When it comes to ancient China, it is always full of sense of the times and mystery. The changes of the times in ancient China over 2,000 years have formed unique characteristics in people, things, lifestyle, political economy and cultural level. Today, we’ll explore 10 incredible facts about ancient China from monumental defensive structures to every day inventions that many of us still use today.
Great Wall of China
As one of the great wonders of the world, the Construction of the Great Wall of China began on the wall over 2000 years ago and was added to by consecutive generations and it is estimated that millions of people worked to build the Great wall over 1000 years. As far as defensive fortifications go, you don’t get much more impressive than this. With so much wall stretched over such vast distances, it’s no surprise we are still find sections we didn’t even know about. In 2009, 180km of previously unknown sections were discovered.
The ancient Chinese agricultural way of life, which was centered heavily on rice, played an important role in the history and development of China. Due to the production requirements of cultivating race, Chinese famers developed irrigation techniques to help improve cultivation. By cultivating rice and increasing their agricultural way of life, they consequently developed social, economic, political and ideological developments that were closely linked and influenced by rice cultivation. In some parts of China, they have also combined rice cultivation with raising fish in a rice-fish aquaculture system, a practice that is still widely practiced today. This sustainable and innovative choice ensures that the rice protects the fish from the sun, and, in turn, fish eat the weeds that would cause harm to rice, as well as fertilizing the crop!
Chinese foot binding was a practice that Chinese women took part in. The process worked by very slowly forcing the form of the foot into a strange crescent shape and began when female children were young, the time that their bones were still soft. First the feet were submerged in hot water and then the four smaller toes were tightly wrapped in cotton bandages, nestling them under the rest the foot, angling it to create a sort of half-moon shape. After that, they had to rinse, wrap and repeat it for the rest of your life, every time making that little bit tighter. If the feet were not cared for, like cutting the toe nails, it could result in swollen, pus that creating a horrible odor of filled areas. In the worst cases, whole toes might fall off, and that wasn’t the end of the effects on the body. Women would regularly suffer from severe headaches, poor circulation, and extreme hip discomfort. Thankfully this practice was stopped about three generations ago!
Chopsticks are commonly made of bamboo, plastic, wood or stainless steel, but they have also been made from porcelain, jade, ivory, silver and even gold and titanium. They were first used over 200 years ago in the ancient Han Chinese or the Zhou Dynasty, and later spread to other surrounding countries. Today you’ll find them used in Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnams, in various styles and materials.
Many of us take for granted toilet paper. But did you know that the Chinese first invented toilet paper? Somewhere around the Year 600, toilet paper was first used solely by the ruler and the highest of the elites, but within a couple of centuries, vast quantities were needed for royal establishments and other wealthy households. Ironically, although we consider it a hygienic practice today, when some Outsiders first observed its use, they were shocked at what they considered uncleanliness and were confused that people did not wash themselves with water after using the restroom. It should be said that the toilet paper used in ancient China is remarkably different from the commercial stuff we have in our houses today.
The Han Empire had the longest duration of any Empire with a 2,100 year era of imperial rule, even though the dynasty was interrupted by a coup in the middle called the Qin dynasty and divided into two eras called the Western Han and the Eastern Han. After the division, stability returned in and the same clan continued ruling. Some have suggested that the Han Empire was much like the Roman Empire in size and population. According to the census record during the Western Han Dynasty which lasted about 215 years, the population of the Empire more than tripled to about 57 million. However, in the last decades of the Empire, the people were hit by devastating famines in the north and flooding along the Yellow River which forced migration of many people, many of whom starved in the year 194. There was even a great famine caused due to a plague of locusts as well as numerous outbreaks of the plague itself.
Chinese Bronze Mirrors
Most of us take mirrors for granted these days, but it hasn’t always been to see reflection as it is today. Chinese bronze mirrors have a long history in Chinese culture, dating back over 2,000 years. Although they were often placed in tombs, they were also used in the same way they are today to allow people to look at themselves. They were also objects of art and many often included spiritual cosmological and even magical meanings and functions. Unlike in today’s age where mirrors may not hold much value other than for their practical use, these objects were once valued gifts and used to create or cement family and political alliances.
It said that Tea was discovered in ancient China by the Chinese emperor Qin. The story goes that Shin Hong liked to drink hot water and one day he and his army stopped to rest and his servant prepared hot boiling water for him. At this point, a brown leaf fell into the water and the color of the water was changed into brown. The servant still presented it to the Emperor who drank it and found it refreshing. It was later used as medicine during the Han Dynasty. And hundreds of years later, it became a beverage to be consumed socially as with many drinks and food still prepared. Today, tea was prepared much differently in ancient China than in today’s world. Tea leaves were processed and compressed into a cake form and then the dried tea cake was ground in a stone mortar resulting in a powder that was then added to the hot water.
Silk production has had a long and colorful history unknown to most people for centuries. The West knew little about the production of silk, but in Roman times, Pliny, a Roman historian, wrote about it in his work “Natural History” in 70 BCE. For more than 2,000 years, the Chinese kept a secret of silk all to themselves, some of the oldest evidence for silk production dates back as far as 3,000 BCE with some suggesting even earlier dates. Literary sources offer more information about silk production such as the belief that reeling silk and spinning were always considered household duties for women. When silk was first discovered, it was reserved exclusively for the use of the ruler. Gradually, it became more common among the different classes in society. Believe it or not, silk just wasn’t used to make clothes. It also has other uses like musical instruments, fishing line, bow strings. And more some believed it was already widely traded well before the Silk Road officially opened in the second century BCE. Today the two largest silk producers are China and Japan who together manufacture more than 50% of the world’s total production of silk.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, has a far-reaching history that dates back over three thousand years ago. It’s generally believed that the origin of the festival can be traced back to the worshipping activities in China’s ancient agrarian societies. Some state that a small-scale spring festival was celebrated as early as the time of the legendary sage Emperor’s cow and shun. And historically, various Chinese dynasties celebrated the spring festival in different ways and at times influenced each other and added certain customs and traditions to it. It wasn’t until the Han Dynasty that the date for the ceremony was fixed when Emperor Wudi commanded to use the lunar calendar. Due to its association with the lunar calendar, the data that Chinese New Year actually changes each year but it will always fall sometime between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. Over 3,000 year, the festival has changed and developed. And today, it is celebrated by millions of people around the world and not just by Chinese people.
Do you know any more incredible facts about ancient China? let us know in the