The Chinese are a civilization that focuses more on economy than military. As such, they have many economic bonuses, and are a "jack-of-all-trades" civilization that can specialize well in both defense and offense. Due to the civilization's unusual startup, the civilization is designed more for experienced players rather than beginners. Played properly however, the Chinese are one of the more powerful civilizations.
They start out with extra villagers and their Town Centers support extra population. This gives them an edge early in the game as they can gather resources more quickly. They can also research technologies at cheaper prices, allowing them to divert the saved resources into either more villagers or extra military units. In terms of military they have many options. They have full archer and infantry technologies so foot soldiers will compose the majority of a Chinese army most of the time. Their unique unit, the Chu Ko Nu, is a crossbowman with a short range but shoots multiple arrows at a time. In groups these can provide powerful close range support. They have access to all siege weapons except the Siege Onager and the Bombard Cannon. Their unique technology, Rocketry, makes their Chu Ko Nu and Heavy Scorpion potentially deadly and allow them to excel in long range sieging.
The disadvantages of the Chinese is that their late game cavalry is weaker than their infantry and archers. They are missing both the Paladin and Hussar putting both their heavy and light cavalry at a disadvantage late in the game. However they can train camels, giving them fast anti-cavalry capabilities that their infantry lack. In addition while they can attack and defend about equally well they don't stand out in either as they lack military bonuses.
They also lack two important late game gunpowder units such as the Hand Cannoneer and Bombard Cannon. However, the Chu Ko Nu and their Heavy Scorpions can do a similar job like the Hand Cannoneer and Bombard Cannon in a somewhat weaker degree. Their Heavy Scorpions are not as good as they could be, since they lack Siege Engineers.
The Chinese are also known to be incredibly difficult to play properly because of their unusual startup of having three extra villagers, but 200 less food and a 50 less wood. This requires a lot more micromanagement in the early game for the tradeoff to pay off. Inappropriate Dark Age micromanagement of the extra Villagers will cause the Chinese to fall greatly behind in the early game. Under skillful hands, however, the Chinese are a solid jack-of-all-trades civilization that is similar to the Byzantines.
Chinese have a much different start-up than other Civilizations. Starting with extra Villagers but no food and less wood means that they can't immediately make any Villagers. So the Chinese must start by researching Loom since the Town Center will be idle. Having extra villagers could help to find the sheep sooner, and then the Chinese must set some Villagers (usually all six) to start harvesting them. Before the player finds the sheep, their Villagers can chop some of the wood near the Town Center, build houses, forage for berries, or a mix of those. Extra Lumberjacks are important, since Chinese start with less wood. Chinese farms also have extra food, making Dark Age farming a more viable tactic.
Chinese are a rather versatile civilization, being a jack-of-all-trades civilization that is capable of using many different strategies. Cavalry Archer and Knight rushes are viable tactics due to cheaper costs of the related upgrade techs, despite missing out on the Paladin upgrade and Parthian Tactics. The Chinese have a reasonable Monk rush strategy thanks to cheaper Monastery techs and having nearly every Monastery tech except for Heresy. They truly shine in the Post-Imperial Age, though. In a team game, Chinese players should typically try to be in the pocket position (between two allies) and have a large economic boom. In the Imperial Age, Chu Ko Nu is extremely deadly when massed, even cutting through foes with high pierce armor such as Paladins and Eagle Warriors. Even Rams fall to Chu Ko Nu in mere seconds. The Chu Ko Nu, combined with their Rocketry technology, their Heavy Scorpions, and the Trebuchet, makes Chinese one of the best civilizations for long range sieging rivaling the Mongols, Huns, Britons, Turks, and the Japanese.
Most of the threats to Chinese come early on, while they are trying to boom. So the player must wall off with buildings and Palisades to try to keep out early-game rushes and age up quickly.
Chinese have an excellent navy on water maps. Fish provide a potent supplement to their already great economy and should be taken advantage of. Chinese Demolition Ships are also a good unconventional surprise for careless opponents. By the time the horn sounds they've already lost a large portion of their navy, assuming that it wasn't spread out. Using multiple Demolition Ships from different angles at the same time is especially powerful.
Strategy changes in The Forgotten
Chinese new Tech Great Wall allows them to make good and strong defenses, the Chinese already have Architecture and other building techs. Their new bonus of +5 line of sight for their town centers makes them even better.
Strategy changes in The African Kingdoms
The introduction of the Demolition Raft in the Feudal Age gives the Chinese navy an early naval advantage as this vessel benefit from the Chinese hit point bonus for demolition ships.
Strategy changes in Definitive Edition
The Chinese received a significant amount of nerfs in the Definitive Edition.
In update 34699, the Chinese three extra Villager bonus is tied to their initial Town Center, meaning the Villager bonus only applies after a Town Center is built, which significantly weakens the Chinese in Nomad maps. The Chinese are also given Block Printing, although it is mostly trivial to historical accuracy, since it is a Chinese invention. Because the introduction of Block Printing in the Chinese tech tree allowed the Chinese to have a concrete answer to the Siege Onager (one of the main counter-units to Chu Ko Nu), the Redemption technology was removed from their tech tree in update 36202. The Chinese lose the Supplies tech in update 37650, which makes it harder for the Chinese to match the Goths' mass infantry production in the late-game (especially against the Huskarl).
With update 51737, their team bonus was changed to 10% rather than +45. This is a significant nerf, especially in the early game when a Dark Age Farm now only provides + 17.5 food. However, in team games for civilizations which have access to Crop Rotation, their team bonus was minorly improved. SIcilians are the biggest winners of this change. The Chu Ko Nu now correctly releases arrows when garrisoned, making them a good choice to garrison in Castles.
The Chinese works well with different civilizations and can fit into different variety of playstyles. Regarding Archers, allying with the Britons allow archery units like Elite Skirmisher and Heavy Cavalry Archer be trained faster and add more variety in their long range sieging, although it should be noted that Chu Ko Nu can only be built in the Castle and is far superior to the Arbalester. The Vietnamese also get on well with them, not only because the Imperial Skirmisher upgrade (which for Chinese the upgrade is cheaper due to the technology discount bonus) but also they can reveal enemy starting locations. The Inca team bonus allows Chinese Skirmishers and Halberdiers to avoid better unfavorable matches, as it provides +2 LOS. The Saracens are also a good choice as an ally as the Chu Ko Nu can benefit from the bonus damage against the building, hence allowing them to destroy towns more quickly. The Magyars are also useful allies, as their team bonus can improve the Chu Ko Nu line of sight. Having a Berber ally also means extra tricks in the Chinese players' sleeves: team-wide Kasbah upgrade allows them to spawn both Chu Ko Nu and Trebuchets quicker; nimble, gold-free, fully-teched Genitours for counter-archer measure to safeguard Chu Ko Nu and other Chinese foot units, is also worth mentioning that as Berber villager move faster this has an impact on farm collection rates and the Chinese team bonus also grants another boost for Berbers in that regard. A Tatar ally also allows almost-fully-teched Chinese cavalry archers to have extra line of sight. All chinese technologies are cheaper, so the team bonuses of Bulgarians, Lithuanians, Malians and Bohemians are also very helpful, as they allow faster research speed from Blacksmiths, Monasteries, Universities and Markets respectively.
In regards to being one of the few civilizations that have camels, having a Hindustanis player as an ally will grant Chinese camels an anti-building attack boost, while Hindustanis will benefit from the better farms, considering they also get cheap Villagers, enabling them to improve their boom. Alternatively, Gurjara allies can also enjoy more fruitful farms as a reward of granting production boost on camel units.
For defensive gameplay, allying the Mayans is a good choice as it makes the wall cheaper combined with the Great Wall unique technology. Malians team bonus greatly benefit the Chinese since they already have most of university technologies and good defensive capacity thanks to having access to nearly every building upgrade and the Great Wall unique tech while all of these technologies are also cheaper so the Chinese can out-tech their opponents even faster. On a lesser scale, the Cuman team bonus further increases Palisade Wall hit points, and this stacks with the Great Wall unique technology. Also, the Cumans grants 5 Elite Kipchaks for free per Castle after researching Cuman Mercenaries, and this unit is arguably the mounted version of the Chu Ko Nu.
For economic boom strategies the Spanish are a good ally; the Spanish provide more gold through Trade Carts, and they build farms faster. The Teutons strongly benefit from the farm bonus due to their already cheaper farms, and the Teutons' conversion resistance is somewhat beneficial since the Chinese lack Heresy and thus it helps to have some of the more expensive units such as Knights, Scorpions, and Cavalry Archers less vulnerable to conversion. Slavs can also can exploit to a big scale the Chinese team bonus as their farmers work faster. With the Chinese team bonus, Sicilian farms will have the most food capacity with full upgrades (970 food). With their own economical advantage (earlier economical upgrades),Burgundian players can also utilize this farm bonus to build up their economy even quicker. Extra food capacity for farms also handy to support Polish Folwarks to build up steadier food supplies.
When playing on water maps in a team game it is recommended to get a Malay ally as their team bonus allows them to spot invading ships quicker, thus amass Demolition Ships on time to disrupt any water rush or hostile armies crossing nearby shallows, Vikings are also a good ally in these maps, since they drop the cost of docks and the wood saved by that team bonus can be invested in more ships included their powerful Demolition ship. Dravidians also make a good ally, since each Dock will give +5 population, which may enable wood savings.
Compared advantages and disadvantages
Advantages vs other civilizations
Disadvantages vs other civilizations