One of the most important inventions of all time was the invention of gunpowder. Imagine their enemy’s surprise when the Chinese first demonstrated their newest invention in the eighth century AD. Chinese scientists discovered that an explosive mixture could be produced by combining sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). The military applications were clear. New weapons were rapidly developed, including rockets and others that were launched from a bamboo tube (Franklin Institute).

The Chinese are known for their inventions that still are used in the modern day. Those inventions are paper, gunpowder, books, and much more.Gunpowder was discovered in the tenth century by Chinese medicine men that were looking for the secret to immortality.

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They thought that gunpowder could be used as a medicine of some sort. The invention of gunpowder gave the Chinese a distinct advantage over their enemies, changing the nature of warfare (Ken Hsu, Willy Hsu, Micheal Lu). At first gunpowder was used to blast rocks apart and to make fireworks, later to be used as warfare. To medieval Chinese it was simply an aid to esthetic pleasure. By the 10th century, gunpowder began to be used for military purposes in China in the form of rockets and explosive bombs fired from catapults. The first reference to cannon appears in 1126 when oil bamboo tubes were used to launch missiles at the enemy. Eventually bamboo tubes were replaced by metal tubes, and the oldest cannon in China dates from 1290.

From China, the military use of gunpowder appears to have spread to Japan and Europe. It was used by the Mongols against the Hungarians in 1241 and was mentioned by Roger Bacon in 1248. By the mid 14th century, early cannons are mentioned extensively both in Europe and in China. (Jack Kelly).In China as in Europe, the use of gunpowder to produce firearms and cannons was delayed by difficulties in creating metal tubes that would contain an explosion.

This problem may have led to the false myth that the Chinese used their invention only for the manufacture of fireworks. In fact, gunpowder powered cannons and rockets were extensively used in the Mongol conquests of the 13th century and were a feature of East Asian warfare afterwards. The short squat and thick city walls of Beijing for example, were specifically designed to withstand an artillery attack, and the Ming dynasty moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing specifically because the hills around Nanjing were good locations for invaders to place artillery.(Jack Kelly).I believe Paper was the greatest invention of all Chinese inventions, even greater than gunpowder.

Chinese legend tells that the new invention of paper was presented to the Emperor in the year 105 AD by Cai Lun (Franklin Institute). In 105 AD, Han Emperor Ho-Ti’s chief eunuch T’sai Lun tried with a wide variety of materials and worked with the fiber of plants until each filament was completely separate. The individual fibers were mixed with water in a large vat. Next, a screen was submerged in the vat and lifted up through the water, catching the fibers on its surface. When dried, this thin layer of intertwined fiber became what today we call paper.

T’sai Lun’s thin, yet flexible and strong paper with its fine, smooth surface was known as T’sai Ko-Shi, meaning: “Distinguished T’sai’s Paper” and he became revered as the saint of papermaking.It wasn’t until the third century when the secret art of papermaking began to get out of China, first to Vietnam and then Tibet. Taught by Chinese papermakers, Tibetans began to make their own paper as a replacement for their traditional writing materials (Georgia Tech). It was introduced in Korea in the forth century and spread to Japan in sixth century. There, during the eighth century, the Empress Shotuka undertook a massive project consisting of printing a million prayers – Dharani – on individual sheets of paper, with each mounted in its own pagoda.

Papermaking spread slowly throughout Asia to Nepal and later to India. It made its true push westward in 751AD when the Tang Dynasty was at war with the Islamic world. The first recorded use of paper in Samarkand dates from a battle in Turkestan, where skilled Chinese artisans were taken prisoner and forced to make paper for their captors (Georgia Tech). They spirited them away to Samarkand, which soon became a great center for paper production. Gradually papermakers made their way further west through the Muslim world – to Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Finally, when the Moors from North Africa invaded Spain and Portugal they brought the technology with them and so it was that papermaking entered Europe in the 12th century.

Although there are many things that affect the quality of a paper, papermaking in essence is a simple process. Whether using recycled materials or fresh organic matter, the process starts by shredding the material into small strips and soaking them overnight to loosen the fibers. Next, the fibers are boiled for 2-6 hours, being turned every so often. When finished, the fibers are washed with fresh water to remove impurities and then small particles or specks are removed by hand. The fibers are beaten in a blender or by hand to a creamy pulp. At this stage, dyes can be added to create colored papers.

The pulp is poured into a large tub and the fibers are suspended in the water. The artisan dips a framed screen into the water and with great skill, lifts it to the surface catching the fibers onto the screen. The screens can be left in the sun to dry, or be transferred to boards, pressed, smoothed and then dried. It wasn’t until the invention of paper that information could be recorded and passed on cheaply and in greater quantity (Paper Trading International).

Over the many years of experimenting it has paid off for the Chinese. I researched two great masterpieces from it. But there were many more inventions, like the compass, medicine, printing, embroidery and silk.

When trying to find the secret to immortality they made gunpowder with a bang! When getting bored trying to make something to send messages on they made the great paper. Both of these inventions are still used this very day, maybe it will be used for a lot more in years to come.

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