Ancient China Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about ancient China.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Ancient China. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Today, China has a population of roughly 1.3 billion people, the highest of any country in the world. It is home to many different cultures and dialects that share a history that goes back thousands of years. Historians and scholars generally divide ancient Chinese history by dynasties, or lines of rulers in the same family.

An emperor is the ruler of a dynasty. The first emperor of China was Shi Huangdi, who was part of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC). Shi Huangdi standardized Chinese writing and units of measurement, though he was met with some rebellion in the process. He expanded his empire through war and under his rule, soldiers began connecting walls across the land to form the beginnings of the Great Wall of China. Other emperors added to the wall and today the Great Wall stretches nearly 4,000 miles and is the largest man-made structure in the world.

In 1974, over 8,000 life-sized terra cotta soldiers were unearthed near Shi Huangdi’s tomb. The ancient Chinese believed that these soldiers would help and protect the emperor in the afterlife.

The ancient Chinese are responsible for many influential inventions and discoveries, such as the wheelbarrow, kites, chopsticks, noodles, and gunpowder. Records show that the Chinese used gunpowder for fireworks in the early 200s as part of special ceremonies. They believed the loud sounds scared away evil spirits, and today fireworks are still important parts of celebrations for the same reason. Around the 800s, the ancient Chinese used gunpowder to make bombs, flamethrowers, and rockets, and this technology allowed them to easily defeat invading enemies.

The compass was also another important Chinese invention. The earliest recorded use of the compass was in the 200s. However, the compass may have been used during the 3rd century BC, or even earlier. The compass allowed the ancient Chinese to navigate and explore on land and enabled them to travel the seas. The first person to use the compass on the seas was an explorer named Zheng He. He made seven voyages to modern-day India and Southeast Asia in the early 1400s.

We recommend watching the Ancient Egypt movie together as a review of other ancient cultures. Though the ancient Egyptians were the first to develop and use papyrus, the ancient Chinese also developed their own paper, made from fiber pulp. They also invented printing, thousands of years before the printing press was invented in Europe. Printers carved characters, or Chinese letters, into wooden blocks and were able to transfer them onto paper using ink. This allowed information to spread more rapidly throughout the country and enabled people to record the teachings of philosophers, artists, and other scholars.

Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) is perhaps the most well-known philosopher from ancient China. He believed that education was important and allowed people to live in harmony with each other. He preached social consciousness, morality, and the importance of family.

Taoism also formed in ancient China around 3rd or 4th century BC. Taoism is a set of beliefs about nature and the forces that reside in the universe. The yin and yang symbol represents the belief that every action has an opposing action and together they create balance.

Encourage your children to explore ancient Chinese history on their own. There are many kid-safe resources on the internet and a reference librarian can point your children to many books, both fiction and nonfiction. Learning about different histories and cultures will allow your children to draw comparisons to their own history and culture and foster a greater understanding of different parts of the world and different people.