In 2008 the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics featured the four most famous inventions of the ancient Chinese.
As reported by the Xinhua News Agency in August 8, 2008, the four inventions they featured were papermaking, movable type printing, the compass and gunpowder. These are their most well-known inventions and perhaps the inventions of which they are the most proud.
Papermaking is China’s contribution to the spread and development of human civilizations.
The Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2002, states Cai Lun, a court official of the Han dynasty, presented the emperor with this new writing material in 105 AD. Before that records were etched on tortoise shells and animal bones. These were replaced with wooden tablets and strips of bamboo, but these were quite cumbersome. However, the inventor of paper remains anonymous as the earliest sample of paper dates back to 49 BC, over 150 years before Cai Lun’s gift to the emperor.
The invention of block printing and movable type began in 700 AD.
The Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2002 also says in 1041 AD the earliest form of movable type was used, four centuries before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in Western Europe. The movable type printing helped spread the modern civilization of mankind. Print and papermaking facilitated the widespread of knowledge and access to education.
The compass was introduced by China to Europe by the 12th century.
The reference book Science and Its Times, 2001 says the compass was invented by Shen Kua, a Chinese scientist, mathematician and soldier in the eleventh century. This invention of the magnetic compass led to Columbus’ discovery of the New World and global exploration by Magellan.
Gunpowder was invented in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1276 AD).
According to the reference book Science and Its Times, 2001, evidence seems to show it was invented in the 10th century. They first used it in religious ceremonies. It is made of elements (potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal) that people took as medicine in ancient times. Gunpowder and firearms as we know them were first developed during this time.
The Chinese also made many important advances in farming and food production.
This online list of the 10 greatest inventions of the Chinese says by the 6th century BC Chinese farmers were using row planting. They were using iron plows by the 4th century BC. Chinese farmers were using a seed drill as early as the 2nd century BC .In the Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) there was also a rise in food technology. There was flour milling and oil production. During this time they also developed a harness for horses. These inventions in farming made farming much more efficient.
China was by far the most advanced civilization in the ancient world and we should be grateful for all the advances they made to further mankind.