Ancient Chinese Literature

The earliest written works in China are ghost stories and myths. By Emily MarkHistorian Introduction Chinese literature is some of the most imaginative and interesting in the world. The precision of the language results in perfectly realized images whether in poetry or prose and, as with all great literature from any culture, the themes are timeless.[…]

Ancient Chinese Calligraphy

The brushwork of calligraphy, its philosophy, and materials would influence Chinese painting styles. Introduction Calligraphy established itself as the most important ancient Chinese art form alongside painting, first coming to the fore during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). All educated men and some court women were expected to be proficient at it,[…]

Music in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern China

The legendary founder of music in Chinese mythology was Ling Lun, who made bamboo pipes tuned to the sounds of birds. Introduction The music of China dates back to the dawn of Chinese civilization with documents and artifacts providing evidence of a well-developed musical culture as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1122 B.C.E. – 256[…]

Astronomy in China since the Ancient World

China continues to be active in astronomy, with many observatories and its own space program. Introduction Astronomy in China has a very long history. Oracle bones from the Shang Dynasty (second millennium B.C.E.) record eclipses and novae. Detailed records of astronomical observations were kept from about the sixth century B.C.E. until the introduction of Western[…]

Imperial Examinations (Keju) for Government Service in Ancient China

The Chinese civil service system later served as a model for the civil-service systems elsewhere. Introduction The Imperial examinations or Keju (Traditional Chinese: 科舉; pinyin: kējǔ), were an essential part of the Chinese government administration from their introduction in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E.) until they were abolished during Qing attempts at[…]

A History of Science and Technology in China since the Ancient Han Dynasty

Among the earliest inventions were the abacus, the “shadow clock,” and the first flying machines. Introduction The history of science and technology in China is both long and rich with science and technological contribution. In antiquity, independent of Greek philosophers and other civilizations, ancient Chinese philosophers made significant advances in science, technology, mathematics, and astronomy.[…]

Early Medieval Chinese Presence in the Nubian and Abyssinian Kingdoms

Examining the visit of Du Huan to Molin-guo and Laobosa. Abstract This article focuses on the first Chinese whose presence in Africa is clearly documented. Due to the geographical curiosity of the T’ang dynasty, extracts of an 8th century travel report of a Chinese military officer, Du Huan, were documented and preserved. He visited Arabian[…]

An Overview of the Economy of Ancient China

Trade routes spanned China in early Shang dynasty times, but it was from mid-Zhou times that commerce expanded markedly. Agriculture The great majority of the people lived in farming villages, carrying out a host of tasks to grow their crops – sowing, ploughing, weeding, harvesting, storing  – and keep themselves fed, clothed and housed –[…]

Medieval Chinese Art and Architecture at the Longmen Caves of Luoyang

The Northern Wei was the most enduring and powerful of the northern Chinese dynasties before reunification. Imperial Patronage Worship and power struggles, enlightenment and suicide—the 2300 caves and niches filled with Buddhist art at Longmen in China has witnessed it all. The steep limestone cliffs extend for almost a mile and contain approximately 110,000 Buddhist stone statues,[…]

‘A Thousand Years of Art’ at China’s Mogao Caves of Dunhuang

The ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’ are a magnificent treasure trove of Buddhist art. A Trove of Buddhist Art The ‘Caves of the Thousand Buddhas’ (Qianfodong), also known as Mogao, are a magnificent treasure trove of Buddhist art. They are located in the desert, about 15 miles south-east of the town of Dunhuang in north[…]

The Dragon in Ancient China

Dragons were one of the earliest creatures to appear in the tales and legends of ancient China. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Dragons appear in the mythology of many ancient cultures but nowhere else in the world was the creature quite so revered as in China. There, in marked contrast to other world mythologies, the dragon[…]

A History of Chinese Art from the Ancient World to Today

The earliest surviving examples of Chinese painting are fragments of painting on silk, stone, and lacquer items. Introduction Chinese art traditions are the oldest continuous art traditions in the world. Early so-called “stone age art” in China, consisting mostly of simple pottery and sculptures, dates back to 10,000 B.C.E.. This early period was followed by[…]

Civil Service Examinations in Ancient and Medieval Imperial China

The exams were in place for over a thousand years and are the principal reason why education is still particularly revered in Chinese culture today. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The civil service examinations of Imperial China allowed the state to find the best candidates to staff the vast bureaucracy that governed China from the Han[…]

Ethical Advice for Nobles and Civil Servants in Ancient China

Confucius looked to “the wisdom of the ancients” and a “return to li”. Introduction The teachings and writings of Confucius (551–479 BCE; also called Kung Fu Tzu or Master Kung) not only have endured more than two and a half millennia but have influenced Chinese culture to such a degree that they remain part of[…]

Ancient Chinese Philosophy

Chinese culture as a whole has been shaped by the influence of ancient intellectual leaders. Introduction Chinese philosophy is the intellectual tradition of the Chinese culture from their early recorded history to the present day. The main topics of Chinese philosophy were heavily influenced by the ideas of important figures like Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, and[…]

Ancient Chinese Art

Ancient Chinese artists were not professionals but gentlemen amateurs (and a few ladies) who were also scholars. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Ancient China covered a vast and ever-changing geopolitical landscape, and the art it produced over three millennia is, unsurprisingly, just as varied. Still, despite continuous indigenous technical developments, changes in materials and tastes, and[…]

The “Success” of the Yellow Turban Rebellion

They wanted to create a utopian state different from the current Confucian form of government. By Ryann Cervantes The Han dynasty in China lasted from 206 BCE to 220 CE and was ultimately brought down by the conflict that came from the Yellow Turban Rebellion and dynasty’s own inability to keep control of its territory.[…]

The Mandate of Heaven and the Yellow Turban Rebellion in Ancient China

A dynasty was considered just and worthy to rule only as long as it upheld divine will, determined by how well the government cared for the people. Introduction Throughout history, in order for a government to be respected and obeyed, it must possess some form of legitimacy recognized by the governed. Governmental systems have relied[…]

China’s Ancient Silk Road

The Silk Road was a vast trade network connecting Eurasia and North Africa via land and sea routes. Introduction In the first century CE, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, silk had become a big problem. The luxury fabric, imported at great cost from China, had become a symbol of decadence and excess among Romans.[…]

City-States in Ancient China before Qin Dynasty Unification in 221 BCE

Such states and fiefdoms would again emerge during later dynasties as a political expedient when required. Introduction Ancient Chinese States were typified by variously sized city states and territories that existed in China prior to its unification by Qin Shi Huang in 221 BCE. In many cases these were vassal states characterized by tribute paid[…]

Women in the Mongol Empire

They had more rights than women in contemporary cultures to the east and west of Mongolia, some even reigning as regents. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Women in the Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE) shared the daily chores and hardships of steppe life with men and were largely responsible for tending animals, setting up camps, childrearing, producing[…]

The Rise and Decline of the Medieval Mongol Empire

The descendants of Genghis each ruled a part of the empire – the four khanates. Introduction The Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE) eventually dominated Asia from the Black Sea to the Korean peninsula following the initial conquests of its founder Genghis Khan (aka Chinggis, r. 1206-1227 CE), the first Great Khan or ‘universal ruler’ of the Mongol[…]

A History of Science and Technology in China

The first recorded observations of comets, solar eclipses, and supernovae were made in China. Introduction The history of science and technology in China is both long and rich with science and technological contribution. In antiquity, independent of Greek philosophers and other civilizations, ancient Chinese philosophers made significant advances in science, technology, mathematics, and astronomy. The[…]

Shi Huangdi: First Ancient Emperor of a Unified China

The Qin Dynasty he founded gave its name to China. Introduction Shi Huangdi (l.259-210 BCE/r.221-210 BCE, also known as Qin Shi Huang, Qin Shih Huandi, Shi Huangti or Shih Huan-ti) was the first emperor of a unified China. Shi Huangdi means `First Emperor’ and is a title, not a proper name. The Qin Dynasty he founded[…]

How Ancient China’s Mengzi Came Up with Something Better Than the Golden Rule

Care about me because you see how I am not really so different from others you already love. There’s something I don’t like about the ‘Golden Rule’, the admonition to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Consider this passage from the ancient Chinese philosopher Mengzi (Mencius): That which people are[…]

Ancient China’s Terracotta Army Bronze Weapon Preservation

The good metal preservation probably results from the moderately alkaline pH, a very small particle size of the burial soil, and bronze composition. By Dr. Marcos Martinón-Torres, Professor of Archaeological ScienceUniversity of Cambridge Abstract For forty years, there has been a widely held belief that over 2,000 years ago the Chinese Qin developed an[…]

The Woman in Green: A Chinese Ghost Tale from Mao to Ming, 1981-1381

An appropriate end, or beginning, for a ghost that will live many, many more lives. 1981 The film begins on a darkened set, billowing with fog, echoing with a woman’s cry to the heavens. Her figure comes into view and she zigs and zags across the screen, her diaphanous white robe glittering with silver fringe.[…]

Ghosts in Ancient China

Ghost stories were the earliest form of literature in ancient China. By Emily MarkHistorian Introduction Ghost stories were the earliest form of literature in ancient China. They were almost certainly part of a very old oral tradition before  writing  developed during the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BCE) and they continue to be popular in China today. Ghosts were taken very[…]

The Mongolian Yurt

The yurt tent has been used by nomadic pastoralist peoples of northern East Asia since before written records began. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction A yurt (ger in Mongolian) is a large circular tent made of wool felt stretched over a wooden frame used by nomadic peoples of the Asian steppe since before written records began.[…]

The ‘Secret History of the Mongols’

Written from a Mongolian perspective, the work is an invaluable record of their legends as well as oral and written histories. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The Secret History of the Mongols is a chronicle written in the 13th century CE (with some later additions) and is the most important and oldest medieval Mongolian text. The[…]