Mandarins and murderers: A Chinese history quiz


Here are 10 questions on Chinese history drawn from former BBC Beijing correspondent Carrie Gracie's series, As History is My Witness. Click on the links below, or - if you're feeling confident - proceed directly to question one.

Great Wall of China

1.) Multiple Choice Question

Where was China's first historian, Sima Qian, taken after castration?

Sima Qian
  1. The silkworm chamber
  2. The orangery
  3. The wine cellar

2.) Multiple Choice Question

Which of these novelties did the Mongol emperors introduce to China?

  1. Chilli peppers
  2. Teapots
    Teapots (Chinese)
  3. Buttons

3.) Multiple Choice Question

What is the name of the Duke of Zhou's big idea about how a ruler can govern by virtuous example?

The Duke of Zhou
  1. The moral imperative
  2. The mandate of heaven
  3. Yin and yang

4.) Multiple Choice Question

The 8th Century poet Li Bai came to a tragic end. How is he thought to have died?

Li Bai
  1. He was assassinated by his own son
  2. He froze to death after the roof of his hut blew off
  3. He tried to embrace the moon's reflection in a river

5.) Multiple Choice Question

Who was the first private citizen from any country to address the US House of Representatives?

  1. Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong's wife
    Jiang Qing
  2. Qinling Soong, Sun Yatsen's wife
    Qingling Soong
  3. Meiling Soong, Chiang Kaishek's wife
    Meiling Soong

6.) Multiple Choice Question

What did Emperor Qin Shi Huang do to 460 scholars?

Emperor Qin's terracotta soldiers
  1. He buried them alive
  2. He made them write his biography
  3. He sent them to the country to learn farming

7.) Multiple Choice Question

Who said "all warfare is based on deception"?

Red Cliff (soldiers on the march)
  1. Tzu-Hsi (dowager empress)
  2. Sun Tzu (general)
  3. Lao Tzu (philosopher)

8.) Multiple Choice Question

What did 11th Century reformer Wang Anshi do after his plans to reform the civil service were frustrated?

Wang Anshi
  1. He became an opium addict
  2. He wrote poetry
  3. He became a fisherman

9.) Multiple Choice Question

Which religious figure did 19th Century rebel Hong Xiuquan believe he was related to?

  1. Jesus Christ
    Jesus Christ
  2. Zoroaster
    Zarathustra - Zoroaster
  3. Buddha

10.) Multiple Choice Question

Who said: "Do not be alarmed if there should be war... Eliminating half of the population occurred several times in China's history."

  1. Emperor Qin Shi Huang
    Terracotta warrior in Qin Shi Huang's tomb
  2. Mao Zedong
    Mao Zedong
  3. Kublai Khan
    Kublai Khan


  1. It's the silkworm chamber. It was already well known that a castrated man could easily die from blood loss or infection, so he was kept in a warm, draught-free room, as silkworms were.
  2. It's buttons. Before the Mongol invasion, Chinese people had closed their robes with belts. Chillies and teapots were also introduced to the country by foreigners, as were bicycles, but at a later date.
  3. It's the mandate of heaven. The ruler governs by virtuous example, which spreads virtue throughout the land, and in turn demonstrates his harmony with the divine. The Duke of Zhou put his theory into practice by acting as regent for his young nephew and keeping his promise to hand over power when the boy came of age.
  4. It's the moon's reflection. Li Bai he was well-known for his love of alcohol, it is thought he may well have been drunk at the time.
  5. It's Meiling Soong, one of three sisters born at the end of the 19th Century who exerted influence by marrying three of China's most powerful men.
  6. It's Emperor Qin. He is credited with uniting China, but he was a paranoid and ruthless leader, with a fear of intellectuals. He was emulated by Mao Zedong, who in 1958 boasted that he had buried not 460 but 4,600 scholars.
  7. It's Sun Tzu. The quote is attributed to his Art of War, a military treatise thought to have been written around the end of the 6th Century BC.
  8. It's poetry writing. After decades of trying to bring a new form of government to China, Wang Anshi retired, depressed by demotion and the death of his son. He had always been a writer of poetry, and was able to spend more time on his hobby.
  9. It's Jesus. Hong Xiuquan believed he was Christ's brother, and that his mission was to rid China of the Qing dynasty. He led a peasant rebellion which lasted 15 years and resulted in at least 10 million deaths.
  10. It's Chairman Mao, enthusing about China's nuclear weapons programme in 1958. "We have no experience in atomic war," he went on to say. "When 900 million are left out of 2.9 billion, several five-year plans can be developed for the total elimination of capitalism and for permanent peace. It is not a bad thing."

Your Score

0 - 3 : Peasant

4 - 7 : Mandarin

8 - 10 : Emperor

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