Facts About China
"May you live in interesting times."
- Chinese curse
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The first dictionaries known include one made by Chinese scholars in 1109 B.C., and one from Mesopotamia around 600 B.C. (source)
Chinese Emperor Shi Huang-Ti came to power in China as a 13-year-old boy in 222 B.C. (source)
Shi Huang-Ti was the first emperor of a united China and founder of the Chin dynasty. Were he a European ruler, he would likely be considered great. The Chinese, however, have given him a negative reputation because of his ruthlessness, massive conscription of labour, wars, harsh laws, and burning of books in 213 B.C.
Chinese Emperor Shi Huang-Ti built a network of 270 palaces, linked by tunnels, and was so afraid of assassination that he slept in a different palace each night. (source)
In 213 B.C., the Chinese emperor Shi Huang-Ti ordered all of China's books to be burnt, except for a few on subjects such as medicine and agriculture. He ordered the burning because several of these writings were used to criticize the emperor, and also because Shi Huang-Ti styled himself as the "First Emperor," with whom history should begin. A large number of valuable works were lost; only through the efforts of a few brave teachers did any of China's earlier literature survive. It was not safe to bring the surviving books from their hiding place for nearly 150 years afterward.
The Ch'in Dynasty (221–207 B.C.) buried alive many scholars in its programme to suppress learning and Confucianism.
Sauerkraut was invented by the Chinese. Shi Huang-Ti, China's first emperor, had cabbage pickled in wine and fed it to slaves working on the Great Wall of China. (source)
The purpose of the Great Wall of China, the wall of great length separating China from Mongolia, was not particularly to keep the Huns out. They could easily find places along the wall that they could climb using ladders. However, they could not get their horses across, without which they were not very effective warriors.
A terracotta army of six thousand men and horses was buried with Shi Huang-Ti, China's first emperor, at Xianyang.
Paper was invented in China around 105 A.D., by the eunuch Ts'ai Lun. According to the official history of the Han dynasty (3rd century A.D.), Ts'ai Lun was given an aristocratic title after he presented Emperor Ho Ti with samples of paper. In 751 A.D., Chinese papermakers were captured by the Arabs at Samarkand, and by 794 A.D. several state-owned paper mills operated in Baghdad. The Arabs were manufacturing paper in Spain around 1150. It was not until 1590 that the first English paper mill was founded, at Dartford. (source)
The Chinese physician Hua T'o, born sometime between 140 and 150 A.D., was the first doctor known to perform surgery under general anaesthetic. A mixture of hemp and strong wine called ma fei san was used to render his patients unconscious. Before the communist revolution, his birth was commemorated by a national holiday.
The Sui, who ruled China briefly around the year 600, spent much of their reign completing the Grand Canal, a waterway 100 feet wide and 1,000 miles long lined with roads and trees. The canal was built in less than 25 years, but at an enormous cost in human life. Out of the nearly 5.5 million people who were involved in the construction, it has been estimated that 2.5 million of them died due to the harshness of the working conditions. The canal, which runs between Beijing and Hangchow, is still navigable even after 1,400 years.
Christianity was introduced to China in the sixth century. By 578, the Nestorian missionary Mar Sergis was working in Lint'ao (Lintan), located 300 miles west of the Chinese capital city of Xi'an (Chang-an, Sian). By the year 635, the Nestorian Alopen (A-lo-pen) was preaching in Xi'an itself, and placed Christian scriptures in the emperor's library. (source)
Fingerprinting was used in China as early as 700 A.D. (source)
Liu Ch'ing, who became the governor of China's Shansi province in 955 A.D., was born with two pupils in each eye.
Credit: NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University)
The brightest astronomical event in historic times was the supernova of 1054, which produced the Crab Nebula. The supernova was far brighter than Venus. It was bright enough to be visible in daylight and to cast a shadow at night. We know of it through the astronomical records of China, Japan, and the Middle East. (source)
In Kublai Khan's China, anyone who had crops struck by lightning was excused taxes for three years. This was not selfless charity, as the Chinese believed that lightning was a sign of God's disapproval. So, if the Khan had accepted money from someone who had incurred God's wrath, he could have brought ill fortune upon himself.
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Cheng Ho, court eunuch and great admiral of the Ming Dynasty, led Chinese fleets on seven voyages of conquest and diplomacy, as far as West Africa, between 1405 and 1433. Due to Cheng Ho's voyages, 36 countries sent China tribute. However, in 1433, the eunuchs' opponents gained the upper hand in a power struggle in the Chinese court, and the fleets were stopped, shipyards were dismantled, and outbound shipping was forbidden. If these voyages had continued, it is possible that the Chinese would have "discovered" America before Columbus. (source)
The first Ming Emperor, Hung Wu, was so afraid of the malign influence of a former ruler's vital force, a force he believed resided in Peiping, the former Yuan Dynasty capital, that he ordered the city leveled, in 1368. But first he had his officials catalogue the beauty and grandeur of the Yuan Great Interior, the imperial palace. (source)
The Ming Emperor Hung Wu (1368-98) has been called the harshest and most unreasonable tyrant in all of Chinese history. He had so many people executed that, midway through his reign, government officials got into the custom of saying their last goodbyes to their families if they were required at a morning audience and of exchanging congratulations with fellow officials if they survived until evening. (source)
In one ten-day period late in his reign (1368–98), Hung Wu, the first Ming Emperor, had to approve 1,660 documents regarding 3,391 different matters.
Among the important devices in naval technology developed by the Chinese are: the stern-post rudder, which appears on a pottery model of a boat dating from the first century A.D.; watertight compartments; and the paddle wheel, descriptions of which date from the fifth century A.D. (source)
It is not true that the early Chinese used gunpowder only for fireworks. They had forms of guns (invented in 1288), bombs, grenades, rockets, landmines, flamethrowers, small cannons, and other weapons.
The secret to manufacturing porcelain, or "china", was known only to the Chinese until around 1700. While imitation porcelain had been made earlier in Italy, it was Johann Friedrich Böttger, of Saxony who made true porcelain (Dresden china) in the West for the first time.
Some nineteenth-century Chinese warlords had an interesting way of fighting their battles. The rivals would meet in a tent and have an elaborate tea ceremony, during which each leader would drop hints at to the size of his army, the size and firepower of his weapons, and his chances of victory. Then the two would balance accounts, with one usually admitting that, because his enemy was stronger and deserved the victory, that he himself would accept the role of loser and pay reparations. The two armies then went their separate ways without loss of life.
When a Chinese bystander ashore was killed accidentally by a cannon salvo of greeting from an England ship, during the early days (1830s) of the China-Western trade, the England were forced to turn over to China the hapless gunner, who was promptly strangled. (Strangling was thought by the Chinese to be a less severe punishment than other forms of execution, because the body would not be permanently disfigured.) (source)
In 1985 the Chinese press reported the discovery of a strip of land 1,000 metres by 15 metres, running down from a hill to a river, in Huanre County, Liaoning province. According to the news reports, in winter, when the surrounding temperature dips to −30° Celsius, the strip remains at 17° Celsius. In summer the reverse happens, and the strip freezes to a depth of 1 metre, and the locals use the strip for growing vegetables in winter and as a refrigerator in summer. (source)
The world's largest billboard was 300 metres long and 45 metres high. It was in southeast China, overlooking the Yangtze River at Chongqing. However, this area is so continually foggy that no-one has advertised on it since 1998, so China decided to tear it down.
Three of the world's ten longest rivers have their source in China, and three more have their source in Mongolia. (source)
The Chinese city of Chinkiang, now 150 miles inland, was once a seaport. Silt of the Yangtze River has built up the land for that distance.
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