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A Short but Interesting Overview of Life in Ancient China

Ancient China
Read on to know more about the daily life, languages, religion and scientific inventions of ancient China...
Ranjan Shandilya
Last Updated: Mar 9, 2018
China is one of the oldest continuous civilizations of the world. It has been accepted that it was in 221 BC that China became unified under a large empire or kingdom.
Daily Life
The Chinese civilization has been considered to be an advanced one. In ancient China everyday life consisted of pottery, baking and farming. As the various dynasties changed over the century, people's interest in science and philosophy too changed.
The dragons are Chinese mythical creatures that are depicted as long, scaled and snake like creatures with five claws. These dragons have been symbol of auspicious power in the Chinese folklore and art. Traditionally, the dragons are also the embodiment of the yang (male), and are associated with the weather. They are the bringers of rain and water in China, which also is because the country's agriculture depends on rainfall primarily. The female counterpart is known as the Fenghuang.
Chinese was the language that was spoken in ancient China right from the Han dynasty. The language is distinguished by its high level of internal diversity, although all spoken varieties of the Chinese language are tonal and analytic. Depending on the classification scheme, there are between six and twelve main regional groups of the Chinese language of which Mandarin is most popular which is followed by Wu, Min, and Cantonese.
The religions practiced by the people evolved over the centuries as the emperor and the dynasties kept changing. In the earliest period known, many different gods, including weather and sky gods along with a higher god known as Shang Ti were worshiped. It was also believed that when the parents and grandparents died they became gods and wanted to be worshipped. Hence, each family worshipped their ancestors.
Around 600 BC, the philosophy of Taoism became very popular according to which people should not try to get their way by force but rather through compromises and using the natural forces in their favor. A little later, the philosophy of Confucianism gained huge popularity and disagreed with Taoism. As per Confucianism, people should do their duty by following their leaders and gods faithfully. People who followed this philosophy believed that order was the way to peace and if everyone did as they were told and what they were supposed to do, then there would not be any fighting and nobody would get upset.
These new philosophies however did not change the belief of the people in the ancient practices and the people of ancient China continued to worship their gods and ancestors firmly believing in the mandate of heaven.
In ancient China, people generally wore tunics. While women wore long tunics that reached the ground, men wore tunics that reached their knees. During winters, when it was very cold, people would wear padded jackets over tunics. Clothes of the poor people were made of hemp or ramie while the rich people wore silk. Most people in China wore their hair long, as they believed that they inherited their hair for their parents and hence considered it disrespectful to cut it.
Trends in clothing in ancient China was constantly evolving over the years and through various dynasties. For example, during the Sui Dynasty in the 500 AD, the emperor declared that only the rich people could wear colors while the poor people had to be dressed in blue or black. In the Sung Dynasty around 1100 AD, a new fashion began wherein it was thought that to be beautiful, they needed tiny little feet. When the girls were around six years old, their feet were wrapped with bandages. These bandages were so tight that they broke the toes of the young girls and bent it under their feet. They girls had to undergo immense pain for 3 - 4 years, after which the pain would eventually subside.
The following four are considered the most famous inventions of the ancient China. They are celebrated in the Chinese culture for their historical significance and also for the impact that these inventions have had globally:
  • Compass: Also known as the 'direction finder' or 'South Pointing Fish' by the ancient Chinese, they floated a magnetic needle in a bowl containing water to find directions.
  • Gunpowder: Around the 12th century, the Chinese were using nitrates that had the capacity of bursting through cast iron metal containers when used in the form of grenades.
  • Papermaking: Mulberry and other bast fibers along with old rags and hemp waste were used to create the first paper in China.
  • Printing: With woodblock printing, the Chinese brought the means of communication that is prevalent even today.
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