China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. That it has seen the development of ancient inventions isn’t surprising. Chinese inventions receive little mention in texts, although they have shaped the world as we know it. We explain why and introduce some of them in this article.
15 Ancient Chinese Inventions That Are Still Used Today
The inventions mentioned below are commonplace, so you may be surprised that they were in existence so long ago. Innovation was the trademark of ancient Chinese Civilization.
1. The Clock
First of all, we are familiar with the digital clock that gets us up in the morning. Not many of us know about the first mechanical clock, introduced by a Mathematician named Yi, a Buddhist Monk who first showed it during the Tang Dynasty.
This water-operated device ran onto a roll and revolved within 24 hours. This complicated device consisted of iron and bronze. The Chinese had mastered the art of using pins, bolts, locks, and rods.
An astronomer named Su Sing revised the layout of this mechanical device and established himself as the inventor of the clock.
The Chinese were also the first people to practice tea-drinking. Emperor Shen Nong first drank tea in 2737 B.C. An unknown Chinese innovator had created a device that was small, yet efficient at shredding tea leaves. Tea farming accelerated between the Song (966 – 1279) and Tang (618-907) dynasties.
3. Iron and Steel Smelting
Producers fashion iron from pig-iron. It’s an invention that hails from ancient China, but there’s no archeological evidence to confirm it. Metallic smelting grew in popularity during the Zhang Dynasty (1600 – 256 B.C.) to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (1050 – 256 B.C.).
Iron smelting grew during the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. to 220 AD). Qiwu Huaiwen, a metallurgist from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 – 557 AD), developed the process of using cast and shaped iron.
4. The Magnetic Compass
Among the Chinese inventions that still make a difference on the roads and even in buildings is the compass. The Chinese used it to navigate and develop structures according to the principles of Feng Shui.
There were references to compasses in a manuscript written between 960 and 1279. The scholar Zhu Yu explains its application in the book Pingzhou Table Talks.
The photocopying process is one of the oldest Chinese inventions. The Chinese introduced the first printing process to the world. Bi Sheng of the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127) introduced Clay Printing.
It involved the production of Types, adding copy, printing and retrieving the Types. Bi Sheng inspired wooden, copper, and lead-type Printing.
6. Paper Making
Reading and writing wouldn’t be possible without this invention. The Chinese were the first to create paper in a useable format. They first manufactured it during the Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C. to 9 AD).
Cai Lun of the Eastern Han Dynasty invented the first set of papers using rags, tree bark, fishnets, and rope. The Chinese had used silk fabric, bronze, wooden tiles, bamboo, and pebbles to write on before this.
Many of us are familiar with Guy Fawkes, the English Catholic who tried to replace the reigning Protestant King James with his daughter, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth 1), and bring her up as a Catholic.
He tried, without success, to bomb the House of Lords. He was one of the first to use gunpowder in Europe but didn’t invent it. Ancient Chinese legions used it to shield their boundaries.
Ding Du, Zeng Gongli, and Wu Zongyao of the Song Dynasty wrote the standard for processing gunpowder.
Porcelain is a particular form of ceramic manufactured at extremely high temperatures in kilns. These pieces appeared in China during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 B.C.) and the Song Dynasty (960 -1279 B.C.).
More arrived during the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C.) Porcelain making is now a creative art form appreciated all over the world.
Martinis, Vodkas, and Tequilas are drinks that all of us enjoy. The Chinese get the credit for coming up with a key ingredient in them – alcohol.
Alcoholic beverages first appeared in China between 2000 to 1600 B.C. There are records of the intake of light beer, with an alcohol content of between 4 to 5 %. The Chinese produced drinks with an alcohol proportion of over 11%.
Chemical analyses of these drinks revealed traces of fruit, honey, and rice.
The Chinese innovated another precious commodity, silk. They discovered how silkworms induced the silken texture of a fabric, and how beneficial it was for manufacturing clothes, slippers, and other items.
They first came across silk in Henan Province. The Liangzhu tradition, common in the Zhejiang province, involved using silk from 2560 B.C. The material became a precious commodity and the cornerstone of trade along the Silk Road.
Archaeologists discovered bells made of pottery in several sites in China. The Ancient Chinese had buried metal bells in Taosi and Erlitou.
These devices generated a metallic sound that became an essential part of cultural events. The invention of other types of bells relegated them to subservient roles.
12. Wooden Coffin
Another Chinese invention that may surprise you is the wooden coffin. The earliest discovery of this innovation dates back to 500 B.C. Archaeologists uncovered it in a tomb at Beishouling.
They found another rectangular-shaped wooden coffin at Banpo. It measured 1.4 m by 0.55m and belonged to a four-year-old girl. They unveiled another ten coffins at the Dawenkou Culture Site in Chengzi, Shandong.
The Liangzhu Culture (3400-2250 B.C.) site in Shandong, Puanqiao, revealed a double coffin. The Ancient Chinese buried another coffin at the Longshan Culture (3000 -2000 B.C.) site at Xizhufeng.
Archaeologists came across the earliest cookware and pottery vessels in a Xianrendong Cave in China’s Jiangxi province. These artifacts dated back to 20000 BP and belonged to hunter-gatherers.
14. The Dagger-Axe
The Ancient Chinese people forged daggers during the Neolithic era. Archaeologists uncovered them at a Longshan Culture site in Miaodan, Henan. At around the same time, other archaeologists discovered a ceremonial jade dagger-ax at Anhui.
There was another discovery of over 200 bronze artifacts at the Bronze Age Erlitou site.
15. Rowing Oar
We can paddle kayaks, canoes, and other boats, thanks to the Chinese. They developed the Rowing Oar during the Neolithic period. Archaeologists found oars dating back to 6000 B.C. at a Hemudu culture site.
In all, everyone uses Chinese inventions without realizing their history. The next time you need these items, look around your home.