With a population of more than 1.4 billion people, China is the world’s most heavliy populated country. In addition, it is also the third largest country in the world by area. It’s therefore no wonder as to how China is a country filled with intriguing artifacts, historical traditions, and plenty of tourist attractions.
While China has plenty to see and do in its bustling cities, it is also a country with a rich cultural history dating back to ancient times. From historic architectural feats such as the Great Wall of China to its’ sprawling skyscrapers in the modern age, there are plenty of jaw dropping facts about this country to sit back and marvel at. Let’s take a look at some of the interesting facts about China that make it such a special country.
The Chinese New Year
Because it is a common belief in China that the new year should be treated as if it is everyone’s birthday, the Chinese New Year is filled with wild celebrations, fireworks displays, dragon dances, and family gatherings. The celebrations are then wrapped up with a Lantern Festival, when children will go out onto the streets carrying lanterns and trying to guess the answers to the riddles contained inside.
In addition to being plentiful, the New Year’s celebrations are stretched out over 15 days. Of course, that’s not the end to the uniqueness of this holiday. It also happens to be one of the most ancient cultural holidays’ in the world, having existed since 14th century B.C. during the rule of the Shang Dynasty.
The Invention of the Crossbow
While crossbows may often be associated with the wars fought in medieval Europe, they were actually invented hundreds of years before that. A Chinese text, estimated be from 200 B.C., credited a man by the name of Ch’in of Ch’u with the invention of the crossbow in 700 B.C.
The crossbow was considered such an advanced weapon at this time, that a law was passed that prohibited people from taking crossbows out of China- this way, enemies couldn’t get their hands on this technology. Crossbows were developed so drastically over the years that by the eleventh century, they could shoot 20 arrows in 15 seconds! Crossbows continued to be frequently used by the Chinese military until 1895, when the usage of firearms rendered crossbows obsolete.
The Forbidden City
Founded in 1420, the Forbidden City is one of the largest and most well-preserved imperial palaces in the world. It was constructed to be the residence of the Imperial Emperor during the reign of the Ming Dynasty and went on to house 24 emperors- 14 from the Ming Dynasty and 10 from the Qing Dynasty.
In ancient China, the emperor was viewed to be a heavenly presence, with powers that were bestowed to him from heaven. For this reason, commoners were forbidden from entering the palace, with the death penalty awaiting anyone who disobeyed this rule. In fact, even members of the government and the imperial family had limited access to certain areas- only the emperor could roam wherever he willed.
The Terracotta Army
In 1974, a group of farmers in the province of Shaanxi were digging in a well when they uncovered thousands of life-size figures that were modelled after soldiers, horses, and chariots. This army was made of terracotta and seemed to be guarding what looked like a tomb. After further research was conducted, it was determined that this tomb belonged to Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the united China that exists today.
Born in 259 B.C., Qin was the emperor who united each of the warring provinces after 200 years of conflict to establish the Chinese nation. Qin is also the emperor after whom China was named (Qin is actually pronounced “Chin”). The reason why the terracotta army had been placed in the tomb was so that the soldiers could ensure Qin’s protection in the afterlife.
The Meaning of Mirrors
In ancient China, mirrors possessed a number of symbolic meanings. First and foremost, mirrors are believed to affect feng shui- in fact, Chinese people still take great care in where they place mirrors in their homes to this day. Secondly, mirrors are believed to be able to direct the flow of qi (energy). The third purpose of mirrors stretches back to thousands of years.
In Ancient China, mirrors were believed to protect their owners from evil by uncovering evil spirits and revealing facts about the future. If a person believed that they had seen a ghost, they could simply look in a mirror in order to be healed. This led to the tradition of hanging mirrors on the ceilings of burial chambers- so that the dead could enjoy a peaceful slumber.
The Origins of Soccer
While the English are credited with establishing the version of soccer that we know today, this sport’s origins can be traced back thousands of years to Ancient China. The Chinese used to play a sport similar to soccer called Cuju, which translates to “kick the ball with foot”.
This game was particularly popular during the rule of the Han Dynasty, when the ball was made of a leather skin exterior and a feather-stuffed interior. While it originated as a form of exercise for soldiers in the army, its popularity soon spread to the upper class even eventually to members of the royal household. Eventually, Cuju was even played at the Imperial Palace, where a court was built that featured six crescent shaped goal posts on either side.
A Force To Be Reckoned With
While the Chinese were always known to be proven soldiers on the battlefield, their military might far outnumbers even their closest competitors. As of today, Chinese People’s Liberation Army has more than two million active soldiers across their five professional military branches.
Should this colossal force prove to be insufficient during times of war, the Chines military has an additional 500,000 soldiers in their reserves. While it may seem like the military has more servicemen than they currently need, the Chinese government is still incredibly strict with soldiers who no longer want to serve in the military. Some of the penalties that can be faced by people wishing to leave the army include bans on foreign travel, buying real estate, opening a business and even attending college.
Endless Railway Lines
As such a colossal sized country, its no surprise that China has one of the largest networks of railways in the world. In fact, this network is so enormous that it could actually loop around the world twice! In more recent times, China has been developing a largescale high-speed rail (HSR) network.
This has quickly become the largest HSR network in the world, stretching 15,534 miles! The next largest HSR network, belonging to Spain, is a mere 2010 miles in comparison. In total, China possesses 66.3 percent of the total number of HSR rails in the world. The trains that China uses on these tracks are just as impressive. They travel at a jaw dropping speed of more than 320 kilometers per hour, and transport around two million passengers daily.
Hygiene Is Paramount
Whether they were part of the ruling class or peasants, people in Ancient China has incredibly high hygiene standards- particularly for the time period in which they lived. In fact, bad odor was associated with barbarism and therefore looked down upon.
In order to keep smelling fresh, upper class women would wear scented bags around their waists. Any noble who had the opportunity to talk to the Emperor would chew cloves before their encounter in order to avoid having bad breath. Unfortunately for the poorer working class, they had to resort to other methods such as washing themselves with urine. Throughout the rules of the Xia and Shang dynasties, it was common etiquette for men to wash their hands five times a day, take a bath every fifth day, and wash their hair every three days.
Great Wall of China
One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall of China is composed of a series of fortification systems that stretch over 13,000 miles. This historic structure was built over a period of 2,100 years, with a number of its walls being built as early as 7th century B.C. by a several Chinese states. The most famous part of the Wall was built by the Ming Dynasty, between 1368 and 1644.
The Great Wall is believed to have been built by one million laborers in total. Interestingly enough, a third of the wall has disappeared over time- showing just how enormous this architectural feat truly was. Today, an estimated 50 million tourists visit the Wall every year, with more than 460 state heads having visited it in the past.
The Significance of Birds
There are several types of birds that have a symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. The phoenix is the most revered, as it is believed to be the bird that rules over all other birds. It is seen as a symbol of virtue and grace and since the ruling of the Yuan Dynasty, has become a leading symbol of femininity.
The crane is next on this list, as it is believed to be the prince of all feathered creatures. An embodiment of peace, a crane that is shown with one leg up and its wings stretched out stands for longevity. Finally, there are ducks, particularly the Mandarin duck. Because they are believed to be in lifelong couples, Mandarin ducks are representative of affection and faithfulness in one’s marriage.
China is one of the most bicycle-crazy countries in the world. In total, there are more than half a billion bicycles across the country, with an average of at least one bicycle in every household! With so many cyclists around, it comes as little surprise that in most regions of the country, the number of bicycles outnumbers the number of cars by at least 10 to 1.
While China is famous for a number of inventions, it’s love of bicycles was actually imported from the United States! In 1891, two American travelers by the names of Allen and Sachtleben introduced the Chinese to bicycles. Since then, China has become the biggest bicycle-using country in the world, with more than 20 million bicycles being sold each year in the domestic market. This doesn’t even take into account the millions of people using bikeshare kiosks.
Because China is approximately 3.7 million square meters in size, it covers five time zones. Despite this fact, the entire mainland China, Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan province all share one time zone. This means that while the Eastern regions of China may experience an early morning sunrise, the sunrise in the Westernmost regions of the country can occur as late as 10:00 am!
In order to get the most out of the hours of sunlight, the Westernmost region of Xinyiang has adopted its own time zone that is two hours behind Beijing Standard Time. While shops and restaurants in this area do their best to accommodate this time zone change, the difference in time zones does provide much confusion for those who do business with people in other regions of the country.
The Elderly Rights Law
For many elderly people, loneliness is a constant issue. Not only are they often less mobile than they used to be, but many elderly people are placed into retirement homes or assisted-living facilities, only to receive occasional visits from family and friends if ever. In China, however, this is no longer an issue.
A few years ago, the Chinese Government passed a law known as the “Elderly Rights Law”. This law states that people should care about the “spiritual needs” of their elderly parents and requires that adults with parents over the age of 60 visit their parents on a regular basis. While this law may be solving a largescale issue, the consequences of noncompliance are harsh, with penalties including fines or even jail time!
The Invention of Kites
Kite flying is a popular pastime for many children and adults throughout the world. Funnily enough, this is highly contrary to their original intended use in the military! The kite was first developed by two Chinese philosophers, Mozi and Lu Ban, during the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). They were primarily used to measure distance so that large armies could remain informed when moving across a harsh or foggy terrain.
During this period, kites were also commonly used to determine wind direction and speed, just like the flags on ships at sea. Since then, kites have become commonly included in Chinese celebrations due to their decorative designs. They also made their way into Chinese superstitions, as during the rule of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), they were used to ward off bad luck.
In the Western world, black is typically the color associated with mourning. As such, most people in the United States would wear black when attending funerals. In China, however, white is the color that represents grieving. Because of this, funeral attendees would typically wear white clothing.
While black and other somber colors are permitted nowadays, it is still fairly common for close family members of the deceased to wear white. In fact, the invitations to the funeral are also normally white. The only exception comes when the deceased was over 80 years old- in this case, pink invitations are used, and pink clothing is permitted. This is because it is believed that living for 80 years or more is a feat worth celebrating.
No Need for Knives
Invented about 5,000 years ago, chopsticks were initially used for cooking. After all, they were ideal for reaching into deep pots filled with oil or hot water. Around 400-500 A.D., the use of chopsticks would change due to China’s population boom.
As the population gradually expanded, resources for cooking continued to become more and more scarce. This prompted people to start cutting their food into bite-sized pieces so that it would cook faster. Because there was almost nothing left to cut, knives became obsolete. Also, chopsticks were very easy to make and were typically constructed from cheap materials. This sparked the widespread use of chopsticks as eating utensils- a trend that has continued to this day and even spread to other parts of the world along with Chinese cuisine.
A Bustling Economy
As an industrial manufacturing powerhouse, China is by far the largest exporter of goods in the world. In fact, Chinese exports grew by a jaw dropping 954% between 1970 and 2010! Just one example of this boom is Chinese online retail giant Alibaba. Today, it sells almost three times as many products as Amazon worldwide and with AliExpress, it has grown into the sixth largest online shopping platform in the United States.
China has the largest Gross Domestic Product in the world, standing at a staggering $12 trillion! China’s significant economic growth has resulted in the average household income increasing by more than 400% in just 10 years. Consequently, China now has fewer poor people than the United States, despite having a far bigger population.
Hire A Date
Having such an oversized population lead to the Chinese government enforcing a one-child policy, whereby each couple was only permitted to give birth to one child. In addition, there was a great preference for couples to rather have sons than daughters. These two factors led to a major gender imbalance in the country, with the number of men exceeding the number of women by 34 million!
This has created an enormous issue for the male population, as many are unable to find girlfriends and wives. This problem for men has been transformed into a business opportunity for some women, who have decided to become girlfriends for hire! The price for Chinese singles to hire a date can range anywhere between 15 cents and $288 per hour.
The Shanghai Port
The Port of Shanghai is the world’s busiest container port. While it may have only earned this title in 2010, the Port has actually been in existence since 6th century A.D. and in 1842, it officially commenced international trade. In 2014, this port set the world record for the number of shipping units processed in a year, at a staggering 35 million.
High productivity is not the only thing that this port is famous for, however. The Shanghai Port is also known for the humanitarian efforts that were conducted there in the past. During World War II, the Shanghai Port openly accepted the arrival of Jewish refugees who were fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust. It was the only port in the world that granted them entry without a visa, with approximately 20,000 Jewish refugees gaining entry during this time period.
The Chinese Lantern
The red, oval shaped Chinese Lanterns that you see today have been an essential part of Chinese culture for centuries. Invented during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.), lanterns were utilized simply as a shaded light source. They allowed for people to have enough light to read and work while the silk or paper shade protected the flame from being extinguished by the wind.
In addition to being used as lamps, these lanterns were also used in worship for the Buddha. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), these lanterns became symbolic of a long and peaceful life. Today, Chinese Lanterns are used for decorative purposes as well as during numerous festive celebrations, including the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Lantern Festival.
A History of Hair
In Ancient China, hair was regarded as a symbol of self-respect. It was for this reason that people would cherish having thick locks of hair. The Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) saw the rise of a punishment called “kun”, whereby sinners would be required to shave their hair and beard. This shows the massive importance that Chinese culture placed on hair.
Hair was also used to show differences in status and class during ancient times. Pigtails were commonly associated with a woman’s marital status- unmarried women would wear two pigtails while married women would wear just one. Hairstyles also helped distinguish between different ethnic groups- the Han majority would typically have their hair bound, while other ethnic groups would wear their hair loose.
In 2018, China built more skyscraper than any other country in the world, at any point in history! This comes as part of the massive economic and industrial growth that the country has undergone in recent years. While that year saw a total of 143 new skyscrapers exceeding 200 meters being built, China accounted for 61,5% of these buildings!
The Shanghai Tower, which was completed in 2014, is currently the second tallest building in the world, with 128 floors above ground as well as five below. Of course, China did not stop their skyscraper production there, as a new skyscraper is built somewhere in the country every five days. This has led to China getting at least 73 new skyscrapers every year!
Lost In Translation
While China is a geographically and ethnically diverse country, Mandarin is regarded as the official language of the state. As such, it is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with more than 1.1 billion speakers in the world. Despite its popularity, you may be surprised to find out that not as many Chinese citizens know this language as one might think.
In fact, a spokesperson for China’s Education Ministry stated in 2013 that 400 million people cannot speak Mandarin at all. This is almost 30% of the entire population! It was further explained that a large portion of the population that can speak Mandarin does not know it well enough. This has led to a widespread effort to promote the use of Mandarin in the countryside as well as in regions with ethnic minorities.
With over one billion users each, social media and messaging platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp have earned popularity across the globe. This excludes China, however, where these platforms are banned due to the government’s censorship laws. So, what are people using instead?
In place of WhatsApp, Chinese citizens are using We Chat; a messaging app that is also used for online shopping and gaming. Twitter, which was blocked in 2009 due to enabling the planning of a political protest, has been replaced by Weibo. As for YouTube, this video-sharing site is also banned in China. Instead, Chinese people have access to Youku, a substitute site which is monitored by the Chinese government. As is the case with all of these platforms, criticism of the government is prohibited.
While ice cream is often associated with being a product of Italy (due to being confused with Gelato), it was actually yet another ingenious Chinese invention. Over 2,000 years ago, King Tang of Shang commanded a group of 94 men to gather up flour, buffalo milk, and camphor. This was the first time that an ice cream-like substance was eaten.
In around 200 B.C., an early form of ice cream was created, whereby a milk and rice mixture was made and packed into snow to be frozen. During his travels to South East Asia, Marco Polo was believed to have seen ice creams being made on the leg of his trip in China. Upon returning home, he introduced the concept of ice cream to Italy, at which point it gained further popularity.
The Origins of Silk
The Silk Road was a network of trade routes that not only connected the East and West, but was also central to the establishment of cultural, political, and economic ties between numerous countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Silk Road got its name from silk- the material that encouraged the establishment of this trade network. During this time, China was the sole supplier of silk.
This was because the Chinese were the only people who knew exactly how silk was made. This process remained a closely guarded secret that was maintained for thousands of years. While there are rumors that the secret was lost due because of a Chinese princess who travelled to India with silkworm eggs in her head dress, it remains unclear as to how or when the secret was revealed to the world.
While paper money has long existed across the world, it was first created in Ancient China during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century. The first paper money (folding bills) that Chinese people used were privately issued bills of credit or exchange notes. Paper money would already be used in China for 500 years before the practice spread to Europe. This practice only spread to the rest of the world during the 17th century.
As an advanced society, China also encountered some advanced financial issues. Because the production of paper notes skyrocketed, their value plummeted, resulting in an early form of inflation. This led the Chinese to halt the use of paper bills in 1455, and it would take another few hundred years for them to resume their usage.
Issues With Lice
While you may have had to deal with a lice epidemic in school, chances are that it was never as bad as the one in Ancient China. For most poor people, life involved living on farms in incredibly unhygienic circumstances. This naturally led to many people getting lice in their hair.
Because so many people’s hair was covered in lice, doctors actually started using lice in their diagnosis of patients. If lice were fleeing from the body of the patient, it would mean that the patient had very little chance of survival. This is because lice typically look for healthy organisms to live off of. Because so many people were covered with lice and had little money for food, they would actually resort to eating lice in order to survive!