Fun Facts About Ancient China With Pictures

View of Great Wall China
Grant Faint / Getty Images

One of the oldest civilizations in the world, China has an extraordinarily long history. Starting from the beginning, Ancient China saw the creation of long-lasting and influential entities, be them physical structures or something as ethereal as belief systems.

From oracle bone writing to the Great Wall to art, explore this list of fun facts about ancient China, accompanied by pictures.

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Writing in Ancient China

Petrified tortoise shell with oracle bone inscriptions, possibly Shang Dynasty, China, c1400 BC.
Heritage Images/Getty Images / Getty Images

The Chinese trace their writing to oracle bones from at least the Shang Dynasty. In Empires of the Silk Road, Christopher I. Beckwith says it is likely that the Chinese heard about writing from the Steppe people who also introduced them to the war chariot.

Although the Chinese may have learned about writing in this way, it doesn't mean they copied writing. They are still counted as one of the groups to develop writing on their own. The writing form was pictographic. In time, the stylized pictures came to stand for syllables.

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Religions in Ancient China

China 2015
Jose Fuste Raga / Getty Images

The ancient Chinese are said to have three doctrines: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Christianity and Islam arrived only in the 7th century.

Laozi, according to tradition, was the 6th century BCE Chinese philosopher who wrote the Tao Te Ching of Taoism. The Indian emperor Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries to China in the 3rd century BCE.

Confucius (551-479) taught morality. His philosophy became important during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE). Herbert A Giles (1845-1935), a British Sinologist who modified the Roman version of Chinese characters, says although it is often counted as a religion of China, Confucianism is not a religion, but a system of social and political morality. Giles also wrote about how religions of China addressed materialism.

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Dynasties and Rulers of Ancient China

Life In Ancient Chinese City Pingyao
China Photos / Getty Images

Herbert A. Giles (1845-1935), a British sinologist, says Ssŭma Ch'ien [in Pinyin, Sīmǎ Qiān] (d. 1st-century BCE), was a father of history and wrote Shi Ji 'The Historical Record'. In it, he describes the reigns of legendary Chinese emperors from 2700 BCE, but only those from about 700 BCE onwards are in a genuinely historical period.

The record talks about the Yellow Emperor, who "built a temple for the worship of God, in which incense was used, and first sacrificed to the Mountains and Rivers. He is also said to have established the worship of the sun, moon, and five planets, and to have elaborated the ceremonial of ancestral worship." The book also talks about the dynasties of China and eras in Chinese history.

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Maps of China

Ancient Asia World Map
teekid / Getty Images

The oldest paper map, the Guixian Map, dates to the 4th century BCE. To clarify, we don't have access to a photo of this map.

This map of ancient China shows the topography, the plateaus, hills, Great Wall, and rivers, which makes it a useful first look. There are other maps of ancient China such as Han Maps and Ch'In Maps.

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Trade and Economy in Ancient China

Zhang Qian Leaving Emperor Han Wudi Around 130 B.C., for his Expedition to Central Asia.
Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the early years by the time of Confucius, Chinese people traded salt, iron, fish, cattle, and silk. To facilitate trade, the First Emperor instituted a uniform weight and measure system and standardized the road width so carts could bring trade goods from one region to the next.

Through the famous Silk Road, they also traded externally. Goods from China could wind up in Greece. At the eastern end of the route, the Chinese traded with people from India, providing them with silk and getting lapis lazuli, coral, jade, glass, and pearls in exchange.

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Art in Ancient China

Chinese antique market
Pan Hong / Getty Images

The name "china" is sometimes used for porcelain because China was, for a while, the only source for porcelain in the West. Porcelain was made, perhaps as early as the Eastern Han period, from kaolin clay covered with petuntse glaze, fired together in high heat so the glaze is fused and doesn't chip off.

Chinese art goes back to the neolithic period from which time we have painted pottery. By the Shang Dynasty, China was producing jade carvings and cast bronze found among grave goods.

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Great Wall of China

Great Wall Of China By Mountain Against Sky During Sunrise
Yifan Li / EyeEm / Getty Images

This is a fragment from the old Great Wall of China, outside Yulin City, built by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang 220-206 BCE. The Great Wall was built to protect from northern invaders. There were several walls built over the centuries. The Great Wall that we are more familiar with was built during the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century.

The length of the wall has been determined to be 21,196.18km (13,170.6956 miles), according to the BBC: China's Great Wall is 'longer than previously thought'.

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Gill, N.S. "Fun Facts About Ancient China With Pictures." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 27). Fun Facts About Ancient China With Pictures. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Fun Facts About Ancient China With Pictures." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).