Ancient Chinese Contributions
Humanities: Culture, Continuity and Change
Dr. Ronald Gavin
May 28, 2012
Ancient Chinese Contributions
The world owes a lot to the Chinese for all the major contributions and innovations they introduced. For example, during the Era of Disunity (approx. 220-581 AD) the ancient Chinese invented kites, matches, umbrellas and much more ("Inventions," “n.d.”). The Yuan dynasty brought us paper money, blue and white porcelain and several other contributions ("Inventions," “n.d.”). The discovery of making gunpowder came from the Tang dynasty (200AD) ("Inventions," “n.d.”); the list goes on. The most significant contributions came from the Han dynasty (approx. 202 BC-220 AD) introducing moveable rudder and sails, cast iron technology, wheel barrow, and the hot air balloon ("Chinese culture," 2007-2011). More importantly, the Han dynasty brought to the world the manufacturing of paper, the compass and the production of Chinese silk ("contributions," 2003-2012).
The four most ingenious or innovative contributions are paper, the compass, printing and silk. Europeans thought of Chinese silk as elegant and traders would pay the same weight in gold for this high commodity. Silk was traded along the “silk road”, another ancient Chinese innovation, which stretched from the Yellow River valley to the Mediterranean, nearly five thousand miles long (Sayre, 2011, p. 224). The silk road was the doorway to the spread of ideas, religions and technologies to the rest of the world. The ancient Chinese taught the world how to harvest silk from silk worms along with paper making, glass making and printing.
The first printing technique put to use was block printing, a very lengthy process, from the ancient Tang dynasty. Much time and labor went into block printing, but once the carved block is finished, the advantages of high efficiency and large printing amount made it very worthwhile ("Chinese culture," 2007-2011). The printing technique was enhanced with moveable type printing during the Song dynasty by the inventor Bi Sheng. Moveable type printing greatly boosted printing efficiency by reducing block making time. Other advantages were, moveable type was smaller and easier to store and can also be used repeatedly, saving materials ("Chinese culture," 2007-2011).
We wouldn’t need printing techniques if we did not have the creative invention of paper, also brought to us by the ancient Chinese. Before the invention of paper, characters were written on animal bones, turtle backs or stones ("Chinese culture," 2007-2011). The Han dynasty produced paper from fibrous hemp, which later, improvements in technique and quality introduced by Cai Lun were made using silk rags, hemp and tree bark. His method, although now simplified, is still used today (Sayre, 2011, p. 226). It is hard to imagine the world without this ingenious invention. Everything we learn comes from some form of media printed on paper, whether it’s a book, magazine, newspaper, encyclopedia or journal. Can you imagine all of us walking around with our clay I Pads?
The compass is another great contribution to the world by the ancient Chinese. It was used primarily for religious purposes to determine if a building being constructed was facing the right direction so it could be in perfect harmony with nature. The early compass resembled a wooden circle which had a number of marks on it along with a magnetic spoon on the top ("contributions," 2003-2012). Today’s compass is probably the most important navigation tool we have. A mariner wouldn’t dare set out to sea without a compass, nor would a pilot take a flight without a compass, for fear of getting lost.
Of all the many contributions given us by the ancient Chinese, the one I could not live without would be the combination of printing and paper. How would I learn without being able to research a book or reference an encyclopedia? In my career, it takes a reference manual to complete a project or task safely and properly. I would miss being able to sit down and read a relaxing novel or magazine in my spare time. I just cannot imagine not having this wonderful contribution. I praise the ancient Chinese for all they have given us.
Chinese culture. (2007-2011). Retrieved from http://www.cultural-china.com/
Contributions of ancient China to the world. (2003-2012). Retrieved from http://www.char4u.com/article_info.php?articles_id=98
Inventions, innovations, and other contributions from ancient China. (“n.d.”). Retrieved from http://www.bcps.org/offices/lis/models/chinahist/dynasties.html
Sayre, H. M. (2011). The Humanities: Culture, continuity and change (custom ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
References: Chinese culture. (2007-2011). Retrieved from http://www.cultural-china.com/ Contributions of ancient China to the world. (2003-2012). Retrieved from http://www.char4u.com/article_info.php?articles_id=98 Inventions, innovations, and other contributions from ancient China. (“n.d.”). Retrieved from http://www.bcps.org/offices/lis/models/chinahist/dynasties.html Sayre, H. M. (2011). The Humanities: Culture, continuity and change (custom ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.