taiwan and the Philippines. Trading was eventually legalized, and Ningbo became the region's economic centre, linked by canal to Shaoxing and the Qiantang River.

In the late 19th Century, Ningbo was one of the cities opened up to foreign trade, but lost out to Shanghai. Ningbo's port was again opened up after the Opium Wars, becoming one of the major trading ports in China. 

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