As you light up a joint this evening, you might think that modern humans have little in common with people from millennia ago. Turns out you’re wrong! China and cannabis once went together like weed and Whitecastle, minus the stomach cramps. Indeed, it’s likely that the Chinese began using hemp over 10,000 years ago.
They discovered the plant’s many benefits and used it for everything from medicine to paper. This article outlines 10 interesting tidbits about weed use in ancient China.
Let’s find out more about how the ancient Chinese used marijuana.
In horticulture, the term “dioecious” describes a plant group consisting of distinct male and female plants. The Chinese called male plants xi, and female plants were called ju. They quickly discovered that the fiber from the male plants was better, but the females produced seeds.
It turns out that the Chinese were wearing vegan, eco-friendly, sustainable hemp clothes about 10,000 years before we came up with the idea!
Archaeologists found evidence of twisted hemp fiber used in pots and clothes in Taiwan dating to at least 8000 BC. This process likely ended humankind’s reliance on animal skins for clothes, a fact that has seemingly passed Kim Kardashian by. These individuals also used hemp fiber to create shoes.
Warfare was a major part of life in ancient China as land barons routinely fought against one another to either gain supremacy or keep hold of their property.
Archers initially created bowstrings from bamboo fibers but switched to hemp when they discovered the plant’s additional durability. They soon found that their hemp strings enabled them to send their arrows further and with greater velocity. Indeed, hemp bowstrings became so essential that ancient Chinese leaders set aside tracts of land specifically for the crop. One could say that hemp was the first-ever war crop.
Practically every canton grew hemp, and it was soon discovered that you could use the plant for food.
Millet and rice were the most crucial crops, followed by vegetable gardens and orchards. Hemp was classified as the next most important food source. Oil extracted from hemp seeds was used for frying food, and the plant remained an important one in Chinese culture until the sixth century AD.
It is believed that the legendary Chinese philosopher, Confucius, compiled an array of Chinese literary classics in the sixth century BC, many of which contained references to uses of the hemp plant allegedly going back as far as 1800 BC.
According to legend, a Chinese court official named Cai Lun invented the paper-making process in 105 AD. He created a writing tablet out of hemp fiber and changed the course of history.
However, he faked his death to ensure his invention was taken seriously after being laughed at by his bureaucratic buddies. Cai Lun pretended he was dead and got his friends to say he would come back to life if the officials burned some of the paper he created.
The court officials did so, and Cai Lun’s friends ripped off the coffin lid for him to sit up and thank them for their help.
One of the most relevant references to weed as medicine comes from a physician for the Han Dynasty named Hua Tuo in the second century AD. As far as the story goes, Hua Tuo crushed cannabis into a fine powder and mixed it with wine to create the first known anesthetic.
At some point between the first and third centuries, a medical author named Zhang Zhongjing wrote about a medical “cure.” The recipe included “pills of fructus cannabis.”
During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), the first Medical University was established in China (probably in 629 AD). It is possible that the uses of medical marijuana were taught at the school, although it had seemingly fallen out of favor by then.
Even today, hemp seeds are used in Chinese medicine… as a laxative!
A popular tale is that Emperor Shen Nong used marijuana as medicine in 2737 BC, and it was supposedly the first-ever written mention of weed. As a result, Shen Nung is regarded by some as the “Father of Chinese Medicine.”
However, neither he nor his predecessor Fu Xi or successor, Huang Di, existed. There’s a clue insofar as the latter, known as the Yellow Emperor, apparently reigned for 493 years! In reality, there is no historical record of a unified China going back any further than the third century BC. There were dynasties, beginning with the Xia Dynasty in approximately 2070 BC, although it did not rule all of China.
Cai Lun, the creator of hemp paper, became embroiled in court politics and committed suicide by drinking poison! Burning paper didn’t provide a second resurrection, although it’s doubtful that anyone tried.
Meanwhile, Hua Tuo was executed after falling foul of a monarch, so his weed anesthetic recipe is lost to history. It seems that inventing anything to do with cannabis in ancient China was akin to a death sentence!
In 2016, researchers found 13 female cannabis plants arranged diagonally over the body of a man who was probably a Shaman. It is believed he lived sometime between 2,400 and 2,800 years ago. It was the first time that archaeologists had ever discovered complete cannabis plants. It was also the first incidence of marijuana’s use as a covering (or shroud) in a human burial.
There are multiple other findings of cannabis in sites dotted across north-western China and Siberia. The researchers who made the discovery believe that there is growing proof of cannabis’ use for medicinal or ceremonial purposes by the Subeixi people and other groups living in the area.
In 2006, researchers discovered a huge supply of processed female marijuana flowers in a cemetery at nearby Yanghai. The plants were probably selected for their intoxicating high and possibly as a means of improving communication between our world and that of the spirits.
The ancient Chinese used marijuana thousands of years ago, and far from leading to the downfall of civilization, it arguably helped it thrive. The Chinese used marijuana as medicine and made clothes, food, and even weaponry.
It seems remarkable that ancient peoples, with the merest fraction of the tools and knowledge we have today, were better equipped to use cannabis. The more we study this plant, the more obvious it becomes that prohibition is ludicrous.