The civilization of ancient China produced a wide array of innovations in science and technology which preceded the rest of the world by centuries and sometimes by millennia. This series of essays examines some of these remarkable inventions and discoveries.
Beginning in the 14th Century BC, the Chinese developed a decimal, or base ten system of recording numbers. This is one of the earliest such systems known.
In the first century AD, Chinese scholars compiled a volume of mathematics, Jin Zhang Suanshu,(Arithmetic in Nine Chapters). Mathematician Zu Chongzhi (429-500) calculated the first 12 digits of the value of pi, while his son, Zu Gengzhi, updated the Jin Zhang Suanshu and determined the correct formula for the volume of a sphere, V= (pi/4)d^3, where d is the diameter.
Paper was invented by Cai Lun, a scientist at the Imperial Court in 105 AD. It was produced from bamboo and hemp fibers dissolved in water situated in a mold. When the water was drained and the mixture dried, the first genuine design of paper appeared. The Chinese also developed a precursor to the first paper currency in the world, printed in the Ninth Century AD in order to lighten the load carried by tax collectors.
The first methods for developing raw iron into workable material with the capacity to be crafted into weapons and ornaments were developed in the 4th Century BC, when the Chinese became able to lower iron’s melting temperature by adding phosphorus to the heated metal.
In the 2nd Century BC, this technology served to bring about the manufacture of steel by mixing wrought and cast iron at high temperatures or draining the carbon component from cast iron.
Invented in China during the 1st Century BC, A chain pump consists of a chain attached to itself at the ends, which carries along it pallets of raw materials, such as water or sand, which are elevated to impressive heights up to about four meters.
The Chinese were the first civilization in the world to plant crops in rows, beginning in the 6th Century BC, in order to obtain rapid crop growth without the crops’ mutual interference. Chinese farmers accomplished this 2200 years before any other culture.
Beginning in the 3rd Century BC, horses were utilized in China to haul loads on farms using an upgraded harness with a collar and chest strap (known a trace harness or horse collar) , which reduced the attachment’s burden on the animal and permitted a single horse to move a ton and a half of material.
The 3rd Century BC also saw the advent of the moldboard plow, or kuan, the design of which included a sharp center for digging into the ground and gradually-sloped wings at the side in order to discard excess soil and ease the friction on the plow.
The wheelbarrow was invented in the 1st Century BC and enabled Chinese farmers to transport massive loads over vast distances with ease.
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Think Quest Library of Entries. “Ancient Chinese Technology.” Available March 31, 2002: http://www.thinkquest.org/library/lib/site_sum_outside.html?tname=23062&url=23062/frameset.html.
Wagner, Donald B. “Liu Hui and Zu Gengzhi on the Volume of a Sphere.” Available March 31, 2002: http://www.staff.hum.ku.dk/dbwagner/SPHERE/SPHERE.html.