Receive the Mandate of Heaven, nourish a large population with the bounty of the fertile river valleys of China, and command your people to build an empire stretching to the four corners of the earth! Guide your scholars and craftsmen towards outstanding technological discoveries and apply them to your vast armies. Will your fearsome Chu Ko Nu, armed with rapid-firing mechanical crossbows, be enough to lead your armies to victory against the wily enemies beyond your borders?
The aforementioned dynasties were best known for their economic sophistication, unprecedented technological innovations, and highly populated cities that accommodated millions of people. By the 1200s, the Song dynasty hosted a population of almost 100 million people with a sophisticated medieval economic system boasting the use of paper money, a maritime shipping power having the largest mercantile fleet in the world patrolling the South China Seas, and a strong industrial steel manufacturing capacity. To reflect these achievements and for being one of the civilizations that suffered the least during the Dark Ages, they start with extra Villagers and their Town Centers support a higher population. Although they have fewer resources to compensate, allied Farms produce extra food (which reflects on the importance of rice agriculture in China). The unique unit of the Chinese is the Chu Ko Nu, a foot archer wielding the eponymous semi-automatic crossbow invented by the Chinese that would load a new bolt simultaneously as soon as the last one was fired. Chu Ko Nu fire multiple arrows at once and, if employed en masse, they can wreak havoc on infantry and even cavalry.
Due to game balance reasons, the Chinese lack access to many of the technologies they invented, such as the Hand Cannoneer and Bombard Cannon (the earliest record of a written formula for gunpowder appears in the 11th century Song dynasty text, Wujing Zongyao, and the Heilongjiang Hand Cannon is widely considered the earlier surviving firearm). Their unique technology, Rocketry, reflects their advanced gunpowder technology and boosts their Chu Ko Nu and Scorpions (by adding +2 and +4 attack respectively) to offer some limited compensation. The Chinese have a long history of using Demolition Ships in naval battles, and as such their Demolition Ships have 50% more hit points which allows them to reach their targets easier. Finally, the Chinese can research technologies more cheaply than any other civilization, due to being one of the most advanced civilizations during the time frame of Age of Empires II.
The Chinese are the playable civilization in the Langshan Jiang (renamed to Lake Poyang in the Definitive Edition) scenario from the Battles of the Forgotten campaign. They also appear as allies or enemies in:
In-game, Chinese units anachronistically speak modern Mandarin (Chinese: 普通話, Hanyu Pinyin: Pǔtōnghuà), instead of Old Mandarin as spoken in the timespan between the 12th and 14th centuries, more appropriate for Age of Empires II's pre-Qing Chinese civilization.
Counting the Shang, the Chinese are the only civilization to appear in all five titles of the Age of Empires series, including their respective expansion packs.
For gameplay purpose, developers do not give the in-game Chinese civilization many technologies historically invented by real-life Chinese:
The Chinese were most famous for their advanced fortification techniques, heavily walled cities (which aided Chinese defenders as late as World War II), and excellent siege engineers. Chinese siege engineers were instrumental to the rapid Mongol conquest of Persia and Russia, yet ironically the Mongols have a better siege line than the Chinese, who do not even receive Siege Engineers.
The civilization bonus of the Chinese starting with more villagers is completely negated in maps or gamemodes that only allow a specific number of villagers to exist at the start of a map, though the Chinese still retain the trade-off of starting off with less resources, presenting a disadvantage.
The Chinese are arguably the only civilization to not have a widespread land unit that is top of its class, due to lacking military bonuses and lacking Siege Engineers to make their Scorpions, which benefit from Rocketry, fully upgraded. Most civilizations have at least one unit that is both fully upgraded and benefits from civilization-specific bonuses or technology. For example, the Aztec Champions benefit from Garland Wars, Berbers have fully upgraded Hussars and Heavy Camel Riders for a discount, Britons' Trebutchets with Warwolf deal damage over a wider area. The main outliers are the Chinese, Goths, Malay, and Persians. However, the Goths, Malay, and Persians have bonuses or technologies that significantly reduce the cost of their infantry, Militia-line and Battle Elephants, and Crossbowmen, respectively. The Chinese lack any such bonus or upgrade.
This is a similar situation to the Shang in Age of Empires. Whereas other civilizations each had bonuses for at least one military unit, the Shang lack any. This is notable since the Shang are the predecessors of the Chinese.
The Chinese are the most polarized civilization. While they are very powerful for experienced players, they perform very weakly for beginners. This is probably due to their additional three Villagers with 200 less food, which is very hard to control.
China was reunited in 581 AD after a long period of internal war by the founders of the Sui dynasty. For most of the 1000 years that followed, China was one of the largest and most advanced civilization in the world. Because of its geographic isolation from the West, it was able to develop and maintain a unique culture that spread its influence over much of Asia.
An emperor generally held supreme power as the son of heaven. Natural disasters or other calamities were taken as proof that the mandate of heaven had been withdrawn, however, and could justify revolt. Mandarins were conservative civil servants who operated most of the government at the local, province, and imperial level. Mandarins earned their positions by passing detailed civil service examinations based mainly on the works of Confucius.
The T'ang dynasty ruled China from 618 to 907. China under the T'ang was large, wealthy, and powerful. There was extensive foreign trade and interest in the arts among the upper class. Printing and gunpowder were invented. The last 100 years of T'ang rule witnessed tumultuous peasant revolts, however, and wars between local military rulers that the imperial court could not end. The years from 907 to 960 were known as the Five Dynasties period. Northern China was held by barbarians, and southern China split into 10 rival states. From one of these, an army general named Zhao Kuang-ying seized power and unified the southern states, founding the Song dynasty. His descendants reunited China within 20 years.
The Song dynasty ruled at least part of China until 1279. This was another period of cultural brilliance, and it was considered the great age of Chinese landscape painting. There was a dramatic improvement in economic activity, including a large overseas trade. Population and cities grew, food production grew faster than population, a money economy developed, and industrial output increased. No city in Europe could approach the populations of Chang An, Beijing, and Guang Zhou, all with more than 2 million inhabitants.
The wealth of China attracted enemies, however, and the Mongols began attacks in 1206. By 1279 they had completed the conquest of Song China and moved the capital to Beijing. The dramatic economic improvement of the Song dynasty ended with the Mongol conquests and the estimated 30 million deaths that they caused. The Mongol Yuan dynasty reunited China and reestablished it as a great military and world power. Chinese influence was spread into Asia. Hanoi was captured three times and tribute was extracted from Burma. Trade with India, Arabia, and the Persian Gulf was developed. Marco Polo visited China during this period.
Natural disasters and higher taxes in the fourteenth century caused rural rebellions. A Buddhist monk rose to be one of the leaders of the Red Turbans, a secret society opposed to the emperor in Beijing. The rebels seized Nanjing in 1356 and drove the Mongols from Beijing 12 years later, establishing the Ming dynasty. The Ming presided over another cultural flowering and established a political unity that outlasted the Ming and continued into the twentieth century. The Ming clamped down a strict conservatism and isolation, however, discouraging change and innovation, banning foreign travel, and closing the Silk Road.
Some of the most noteworthy aspects of medieval China are the technologies that were invented there, usually many centuries before a similar technology was invented in, or transmitted to, the West. Important Chinese inventions included the compass, the wheelbarrow, the abacus, the horse harness, the stirrup, the clock, iron-casting, steel, paper, moveable type (printing), paper money, gunpowder, and the stern-post rudder.