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Published on Aug 13, 2013 in Asia, China, Featured Articles, News

Chinese Inventions

When we think of innovative countries, China isn’t normally the first country that pops up in our mind. On the contrary, we probably think of the United States, Japan, Korea, and other countries whose products we use on an everyday basis. If we do think about China, it’s usually in the context that they’ve been accused of stealing intellectual property and have incorporated that innovative technology into their own products. However, that wasn’t always the case. Long before patents, trademarks, and copyrights, China was the most innovative country in the world, giving us many inventions that even now we find to be indispensable.

Paper money – This was invented in China between the late eighth and the beginning of the ninth century. Merchants could deposit their cash in the capital, receive a paper certificate, and then exchange this paper certificate for cash in the provinces. Eventually, these paper exchange certificates were able to be redeemed for commodities.

Silk – Invented in China around 1300 BC when China mastered the art of silk weaving. Silk didn’t become widely available in the west until approximately 550 AD.

Umbrella – Invented in China between 386 and 532 AD. It was designed to protect someone from both wind and rain.

Paper – Invented in China in 105 AD. Its use then spread to Turkestan in central Asia, to the Middle East, and finally to Spain and the rest of Europe in 1150 AD. The first paper was made from bark and bamboo hemp. The bamboo, for example, would be soaked in lime to soften the fibers, then boiled and washed. The hemp would then be ground, mixed with birch leaves, and strained. The pulp would then be placed in a mold.

compassCompass – Invented in China between 1000 and 1100 AD. China, at this time, had a maritime tradition and used the magnetic compass for navigation. The use of the compass spread to the outside world through Arab traders who sailed to China to conduct trade.

Gunpowder – Invented in China in approximately 1000 AD. The exact date of this invention varies, with some historians indicating it may have been invented as early as 700 AD. Its use spread to Europe between 1200 and 1300 AD with the migration of the Mongols. However, while the Europeans used gunpowder for cannons, the Chinese primarily used it for firecrackers.

Movable type – Invented in China between 1041 and 1049 AD. A person called Bi Sheng carved individual characters on identical pieces of clay. These blocks were then hardened by fire so that they became durable and reusable. They were then glued to a metal plate for the printing process and removed after use.

Playing cards – Invented in China around 700 AD

Dominoes – Invented in China between 700 and 800 AD

Porcelain – First described in China in 851 AD, although the word for porcelain was first used in China as far back as 300 AD. The Chinese had a monopoly on porcelain until 1708 when a German physicist invented European porcelain.

Alcohol – As far back as 2000 BC to 1600 BC the Chinese manufactured beer, with an alcohol content of 4% to 5%. As time progressed, Chinese discovered that, if they added more cooked grain during the fermentation process, they could increase the alcohol content and make stronger drinks. This process didn’t reach the West until the 12th century when distilled alcohol was first made in Italy.

Bronze – Invented in China around 1700 BC. Ancient China perfected the process of smelting metal ore into liquid metal. This led to the casting of bronze.

Iron and Steel Smelting – Iron was first made by smelting pig-iron, as far back as between the 5th and 6th century BC. Later, between 386 and 557 AD the Chinese invented the process of using wrought iron and cast iron to make steel.

clock-5071Mechanical Clocks – Invented in China between 618 and 907 AD. The first clocks employed dripping water on a wheel that made one revolution every 24 hours. It was invented by a Buddhist monk and mathematician named Yi Xing. Eventually clocks became more sophisticated and employed hooks, pins, rods, and locks.

Kite – Invented in China approximately 700 BC. Chinese kite flying was extensively enjoyed in ancient times and became a hobby for many Chinese.

Toothbrush – This was invented in China around 1498 when farmers would take the coarse hairs from the back of a hog’s neck and attach them to bamboo or a piece of bone.

In addition, the wheelbarrow, the fan, and handheld crossbows were also invented in China.

Alan Refkin


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