Land of inventions (Part 2)
By BETTY WAKIA
ANCIENT Chinese made a variety of inventions and were very good at using what nature gave them.
One of the most powerfully explosive substances and best known inventions that the Chinese ever created and it is still in use to this very day is gunpowder. Ancient Chinese gunpowder made war more deadly, and it has more interesting uses, including bombs, fireworks, mining, guns and even rockets. Civilisation would be less civilised without gunpowder.
In the Han Dynasty around 1,000 AD, gunpowder was invented by the Chinese Taoist alchemists. They tried to create a recipe that would keep them alive forever, but unfortunately, this immortal panacea was never discovered, but they came up with the formula of ancient Chinese gunpowder. At the end of the Tang Dynasty, ancient Chinese proposed their knowledge of potassium nitrate and sulphur to develop a formula for gunpowder. The gunpowder still used today is very similar to the gunpowder used before, which is a mixture of charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate.
They are originally used to make flares of signals and fireworks which used to scare away evil spirits. Gunpowder was used in Chinese New Year, weddings and many other specials celebration in China. Today, the fireworks are still very popular in China and used around the world for celebrations.
The knowledge of ancient Chinese formula of gunpowder spread across the rest of the world and weapons powered by gunpowder stated to appear in India, Europe and the Middle East. In Europe, the use of gunpowder was first recorded in 1313 which they used it as cannons while the Chinese used it mainly for firecrackers.
In the mid to late 19th century, despite early understanding of explosives and their use, Europeans were still able to rule China by using cannons and guns; China did not pursue the development of weapons and equipment like the West. Other countries are also working to refine and find the use of gunpowder, but it is not clear whether China or other countries have a responsibility to improve the mixture of refining but they can still be attributed to its creation.
Whether you are against war or not, the Chinese have taught this knowledge to the world. You must agree that ancient Chinese gunpowder does have its benefits and still used to these days and follows the original Chinese formula.
Before printing was invented, knowledge could only be passed on by word of mouth. After that extremely expensive handwritten manuscripts were invented, but it was slow, and there was no guarantee each copy would be the same. In the Western Han Dynasty from 206 BC to 25 AD, a form of printing had been developed and it was a stone tablet rubbing, very similar to brass rubbing in principle and was used to spread Confucian knowledge and Buddhist sutras. Building on this idea, Chinese came up with two types of printing; the woodblock printing and movable type printing.
Woodblock printing was invented in 868 AD during the Tang Dynasty and it was perfectly suited to print Chinese characters. It was created by carving text and design pictures on a flat piece of woodblock by dyeing and printing the relief onto the paper or fabric. In that same year, this technology produced the first ever book, using full page woodcuts. It was a Buddhist sutra called “The Diamond Sutra”. All of a sudden, this technique of woodblock printing spread across Asia, through Japan, Korea, Philippines and Vietnam.
During the Song dynasty in 1045 AD, movable type printing was first invented by Bi Sheng. He used the idea of carving a single character on a small, identical square piece of clay and then hardened them with fire. He later glued them to an iron plate to print a page and then broke it up to redistributed for another page. Once the print was completed, the pieces were put away for future use. This invention made books cheaper and more available which spread across to Korea, Japan, Vietnam and later Europe.
In 1400s, Johann Gutenberg of Europe separately invented movable type printing further by making the individual characters of metal. The first European book printing with movable type was called Gutenberg’s Bible and it was printed in 1450s. Interestingly, until the 1490s, the Chinese started using metal type. So the printing technology remained until the invention of computers and photocopying in the 21st century makes all books are printed using movable type.
Paper was first invented in China around 105 AC and played a big role in the development of civilisation and which spread throughout the world. Before the invention, bones, tortoise shells and bamboo slips were used as writing surfaces, and their civilisation developed more creatively, which proved to be unsuitable due to their weight and volume.
In those ancient times, silk and hemp fibers were used for papermaking but the quality was far from satisfactory. During second century in the Eastern Han Dynasty, paper was traditionally assumed to be invented by Chai Lun, who was the head of a royal workshop that time. He made his paper by mashing up the bark of a tree, hemp, fishing nets, linen and also adding water until a wooden frame with interwoven weed sieves was immersed and removed from the mixture and allowed to dry in the sun. In terms of concept and technology, the earliest paper is very similar to modern paper.
Paper gradually spread from China and around 610 AD; it was brought to Japan then at the beginning of the sixth century it moved to Vietnam and India. During the eighth century, paper spread throughout Chinese Turkestan in central Asia, the Arab world, reaching Syria, Egypt, Morocco, and Spain.
It took a thousand years after inventing the right paper to reach southern France and the rest of Europe. It was not until around 1490 when it reach Britain and the first well-known paper mill was built in England. In the 16th century, paper reached the Americas, by which time it had become a truly global product.
- Betty Wakia is a – freelance writer and blogger