9 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 B.C. through the 6th century A.D.

Also, see Ancient China in Pictures.

Ancient China References:

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Neolithic Painted Pottery Jar
Painted pottery jar with geometric design. Majiayao Culture: Banshan type (c. 2600-2300 B.C.) Neolithic Period HongKong Museum of Art. CC unforth

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

Groups of Neolithic inhabitants (known by pottery style):

  • Yang-shao
  • Longshan
  • Qinglian
  • Dapenkeng

Kings:

  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 silk worm was cultivated to produce silk (Sericulture).
  • Decorative jade
  • Copper and bronze tools
  • India ink
  • Beginning of urban organization

The neolithic people in ancient China may have had ancestor worship. More »

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Bronze Age - Xia Dynasty

Xia Dynasty Bronze Jue
Xia Dynasty Bronze Jue. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

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

Technology:

  • Pasturage and agriculture
  • Irrigation
  • Pottery
  • Ships
  • Lacquer
  • Silk
  • Spinning/weaving
  • Carving
A bronze yue, late Shang era.
A bronze yue, late Shang era. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Shang Dynasty ran from c. 1800 - c.1100 B.C. Tang took control of the Xia kingdom.

  • There is evidence of human sacrifice.

Accomplishments:

  • Bronze vessels, weapons, and tools
  • Carved jade and turtle shells for divination
  • Glazed pottery
  • Lacquerware
  • Tombs
  • Calendar
  • Script
  • War chariots drawn by horses probably brought to China by Steppe residents.

  More »

Confucius
Confucius. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Zhou Dynasty, from c. 1027 - c. 221 B.C., is divided into periods:

  1. Western Zhou 1027-771
  2. Eastern Zhou 770-221
    • 770-476 - Spring and Autumn
    • 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.

Technological accomplishments and inventions:

  • Cire perdue 'Lost wax'
  • 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. More »

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Terracotta Army in the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor.
Terracotta Army in the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor. Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Qin Dynasty ran from 221-206 B.C. The first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, founded the Qin Dynasty. He built the Great Wall to keep out northern invaders, and centralized the Chinese government. His tomb contained 6000 terracotta figurines commonly believed to be 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, and
  • Standardized chariot axle widths
  • Compass.
More »
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Figure of a Squatting Drummer. Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220) Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Han Dynasty Figure of a Squatting Drummer. Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Gill

The Han Dynasty, which was founded by Liu Bang (Han Gaozu), lasted for four centuries (206 B.C.- A.D. 8, 25-220). 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

See:

More »
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.The temple is open to the public. 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.
More »
08
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Chin Dynasty (Jin Dynasty)

Great Wall of China
The Great Wall is one of the great architectural achievements in ancient China. Starting in the east at Shanhaikuan on the coast of Pohai Bay and ending at Chiayu Pass in Kansu Province in the west, it measures more than 5,000 km., equivalent to 10,000 li, hence the named of 'the 10,000 li Great Wall.' Construction of the Great Wall began in the 4th century B.C. in the Warring States Periods. The Chin Dynasty linked up the walls built in the past and extended them after unifying China in the 3rd century B.C., shaping up 'the Great Wall.'. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Lasting from A.D. 265-420, the Chin Dynasty was started by Ssu-ma Yen (Sima Yan), who ruled as Emperor Wu Ti from A.D. 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)