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Ancient Chinese Science

Ancient Chinese Science

Over the course of its history, China has been responsible for a number of technological and scientific advancements. Some of these inventions are still part of our modern day society, while others have helped the advancement of our modern world.

These include mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and seismology. Impressively, almost all of these inventions got their start in ancient China.

ancient-chinese-science

Ancient Chinese Inventions

Early in the 14th century BC, the ancient Chinese first developed a base ten or decimal system. During this time scholars have found the first recorded observations of comets, solar eclipses, and other meteorological discoveries were recorded.

During this time, some of China’s first inventions came on the scene.

These include:

  • Abacus – This is an early precursor the modern day calculator. Large sums could be calculated by sliding different colored beads that represented different values.
  • Kites – These first kites were used for special purposes, such as religious and harvest festivals. They were then further refined to be toys for children.
  • Lanterns – These lanterns were used during festivals. They were actually a miniature version of a hot air balloon. When they were released, they would float up into the night’s sky due to their small fire that was suspended at the bottom.
  • Clocks – The first clock was actually devised for astronomical purposes. The clock had a puppet that would hold up a plate to tell the time. During this period, giant water clocks were first introduced. They kept time in 15-minute increments, after which they would ring a bell.

chinese-lanterns

Other Famous Inventions

Throughout its history, the Chinese people have come up with a large number of important inventions.

These include:

  • Compass – When it was first introduced, the compass was actually a religious device. People used it to see if the house was facing to the South so that it was in perfect harmony with nature. The first compass was a wooden circle with markings on it and a magnetic spoon on top.
  • Crossbow – Unlike a standard bow that requires the strength of the archer’s arm to operate, a crossbow utilized a mechanism to fire the arrow. This type of bow was usually set horizontally on the stock. This was a powerful weapon of war, especially when it was used to fire more than one arrow at a time.
  • Seismoscope – The first seismoscope was invented by Zhang Heng. This tool is used to detect earthquakes. It was a giant bronze vessel resembling a kettle that was huge! It was about 6 feet across. This was invented in the Han dynasty.

zhang-heng-seismometer

On the outside of the machine, there were eight dragons facing down that marked the primary directions of the compass. In each dragon’s mouth was a bronze ball.

Beneath the dragons were eight bronze toads that were ready to catch the balls. If the balls released from the dragons, then an earthquake was imminent.

Even More Chinese Inventions

  • Fan – The first fans were made from bamboo spines. These spines were arranged in a semicircle and had a thin covering of silk. This made them lightweight and collapsible. Fans were mostly used by women and soldiers when they were first introduced.
  • Fireworks – Fireworks were used mostly for entertainment purposed during different religious and harvest festivals. They were comprised of bamboo cases filled with gunpowder and a fuse on the side. Later on, they were used to scare away enemies during war.
  • Gliders – Gliders were derived from kites that first came onto the scene in the fourth century BC. During the sixth century AD, the Chinese took this original kite design and enlarged it, while also removing the tether. These gliders were large enough and strong enough to support a full grown man. Hang gliders were originally used for the amusement of emperors, who strapped unwitting prisoners to them and forced them to jump from a cliff.
  • Seed Drill – Seed drills allowed farmers to plant all of their crops at a uniform depth. This cut down on waste and uneven growth since it removed the human element from planting.

chinese-seed-drill

  • Plough – This invention could be pulled by a horse or a group of farmers. It allowed them to till a greater amount of soil in a shorter amount of time when compared to hand tools. It was made popular and became more common during the Han Dynasty.
  • Harness for horses – These harnesses allowed farmers to hitch their horses up to their wagons and plows so that they could share the workload on the farm. This lead to further advancements such as the horse collar, which allowed the animal a greater amount of mobility, which in turn helped it to complete even more tasks.
  • Gunpowder – The first recipe for gunpowder was written down in the year 300 AD by a scientist named Ge Hong. This mixture was produced by mixing specific amounts of Sulphur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate. Gunpowder was first used in warfare by the Tang Dynasty, who used it to power rockets. They also used it in cannons that fired stone cannonballs out of bamboo tubes.
  • Paper – China was the first country to invent paper and printing. Most of their paper was made from bamboo, although they did also try out other materials, such as silk, cloth, and hemp. Paper and ink were invented during the Han Dynasty, while the printer and moveable type were added during the Tang Dynasty. The ancient Chinese also invented books and had books shops in every city by the end of the Tang Dynasty.
  • Porcelain – This special type of white clay is put into a fire at a high temperature to cure. The temp is kept so high that some of the clay melts and becomes clear, almost like glass. This was invented during the Sui Dynasty, and perfected during the Tang Dynasty.
  • Boat Rudder – Rudders allowed sailors to steer any size ship. This allowed the ancient Chinese to build much larger ships as early as 200 AD, which was well before these same types of ships first made their appearance in Europe.
  • Silk – Silk was and is made from the cocoon of silkworms. This process was kept a secret for hundreds of years, which allowed the Chinese to become wealthy from selling it to other nations. It was also used as a status symbol, as only the wealthy and affluent could afford, or were permitted to wear silk garments.

silk-ancient-china

  • Wheelbarrow – The wheelbarrow was invented to aid workers during construction projects. It enabled a two-man team to transport a lot of building materials quickly and easily, thus speeding up production.
  • Lacquer – This clear resin is derived from the sap of the sumac tree. It was used in both construction and artistic applications. It kept the wood from succumbing to rot, bugs, and the environment. It also gave the material that it was put on a healthy shine, which increased its beauty.
  • Paper Money – By inventing paper, the Chinese were also the first to introduce paper money. It was easier to produce and transport than coins, making it ideal for the many tradesmen that worked in the ports and cities.
  • Stirrups – Stirrups were used for horses so that riders would have a place to put their feet while riding. This enabled them to ride more securely, and thus travel farther and faster than before.

More Ancient China facts.