China is well known for its introduction of ways and means to help ease the life of mankind. Among the inventions of ancient China, four emerged as great contributions to the developments and changes not only to the country, but also to the world’s economy and culture which are called Four Great Inventions of ancient China.
The four great inventions were papermaking, printing, gunpowder and compass.
Four Great Inventions One--Papermaking
One of the Four Great inventions of ancient China is paper making which is a great contribution to the world's cultural development and international communication.
Papermaking as invention of ancient China has traditionally been traced to China about 105 AD, when Cai Lun, an official of the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), created a sheet of paper using mulberry along with fishnets, old rags, and hemp waste.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) paper was folded and sewn into square bags to preserve the flavor of tea, while the later Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) was the first government on earth to issue paper-printed money.
Modern papermaking began in the early 1800s in Europe with the development of the Fourdrinier machine, which produces a continuous roll of paper rather than individual sheets. The papermaking machine in Europe were developed from Four Great Inventions of ancient China—papermaking.
Four Great Inventions Two--Printing
During the Sui Dynasty, printing is accomplished by mean of a knife cut laterally reversed characters on wooden boards, paint ink on it, and then print the characters on the paper.
At that time, it was a very painstaking task to print a book, since the wooden board can be used once and the boards are specially made for the printing of the book.
The difficulty was solved by a lettering worker Bi Sheng in the 11th century, who spent 40 years to make type of the Chinese characters and created printing technology as one of the famous Four Great Inventions of ancient China.
He used lime cement as material, molded into square columns, carved a laterally reversed Chinese character on the bottom of one column, and then baked to hard in a furnace. These columns could be arranged according to the contents of the book to be printed, so the type could be reused unlimited times.
This printing technique of invention of ancient China is the rudiment of modern printing. Wang Zheng, a mechanist flourished in the Yuan Dynasty invented and developed the wooden type and typesetting method respectively. A few years later, he invented the metal type which greatly improved the printing quality.
The technique as one of the Four Great Inventions was introduced to Japan during the Tang Dynasty and to Germany in the 15th century. The printing technology has helped the cultural and scientific development in Europe since the Renaissance.
Four Great Inventions Three--Gun Power
Another great invention of ancient China is the gun powder. Known as "Blazing Medicine" in Chinese, the gun powder is made by three kinds of ancient folk medicine: saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal.
The prevailing academic consensus is that gunpowder was discovered in the 9th century by Chinese alchemists searching for an elixir of immortality. The discovery of gunpowder was probably the product of centuries of alchemical experimentation.
Since the Qin Dynasty, people have been using saltpeter and sulfur to make drugs. The substances once exploded accidentally, the drug makers were astonishingly inspired, so they tested many times in order to carry out effective explosions.
An outstanding technician in the Three Kingdom Period, Ma Jun, has made a kind a firecracker toy by packing the gun powder inside a piece of paper. It was the first true application of the gun powder which gradually became one of the Four Great Inventions.
During the latter years of the Tang Dynasty, the gun powder in Chinese history began to serve the military field. Later, gun powder was packed in sphere shape and tied up at the front end of an arrow, and then shot out.
In the Song Dynasty, gun powder filled the bamboo barrel and a directional stick is stuck in the back of it. The stick ignites the barrel and makes it burning and shooting out. This device is the first rocket in the world. The Chinese guns were made according to the similar principle.
The gun powder of Four Great Inventions of ancient China is the mother of modern firearms and weaponry.
Four Great Inventions Four--Compass
According to Chinese history, the Chinese compass of Four Great Inventions was invented in ancient China sometime before the 2nd century, using for navigation by the 11th century. The dry compass was invented in medieval Europe around 1300. It was supplanted in the early 20th century by the liquid-filled magnetic compass.
In pre-Qin time the Chinese had already learned the knowledge of geomagnetism. If a piece of stone that has a magnetic force, it is a kind stone. During the Warring States Period, the first compass appeared which was made on a piece of load. Stone shaped like a spoon with a circular base. The magnet was placed on a flat and smooth surface.
Though the original compass as invention of ancient China can move very freely in a circular motion, it has its disadvantages. The magnetic force in the loadstone will be decreased due to the intense heat during molding. Therefore, the accuracy of the apparatus is questionable.
Later, the Chinese began to implement the artificial magnetization technique to make a piece of steel become a magnet. Being put in a position that is parallel to the earth’s meridian, the burned piece of steel are very active and thus will eventually position their direction according to the earth magnetic field.
The artificial magnetization technique is a great breakthrough in making compass which developed the compass as Four Great Inventions of ancient China. Another method is to magnetize the steel needle by friction with a piece of strong magnet.
As a foreign traveler, if you want to know things about invention of ancient China, you can never forget the Four Great Inventions of ancient China. These Four Great Inventions show the bright civilization of China and strengthened the ties and culture exchanges between China and other counties. Papermaking, Printing, Gun Powder and Compass will really bring you great interests of invention of ancient China and brilliant Chinese history of Four Great Inventions.