Would we like to see remains of wonderful civilisations, emperors, treasures, histories, etc? Well, let us explore ancient China – the home of the Great Wall, wonderful civilisations and cultures.
The Chinese language is different from others – there are about 3000-picture characters for words and phrases and is read vertically. How weird is that – all the characters must be known to be able to read a newspaper, and imagine learning up to 3000 characters compared to just 26 here!!
China has an interesting history of emperors, rulers, fascinating civilisations, etc.
Early Chinese people have been around about 500,000 years ago. The first began settling along the most important rivers – the Yangtze and Yellow River and used stone tools while living in wooden shelters. About 4000 years ago, the people making written records and from about 2000 BC to 1900 the country was ruled by powerful families of rulers known as dynasties. Some were times of war, while others were a time of peace. Many important things happened under the rule of the dynasties, such as the building of the Great Wall of China. The dynasties ended in 1912 and a republic (country ruled by a president chosen by people) was formed. The Japanese invaded unsuccessfully in 1937 and the Communists, lead by Mao Zedong, led the republic for 50 years.
Let us discuss the famous dynasties of China and what happened.
Shang Dynasty: The Shang Dynasty was the first family of rulers, and they had power over China from 1600 to 1050 BC. In this time, cities were built in northern China, and the people developed their unique culture. Food was grown by peasants, while artists produced tools, weapons, ornaments, etc.
Zhou Dynasty: From 1050 BC to 221 BC, this country was under power of the Zhou. The Zhou people were warlike and therefore their 800- year rule was a time of war. Despite that, cities grew in size and number and iron tools and weapons were produced. Therefore farming was made easier.
Qin Dynasty: Unfortunately, when Qin Shihuangdi in the Qin Dynasty which lasted from 221 to 210 BC ruled China, wars took place and there was a lot of violence. He ordered works of literature to be burned and 500 scholars buried alive and banned books to strengthen his rule and blot out knowledge of the past. In this time, the Great Wall was starting to be built to keep out foreign invaders and to keep the people in their lands. Despite all the bad things, Qin Shihuangdi also established many good things – a large army, a written language, and built roads and canals. He died at the age of 49 when touring the country and his dynasty ended four years later.
Han Dynasty: Interesting, a low ranking official (a person with jobs in the government) of the Qin dynasty defeated all his enemies during the peasant uprising and started the Han Dynasty, which ruled from 206 BC to AD 220. During this time, agriculture improved greatly and China became a rich and powerful country.
Tang Dynasty: For 300 years in China, it was a time of art, craft, music and literature – the time of the Tang Dynasty, which lasted from AD 618 to 906 AD. The country expanded as the armies successfully fought other countries and the Chinese people learnt from foreign lands.
Yuan Dynasty: The Mongolian people invading from the north in 1214 stopped the 300 years of art and culture. They Founded the Yuan dynasty and took over Beijing, while and ruling China for over a century, under their leader – Genghis Khan.
Ming Dynasty: A Buddhist monk – Hongwu leaded a rise up against the Mongols successfully and established the Ming dynasty. Hongwu was the first emperor of this dynasty, which lasted from 1368 to 1644. In this period, the Great Wall was extended and it was a time of peace and relaxation.
Qing Dynasty: Tribes from northern Manchu conquered the Ming and founded the last dynasty of China – the Qing. This dynasty ruled China from 1644 to 1912; sadly, the country grew weaker towards the end of this period. Its last emperor – Puyi, was a 3-year old and ruled for four years.
Life in the cities: Only about 10 % of China’s population lived in cities in early times – the rest live in the countryside. The cities were centres of government, education, and trade. Musicians, jugglers, and acrobats perform in the streets for entertainment.
The poor: Unfortunately, they majority of people were poor. They had very little food, and lived in houses packed together. Poor young males, who wandered on the streets and terrorised people, joined street gangs.
The rich: The wealthy people built luxury homes and usually had a deluxe lifestyle consisting of good education, etc.
Life in the villages: The population living in the countryside had one or two storey mud houses and normally had a farm, to produce Their own work, and also to receive some income for the family. When working on the farm, teamwork was usually done, in order to complete a lot of work on the fields. They worked hard all day till dark, and wake up at dawn.
Would we like to try some Chinese food? In ancient times, the rich and poor usually ate different things. Traditionally, the rich are very fancy of their food and sometimes may have very weird dishes such as raw monkey brains or bear paw’s soup!!
The poor: The poor people of ancient China ate simple meals, consisting of rice, grains, millet, vegetables and beans, while wild bird or chicken was used as meat.
The wealthy: Pork, lamb, venison (deer’s flesh), duck, goose, pigeon, fruit and vegetables were eaten by the wealthy people of ancient China, while on special occasions, they might eat snakes, dogs, snails, sparrows, or bear claws.
Both rich and poor people used spices, sugar, salt, honey, and soy sauce for food flavouring.
Food was chopped into small pieces and cooked quickly to save fuel for both the rich and poor.
In ancient Chinese times, the clothing was a mark of class of the wearer.
People of high rank: They wore the finest silk in public and the women wore elaborate make-up and jewellery.
Poor people: As a result of not having a lot money, these people dressed in simple clothes – shirts and pants made of a rough fabric known as hemp. In winter their clothes were stuffed with paper and cloth for warmth.
A man always wore a hat, showing his occupation and rank, in public. From the Sui dynasty onwards, yellow was only for the emperor. Blue and black were the only colour that ordinary people could wear and children could not wear white while their parents were alive as white was for mourning (being sad, especially when someone dies).
Entertainment was loved by the ancient Chinese – both the rich and poor had had entertainment such as attending theatres and magic shows, and playing different games. Theatre actors were regarded as low class and were not regarded in the society.
The poor loved to story-tell and gamble, while the wealthy hunted and raced horses, practised calligraphy, composed poetry, or listened to music. Both played card games, board games and chess, and they frequently betted on the games. The Chinese enjoy outdoor recreations such as cock-fighting, horseracing, wrestling and kite flying. Puzzles taught the people to think creatively, and therefore, they were things enjoyed by the ancient Chinese.
There have been a number of religions and philosophies (system of beliefs) before the Communist revolution in the mid 20th century.
Buddhism: This religion originated in India and came to China as early as the 1st century. Buddhism is being kind to everyone around us, and always remembering and respecting Buddha (He helped himself and others to get out of the cycle of suffering). By performing good deeds, a person will have a better life next time.
Christian: Christian arrived in China early in the 17th century. People believing in Christian worship Jesus (son of Mary and Joseph), especially on Christmas Day (25th December) and Easter Day.
Confucianism: This philosophy is the teaching of a scholar from northeastern China – Confucius. It was the state teaching of Lu from 202 BC to 1911 and said that most of the ills of society occurred as a result of people forgetting their places in life and the excellence of rulers going down. The main focus was on social relations, proper handling of things and peace and friendship in a community. A family of 3 or 4 generations was ideal and obedience to parents was one of the most necessary excellences.
Daoism: Daoism does not agree with Confucius’s philosophy; the followers of Daoism believe in nature’s laws, instead of obeying too many man-made regulations. There would be fewer disputes and crimes when people stopped lying to obtaining things they wanted.
Unfortunately, the Communists have discouraged religions in the 20th century- temples and churches have been closed and taken. Luckily, the situation eased after the death of Mao Zedong in 1977 and some Buddhist temples were reopened, while services among Christians were permitted once again. Despite that, all religious activity is cautiously watched by the Chinese government.
Fascinatingly, most of the everyday things we use such as matches, umbrellas, wheelbarrows and paper were originally Chinese inventions.
Let us discuss some of the most wonderful Chinese inventions:
1. Silk is one of the most beautiful fabrics and is worn by kings, queens and the rich. In early times, a little girl accidentally discovered this beautiful cloth. She noticed some worms eating the mulberry leaves of her father and dropped one of their cocoons into some hot water – and it happened to be the silk worms eating the leaves. Silk was exported to other countries by travelling on the “Silk Road. The method of making silk was kept secret for many years, until spies from other countries found out.
2. Paper was also invented in China in the first century. Bamboo was cut and soaked, and then the mixture of water and it was cooked over a fire. After it has turned into pulp, it is put in a mould and pressed to make the wet paper flat. Finally, it is dried on a hot wall.
3. In order for books to be copied lots of times, the Chinese invented the first classification of printing – using wooden blocks. Letter shapes were cut from pieces of wood, dipped with ink and pressed onto paper.
4. There are many other inventions, such as wheelbarrows, compasses, gunpowder, rudders, etc. A lot appeared much earlier in China than in other countries.
Wow!! Without the Chinese inventions, the world wouldn’t be like it is today – imagine a world without paper, printing, compasses, matches, rudders, etc!! Ships would go the wrong direction, we would not be able to write…
People following Confucianism believed that not looking after yourself was disrespectful because your body was a gift from parents.
The Ancient Chinese believed that by eating herbs and doing regular exercise, a person will have good health. Ancient Chinese physicians used three main ways of curing sickness-herbs, acupuncture, moxibustion, which is burning a small amount of dried herb on acupuncture points in the body. Ancient Chinese physicians believed that life-giving energy flowed on twelve tubes inside the body called meridians. By sticking needles into these tubes, pains could be eased and some illnesses cured.
Many weapons were invented and used by the ancient Chinese – bows and arrows were used by the Zhou people, who were mounted on horses when being in a war. Gunpowder was discovered by alchemists (early scientists), 1000 years before it was used in weapons. Many foreign countries copied the Chinese inventions. Sometime around 450 BC, the crossbow was invented, and it was used as a deadly weapon. In early times, bronze was used instead of iron as the bronze manufacturers made bronze sharper.
There was a lot of art in ancient China. There was calligraphy, painting and making sculptures of diferent things. Artists perfected their strokes, and carefully painted a picture, while artisans made clay pottery, weapons, bronze figures, tools and many other objects. Wealthy people had a lot of ornaments and art in their house, and were usually buried in expensive coffins. Writing Chinese with ink is known as calligraphy. Calligraphers wrote with brushes made from animal hairs, silk and bamboo and used ink rubbed on an ink stone with some water.
The society of Ancient China was divided into for main classes – scholars, peasants, artisans and merchants. Scholars were the first class, obviously because they could read and write. Interestingly, peasants were respected more than artisans and merchants because the country was dependent on the for food -without them the country would be starved. Although they were in a high class – there was also a negative side to the class of peasants – hard work must be done in harsh conditions. The third class of people was artisans, who made things necessary for everyone, and finally merchants were the lowest class, though they often grew wealthy from their trade of goods. There was a law to the lifestyle of people in different classes.
In Northern China, there lays the longest wall in the world – “The Great Wall of China”. It was built in the Qin Dynasty, and then extended into the Great Wall in the Ming Dynasty. The Great Wall stretches over mountains, deserts and plains for more than 6600 kilometres. This amazing achievement was completed by thousands of labourers and designed to protect the land from invaders. Unfortunately, thousands of workers were killed during the wall construction because of the harsh working conditions. There are watchtowers along it, and during war times, there were soldiers standing guard at all times along the wall. Amazingly, it is still standing today and it is the only object on Earth that is visible from the moon! It is visited by people all over the world.
Ancient Chinese trade commenced when the neighbours of China wanted luxury Chinese goods. Traders used different routes to exchange their goods for other items. The Silk Road was established for traders of silk on camels travelling from China to European countries, while sea routes were used for trading to other countries such as Vietnam, Korea and Japan. There were many benefits of using camels – they could store water in their humps and each could carry a load of about 200 kilograms. Camels also had the ability to sense underground water and warn the traders of sandstorms of the harsh deserts. Inside China, merchants carried goods along canals and roads.
One Ancient Chinese belief is that the night sky could say the future on Earth – court astronomers studied the stars to improve predictions to the emperor. Astronomers mapped the stars and had detailed knowledge of many planets in early times. At 1300 BC, eclipses and movements of comets were recorded, while stars were listed individually at great precision later. Only privileged people had the right to chart the stars or study astronomy – the ordinary people, who tried to, were punished severely.
Nowadays, we travel on cars, buses, bikes, etc. But in Ancient Chinese times, these things were not available. Cars were not yet invented – and therefore, the poor usually walked. Normal people used waterways, and sometimes walked short distances around the cities. In Ancient China, there were waterways all over the place for boats – they were used instead of roads. The rich people such as emperors used horse driven carriages, also carts carried by men, sometimes with umbrellas. WOW!!
There are many fascinating facts about the wonderful civilisations of Ancient China.
1. In very early times, the Great Wall of China was built – stretching over 6600 km, and is still standing today.
2. Silk was discovered accidentally by a little girl playing with mulberry leaves and silkworms.
3. The first emperor – Qin Shihuangdi was very fierce and buried scholars, while burning their books.
4. The last emperor, Puyi was only three years old when he became an emperor!
5. Rich people were sometimes very fancy with their food, and sometimes ate raw monkey brains or bear paws!
6. In the Tang Dynasty, Chang’an, one of the cities, was laid out in a square, and the emperor alone used the central gates.
7. Qin Shihuangdi, who wanted to live forever, has survived in one way – the name China is from his name.
8. Daoists worshipped a small group of immortals, who were supposed to possess magic.
9. Farmers often paid taxes in the form of grain or time working for the government.
10. Chinese names showed the importance of family – the family name was said before the personal name.
11. Puyi, the last emperor, was treated like a living god till he turned six.
12. In 1974, well diggers discovered a buried army of life-size terracotta soldiers guarding the first emperor’s tomb.
13. Males were more important than females – grandmothers, mothers, and aunts were to serve the Grandfathers, fathers, and uncles.
14. Lady Xin, Marquise of Dai, died sometime around 168 BC – as a result of a heart attack after eating a large melon – up to 138 seeds were found in her body!
Wow – that is remarkable!
So now we know about one of the most wonderful civilisations in the world – Ancient China. Many achievements have been made in every dynasty such as building the Great Wall and inventing things we use everyday such as paper, printing, matches, etc. This civilisations has a wonderful history, sometimes of happiness, but there are also times of war. Wow! How interesting is Ancient China!