Accomplishments of the Ancient Chinese

Learn about ancient Chinese accomplishments and technological progress made beginning in the Neolithic Period. This covers Ancient China from roughly 12,000 BCE through the 6th century CE.

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Jade figure, neolithic period, China, The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, Sweden
Neolithic Period Jade Figurine.

LMarianne/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Neolithic (neo='new' lithic='stone') Period of Ancient China lasted from about 12,000 until about 2000 BCE.

Named Neolithic cultures (known by pottery style):

  • Yang-Shao
  • Longshan
  • Qinglian
  • Dapenkeng


  1. Fu Xi (r. from 2850) may have been the first king
  2. Shennong (the farmer king)
  3. Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor (r. 2696-2598)
  4. Yao (first of the Sage Kings)
  5. Shun (second of the Sage Kings)

Accomplishments of Interest:

The Neolithic people in ancient China may have had ancestor worship.

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Bronze Age Xia Dynasty

Xia Dynasty Bronze Jue
Xia Dynasty Bronze Jue.

Martha Avery/Corbis/Getty Images

The Xia Dynasty ran from c. 2100 to c. 1800 BCE. Legend attributes the founding of the Xia dynasty to Yu, the third Sage King. There were said to be 17 rulers. Rule became hereditary.


  • Pasturage and agriculture
  • Irrigation
  • Pottery
  • Ships
  • Lacquer
  • Silk
  • Spinning/weaving
  • Carving
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Bronze Age - Shang Dynasty (Yin Dynasty)

A bronze yue, Shang era

Vassil/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain 

The Shang Dynasty ran from c. 1800–c.1100 BCE. Tang took control of the Xia kingdom.

  • There is evidence of human sacrifice.


  • Bronze vessels, weapons, and tools
  • Carved jade and turtle shells for divination
  • Glazed pottery
  • Lacquerware
  • Tombs
  • Calendar
  • Script
  • Diviniation (Oracle Bones)
  • War chariots drawn by horses probably brought to China by Steppe residents
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Zhou Dynasty (Chou Dynasty)

Portrait of Confucius, 18th century

Szilas/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Zhou Dynasty, from c. 1027–c. 221 BCE, is divided into periods:

  1. Western Zhou 1027–771
  2. Eastern Zhou 770–221
    770–476 Spring and Autumn
  3. 475–221 Warring States

The Zhou were originally semi-nomadic and had co-existed with the Shang. The dynasty was begun by Kings Wen (Ji Chang) and Zhou Wuwang (Ji Fa) who were considered ideal rulers, patrons of the arts, and descendants of the Yellow Emperor. This was the period of the great philosophers, including Confucius (551–479 BCE) and Lao Tzu (7th century BCE).

Technological accomplishments and inventions:

  • Cire perdue 'Lost wax' method
  • Inlay
  • Iron casting
  • Iron weapons
  • Chariots
  • Dye
  • Glass
  • Astronomy
  • Magnetism
  • Arithmetic
  • Fractions
  • Geometry
  • Plowing
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizers
  • Acupuncture

In addition, human sacrifice appears to have disappeared.

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Qin Dynasty

Terracotta Army

thierrytutin/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

The Qin Dynasty ran from 221–206 BCE. The first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, founded the Qin Dynasty, and the first unification of China. He built the Great Wall to keep out northern invaders and centralized the Chinese government. His tomb contained 6,000 terracotta figurines commonly believed to be models of soldiers.

The Qin accomplishments:

  • Standardized weights, measures, coinage—the bronze round coin with a square hole in the center
  • Relief Map (possibly)
  • Zoetrope (possibly)
  • Standardized writing
  • Standardized chariot axle widths
  • Compass
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Han Dynasty

Liu Bang enters Guanzhong, by Zhao Boju, 12th century
Entry of the First Emperor of the Han Dynasty into Guanzhong.

Scanned from William Watson's The Arts of China/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Han Dynasty, which was founded by Liu Bang (Han Gaozu), lasted for four centuries (206 BCE–8, 25–220 CE). During this period, Confucianism became state doctrine. China had contact with the west via the Silk Road. Under Emperor Han Wudi, the empire expanded into Asia.

Han Dynasty accomplishments:

  • Civil Service competitive exams
  • State Academy
  • Seismograph invented to detect earthquakes
  • Iron plows led by oxen became common; coal to smelt iron
  • Water-power mills
  • Censuses
  • Paper invented
  • Probably gunpowder
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Three Kingdoms

Chinese alley with red wall and green bamboo grove,Chengdu,Sichuan Province,China
Chinese alley with red wall and green bamboo grove in Wuhou Temple,Chengdu,Sichuan Province,China.Wuhou Temple,or Wu Hou Shrine,has been attracting the public over the past 1780 years and thus has gained a reputation as a Sacred Place of the Three Kingdoms.

xia yuan/Getty Images

After the Han Dynasty of ancient China there was a period of constant civil war during which the three leading economic centers of the Han Dynasty tried to unify the land:

  1. The Cao-Wei Empire (220–265) from northern China
  2. The Shu-Han Empire (221–263) from the west, and
  3. The Wu Empire (222–280) from the east.

Accomplishments from this period and the next two:

  • Sugar
  • Pagodas
  • Private parks and gardens
  • Glazed earthenware
  • Porcelain
  • Parallax
  • Pi

Of Interest:

  • During this period, tea may have been discovered.
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Chin Dynasty (Jin Dynasty)

Great Wall of China
The Chin Dynasty linked up the walls built in the past and extended them after unifying China in the 3rd century BCE, shaping up 'the Great Wall.'.

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Lasting from CE 265–420, the Chin Dynasty was started by Ssu-ma Yen (Sima Yan), who ruled as Emperor Wu Ti from CE 265–289. Ssu-ma Yen reunified China in 280 by conquering the Wu kingdom. After reuniting, he ordered the disbanding of the armies, but this order was not uniformly obeyed.

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Northern and Southern Dynasties

Northern Wei Dynasty Limestone Offering Shrine
Northern Wei Dynasty Limestone Offering Shrine.

Corbis/VCG via Getty Images/Getty Images

Another period of disunity, the period of the Northern and Southern dynasties lasted from 317–589. The Northern Dynasties were:

  1. The Northern Wei (386–533)
  2. The Eastern Wei (534–540)
  3. The Western Wei (535–557)
  4. The Northern Qi (550–577)
  5. The Northern Zhou (557–588)

The Southern Dynasties were

  1. The Song (420–478)
  2. The Qi (479–501)
  3. The Liang (502–556)
  4. The Chen (557–588)

References and Further Reading

  • Loewe, Michael, and Edward L. Shaughnessy. "The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
  • Perkins, Dorothy. "Encyclopedia of China: History and Culture." London: Routledge, 1999.
  • Yang, Xiaoneng, ed. "Chinese Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: New Perspectives on China's Past." New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Accomplishments of the Ancient Chinese." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Accomplishments of the Ancient Chinese. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Accomplishments of the Ancient Chinese." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).