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10 ancient Chinese inventions that changed the world and have survived to this day
10 ancient Chinese inventions that changed the world and have survived to this day

China today is known not only for cosmetics, clothes, toys, but also for high-tech developments, which have long since taken the lead in this direction. But, perhaps, their main service to humanity is the more ancient inventions, which, having changed the course of history, made life easier for people.

1. Seismograph

Seismograph: An Ancient Chinese Invention. \ Photo:

China, usually not associated with earthquakes, is nevertheless a highly seismic region. The centuries-old historical evidence of earthquakes suggests that China's problems with them were and remain very significant.

Sima Qian, the famous great historian of ancient China, mentioned in 91 BC in his Annals how an earthquake so powerful in 780 BC changed the course of three rivers. In the text of "Taiping Yulan" of the 10th century, more than six hundred earthquakes are recorded in history.

Such disasters were a serious matter for the imperial governments, which threw all their strength into eliminating problems, because inaction and the ensuing cataclysm could lead to the loss of power and popular uprisings, as well as riots.

The first Chinese seismograph and Zhang Heng. \ Photo:

Unfortunately, by the time the news reached the palace, the government may not have had enough time to organize aid and gather soldiers. As a result, the scientist, mathematician, and inventor Zhang Heng (78-139 CE) invented a Chinese invention for measuring earthquakes known today as a seismograph. The seismograph was a large vessel of thin cast bronze with a lid. Eight dragon heads with bronze balls in their mouths are located around the vessel at an equal distance from each other. Around the base of the vessel were placed eight matching bronze toads with their mouths wide open. Accordingly, if the ball is pushed or shaken, then it will fall into the mouth of the corresponding toad, and this kind of served as a warning that an earthquake has occurred or is occurring somewhere.

Heng believed that earthquakes are caused by the movement of air or wind. This is why the seismograph known as the Houfeng Didong Yi roughly translates to "a device for measuring seasonal winds and earth movements."

2. Water wheel

The waterwheel made work easier in ancient China. \ Photo:

Before the advent of the steam engine, internal combustion engine, or electric battery, machines were powered by humans, animals, wind and water. In the river culture of ancient China, people sought to curb the natural forces around them. The waterwheel, used horizontally or vertically, was an important Chinese invention and a leap forward in the technological and industrial capabilities of the ancient world. Ancient China demonstrated a mechanical understanding of the means of production, as well as an understanding of the physical properties of water flow and the force required for creation to operate machines.

Image of a water wheel. \ Photo:

The development of the water wheel, a device that curbs the flow of water, was an important element of Han's economic expansion. Powering the tools of blacksmiths, millers and farmers was a technological revolution. The water wheel has replaced hand pedaling to power the chain pumps. A large number of equipment used in agriculture, irrigation, or blacksmithing have benefited from this hydraulic system, supplying water to irrigation ditches or city water systems.

Du Shi, an engineer from the Han Dynasty, first designed it to work with bellows for blacksmithing as he improved the tilt foot hammer and pivot points for water hammer and polishing.The horizontal waterwheel was usually driven by chain pumps rotating on gears and a horizontal beam, but vertical examples are known that have been used to operate release hammers for hulling rice or crushing ores.

3. Logographic letter

Inscriptions on the bones of the Shang Dynasty oracle. \ Photo:

Compared to simpler phonetic alphabetic scripts such as Greek, Hanzi (Chinese alphabet) is a logographic script. The peculiarity of Hanzi is that the study is a long process, but with the knowledge of it, it overcomes fundamental linguistic and dialectal barriers. As a highly literate form of writing, it formed the textual lingua franca. However, literate people could read and understand the same meaning from Classically Written Chinese.

The Chinese invention of hieroglyphs is traditionally attributed to the mythical minister of the Yellow Emperor Cang Jie, who created them in imitation of bird tracks. It was said that Cang Jie had four eyes, which gave him the ability to see and know more than others.

11 symbols of Dauenkou culture. \ Photo:

The earliest complete Chinese texts first appear on hard materials such as bones and bronze vessels. It can be assumed, however, that archaic forms of Chinese characters were originally used on wooden plates or other perishable materials. Several predecessors of these symbols have been found on the Neolithic Erligang pottery of the Dauenkou culture. Thus, the earliest evidence of Chinese writing appears during the reign of the Shang ruler Wu Ding (1324-1266 BC), although earlier specimens have also been found.

4. Statue pointing south (mechanism)

Statue pointing south. \ Photo:

The south-pointing statue was a mechanical device that used the rotation of the wheels, allowing it to always point in that direction. This is probably one of the most sophisticated devices in ancient China. It was a large carriage, at the top of which was a statue with a raised hand pointing south. This ingenious Chinese invention of the 3rd century AD always pointed to the south, in whatever direction a person turned.

According to legend, the south-facing statue was first built by the Duke of Zhou to take home some of the messengers who had come from very distant places. The country of central China was an endless plain that made it easy to go astray. The Duke ordered to make this machine so that in any weather it was possible to distinguish the cardinal directions - this became an important tool for determining its bearing and mapping the area.

A unique ancient Chinese invention with a complex mechanism. \ Photo:

The south-facing chariot used differentials just like in a car. When a wheeled vehicle turned, the wheels on the opposite side turned at different speeds. Differentials worked by a mechanism that linked the wheels to an axle and linked them to a combination of gears, wheels, and flywheels.

5. Varnish

Lacquered dishes. \ Photo:

The use of varnish is a purely Chinese invention. It was obtained by tapping the juice from the lacquer tree trunks. Its use as a varnish is due to its special properties, such as lightness, durability, resistance to acids and alkalis, moderate resistance to heat, water and bacteria.

Traces of varnish date back to the Shang Dynasty, where it was used to cover sculptural wooden objects and to preserve the walls of Zhou's burial chambers. It is possible that lacquer was also used to decorate the grooves of bronze vessels. The tomb of Queen Shang, Ms. Fu Hao, discovered in the 1970s in Anyang, China, contained a rich collection of lacquered objects. However, the oldest evidence of varnish dates back to the 17th century BC, found in 1980 at the site of Erlitu.

Han Dynasty lacquerware found in a tomb at Mawandui, Changsha, China, 202 BC. NS. \ Photo:

Subsequently, during the Eastern Zhou period (771-256 BC), it was produced in much larger quantities and reached its climax during the Han Dynasty.By the 3rd century BC, lacquer was used to decorate caskets and crockery, and during the Han Dynasty, lacquerware was gradually stamped out and replaced with bronze. The paint industry was highly regulated and valuable.

The varnish was used for furniture, screens, pillows, boxes, hats, shoes, and for covering weapons. Since it was a very valuable material, for example, only seven masters out of five existing workshops could be engaged in the production of one cup covered with varnish. Realizing also that lacquer is a very plastic material, the Chinese quickly learned to give it bizarre shapes, which also made it possible to use it in art.

6. Bronze casting

Manufacturing of a Chinese piece made of bronze, 1400-1300. BC NS. \ Photo:

Bronze casting is a technique very characteristic of the ancient Chinese. The first copper and bronze items appeared relatively late, around 3000 BC. But the appearance of bronze coincides with the emergence of the Shang dynasty. By about 1500 BC, richly decorated ritual cast bronze bowls were being made in the Erlitou territory of central China. Produced in large quantities, the bronze items were made using a piece mold process.

Shang Dynasty Bronze Night Bowl, c. 1600-1046 BC NS. \ Photo:

An unusual Chinese invention, the piece-mold technique consisted of carving clay molds with surface decorations carved into them, before molten bronze was poured into a clay casting. In many places in the Shang Dynasty, bronze foundries were discovered where cast objects were made.

7. Kites

Flying kite. \ Photo:

A popular sport and pastime today, the Chinese invention of flying kites dates back thousands of years. Flying kites may not seem like an impressive invention at first glance, but they combine many industries and an understanding of drag and lift.

Back in the 5th century BC, Liu Bang made bird-like kites that could fly for several days and do somersaults. The philosopher Mo Di or Mo Tzu (circa 4th century BC), the founder of Moist philosophy, is said to have spent three years creating a kite. The Moists, important rivals of the Confucians, were, among other things, versed in physics and mathematics and, as such, were interested in siege weapons.

General Han Xin of the Han Dynasty used a kite to measure the distance from his palace to his soldiers' camp. After the war, kites were used for both fishing and entertainment.

8. Crossbow

Bronze crossbow trigger with gold and silver inserts. \ Photo:

Found among the weapons of the Terracotta Army in the tomb of the First Emperor of China, crossbows were one of the most common Chinese inventions used in warfare for centuries.

Han dynasty crossbow. \ Photo:

Its earliest descriptions can be found in the Moist treatises around the 4th century BC and in the military art of Sun Tzu. However, cast bronze crossbow locks dating from 650 BC have been found in many parts of central and northern China. Mentions are found in later texts, such as Huainan Tzu, where it was said that such a weapon is extremely useless in swamps and attempts to use it at long distances.

9. Iron casting

Chinese blast furnaces. \ Photo:

Since the discovery of cast iron, this material has been used for both weapons and tools. Casting iron requires a higher temperature, but it is less labor intensive than forging each part separately. Cast iron has been produced in China for thousands of years (but was first produced in 770-473 BC). It was a so-called primitive type of cast iron, which is made by using the power of a water wheel, and was fragile and not too flexible, which made forging difficult.

The melting point of iron is 1535 degrees Celsius. Since reaching such temperatures was problematic at that time, Chinese blacksmiths used other, more labor-intensive technologies. The metal melted at lower temperatures, producing a lump of iron called "bloom" or spongy iron (from the English "blooming" - cheese-blowing process). It was used exclusively for the production of simple structures.

However, Chinese ironworkers learned that iron ore mixed with charcoal can melt iron into liquid. The melting point of the iron-carbon combination is 1130 degrees Celsius, but the workers used phosphate-rich black earth, which lowered the melting point to 950. The liquid iron could then be easily poured into a mold to make a hard but brittle iron. This technique became widespread by 300 BC, and by the Han Dynasty, they learned how to make steel, which was used for both weapons and other items.

10. Tuned chime chimes

The ancient Chinese musical instrument bianzhong. \ Photo:

The ancient Chinese musical instrument bianzhong is a melodic ensemble of bronze bells suspended from a wooden frame. Like the bianqing lithophone, a melodic ensemble of L-shaped flat stones suspended from a wooden frame, the carillon of bells is one of the most religious instruments of ancient China. They first appeared in the form of bells (without a beater) in 2100 BC during the Zhou Dynasty.

Chinese bells. \ Photo:

A complete set of sixty-five ceremonial bells was discovered in the tomb of Prince Yi (died about 430 BC), ruler of Zeng in the state of Chu. The musical range of the set was five octaves, of which three are fully chromatic. By the 6th century BC, fine-tuning them to achieve accurate notes was a particular challenge. Musical bells indicate that Ancient China had a complex understanding of music and tonality and, as a result, a complex understanding of the mathematical principles that underlie it.

The making of musical bells was a highly meticulous endeavor requiring precise alloy mix, advanced casting techniques, and good tone. Accurate spacing between notes requires precise dimensions of the bells, which are part of a wide and complex system of measurements and standards. Thus, it is not surprising that bell carillons (Bianzhong) were a valuable and highly symbolic property of the elite.

If China became famous all over the world for its inventions, then a dozen of these countries went down in history thanks to the lost treasures, which are of great cultural value and not only. And it is not at all surprising that they have been searched for for many years and centuries.

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