Numerous landslides have occurred during the construction of the Three Gorges Reservoir of the Yangtze River. Although the underlying causal factor of these landslides was heavy rainfall, the construction process was the trigger of some of them. We report here a systematic study aimed at reconstructing the geological history of an ancient landslide and, based on our results, an evaluation of the role of the history on current landslide stability. Data from detailed field surveys and the studies on geological dating revealed that the Baiyian landslide was composed of five structural parts of different geological ages, such as a sliding belt, disturbed rocks, ancient colluvium, alluvium of the Yangtze River and slope wash. The succession of ancient climates, terraces and tectonic processes in the study area were examined from 300 ka ago. The evolutionary history of the Baiyian ancient landslide can be divided into five distinct stages: development, occurrence, deposition, collapse and disintegration. Some parts of the ancient landslide are currently prone to instability due to the combination effects of heavy rainfall and construction of the reservoir.