Ancient Chinese Wisdom: Ancient Chinese Who Left Their Marks on History

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To understand a country is to understand its people. And to understand China, you have to look at its history, a huge and daunting topic. Thousands of years, dynasty after dynasty, hundreds of emperors and politicians ...

In this series, we will take you on a tour through the long history of China to discover the movers and shakers — from ancient emperors who may just be legend to the men and women who penned poems thousands of years ago that are still recited by children today, from the Buddhist monk who provided the inspiration to the epic novel "Journey to the West" to the persons who shaped China's modern education system. Written by Zhang Ciyun, the founding Editor-in-Chief of Shanghai Daily, this series recalls the life story of 88 important figures, who left their personal marks in philosophy, art and literature, religion, science and technology and political movements.

About the Author

Born in Shanghai in 1949, ZHANG Ciyun (Peter) is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Shanghai Daily, a leading regional English-language daily newspaper on the Chinese mainland. He is also a prolific translator and writer.

Mr. Zhang graduated from Jilin Normal University in China, majoring in English language, and later from Stanford University in the United States with a master’s degree in journalism.

Starting from 1980, he had worked in several news agencies in China and helped bring into existence four English-language newspapers, including China Daily and Shanghai Daily.

Table of Contents


老子 A Legendary Philosopher

孔子 The Greatest Thinker

墨子 Pacifist Thinker and Inventor

孟子 Principal Interpreter of Confucianism

庄子 Freewheeling Taoist

荀子 "All Humans are Born Evil’

韩非 Sage of ‘Rule by Fear’

王充 An Iconoclastic Thinker

朱熹 Foremost Neo-Confucian Thinker

黄宗羲 The Chinese Rousseau

王夫之 Enlightenment Thinker



Poets & Writers

屈原 A Great Patriotic Poet

司马相如 The Poet Who Eloped

司马迁 Historiography Father

曹植 The Poetical Prodigy

王勃 Brief Life, Lasting Fame

陈子昂 Tang Poetry’s Pioneer

李白 The ‘God of Poetry’

杜甫 Suffering Poetry Saint

苏轼 A Rare, Versatile Scholar

李清照 Ci’s Finest Female Poet

陆游 The Patriot of Poetry

辛弃疾 Lyric Poet and Patriot

关汉卿 China’s Own Shakespeare

施耐庵 Author Steeped in Mystery

吴承恩 Man behind Monkey King

曹雪芹 The Author of a Great Classic



玄奘 A Great Buddhist Monk

惠能 Rustic Patriarch


Scientists & Craftsmen

鲁班 Legendary Master Carpenter

孙武 Winning Ways of Ancient Strategist

扁鹊 The First Physician in China

蔡伦 Paper Trail Leads to Eunuch Cai

张衡 Inventor of the Seismometer

张仲景 Plague Prompts Doctor’s Work

华佗 A Pioneering Chinese Surgeon

祖冲之 An Early Chinese Star of Astronomy

贾思勰 Scribe of Guide to Farming

郦道元 Water Writer Plumbs New Depths

孙思邈 The ‘King of Medicine’

毕昇 Inventor of the Movable Type Technology

沈括 China’s Great Scientific Mind

黄道婆 Granny’s Great Innovations

李时珍 Saint of Medicine and Scribe of Herbs

徐光启 City’s Son Introduces European Science

詹天佑 Father of China’s Railways


Painters & Calligraphers

王羲之 Sage of Chinese Calligraphy

顾恺之 Originator of Chinese Painting

吴道子 Painter’s Death a Tall Tale

郑燮 An Eccentric Painter


Influential Figures

管仲 Leading Reformer

项羽 A prideful, Tragic Hero

王昭君 A Beautiful Lady Helps Keep Peace

商鞅 A Great Statesman and Political Reformer

陈胜 Leader of First Peasant Rebellion

诸葛亮 A Godlike Prophet

关羽 Lord Guan Revered for His Bravery

魏征 Candid Official Earns Great Respect

鉴真 Monk Spreads the Word in Japan

包拯 Iconic Official Who’s Incorruptible

王安石 Statesman with a Gift for Writing

岳飞 A Peerless General and National Hero

文天祥 Hero Stays Loyal to the Bitter End

郑和 Did the Admiral Discover the New World?

海瑞 Moral Official Dares to Criticize Emperor

戚继光‘Tiger General’ Stops Japanese Pirates

徐霞客 Intrepid Explorer Keeps a Meticulous Diary

郑成功 A National Hero Who Recaptures Taiwan

李自成 Shortsighted Military Genius

林则徐 Patriotic Official Fights the Opium Trade

龚自珍 A Reform-minded Official and Poet

李鸿章 Powerful Official Invites Controversy

严复 Educator Pushes for Modernization

康有为 Reformer Tries to Change China

蔡元培 Educator Supports Civil Rights Movement

陶行知 A Great Educator and Reformer


Emperors & Empresses

黄帝 Father of This Great Civilization

大禹 Taming the Long and Wild Rivers of China

秦始皇 The ‘First Emperor’ of China

刘邦 Founder of The Powerful Han Dynasty

汉武帝 Insatiable Ambition for Territorial Expansion

曹操 Speak of His Name and He Arrives

李世民 Creator of a Dynastic Golden Age

武则天 The Only Empress Regnant in China’s History

成吉思汗 Founder of the World’s Largest Empire

朱元璋 From a Beggar to an Emperor

康熙 Longest Reign Brings Prosperity

慈禧太后 Mysterious ‘Queen Without a Crown’


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Ancient Chinese Wisdom: Ancient Chinese Who Left Their Marks on History