China is one of the greatest nations in terms of its glorious history and tremendous manpower. Here are 8 facts about ancient China:
1. How China Got Its Name
China, the world’s oldest surviving civilization, acquired its name in the 3rd century BC. In 221, Cheng, ruler of the small state of Ch’in, from which the country’s modern name comes, annexed the last of six rival kingdoms and took the title of Ch’in Shih Huang Ti, meaning “First August Emperor of Ch’in”.
The Anglicised form of Chinese names has changes since the introduction in 1957 of pinyin, a new system for transliterating Chinese characters into Roman letters. In pinyin Cheng became Zheng, Ch’in became Qin and his title became Qin Shi Huangdi. China itself in pinyin is Zhong Guo.
2. Trespassers Will Be Shot
China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, who died in 210 BC, wanted to make sure that he would not be disturbed in his final resting place. So he had booby traps positioned around his huge burial mound at Mount Li in Northwest China. According to the historian Sima Qian, the emperor ordered loaded hair-trigger crossbows to be set up in the passages leading to his tomb and in the undergrowth around the mound.
There was much that needed protecting. Sima Qian also recorded that more than 7,000,000 men had been conscripted to build the mound and tomb in a project which took 36 years to complete. The imperial treasures buried with the emperor were so valuable that specialist workers who helped move the riches into the tomb were buried alive to ensure that no details leaked out.
In 1974, a group of astonished peasants sinking a well near Mount Li discovered a number of life sized terracotta soldiers. These later proved to be a part of a buried army of more than 7000 clay figures. Since Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi had been interred, they had maintained their vigil close to the imperial burial mound. Standing in battle formation, complete with life-sized models of chariots and horses, the clay men were wearing armour denoting their different ranks, and carrying real weapons. Incredibly, after 2000 years, one of the swords was still sharp enough to split a hair.
3. First History Book
China’s oldest comprehensive written history dates from about 90 BC. Known as the Shi Ji (“Historical Records”), it was compiled by Sima Qian, a court astrologer and Grand Scribe, whose father may have begun the work. The Shi Ji represents the history of man according to Chinese records from about 1500 to 90 BC. The 130-chapter book became the model of a series of 26 standard histories which continued in unbroken succession down to 1912, when Xuang-tong, the last Manchu emperor, abdicated.
4. Emperor Who Prescribed Death
The price of failure in ancient China could be steep. When the young daughter of the Tang dynasty emperor, Yizong (who reigned from AD 860 to 874), was struck down by fever, 20 leading physicians of China were summoned to the imperial capital, Changan, to minister to her.
Each doctor prescribed a remedy, but none was successful, and the princess died. Consumed with grief and frustration, the emperor had the unfortunate experts beheaded.
5. From China To Rome
Ancient China traded with imperial Rome, but the Chinese and the Romans never met. The only link between the two civilizations was the Silk Road, which ran overland around the northern edge of the Himalayas from China to the eastern Mediterranean coast, with a branch leading south into India. During the 2nd century BC, camel caravans laden with silk, then a Chinese monopoly, began to move regularly along this arduous 11,200 km (7000 miles) route. The Chinese themselves did not venture beyond their own frontiers, however.
Instead they transferred their bales of merchandise at a point near the Afghanistan border to other traders, often from Persia or Central Asia. These merchants in turn sold the silk to Syrians and Greeks near the western end of the route, and from there the silk was shipped to Rome.
6. Breath of Life
Treating asthma with ephedrine, a drug derived from the horsetail plant, has been known in the west since the 1920s. But Chinese doctors were using the drug nearly 1700 years earlier. Its use was being advocated by a doctor called Zhang Zhongjiang as early as the 2nd century AD.
Zhang, who lived from about AD 152 to 219, wrote a massive compendium of all the medical knowledge then available in China. In addition, he complied a detailed list of techniques that doctors could use to diagnose a patient’s illness.
7. Jade Princess
A burial suit made of 2160 pieces of jade, tied together with gold wire, was intended to preserve forever the body of the Han princess Dou Wan. The princess was the principal wife of Liu Sheng, son of the Han dynasty emperor, Jingdi. She died in about 113 BC, at a time when jade was believed to be an infallible preservative because of its hardness. The prince, who died in about 113 BC, had a suit even more elaborate than his wife’s: it contained 2690 polished discs of the highly prized stone. The jade suits were uncovered at Mancheng, about 110 km (70 miles) southwest of the capital, Beijing, in 1968.
8. Top Marks, Top Jobs
Written examinations were being used to select Chinese civil servan as far back as the 2nd century BC – at a time when government jobs elsewhere in the world were largely filled by the relatives of protégés of those in power.
By the time of the Tang dynasty (AD 618 – 906), this principle of selecting public officials on the basis of merit had developed into a system of centralised public examinations open to all. A Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, who reached China in 1583, described how the system worked.
Exams lasted several days, he said, and candidates were allowed all day to write their answers. Ricci also reported that the Chinese took enormous trouble to avoid even the possibility of favouritism affecting the examiners’ marks. When the exams were over, he said, the completed Papers all had to be copied out by another hand in order to conceal the candidate’s identity from the examiners.