As far back as the Shang Dynasty the (1600-1100BC), Chinese people began to learn to use iron. At that time, meteoritic iron were used for the blades of luxury weapons, cast into bronze handles which were sometimes inlaid with silver or precious stones.
The Spring & Autumn andWarringStatesperiods (776-221BC), though marked by disunity and civil strife, witnessed the flourish of iron industry. Technology shifted from meteoritic to smelted iron. Malleable cast iron products had greater hardness and better ductility. Iron came into general use, making possible not only the forging of weapons but also the manufacture of farming tools.
The Qin Dynasty (221-206BC) saw rapid development of the iron industry. As Qin Emperor Shihuang unifiedChina, he set up iron officials in production areas in order to increase treasury income and strengthen the centralized power. In the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), iron smelting technology made further progress, as indicated by the appearance of various kinds of furnaces, the use of refractory materials and bellows that were made of leather and powered by human strength. From the Qin Dynasty to the Han Dynasty, metal production was relatively decentralized -- gold, tin and cinnabar were mostly produced in southernChina, while copper and iron were produced in the southwest.
During Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), central government designated iron officials to 34 places. During that time, tin, lead and silver production inSouthwest China'sYunnanProvinceand alluvial gold production inSouthwest China'sSichuanandYunnanprovinces got remarkable development.
The Wei, Jin, and South and North dynasties were marked by frequent wars. During the Sui Dynasty (581-618), great efforts were put on copper production for casting money.
In the Tang Dynasty (618-907) there were 104 iron mines and 62 copper mines all over the country, excludingSouthwest China'sYunnanandGuizhouprovinces.
During Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), metal production grew rapidly, especially that of copper, tin and lead, which were all major materials for casting money.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), the imperial government set up special department in charge of mining and metallurgical industry. Also, rules and regulations governing the industry were implemented, mainly for the protection of government-owned mines.
In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), iron production developed remarkably. Zinc began to be used in metal smelting.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), iron mines were mostly privatized. After the Opium War in 1840, due to the invasion of foreign imperialistic powers and the rise of Westernization Movement and comprador-owned enterprises, Chinese mining industry began to be characterized by semi-feudalism and semi-colonialism.