great inventions namely
are papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass, which made
tremendous contributions to the world's economy and the culture
of mankind. They are also the symbols of China as one ancient civilization
Before paper was invented, the ancient Chinese carved characters
on pottery, animal bones and stones, cast them on bronzes, or wrote
them on bamboo or wooden strips and silk fabric. These materials,
however, were either too heavy or too expensive for widespread use.
The invention and use of paper brought about a revolution in writing
materials and greatly contributed to the spread of civilization.
In 105 A.D. Cai Lun who was a eunuch during the Eastern Han Dynasty,
invented paper from worn fishnet, tree bark and cloth. These raw
materials could be easily found at a much lower cost so large quantities
of paper could be produced. Eastern Han Dynasty paper found in Wuwei,
Gansu Province carried words which were still clearly decipherable.
The paper was thin, soft with tight texture.
The technique of paper making spread out to Korea in 384 AD. A Korean
Monk then took this skill with him to Japan in 610 AD. During a
war between the Tang Dynasty and the Arab Empire in 751AD the Arabs
captured some Tang soldiers and paper making workers. Thus paper
making spread to Arab. In the 11th Century the skill was carried
to India when Chinese monks journeyed there in search of Buddhist
sutras. Through the Arabs, Africans and Europeans then mastered
the skill. The first paper factory in Europe was set up in Spain.
In the latter half of the 16th century, this skill was brought to
America. By the 19th century, when paper factories were set up in
Australia, paper making had spread to the whole world.
Inspired by engraved name seals, Chinese people invented carved
block printing around 600 AD. The skill played an important role
in the Song Dynasty but its shortcomings were obviously. It was
time-consuming to engrave the blocks, not easy to store, and not
easy to revise errors.
On the basis of printing using carved blocks in the Tang Dynasty,
Bi Sheng of the Northern Song Dynasty invented movable type printing
in the 1040AD, which ushered in a major revolution in the history
Bi's printing consisted of four processes: making the types, setting
up type, printing and retrieving the movable types. According to
Dream Stream Essays, Bi Sheng carved individual characters on squares
of sticky clay, then baked them make clay type pieces. When composing
a text, he put a large iron frame on a piece of iron board and arranged
the words within the frame. While one plate was being printed, another
plate could be composed. After printing, the movable types were
taken away and stored for future use. Movable type printing has
a very important position in the history of printing, for all later
printing methods such as wooden type, copper type and lead type
printing invariably developed on the basis of movable clay types.
Bi Sheng created movable type printing more than four hundred years
earlier than it was invented in Europe.
The birth of gunpowder was quite accidental. It was first invented
inadvertently by alchemists while attempting to make an elixir of
immorality. It was a mixture of sulphur, saltpeter, and charcoal.
At the end of the Tang Dynasty, gunpowder was being used in military
affairs. The first prescription for gunpowder appeared in 1044,
much earlier than the earliest (1265) gunpowder-making instructions
recorded in Europe. By the Song Dynasty (960-1126), gunpowder was
in extensive use. The Song army also used cannons flame throwers,
which were bamboo tubes filled with gun power.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, gunpowder spread to the Arab countries,
then European countries, and finally all over the world.
According to ancient records, natural magnets were employed in China
as direction-finding devices. This led to the first compass, called
a sinan (south-pointing ladle) during the Warring States Period.
In the Han Dynasty compasses consisted of a bronze board on which
24 directions were carved and a rod made from a natural magnet.
Such devices were in use until the eighth century.
In the Song Dynasty, Shen Kuo described the floating compass, suspended
in water, a technique which minimized the effect of motion on the
instrument. This enabled the compass to be used for sea navigation
for the first time. The invention of the compass promoted maritime
undertakings, and its use soon spread to the Arab world, and thence
Four Great Inventions in Ancient time
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