Thursday 19 January 2012

Chinese Inventions

A while ago I read a wonderful book called The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester. It details the life of Richard Needham, who spent most of his life studying and documenting the history of Chinese culture. Originally from England, he moved to New York to study, and there met a Mandarin-speaking Chinese woman. With her help, he learned to read, speak and write Mandarin in a year (as one attempting to learn Mandarin, I can attest to how formidable accomplishment this is). During World War II, he moved to China, originally to help the Chinese army to fend off Japan by touring the country and finding out what materiel was needed. Said materiel was then shipped to India and from there transported overland into China. Everywhere he went, Needham visited universities, monasteries and technical facilities, gathering every nugget he could about Chinese history and culture. He managed to persuade a publisher to publish what was intended to be a book on the subject, to be delivered within a year. Eventually the material was published -- in a set consisting of 16 volumes! Even today, Needham is regarded as the world's foremost scholar of Chinese culture.

The Man Who Loved China closes with an appendix listing Chinese inventions and their date of appearance (or first mention; in some cases the mentions post-date the inventions). This list is quite shocking to most Westerners, as is the narrow-mindedness of many Western historians. (Fortunately, this is changing.)  Sometimes even the terminology reveals this. For example, see "Pasteurization" in the list below.

I have taken the liberty of typing the list in from the book. I'm quite sure that at least a few entries will shock and surprise you, especially when you realize how many centuries earlier the Chinese invention was than the European "invention". Here it is.

AD 190
580 BC
Advisory vessels
3rd Century BC
Air-conditioning fan
AD 180
Alcohol made from grain by a special fermentation process
15th Century BC
Algorithm for extraction of square and cube roots
1st Century BC
11th Century AD
Anchor, non-folding, stockless
1st Century AD
3rd Century AD
Anti-malaria drugs
3rd Century AD
Arcuballista, multi-bolt
320 BC
Acruballista, multiple-spring
5th Century AD
Asbestos woven into cloth
3rd Century AD
Astronomical clock drive
120 AD
Axial rudder
1st Century AD
Ball Bearings
2nd Century BC
Balloon principle
2nd Century BC
Bean Curd
100 AD
Bell, pottery
3rd millennium BC
Bellows, double-acting piston-turned bronze
6th Century BC
Belt drive
5th Century BC
Beriberi, recognition of
1130 AD
Blast furnace
3rd Century BC
Blood, distinction of arterial and veinous
2nd Century BC
Blood, theory of circulation
2nd Century BC
Boats and ships, paddle-wheel
418 AD
Bomb, cast-iron
1221 AD
Bomb, thrown from a trebucher

Book, printed, first to be dated
868 AD
Book, scientific, printed
847 AD
Bookcase, vertical axis
544 AD
Bookworm repellent

Bowl, bronze, water-spouting
3rd Century BC
Bread, steamed

Bridges, releasable
4th Century BC
Bridges, iron-chain suspension
6th Century AD
Bridges, Li Chun’s Segmental Arch
610 AD
Bronze, high tin for mirror production

Bronze, rainbow teng (camphor still)
1st Century BC
9 AD
Camera Obscura, explanation of
1086 AD
“Candan” suspension
140 BC
Cast iron
5th Century BC
Cast iron-malleable
4th Century BC
Cereals, preservation of stored
1st Century BC
Chain drive
976 AD
4th Century BC
Chimes, stone
9th Century BC
600 BC
Clocks, sand
1370 AD
Clocks, Su Sung’s
1088 AD
Clockwork Escapement of Yi Xing and Liang Lingzan
725 AD
Coal, as a fuel
1st Century AD
Coal dust, briquettes from
1st Century AD
9th Century BC
Collapsible umbrella and other items
5th Century BC
Comet tails, observation of direction of
635 AD
Compass, floating fish
1027 AD
Compass, magnetic needle
1088 AD
Cooking pots, heat economy in
3rd Millennium BC
Crank handle
1st Century BC
Crop rotation
6th Century BC
5th Century BC
Crossbow, bronze triggers
300 BC
Crossbow, grid sight for
1st Century AD
Crossbow, magazine
13th Century AD
Dating of trees by number of rings
12th Century AD
Decimal place value
13th Century BC
Deep drilling and use of natural gas as fuel
2nd Century BC
Diabetes, association with sweet and fatty foods
1st Century BC
Dial and pointer
3rd Century BC
Differential pressure

Disease, diurnal rhythms in
2nd Century BC
Diseases, deficiency
3rd Century AD
Dishing of carriage wheel

Distillation of mercury
3rd Century BC
1120 AD
1st Century BC
Dragon kiln
2nd Century AD
Draw Loom
1st Century AD
Drum carriage
1st Century AD
Diked/poldered fields
1st Century BC
2nd Century AD
Equal temperament, mathematical formulation of
AD 1584
Equilibrium, theory of
4th Century BC
Erosion and sedimentary deposition, theory of
AD 1070
Esculentist movement (edible plants for time of famine)
AD 1046
Ever-normal granary system
AD 9
2nd Century BC
AD 290
AD 950
Flame test

Flame-thrower (double-acting force pump for liquids)
AD 919
Folding chairs
3rd Century AD
Free reed
100 BC
7th Century BC
Furnace, reverberatory
1st Century BC
3rd Century BC
Gauges, rain and snow
AD 1247
Gear-wheels, chevron-toothed
AD 50
Ginning machine, hand-cranked and treadle
17th Century AD
Gluten from wheat
AD 530
Gold, purple sheen
200 BC
AD 806
AD 712
Great Wall of China
3rd Century BC
Gird technique, quantitative, used in cartography
AD 1130
Guan Xien system
240 BC
Gunpowder, formula for
12th Century AD
Gunpowder, government’s department and monopoly on
14th Century AD
Gunpowder, used in mining
681 BC
AD 1128
Harness, boot strap
250 BC
Harness, collar
AD 477
Helicopter top
AD 320
High temperatures, firing of clay at
2nd Millennium BC
110 BC
Holing irons
AD 584
“Hot streak” test
AD 1596
120 BC
Indeterminate analysyis

Interconversion of longitudinal and rotary motion
AD 31
4th Century BC
Knife, rotary disk, for cutting jade
12th Century AD
13th Century BC
Ladders, extendable
4th Century BC
Leeboards and centerboards
AD 751
Lodestone, south-pointing ladle
AD 83
Magic mirrors
5th Century AD
Magic squares
AD 190
Magnetic declination noted
AD 1040
Magnetic thermoremanence and induction
AD 1044
Magnetic variation observed
AD 1436
Magnetism, used in medicine
AD 970
Malt sugar, production of
1st Millennium BC
4th Century BC
Maps, relief
AD 1086
Maps, typographical
3rd Century BC
Masts, multiple
3rd Century AD
Matches (non-striking)
AD 577
Melodic composition
AD 475
Metal amalgams used to fill cavities
AD 659
Metal, to oxides, burning of
5th Century BC
Mill, wagon
AD 340
Mills, edge-runner
200 BC
Mills, edge-runner, water-power applied
4th Century AD
Mining, square sets for
5th Century BC
Mining, differential pressure ventilation
5th Century BC
Mirror, with “light-penetration surface”
11th Century BC
Mold board
2nd Century BC
Mountings, vertical and horizontal
1st Century AD
9th Century BC
3rd Century BC
Multiple-spindle silk-twisting frame
AD 1313
Negative numbers, operations using
1st Century AD
Noodles (filamentous) including bread
AD 100
Nova, recorded observation of
13th Century BC
Numerical equations of higher order, solution of
13th Century AD
Oil lamps, economic
9th Century AD
Paktong (cupronickel)
AD 230
Paper (invention of)
300 BC
Paper, money
9th Century AD
Paper, toilet
AD 589
Paper, wall
16th Century AD
Paper, wrapping
2nd Century BC
Parachute principle
8th Century AD
“Pascal” triangle of binomial coefficients
AD 1100
Pasteurization of wine
AD 1117
Pearl fishing conservancy
2nd Century AD
Pearls in oysters, artificial induction of
AD 1086
“Pi”, accurate estimation of
3rd Century AD
Piece molding for casting bronze
2nd Millennium BC
Place-value number system
13th Century BC
Placenta used as source of estrogen
AD 725
AD 940
Plant protection, biological
AD 304
Planting in rows
3rd Century BC
Playing cards
AD 969
Polar-equatorial coordinates
1st Century BC
Polar-equatorial mounting of astronomical instruments
AD 1270
3rd Century BC
Potassium, flame-test used in identifying
3rd Century AD
Pound-lock canal gates
AD 984
Preservation of corpses
166 BC
Printing, bronze type
AD 1403
Printing, movable earthenware type on paper
11th Century AD
Printing, multicolor
12th Century AD
Printing, with woodblocks
7th Century AD
Propeller-oar, self-feathering
AD 100
Prospecting, biogeochemical
6th Century AD
Prospecting, geological
4th Century BC
Qin and se zither

Recording of sun halves, parhelic specters, and Lowitz arcs
AD 635
Reed on fishing rod
3rd Century AD
4th Century BC
Rocket arrow
13th Century AD
Rocket arrow launchers
AD 1370
Rocket arrows, winged
AD 1360
Rockets, two-staged
AD 1360
AD 880
Rotary ballista
AD 240
Rotary fan
1st Cnetury BC
Sailing carriage
16th Century AD
Sails, mat and batten
1st Century AD
Salvage, underwater
AD 1064
AD 80
Seed, pre-treatment of
1st Century BC
Seed drill, multiple tube
AD 155
“Seedling horse”
11th Century AD
AD 132
Ships, construction principle of
1st Century BC
Silk, earliest spinning of
2850 BC
Silk reeling machine
AD 1090
Silk warp doubling and throwing frame
10th Century AD
3rd Century BC
Sluices, riffles added to
11th Century AD
Smallpox, inoculation against
10th Century AD
AD 178
Snow crystals, six-sided symmetry of
135 BC
Soil science (ecology)
5th Century BC
South-pointing carriage
AD 120
Soybean, fermented
200 BC
Sprouts, for medicinal and nutritional purposes
2nd Century BC
Spindle wheel
5th Century BC
Spindle wheel, multiple spindle
11th Century AD
Spindle wheel, treadle-operated
1st Century AD
Spooling frame
AD 1313
Square pallet chain pump
AD 186
Stalactites and stalagmites, records of
4th Century BC
Stars, proper motion of
AD 725
Steamers, pottery
5th millennium BC
Steel production, co-fusion method of
6th Century AD
Sterilization by steaming
AD 980
Steroids, urinary
AD 1025
Still, Chinese-type
7th Century AD
AD 300
Stringed instruments
9th Century BC
Tea, as drink
2nd Century BC
Thyroid treatment
1st Century BC
Tian yuan algebraic notation
AD 1248
Tilt-hammer, water-powered spoon
AD 1145
9th Century AD
Trebuchet (simple)
4th Century BC
Trip hammers
2nd Century BC
Trip hammers, water-powered
AD 20
2nd Century BC
Water mills, geared
3rd Century AD
Waterwheel, horizontal
AD 31
Weather vane
120 BC
Wet copper method
11th Century AD
Wheelbarrow, centrally mounted
30 BC
Wheelbarrow, with sails
6th Century AD
Windlass, well
120 BC
Windows, revolving
5th Century BC
Winnowing machine
1st Century AD
AD 180


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