The fiber-rich biotypes of cannabis (hemp) have been used in ancient China for centuries. It was a multipurpose plant, used for war, writing, food and medicine. Hemp was so important that Chinese monarchs allocated large portions of land specifically for growing it. Hemp was used to make clothing, paper, ropes and fishing nets, and its achenes (“seeds”) were used in Chinese medicine for at least 1800 years.
It wasn't until India discovered cannabis that it became a widespread religious and medicinal intoxicant. The Chinese also used cannabis and hemp as medicines. Emperor Shennong is said to have introduced medicinal herbs to the Chinese, and his best-known work, Shennong Bencaojing, contains more than 360 entries on plants and their medicinal properties. Xia Xiao Zheng is an ancient Chinese text and one of the oldest agricultural treaties in the world.
Cannabis is first mentioned as a medicine in ancient China in the pharmacological book The Herbal (Pen Ts'ao). It's not clear if the ancient Chinese were taking advantage of the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Ordinary people couldn't afford to wear traditional Chinese silk, so they wore hemp-based clothing until the Mongols conquered China around 1200 A. D.
Hemp was also used to make paper by shredding the hemp fibers and the bark of the mulberry tree to a pulp and placing the mixture in a water tank. Hemp growers in India planted cannabis and used curling (a process of soaking hemp stalks in water) to help break up hemp fibers and prepare them for processing. At the same time, some countries (such as the United States) resumed their domestic hemp industries to meet the demands of the war. Throughout the rest of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, hemp continued to play a crucial role in the United States. It was believed that the Chinese brought agricultural and industrial uses of hemp to India through trade in hemp fibers, textiles, and more. Many of the ancient texts describing the qualities of medical cannabis were only revealed to the West when Red China reopened in 1980. Hemp has been cultivated and used for more than 4,000 years in ancient China.
It was an essential part of everyday life for many people, providing them with clothing, paper, ropes and fishing nets, as well as being used as a medicine.