Ancient China's Military: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

China's history dates back thousands of years and includes numerous wars and battles. Learn about the ancient Chinese soldiers, leaders, and means of warfare in this lesson.

Bombs Bursting In Air

Every Fourth of July, Americans light off fireworks to celebrate our country, but did you know that fireworks were invented over a thousand years before we fought the British for independence? The ancient Chinese invented gunpowder, which creates the explosion in fireworks. They used gunpowder as a weapon before anyone invented guns!

The history of China has many examples of wars fought for power and land, with new types of weapons and strategies. In fact, the Chinese wrote one of the very first books on warfare, called The Art of War. Written by Sun Tzu some 2500 years ago, The Art of War lays out ideas such as organizing an army, spying on the enemy, and choosing a place to fight.


Some of the first armies in Chinese history were little more than untrained conscripts, or men forced to fight, with simple weapons like spears and bows and arrows. As Chinese civilization grew larger and more complex, they began to incorporate new types of weapons into their armies. The Chinese invented a number of new weapons like catapults and crossbows, which made them very powerful and very deadly.

Ancient Chinese crossbow
Chinese crossbow

Other Chinese weapons of war included ''cloud ladders,'' giant towers used to attack cities, and ''striking carts,'' giant battering-rams. Because much of Chinese warfare focused on capturing cities, their builders developed stronger defenses that could resist siege engines, forcing attackers to come up with better weapons to tear down city walls. Once the Chinese had invented gunpowder, they used fire grenades to attack the enemy. What's more, they used several different types of gunpowder, called blinding powder, poison powder, burning powder, and smoke-screen powder. That's a lot of gunpowder!

Girl Power

One of the great stories of the ancient Chinese military is that of Hua Mulan, the girl who entered the army disguised as a boy and became famous for her skills. You may have seen the Disney movie, but the real story is a bit different. While Mulan did take her father's place in the army to defeat an invading army, she fought for twelve years - not just one battle. What's more, nobody realized she was a woman until she wore women's clothes at the end of her fighting.

Chinese warriors in battle
Battle image

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