China today is often mocked as the “copycat nation” due to its tendency to take Western products, re-engineer them, and sell the counterfeited items across the world. However, this is a very recent phenomenon. Before the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took control of the country, ancient China was a breeding ground for some of the world’s most important inventions.
When people think of printing, the first name that typically comes to mind is Johannes Gutenberg (A.D. 1400-A.D. 1468) from Germany. But the Chinese actually invented the printing press way back during the time of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-A.D. 907). The Chinese used blocks made from wood to print text onto fabrics like silk. In A.D. 868, the first book was published, a translation of the Buddhist text the Diamond Sutra.
2. Mechanical clock
A Chinese Buddhist monk named Yi Xing is credited with inventing the world’s first mechanical clock in A.D. 725. The clock made one revolution every 24 hours and was powered by a wheel that turned using dripping water.
All forms of paper currency that are in circulation today exist because of banknotes. Shortly after the Chinese invented the printing press, they also invented banknotes that revolutionized the economy by allowing businesses to trade using paper rather than physical gold.
4. Iron smelting
The Chinese were smelting iron around the 5th century B.C. during the time of the Zhou Dynasty. Iron smelting created such a positive impact in China that it brought about huge prosperity in the country. In fact, the Han Dynasty monopolized iron smelting in order to pocket all profits from the technology.
The compass is the single most important invention in the history of travel. Without a compass, navigating the seas and discovering new lands would not have been possible. Again, it was the Chinese who first invented the compass during the Han Dynasty period. Initially, people used magnetic ore in a bowl to determine direction. Eventually, they created the needle-based compass we are all familiar with today.
6. Deep drilling
In the second century B.C., the Chinese became the first civilization in the world to have developed a deep drilling technology. Developed in the province of Szechuan, the technology was largely used to extract brine stored beneath the Earth’s surface. Later on, the Chinese started extracting natural gas from the Earth. Records show that they were able to drill up to 3,000 feet in depth in the 11th century A.D. The Chinese deep drilling technique was later mimicked in the United States and used to drill petroleum wells in the state of California in the 1860s.
The Chinese were also the first in the world to invent and employ gunpowder in warfare. The invention of gunpowder can actually be traced back to about A.D. 300 when the scientists of those times began experimenting with charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter. Six hundred years later, the Chinese were using gunpowder to destroy the city walls of enemies.
The seismograph was invented in China around A.D. 132 by Zhang Heng of the Han Dynasty. It was used to measure changes in seasonal winds and the movements of the Earth. The instrument was able to give an idea about the direction of an earthquake.
The toothbrush that you use to clean your teeth every day was also invented in China. The Chinese were using toothbrushes made with coarse horse hair attached to bamboo handles around A.D. 1498. European traders later introduced these toothbrushes into the West.