Great Contributions of China In this essay I will be introducing some of the many inventions for which we owe thanks to early Chinese cultures. The developments that came from the early Chinese range from small to great, but none are by far insignificant. Many scientists debate how much of Western science was actually influenced by the Chinese, but one thing for sure is that the ideas that did originate there are incredible. One could even argue that without their ingenuity, you and I would not be exchanging ideas in the very manner we are now.
With that being said, paper is one of the greatest creations we can trace back to the Chinese. Evidence from archaeological records proves that paper was used in China prior to the first century AD. An efficient, cellulose-based paper was invented by Cai-Lun, and it began with the bark of trees being put into a pot of boiling water, boiled and transformed into a malleable material, then spread out and dried much like today’s technique (Sayre, 2011, p. 226). It was actually first used as a wrapping material, but eventually replaced other writing mediums such as bamboo, silk and wood (Becker, 2005).
Cai-Lun went on to use a variety of other materials including hemp and rags, and this advancement enabled literacy in China to develop much more quickly than the West (Sayre, 2011, p. 226). Before paper, but even more so after its invention, a writing system had developed and was improved upon that would forever change history. The creation of characters to represent ideas, which began as calligraphy, has been credited to two different legendary heroes of China: Fu Xi, is said to have invented the writing system with inspiration from constellations and animal footprints (Sayre, 2011, p. 14), and Cangjie, who lived during the 27th century BC and is rumored to have four eyes and eight pupils, composed the Chinese characters to replace the old “rope knot tying” method of recording information (Cultural China, 2010). In 1045 AD, a man named Pi-Sheng, who was undoubtedly inspired by paper and the writing system, did something that would not be done again for some 400 years; he created the concept of the printing press. In a similar manner of ater techniques, he arranged clay letters inside of a wooden box and fastened it in place by using melted wax, which would later harden, fixing the letters at their proper height (Lienhard, 2007). Naturally after symbols, paper and printing, paper money was introduced. Genghis Khan initiated the spread of this money in the 13th century by collecting all gold and silver in the empire and exchanging it for the paper (CAJS, 2006). Thus, a system of currency familiar to us today was born. The most powerful, in a literal sense of the word, of inventions to come out of China is gunpowder.
It is a common belief that gunpowder, or the idea of an “explosion in a self-contained cylinder” was only used to make fireworks; however records trace the history of the first cannon to around 1127 in China, which was 150 years before it was seen in the West. The Chinese were able to hold off the Mongols for many decades using gunpowder technology, and its use as an advanced weapon is one reason it traveled to the West so quickly (WGBH, 2000). Another notable invention of early Chinese history includes silk, which was first produced in approximately 2400 BC.
Silk is derived from the cocoon of the silkworm moth, which is submerged into boiling water enabling the silk thread to be unwound. According to Chinese legend, silk was discovered by a Chinese Empress sitting under a mulberry tree (which the insect feeds on), and a cocoon fell into her tea. She then noticed the threads unwinding, and the rest is how you’d imagine. Silk has been traded as a precious fabric ever since, giving meaning to the importance of the Silk Road (Col, 2010).
With trade in mind comes the thought of navigation, which brings us to the next notable invention of the compass. The first compass was made in China during the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC) and was made from lodestones, a mineral which is made of iron oxide. The iron oxide would orientate itself to a north and south axis. The compass was redesigned and improved upon many times, and by the 8th century AD, magnetic needles replaced the lodestones. It is believed that the compass made its way to the Middle East before reaching Europe (WII, 2010).
Bronze casting is another notable idea from the Chinese, although it was not the invention, but the improvement of procedures that makes it so distinguishable. The Shang dynasty (between the 16th and 11th century BC) developed the most advanced bonze-casting technique of any ever used. The process involved use of a perfected negative shape in which molten bronze would be poured (Sayre, 2011, p. 216). The bronze work of this time became so successful, it became known as the First Bronze Age, and it extended from the Shang dynasty to the Han Dynasty.
One can clearly see the Chinese have made a number of important contributions. However the most pivotal of all advancements must be those that contribute to education: writing, paper, the printing press, and the compass. These inventions allowed a society to keep a written history, propel the development of knowledge, and take it across the world, setting forth a quest for an exponential realization of knowledge. However it was the evolution of written language that set this quest in perpetual motion, and is rightly the origin of all that was, and is to follow. References Backer, P. 2005) Chinese contributions to technology History of Technology. Retrieved from http://www. engr. sjsu. edu/pabacker/history/china. htm Chinese Archaic-Jade Shop, CAJS. (2006) A Short History of Money. Retrieved from http://www. archaic- jade. com/papermoney/money. htm Col, J. (2010) Inventors and Inventions. Retrieved from http://www. enchantedlearning. com/inventors/page/s/silk. shtml Cultural China. (2010) Legendary Cang Jie – the Inventor of Chinese Characters. Retrieved from http://history. cultural-china. com/en/50History5684. html Farlex, Inc. (2011) Paper.
Retrieved from http://encyclopedia. farlex. com/When+was+paper+first+invented Lienhard, J. (1997) No. 894 Inventing Printing. Retrieved from http://www. uh. edu/engines/epi894. htm Sayre, H. (2011). The humanities: Culture, Continuity & Change, Volume I (2nd Ed. ). (2011 Custom Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. WGBH. (2000) China’s Age of Invention. Retrieved from http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/nova/ancient/song-dynasty. html Who Invented It, WII. (2010) Who Invented the Compass? Retrieved from http://www. whoinventedit. net/who-invented-the-compass. html