Pearls are prominently featured in any 'historical' drama series over in Asia, so my impression is that Chinese have a long history with pearls. Apart from using them in medicine and cosmetics (literally as 'pearl powder'), you see pearls in most imperial portraits as they form part of the 'official' imperial wear.
Noticed that there haven't been any threads on chinese pearl history so just here to share my amateur knowledge.
I'll start with this strand of imperial pearls worn by an emperor. Traditionally the imperial family only uses the best so I guess this strand must have been considered a spectacular one back in its day:
Sold For: $8.7 million
Auctioned on: April 8, 2010
The ceremonial necklace was thought to have been owned by 18th century Qing Emperor Yongzheng (1678-1735)(see portrait that shows the necklace prominently). Based on what I read, it was made of freshwater pearls produced in Northeast China, where the imperial house of Qing originated.
"The main design consisted of 108 large freshwater pearls with 4 round coral fotou (Buddha head) beads flanked by lapis lazuli gemstones placed evenly around the necklace. There are 3 additional long turquoise bead dangles coming from the shoulder down to the front. Another long dangle featuring a large chartreuse quartz cabochon goes to the back. This focal is surrounded by smaller spinel and sapphire cabochons."