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China is the sole ancient civilization that has existed to date. It is a vast East Asian country with over a billion in population and a very rich history. It is recognized as one of the four great ancient civilizations of the world along with ancient Egypt, Babylon and India and has written records dating back 4,000 years.
It is believed that the Chinese entered the stage of patriarchal society around 5,000 years ago. Villages began to appear and the initial forms of cities became evident. Population in communities had reached a fairly large size and agriculture had made significant progress. The earliest discoveries occurred during this period. Various kinds of wild plants were tried and tasted by Shen Nong so as to select suitable crops to be planted for food and herbal medicine for treatment of illnesses. The compass was invented by the Yellow Emperor and helped him defeat Chi You. The invention of chariots greatly reduced labor intensity. The wife of the Yellow Emperor, Lei Su, produced the first silk garments by raising silkworms. China was the first country in the world to raise silkworms and make silk.
Weapons made out of copper began to be made in the south by a tribe named Chi. This allowed the making of bronze vessels, metallurgy and alchemy of later times. During the Warring States Period iron smelting technology made improvements. Handicrafts such as lacquer, textiles, leather processing, jade carving and the making of gold and silver wares all achieved great progress during the Warring States Period. Technologies for cast-iron forging, and carburized bronze from “block iron” showed a marked improvement. Malleable cast iron products displayed greater hardness and better ductility.
China entered the period of slave society around 4,000 years ago during the Xia Dynasty. During the Shang Dynasty good smelting and casting techniques were employed and gave rise to beautiful wares made of bronze. Primitive pottery vessels also indicate the speedy development of pottery. China is one of the countries where colored pottery first appeared. This form of art developed in China during the New Stone Age some 10,000 years ago. Pottery wares have been discovered in many historical sites from the New Stone Age include pottery containers made from clay of different colors and quality. The speedy development of pottery making gradually increased to an independent trade, and the emergence of manufacturing techniques on a fast-turning wheel greatly raised the level of pottery making. giving rise to an increasing number variety of shapes. Sericulture and silk weaving reached maturity at this time.
China was one of the most powerful countries in the world, occupying a leading position in the development of productivity and technology. Ancient China had a developed agriculture and complex irrigation system, an independent tradition of medicine and modern botanical knowledge. China was one of the vital areas in the world where rice cultivation started and is an example of the advance of farming along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River during the New Stone Age. They made use of two revolutionary improvements in farming technology. One was the use of iron tools and beasts of burden to pull plows and the other was the large-scale harnessing of rivers and development of water conservancy projects. These improvements were widely spread during the Warring States Period. Improvements in farming machinery, including the curved-shaft plow and bucket carriage continued to expand the acreage of arable land and irrigated farmland.
Among the many things that China may produce today, China’s four great inventions include papermaking, movable type printing, the compass and gunpowder. China is regarded as the first country in the world to make usable and appropriate paper. The production and consumption of paper resulted in a new style of writing equipment and the enhancement of printing technology in the years to come.
Movable type printing was also invented by the Northern Song Dynasty, ushering in a major revolution in the history of printing. The printing process consisted of four stages: making the types, composing the text, printing and retrieving the movable types. Movable type printing was created more than four hundred years earlier than it was invented in Europe.
Natural magnets were employed in China as direction-finding devices which led to the first compass, called a sinan (south-pointing ladle) during the Warring States Period. In the Song Dynasty Shen Kuo described the floating compass suspended in water, a technique which minimized the effect of motion on the instrument. This enabled the compass to be used for sea navigation for the first time and promoted maritime undertakings. Its use soon spread to the Arab world and then to Europe.
The invention of gunpowder was one of the most significant achievements of the Middle Ages in China. The first prescription for gunpowder appeared in 1044, much earlier than the earliest gunpowder-making instructions recorded in Europe. By the Song Dynasty (960-1126), gunpowder was in extensive use. Weapons made with it included rifles and rockets. The Song army also used a kind of flame thrower which involved packing gunpowder into bamboo tubes. About 1230, the Song army had cannon powerful enough to breach city walls.
The Chinese invented raw materials like ceramics and silk textiles and they had a profound worldwide effect. China also kept the world’s most elaborate and earliest astronomical records. The Chinese were pioneers in taking note of such astronomical phenomena as comets, sunspots and new stars. The Chinese produced the most sophisticated astronomical observatory apparatus of the time. The Chinese were also well ahead of the Europeans in the field of materials science because even by the 14th century, the Europeans still could not turn out a single piece of cast iron. China on the other hand, had already produced cast iron on an industrial scale four centuries earlier.
The Chinese also excelled in shipbuilding. Canoes were first seen during the period of primitive society and large warships were produced during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. Improvements were made in shipbuilding technology during the Han Dynasty with the invention and application of helms and anchors. Navigational accuracy increased as a result of these advancements, including safety levels when the ship was sailing and stability when it anchored.
The Han Dynasty saw the rise of the basic system of traditional Chinese medicine, and outstanding results were achieved in pathological studies, diagnosis, herbal medicine, acupuncture and physical exercise. Hua Tuo was also an outstanding medical scientist during the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He was well trained in various branches of medicine, and was especially good at surgery. His most outstanding achievement was the development of an anesthetic drug which was a unique creation in the world’s medical history. Hua was the world’s first doctor to use drugs to achieve total anesthesia in order to conduct a surgical operation. Acupuncture and moxibustion are other forms of treatment discovered by the Chinese in their long fight against diseases. These methods can often produce beneficial effects when other treatments have failed.
It therefore seems that China, even though it was not industrialized was still very capable and productive in various fields, from agriculture to medicine. Pre-industrialized China had all the primitive versions of the components necessary for the healthy functioning of a present day society. The Chinese civilization has made numerous contributions to the world and I believe that a more prosperous and stronger China will surely make new contributions to the civilization of mankind.
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