Fun Facts: China
"May you live in interesting times."
- Chinese curse
The first dictionaries known include one made by Chinese scholars in 1109 B.C., and one from Mesopotamia around 600 B.C.
Chinese Emperor Shi Huang-Ti came to power in China as a 13-year-old
boy in 222 B.C.
Shi Huang-Ti was the first emperor of a united China and founder of the
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.
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 people used
several of those writings to criticize the emperor, and also because
Shi Huang-Ti styled himself as the "First Emperor". A large amount of
valuable works were lost, and 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
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.
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.
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 building 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.
Fingerprinting was used in China as early as 700 A.D.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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) for the first time in the West.
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
In 1985 the Chinese press announced 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. 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.
The locals use the strip for growing vegetables in winter and as a
refrigerator in summer.
The world's largest billboard is 300 metres long and 45 metres high.
It is 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 has 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.
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
The art of printing from wooden blocks with the characters in reverse
started in Buddhist monasteries in China. The oldest surviving
printed book that can be reliably dated is a Buddhist text, the
Diamond Sutra, which was made in China in 868.
The story of Cinderella first appears in a Chinese book written in the 850s.