Trade was an intense economic activity for the Chinese. First, barter was practiced, which is the direct exchange of goods without the use of coins. Later, in different places and times, coins, bars, and pieces of gold and bronze began to be used in trade relations. The products marketed were generally food, ceramics and silk.
The silk trade was one of the most lucrative activities for the Chinese. In the first century AD, the Roman Empire became one of the largest consumers of the product. Silk was usually transported overland, and the best-known route was the one that crossed the Gobi Desert, the lands of present-day Kazakhstan and Turkey, until it reached Rome. This route was known as the Silk Road.
When the Chinese developed the techniques for silk production, a large part of the population began to engage in this activity. Silk was widely used in the making of clothes for emperors and nobles, and on special occasions to decorate panels and banners with festive or funeral sayings.
Gradually China's production spread throughout Europe, where delicate and expensive fabric was much appreciated. However, silk was not industrialized in England until the 15th century. Today China still produces the best silk in the world.
Chinese scholars, who mastered advanced technologies at the time, developed several instruments that are still very useful today, such as the magnetic compass, the seismograph (which measures the intensity of earthquakes) and the compass. Already in the second century AD, Zhang Heng built a celestial globe. In 1088 Han Gonglian designed the world's first water-powered astronomical clock. The Chinese also made a major contribution to astronomy and arithmetic studies.
Zhang Heng Heavenly Globe
Numerous bronze objects and utensils from the Shang Dynasty (1500-1027 BC) found by archaeologists on display in museums prove the richness of ancient Chinese art. Bronze was used in the making of objects that would be used in royal and religious ceremonies rather than in the manufacture of agricultural instruments, as was the case in Europe.
Shang Dynasty Jug
Red lacquer box imitating a ritual jug
Craftsmen had a prominent role in ancient China. They were hired by the king to make personal effects and adornments, cloth for the imperial family's clothing and for royal officials.
The Chinese considered jade to be the most valuable stone of all, and for this reason it was widely used to make ornaments and objects.