A brief discussion is warranted here. Getting into a complete history of the Temple would be difficult to say the least, as many of the written texts have been destroyed in the various burnings and sackings (especially the one that occurred in 1928). And for some reason, getting this information from the monks is not easy because of the language barriers, and, because, in my opinion, some of them really don't know much about it. Education, and it's goals, is far different for these guys than what we in the western world are used to. So, with a deference to brevity, here goes.
1122-255BC: Chou dynasty, mentions of boxing and other martial arts in literature.
722-481BC: The art of warfare is mainly reserved for nobility, and among other things, archery, chariot driving, and arithmetic is taught.
403-221BC: War takes on less of a nobility preference, and becomes more of a hand to hand combat nature.
206BC-200AD: Han dynasty, physician Hua To originates exercises based upon his observations of tigers, deer, bear, monkeys, and birds, and one of the first descriptions of boxing is detailed in the literature.
495AD: Original Shaolin Temple built at Songshan for Indian monk Batuo
520-530: Boddidharma arrives, starts Ch'an Buddhism in China, develops exercises for monks so that they stay awake during prayers. The exercises were meant to promote physical and spiritual health, and were not originally meant as fighting skills. The resulting exercise hardens the monks and improves their physical capabilities. Fighting arts eventually develop, though it must be understood, that some sort of martial art had previously existed in China.
618-907: Tang dynasty, monks from the Shaolin Temple save the first Tang emperor, Li Shimin, from the ruling Sui dynasty. Li Shimin, upon ascending the throne, grants land and other favors (the ability to drink alcohol and eat meat and spices, and the permission to train warrior monks). this is considered to be China's age of chivalry, as fighting and boxing, and proficiency thereof, become a prominent pastime for the young.
700: Other temples start to flourish throughout China; the ascendancy of the Shaolin Temple to a higher position in the temple chain is suggested. Monks traveling from one temple to another bring with them the martial arts and other skills.
845: First of three major destructions of the Shaolin Temple; during this period many Buddhist monks and nuns were persecuted.
1368-1644: Ming dynasty: Elements of the Shaolin Temple travel outside of China to Okinawa, Japan and Korea, resulting in the spread of Shaolin gong fu and other arts. Boxing proliferates in China.
1644: Establishment of Qing dynasty, when Manchurian invaders conquered vast parts of China. Many boxers formed secret societies and spread throughout China, in an attempt to create forces to expel the invading Manchu, and bring the Ming back to power, with the inadvertent effect of spreading boxing and martial arts skill throughout the land. The Manchu force the Ming dissidents (with the subsequent effect on all Chinese males) to wear a queue on their heads (much like a horse's mane).
1674: Second of three major destructions of the Shaolin Temple; ordered by the emperor of the Qing dynasty as a result of his fear of their abilities. The remains of the Shaolin Temple remain under the watchful eye of the emperor, and eventually, the government, for many generations. Shaolin martial arts allegedly continue to flourish at the southern Shaolin Temple at Fukien, and possibly other temples throughout China.
1890's: Boxer rebellion, a secret society (the Boxers, not the first secret society however, in China; the Shaolin Temple monks had formed the Triad society during the Ming dynasty) which revolted against foreign influence, spurred on, and later crushed, by the Empress Dowager Cixi.
1912: Demise of the Manchu (the last emperor), and the birth of the republic.
1917-1928: Warlord period, during which over fifteen hundred different warlords and chieftains roamed and devastated the country. The Boxers, continue their activities, but with different masters, and with different goals. Bandits roam and pillage the land.
1928: Third of three major destructions of the Shaolin Temple; ordered by the warlord General His Yousan. Many of the old and sacred texts are destroyed in this fire, which predominantly ruins the buildings in the front half of the complex. National boxing tournaments eventually are arranged, and provincial competitions continued. Monk Shi Yun Xiang leaves with copies of ancient texts.
1931: Japanese Kwantung army seizes control of Manchuria. Eventual war with Japan disrupts national boxing tournaments and organizations, among other things....
1941. Japanese invaders take over the Temple and use it as a school. Further destruction of the Temple ensues; minimal, if any, reconstruction of the Temple occurred prior to this time.
1948: Mao's communist rebels take over control of the 13,000 or so acres belonging to the Shaolin Temple, and leave it with five. Communist persecution greatly diminish the number of the monks living at the Temple. Chiang Kai-shek leaves for Taiwan, many of the boxers retreated with him, and also left for Hong Kong, bringing the martial arts to those areas in large abundance. As for the Temple, there still had been no significant reconstruction since the great fires of 1928.
1958: Mao's economic programs leave the country with famine, which greatly affects the monks because of lack of adequate farmland. Deterioration of the Temple continues relatively unabated.
1966-1976: Mao's Cultural Revolution initially causes little problems to the monks at the Shaolin Temple, because communist party members have little desire to go into the mountains to persecute and erase the Buddhist community. Towards the end of this period, persecutions take place, and the monks either flee into the mountains, (see Chinese Stairmaster), or return to private lives. Further destruction of the Temple ensues. By the end of this period, when it was all over, fourteen monks return to the Temple to continue the tradition.
1980: Monk Shi Yun Xiang returns to Shaolin, with his copies of the ancient texts, along with some of his disciples. Copies of ancient texts are given to Shi De Qian.
1982: The movie Shaolin Temple, starring Jet Li, causes large influx of Chinese children to Shaolin village to learn martial arts, with the resulting outgrowth of private martial arts schools, some developed and run by ex-Shaolin monks. In an effort to start rebuilding the Temple, the monks open their doors to teach private students in return for money. Some monks leave the Temple to open private schools.
1989: Development of the Shaolin Temple Wushu Guan, movement of the martial Shaolin monks from the Temple towards the government owned and operated wushu guan to teach and to live. Restoration of the Temple is facilitated through government assistance.
1992: Acting abbot, Shi Sheng Jun, dies (approximate date)
1995: 1500 year anniversary of the Shaolin Temple, more foreigners start to train at the village. Restoration of the Temple continues.
1999: A new abbot, Shi Yong Xin, is installed in the temple, for the "first" time since the abdication of the emperor in the early 1900's.
2000: Initial moves by Henan government and abbot Shi Yong Xin, to return Shaolin to its original splendor, by removing surrounding Shaolin village. See Destruction in the Fugue section.