In medieval China, people generally wore tunics. Women would wear very long ones that trailed down to the ground, and men wore short ones that came down to their knees. Sometimes people would wear jackets over their tunics. In the winter the people of medieval china would wear padded jackets and even pants underneath.
In the Sui Dynasty, it was established that the poor people could only ever wear blue or black, and only the rich could wear colours. The poor people made their clothing out of ramie or hemp, and the rich used silk. Most people wore their hair long, as it was disrespectful to cut it because it was given to them by their parents.
During the Sung Dynasty (1100 AD) women started to bind their feet. They thought that to be beautiful they had to have tiny feet, about three inches long to be exact. They would wrap tight bandages on the feet of little girls who were about five to six years old. The bandages broke the young girls’ toes and bent them under their feet. They had to walk on them like that, so they spent most of their time for two or three years crying from the pain it caused them. Some of the earliest versions of Cinderella came from the Sung Dynasty; China.
Sometime in the Yuan Dynasty the Mongols brought cotton to China. At first people didn’t want to grow cotton because they wanted to continue selling silk, but because of the Mongol invasion in the 1200’s the mulberry trees were destroyed, which were needed to make silk. In 1289 training centres were opened in China to train farmers to grow cotton. It was also ordered that cotton growers had lower taxes. Cotton was very convenient, and soon it grew more popular than ramie and hemp.
It was common for people in medieval china to wear hats. The males would wear a hat called the “Jin” if they were commoners or the “Guan if they were privileged. Academics had their own set of hats; the “Putou”, “Wushamao”, “Si-Fang Pingding Jin” (or simply “Fangjin”) and the “Zhuangzi Jin”. The typical women’s hat was called the “Ji”.
In medieval Chinese culture the most important relationship was family. Kids would not only live with their Mum, Dad and siblings, but their uncles, aunties, grandparents and cousins, too. In medieval Chinese culture, family was much more important than friends. Poor children did not go to school. They would help out on their family farms by weeding and planting seeds.
Rich girls did not go to school, but the rich boys did. The boys worked very hard in school because the state exams at the end of year were the only way to gain political power. Some girls who had scholars as fathers could learn from them, but female scholars were very rare.
Women had a very tough life; they were pushed around and humiliated by men throughout all of their lives. When a girl was married, she would move into the household of her husband’s family and be told what to do by his mother. The Chinese lived their life according to Confucian principles. Women were not allowed to learn to read. A grandmother became very important when she outlived her husband. Because she was the oldest in the house, she received the most respect.
Marriages were arranged by parents and planned by matchmakers, so the children had no say in what happened. Parents would send a matchmaker to another family to make a marriage proposal. The final decision lied with the parents; not the child.
In the Zhou dynasty the wedding ceremony was held at night time. The groom, who was dressed in black, would fetch the bride only when it was dark. They would ride to the ceremony in a black carriage. People walked in front of the carriage to light the way with candles.
Confucius said; “Women are not equal to men and are not worthy of an education, their own ambitions”. They were deprived of names, being called daughter one, daughter two, etc instead. They barely had a life outside of their own homes. Their work was centres on their home; cooking, cleaning and taking care of children was the normal work a woman would have in medieval China, but some peasant women worked on the fields with their husbands.
Women were under a lot of pressure to have a son, and were in fact expected to have many children. Confucius said that a woman’s greatest duty was to bare a son. The birth of a boy was much more celebrated then the birth of a girl. A boy was seen as an extra pair of hands to help around the house, and a girl was seen as another mouth to feed. If a woman gave birth to a girl, her husband would often find another wife. If she gave birth to a boy, her respect form her husband’s family would increase dramatically. It was common for a woman to take up manual labour at home.
Gunpowder, the compass, paper and printing were considered the four greatest Chinese inventions. The compass was invented in 1044 AD, the very first version being only a needle kept in a bowl of water. Paper was invented by Cai Lun in 105 AD. Before this discovery, in the Shang and Zhou dynasty, documentation was done with the help of bamboo. Printing was invented in 868 AD, and immediately spread all over the world. It improved, becoming more advanced, in the 11th century. Finally, gunpowder was created in the 9th century and was a result of many scientific experiments.
China had a very old seafaring tradition. Chinese ships had sailed to India already in the Han dynasty. In 100 AD sailers invented the stern post rudder and watertight compartments. In 200 AD, the Chinese redesigned the basic square sail so that they could sail better in the wind.
The Great Wall of China was one of the seven amazing wonders of the world. It began in 221 BC in an effort to keep the Mongols out. It continued until the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1644). It stretches about 8 851.8 kilometres from the East to West of China. It was built with forced labour, causing many deaths because of the harsh working conditions.
No one knows who exactly invented porcelain, but some claim that Tao Yue invented it in the 600’s AD. He used the so called “white clay” (kaolin) that he found in the Yangzte River where he was born. He added other types of clay and produced the first bit of white porcelain. He sold it as ‘artificial jade’ in a capital city Chang-an. It was perfected around 900 AD by incorporating the minerals quartz and feldspar. Porcelain was highly prized in china, which was soon nicknamed ‘china’.
The abacus, a counting device, was invented in 100 AD. It consists of a rectangular wooden frame and parallel rods. On the rods are beads used for counters that are separated into upper and lower parts by crossbar. In the top units the beads are worth five units, and in the bottom units are worth one. The rods indicate powers of ones, tens, hundreds, etc. The abacus made people able to add, take, multiply and divide much quicker, and is still widely used in Asia today.
The mechanical clock was considered as one of the greatest inventions of the medieval world. It was invented in 725 AD by Yi Xing, a Buddhist monk. This was the first model of a mechanical clock and was operated by dripping water that powered a wheel which made one full revolution in 24 hours. Some iron and bronze wheels made the clock turn, and caused the chiming of a bell every hour.
Most people in medieval China could not afford fancy houses. Almost everyone lived in small houses made of mud brick with one room and a dirt floor. In Northern China, the doors of houses faced south to avoid the cold northern wind. The rich owned fancier houses. They built temples and palaces. However, all people followed the strict rules of Taoism when building.
The Chinese followed the ideas of Taoism or other philosophies when building. This meant that buildings had to be long and low, instead of tall, so that it seemed to be hugging you. The roof had to be held by columns instead of walls to make it look like the roof was floating. The buildings also had to be symmetrical on both sides to show balance. Transportation in Medieval China was in poor condition. People mainly travelled on foot, but sometimes man would carry sedans and carriages or oxcart when travelling a short distance. The Chinese built ships so that they could get from one part of the coast to the other. The average citizen walked everywhere or sometimes rode by horse. The military had limited modes if transport so their only way of travelling were chariots, horses and their own two feet.
For thousands of years, the Chinese thought that they were the only people on Earth. They knew about the people to the north (Mongols), however, but the natural barriers to the South, West, and East protected them from any invasions. The natural barriers included oceans; (the Yellow Sea and the China Sea), mountains, deserts and rivers. The two seas of China provided a huge coastline that gave many trade routes and easy access to food. The natural barriers helped to keep China isolated for thousands of years.
One of Medieval China’s most amazing landmarks is the Terracotta Army which was discovered in 1974 near Xi’an during irrigation works. The army consisted of more than 7000 terracotta figures of warriors, chariots and horses. The Army formed part of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s burial chamber, and was found laid out in full battle formation. Each terracotta figure had its own features, facial expressions and hair styles. The battle officers were easily distinguishable from their uniforms.
The construction of the Forbidden City began in 1406 (Ming Dynasty) and took 14 years to complete. It stands in the middle of Ancient Beijing and was the political nerve centre of China until the end of the Chinese Dynastic Era. It was the home to 24 Ming and Qing Emperors.
In the early Confucius times people traded salt, iron, fish, cattle and silk. Through the famous Silk Road, people traded externally: goods from China soon ended up in Greece. At the end of the Eastern route China traded with India; providing them with silk and receiving lapis lazuli, coral, jade, glass and pearls.
The Silk Road was the most well known trading route. It was a path on which silk and spices were traded along from China to the Mediterranean. The Silk Road stretched for 11 263 kilometres and spanned China, Central Asia, and Northern India, as well as the Parthian and Roman Empires. It connected the Yellow Valley to the Mediterranean Sea and passed through the Chinese cities Kansu and Sinklang as well as Iran, Iraq and Syria.