Ancient China Transportation

Ancient China transportation relied heavily on the wheel and water. Ancient China transportation required several new inventions to help make transportation easier.

In ancient China walking was the primary way of transportation. Like most ancient societies, the ancient Chinese relied on their feet for transportation until they utilized the wheel and water to their advantage.
chinese boats

Wheelbarrows, rickshaws and chariots

There were many inventions in ancient China that helped transportation. Once the ancient Chinese had the wheel, they invented two types of wheelbarrows to help transport people and goods.

The first was a front wheeled wheelbarrow and the second was the centrally mounted wheelbarrow.

Centrally mounted wheelbarrows allowed for people to transport goods and humans easier than the front wheeled wheelbarrow.
Another invention was the rickshaw. The rickshaw is a type of carriage with two wheels but was pulled by a human.

The ancient Chinese also used chariots to transport people. Mainly noble or wealthier families had a chariot.

Horses or oxen were used to pull chariots in ancient China. The chariot was widely used in warfare in ancient China.

Harnessing animal power

The ancient Chinese invented two types of harnesses to help secure the power of animals. The throat-and-girth harness was ideal for oxen.

This harness was placed around the stomach of the oxen and secured by the hump on the oxen’s back. Another piece of the harness was placed in the animal’s mouth.

Unfortunately this type of strap limited the breathing of animals and made transportation slower.

The breast-strap harness was perfect for horses and humans. The harness had a strap that was placed over the breast of the animal and human. The breast-strap harness did not restrict the breathing of horses or humans.
Chinese Chariot
The breast-strap harness was used by humans to pull rickshaws, boats along the waterways and horses pulled carriage or chariots.

Transportation along waterways

Ancient China transportation included a variety of boats to help transport people and goods along the waterways. The ancient Chinese built most of their smaller boats from bamboo.

Bamboo was used because the material was light, durable and easy to shape when wet or moist. The masts for larger boats were also constructed of bamboo.

The ancient Chinese invented the rudder to help navigate the waterways including canals, rivers and the ocean.

The rudder allowed ancient China transportation to be important along the waterways. The rudder allowed the captain of water vessels to steer easier and control boats more efficiently.

The most common boat in ancient China was a kakam. These boats were small and generally had a flat bottom and were powered by poles or oars.

The kakams were used to transport people like a water taxi. Another common smaller boat in ancient China was a sampan. A sampan was used mainly by fishermen.

A sampan usually had some type of structure on the deck for shelter and a flat bottom. Many people would use sampans as floating homes on the rivers or canals of China.

Medium sized boats were called zaws and would have one or two sails attached the boat. Some of the zaws were also powered by humans wearing a breast-strap. Zaws generally had a rudder to help steer the vessel in rivers and in the ocean.

Junks were the largest ships built in ancient China. Junks transported everything from goods to people to armies during time of war. Junks had three to four sails with bamboo masts and a huge rudder to steer the vessel.

Important facts about ancient China transportation

  • Ancient Chinese relied on their feet for transportation.
  • Ancient China transportation was enhanced by using the wheel and waterways.
  • The ancient Chinese invented two types of wheelbarrows.
  • Animals like horses and oxen were used for transportation in ancient China.
  • Ancient China transportation was enhanced by two types of harnesses.
  • The breast-strap harness was instrumental in securing the power of horses and humans for transportation.
  • Boats like a kakams, zaws, sampans, and junks were used for transportation along waterways such as canals, rivers and the sea.
  • The ancient Chinese developed the rudder to help steer boats more efficiently.


1. What type of harness did the ancient Chinese invent to help humans and horses?

Breast-strap harness

2. What did the ancient Chinese invent to help steer boats?

The rudder

3. How many types of wheelbarrows where invented in ancient China?


4. Unlike a carriage or chariot, a rickshaw was powered by what animal?