Five key inventions

The Chinese invented many important technologies and materials throughout history. Here is a small sample of five noteworthy inventions. Others include paper, porcelain, the abacus, ship rudders, trebuchets, and a mechanical clock tower. Check out this study set with flashcards and try the quiz.

 
 By G41rn8 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49245713

By G41rn8 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49245713

bronze casting

Bronze casting was an early technology developed in ancient China. The earliest known bronzes were made around 1700-1600 BC. The Bronze Age was an important era in early Chinese history, and we can learn something through surviving bronze vessels, bells and other objects. Many bronze vessels had animal figures or masks carved on them. These musical bells come from the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 BC). This photograph is from a display at the Henan Provincial Museum in China.

By Image extracted from page 36 of The Canton Guide …, by Kerr, J. G. (John Glasgow). Original held and digitised by the British Library. Copied from Flickr. This file is from the Mechanical Curator collection, a set of over 1 million images scanned from out-of-copyright books and released to Flickr Commons by the British Library.View image on FlickrView all images from bookView catalogue entry for book.English | Français | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32174277

 Printing

Chinese invented printing using carved wooden blocks during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 80). Characters were carved onto wooden blocks, which were layered with ink and then printed on paper. Paper was invented in China around 105 AD, made from mulberry bark and hemp fibers. As printing technology improved, multicolor printing in addition to black-and-white was developed. Movable type was invented in the 11th century, long before it was used in Europe.  

 By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12881659

By Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12881659

Gunpowder

Gunpowder was invented in China in the 9th century, as people experimented with mixing three powders: sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter. It is the world's earliest known chemical explosive. Based on this discovery, fireworks, firecrackers and gunpowder weapons were developed. Although Chinese mainly used gunpowder for peaceful purposes such as fireworks, the technology spread through the Middle East and then into Europe. Gunpowder would come to play a major role in the development of weaponry, and thus global history. Firecrackers are still important at Chinese holidays like the New Year.

 By Meister nach Chang Hsüan - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=155372

By Meister nach Chang Hsüan - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=155372

silk

Archaeological evidence shows Chinese were raising silkworms in prehistoric times, and Chinese invented silk, a glossy and strong cloth of great beauty, at least as early as 1300 BC. Silk thread is spun from the cocoons of the silkworm, and woven into cloth. Chinese silk was especially prized in Europe and America. Silk was one of the products traded on the famous Silk Road that connected China with the Mediterranean. Early American traders sailed to China to obtain silk, tea, porcelain and other luxuries, trading goods like furs and ginseng in exchange. Salem, Massachusetts and Boston were important hubs for this trade.

 Mariner's compass  Unknown circa 1760     © National Maritime Museum Collections   Read more at http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/42453.html#xQzkg4k81jKAJPo7.99

Mariner's compass

Unknown
circa 1760

 

© National Maritime Museum Collections


Read more at http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/42453.html#xQzkg4k81jKAJPo7.99

magnetic compass

The magnetic compass was invented in China and became an essential navigational tool for sailors. Early Chinese compasses used heated iron, but magnetized lodestone compasses were used by the 12th century. The compass needle lines up on a north-south axis, allowing users to find cardinal directions. It was thus a crucial aid in navigation, especially at sea. Long before Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492, China's great Admiral Zheng Ho launched a series of naval expeditions in 1405, with massive Armadas that sailed as far as Africa.


For fun, view this video of an automation clock built around 1790 in the Chinese imperial workshop for the Emperor's palace.