Exploring Ancient China

The First Emperor

China's first emperor was named Qin Shi Huangdi. He brought together all the warring states and made them his subjects in 221 B. C. Qin is pronounced "Chin" and ever after the country was named China. He took the name Shi Huangdi which means "first emperor." Qin was an unusual man. He standardized writing, bureaucracy, scholarship, law, currency (money), and weights and measures. He built a capital and many roads. He connected the old walls along China's northern frontier to form the Great Wall, to protect his country from invaders. But he was also cruel. He killed and banished many people who disagreed with him and destroyed books from the past.

In 1974, archaeologists discovered thousands of life-size terracotta (hard, red clay) warriors, each with a different face, near the tomb of the first emperor. He hoped he would live forever, but if he couldn't, he wanted these warriors to always be with him to protect him in the afterlife.

Chinese Inventions

Paper was first presented to the Emperor in 105 A. D., but archaeologists have found proof that it was used at least 200 years before that. Chinese used bamboo to make this early paper.

The Chinese had gunpowder as early as the 8th century A. D., long before the Europeans. They used gunpowder for weapons of war but also for fireworks. They had moveable type for printing by 1045 A. D., but it did not change their society as much as Gutenberg's invention would three hundred years later in the West. This is because Chinese language commonly uses 3000 or more characters, instead of the 26 in the English alphabet. That's a lot of pieces of type!

Chinese scholars had understood natural magnetism as early as 200 A. D. They learned how to magnetize iron ore (magnetite) by heating and cooling it just so. Magnets that were cooled in a north/south position would always face that way if they floated in a basin marked with directional points. Many Chinese ships were carrying compasses by the 11th century A. D.

If you need to find more on ancient China, check out these books and Web sites:

In the Library

Adventures in Ancient China by Linda Bailey.
A painless way to learn history! Join twins Josh and Emma and their little sister Libby as they explore the amazing world of ancient China. This short book in comic-style format has information on Chinese society, inventions, medicine, the Silk Road, the Great Wall, nomadic warriors and much more.

Ancient China by Brian Williams.
See-through pages reveal the customs and daily lives of the ancient Chinese with depictions of a warrior-king's tomb, a nobleman's house, boat and locks on China's Grand Canal, and the private palace of a Ming emperor.

Ancient China by Arthur Cotterell.
This Eyewitness Book has hundreds of full color photos and drawings that bring ancient China to life for readers.

Ancient China produced and directed by JWM Productions.
Join archaeologist Arizona Smith and a young detective-in-training as they unlock the mysteries of ancient China, including a visit to the Great Wall. Part of the Ancient Civilizations for Children video series.

The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China by Jane O'Connor.
In 1974, an archaeologist uncovered thousands of life-size terracotta warriors, each one unique, which had been buried near the tomb of China's first emperor

Growing Up in Ancient China by Ken Teague.
What would it be like to be a young student in ancient China? How would your family gather for meals and celebrate the holidays? Growing Up in Ancient China lets you time travel through its pages.

On the Web

Amazing Chinese Accomplishments
Learn about the Chinese inventions of papermaking, printing, gunpowder, the compass, and the Great Wall.

China for Middle School Kids 
Information on Chinese history, environment, religion, clothing, economy, science, language & literature, games, philosophy, food, art history, and architecture.

Daily Life in Ancient China 
"Learn about Taoism with Winnie-the-Pooh! Explore daily life in 4 different Chinese dynasties. Meet weird emperors like Hu the Tiger! Read things written in BCE times! For those in a hurry, just click on the Cheat Sheet, for a very quick look at 11,000 years of ancient Chinese history! Welcome to ancient China!"

Stories from the Ancients: China
Our youth services librarians have gathered amazing tales from ancient China that convey their legends and culture.