China has been the source of many innovations, scientific discoveries and inventions. Ancient China held leading positions in many fields in studying nature in the world. Besides the four great inventions – papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass, Ancient China contributed countless other inventions to the world, how many other creations do you know? Below is a list of the 20 inventions created by ancient Chinese and some may surprise you.
The historical region now known as China experienced a history involving mechanics, hydraulics and mathematics applied to horology, metallurgy, astronomy, agriculture, engineering, music theory, craftsmanship, naval architecture and warfare. By the Warring States period (403–221 BC), inhabitants of the Warring States had advanced metallurgic technology, including the blast furnace and cupola furnace, while the finery forge and puddling process were known by the Han Dynasty (202 BC–AD 220). A sophisticated economic system in imperial China gave birth to inventions such as paper money during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). The invention of gunpowder during the mid 9th century led to an array of inventions such as the fire lance, land mine, naval mine, hand cannon, exploding cannonballs, multistage rocket and rocket bombs with aerodynamic wings and explosive payloads. With the navigational aid of the 11th century compass and ability to steer at high sea with the 1st century sternpost rudder, premodern Chinese sailors sailed as far as East Africa. In water-powered clockworks, the premodern Chinese had used the escapement mechanism since the 8th century and the endless power-transmitting chain drive in the 11th century. They also made large mechanical puppet theaters driven by waterwheels and carriage wheels and wine-serving automatons driven by paddle wheel boats.
1. Paper Making 105 A.C
The invention of paper greatly affects human history. Paper already existed in China since 105 A.C, however, a eunuch named Cai Lun (ca. 50 AD – 121) made significant innovation and helped drive its widespread adoption. His advanced paper-making technology then spread to central Asia and the world through the Silk Road.
2. Movable Type Printing 960-1279 AD
Woodblock printing was already a widely used technique in the Tang Dynasty. However, this kind of printing tech was expensive and time-consuming. Until the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a man named Bi Sheng (990–1051) invented movable type printing, making it quicker and easier. He first carved individual characters on pieces of clay and then harden them with fire. These movable type pieces were later glued to an iron plate to print a page and then broken up and redistributed for another page. This kind of printing tech rapidly spread across Europe, leading up to the Renaissance, and later all around the world.
3. Gunpowder 1000 A.D
Gunpowder was invented by Chinese Taoist alchemists about 1000 A.D. when they tried to find a potion to gain human immortality by mixing elemental sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter. It is generally believed that gunpowder spread to Europe during the Mongol expansion of 1200-1300 A.D.. The interesting fact is that Chinese used this discovery mainly for firecrackers while Europeans created cannons and guns and dominated China in the mid-1800s.
4. Compass 1100 A.D.
A compass is a navigational instrument that shows directions. The compass was invented by Chinese between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD. It was first used in Feng Shui, the layout of buildings. By 1000 AD, navigational compasses were commonly used on Chinese ships, enabling them to navigate. Arab traders sailing to China might learned of the the tech and brought it to the West.
5. Mechanical Clock 725 A.D.
The world’s first mechanical clock -Water-driven Spherical Birds – was invented by Yi Xing, a Buddhist monk in 725 A.D.. It was operated by dripping water which powered a wheel that made one revolution in 24 hours. Hundreds of years later, the inventor Su Song developed a more sophisticated clock called the Cosmic Empire in 1092, 200 years earlier before the mechanical clock was created in Europe.
6. Tea Production 2,737 BC
According to old Chinese legend, tea was first discovered by Shennong, Chinese Father of Agriculture, around 2,737 BC. In the Tang Dynasty (618－907) tea became a popular drink enjoyed by all social classes. Cha Jing (or The Book of Tea), written by Lu Yu in the Tang Dynasty, explicated ways to cultivate tea, tea drinking and different classifications of tea in details. The book is considered as the world’s first monograph about tea. And the world’s oldest and largest living tea tree can be found in Lin Cang, China, about 3,200 years old.
7. Alcohol About 2000 BC－1600 BC
The inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula were widely believed to be the first brewers. However, in 2013, a 9000-year-old pottery found in Henan province revealed the presence of alcohol, 1000 years before Arabian. Alcohol is known as Jiu in Chinese and is often used as a spiritual offerings to Heaven and the Earth or ancestors in ancient China. Study shows that beer with an alcoholic content of 4% to 5% was widely consumed in ancient China and was even mentioned on oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC–1046 BC).