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Chinese Inventions

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Chinese Inventions

We are a society of the “new and improved” and we don’t consider the things we have come to love and depend on as ancient inventions, but they are. The Chinese are among the world leaders when it comes to inventions. They are responsible for giving us the beginnings of many inventions we still use today. The printed page, for example, was given to us through several Chinese inventions such as paper, ink, and type. Many of these inventions we take for granted like the umbrella, fan, compass, gunpowder, the clock, and cast iron. Of the countless Chinese inventions, I consider following four most important.

Paper changed has the world in a very significant way. I think you would be amazed if you counted every time you touched, used, or have seen paper in one day of your life. Paper is known to have been used as far back as 5000 years ago in Egypt. The Egyptians used what is known as papyrus which is not what we use today in 2011. It was during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) that paper was not only invented, but they also made it new and improved. Cai Lun in 105 CE improved both the technique and the quality of paper. “Modern Technologies have simplified the process but the method of Cai Lun basically stays unchanged” today. (Sayre, 2012, p 226).

The Chinese had developed a way to put print onto paper by carving words and pictures into wooden blocks, putting the block into ink, and then pressing it onto paper. This is very similar to the rubber stamp we use today for crafts and other applications. Each block consisted of an entire page of text and illustrations. This was very time consuming because if you made a mistake the entire page had to be thrown out. They were able to make printing improved and invented movable block printing. Movable block printing consisted of individual characters made out of hardened clay and then glued to an iron plate. Once the printing was done, the clay blocks were taken off and put away for later use because they could be used over and over again. This would have been more time efficient not to mention cost efficient.

I think the compass falls under my definition of a sleeper invention. It is something that brings little thought to most people and almost always is not on your list of must haves unless you were stranded in the middle of nowhere. The Chinese initially used the compass for religious practices and then navigational purposes. It uses a very simple concept of north, south, east and west. Before the compass, explorers navigated by sight such as shore lines or points of interest. Maps and technology such as Global Positioning Systems is how we have expanded and improved on the invention of the compass.

The primary reason I believe gunpowder is one of the four great inventions of the Chinese is because it changed the course of history and the world. Even though man was fighting wars and killing each other long before gunpowder existed, it made warfare easier and more devastating. There are some positive uses for gunpowder such as breaking up earth and rock for projects like tunnel construction and mining applications. Although it took almost 14 years to complete Mt. Rushmore, it actually only took 6 years for the construction. Without gunpowder, who knows how long it would have taken to carve four great American Presidents out of a mountain of stone.

However the most important Chinese invention is paper. It was the transfer of information, collaboration of ideas, and the sharing of knowledge that led man to invent paper. Without the printed information and knowledge, it is highly unlikely the greatest inventions in the history of the world would have ever come to fruition. Most people will agree the greatest inventions in history might include electricity and the automobile, or the telephone and television. The transfer of knowledge and information makes it easier to take these great inventions, and not so great inventions, and expand on them, making them better.

Paper and text is easy to take for granted. Most people would notice if they didn’t have the daily news paper to read. Most importantly our historical documents, the history of our nation and the world are recorded on paper. Wars are prevented by signing treaties and the Declaration of Independence tells all Americans they live in a free country. The Chinese have given our society many great inventions but without paper to record these inventions, where would we be today?

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