While space travel started in earnest in the 20th Century, the dream of traveling beyond the Earth is much older. According to CNN, there is a legend of a Ming Dynasty public official named Wan Hu who attempted to be the first astronaut.
According to the legend, around 1500 AD, Wan Hu processed an obsession to getting closer to the stars. So he constructed a kind of spaceship that consisted of a sturdy chair, two kites, and 47 of the largest gunpowder rockets that could be acquired at the time. It was the cutting edge of Ming Dynasty technology.
Instead of a space suit, Wan Hu strapped himself in his chair and ordered his servants to light the fuses for the rockets that he had attached to the chair. When the fuses had burned down, a huge explosion with fire and smoke occurred. When the smoke had cleared, neither Wan Hu nor his Ming Dynasty space ship were anywhere to be seen.
It is likely that Wan Hu managed to annihilate himself with the 47 rockets. But just over five centuries later, the stars of the popular science show "Mythbusters" undertook to recreate the attempt by the would be Chinese astronaut to fly into space. Using the crash test mannequin that the mythbusters called "Buster" as a stand in for Wan Hu, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman recreated the 500-year-old rocket chair.
The results were not pretty. The combined heat of the 47 rockets caused them to explode rather than to provide sustained thrust. Because of the uneven firing of the rockets, the chair was thrown to one side before it exploded. The conclusion was that even if everything had gone according to Wan Hu's plan, the rockets would not have had sufficient thrust to carry the Ming Dynasty would be astronaut very far at all, not to mention into space.
The next Chinese astronaut to attempt to fly into space was Yang Lewei, an officer in the People's Liberation Army Air Force. Yang was launched into orbit in October, 2003 on board the Shezhou 5.
According to Encyclopedia Astronautica, a number of people born in China or with Chinese heritage flew in space even before Yang's historic flight. William Anders, born in Shanghai, is thus far the first Chinese-born astronaut to fly around the moon. The rest, Shannon Lucid, Taylor Gun-Jin Wang, Frank Chang-Diaz (who is also Hispanic), and Edward Tsang-Lu flew on space shuttle missions.