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Chinese Inventions

A Guide to Chinese Inventions - What and When!

As a British person I often marvel at the amount of inventions and discoveries that have come out of our small set of islands but most of these have happened in the last 500 years or so. What about some of the more ancient Chinese inventions? Well many of those we have the Chinese to thank for. Here I’ll go through some of the more major ones.

The Chinese invention of Gunpowder

Probably the most famous invention that we all associate with the Chinese is gunpowder. One of the inventions that has changed mankind forever, this was potentially first discovered by alchemists who were searching for the elixir of immortality. This isn’t what it ended up being used for of course but few inventions have so changed the course of human history.

The earliest mention of gunpowder seems to have been in a military book of 1044 by Zeng Goliang.

This handily brings us on to the second major invention I was going to mention and that is paper. Where would human civilisation be without paper? Cai Lun is the man credited with this around 105AD. The Chinese had been using thin strips of bamboo strung together with lengths of silk before Cai’s groundbreaking discovery.

The use of Silk and the prosperity it brought to China

That nicely links me into the invention of silk by the Chinese over 4,700 years ago. Silk was a substance like no other and everybody wanted it. This helped open up one of the world’s most famous trade routes, the Silk Road. These routes opened up the insular nation of China to Western and Middle Eastern traders. Silk production was one of China’s closest guarded secrets for generations and helped make the area of Suzhou, near Shanghai, one of the wealthiest places on the planet. China tours to Suzhou will still take in the silk factories that made this area so affluent.

Next invention up is the Compass, an invention that we’d be lost without… Okay, poor joke, but it certainly has had a significant influence on reducing the size of the world and bringing the global community together since it’s invention in the 4th Century BC. The Chinese compass used South as its cardinal direction and was made of lodestone, a material that has been magnetized to North and South.

Did the Chinese invent Alcohol 9,000 years ago?

The final invention is one that has affected many of us all around the world and bestowed upon us great happiness and misery, often in the same night! I am talking, of course, of our good friend alcohol. For a long time it was thought to be the ancient Arabs that first created alcoholic beverages but 9,000 year old pottery shards that have been found in Henan Province in central China indicate that the Chinese were making these drinks at least a thousand years earlier. Bottoms up for that one China, or Ganbei as they say in the Middle Kingdom!

Article originally posted by Phil Stanley and Headseast: 23rd January 2014

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