10 Inventions From China’s Han Dynasty That Changed the World
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The 400-year principle of the Han Dynasty generated a ton of innovations in everything from agriculture to metallurgy to seismology.
When a commoner called Liu Bang became the first emperor of this Han Dynasty at 206 B.C., it was the beginning of a period of over 400 years which was marked by advances in everything from record-keeping to agriculture to health care.
“There were important inventions and developments in science and engineering,” Robin D.S. Yates, the James McGill Professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University in Montreal, explains. “As with all inventions, some of these just came into their own in later, sometimes much later times.”
Here are some of the greatest breakthroughs of the Han Dynasty.
The Invention of Paper
The oldest scrap of paper still in existence, a primitive material made largely from hemp fiber found in a grave in China in 1957, dates back to sometime between 140 and 87 B.C.. But Cai Lun, a eunuch at the Han court in 105 A.D., is credited as the inventor of the first really high-quality writing newspaper, which he created by crushing and blending tree bark, hemp, linen rags, and scraps from fishing nets and then treating the mixture with lye to break it down into finer fibers, based on Li Shi’s publication The History of Science and Technology in the Qin and Han Dynasty.
“Administrative files continued to be written on boards of timber and slips of bamboo for many centuries–they maintained better, perhaps,” Yates explains. But following the collapse of the dynasty, Cai Lun’s improved paper came into its own.
The Suspension Bridge
Based on Robert Temple’s highly-regarded history of Chinese inventions, The Genius of China, the Han Dynasty saw the development of the suspension bridge, a horizontal roadway suspended from wires, which likely evolved from simple rope bridges developed to span tiny gorges. But by 90 A.D., Han engineers were building more complex structures with wooden boards.
Han Dynasty salt miners from the First Century B.C. were the first to build derricks and use cast iron drill bits to dig holes as deep as 4,800 feet into the Earth in search of brine, which they would extract from below with tubes, based on Temple’s book. The method they developed was the forerunner of modern oil and gas mining.
The wheelbarrow was developed in China possibly as early as 100 B.C, according to the 1994 article by M.J.T. Lewis from the journal Technology and Culture.
Zhang Heng, an early Chinese scientist, researched fields ranging from astronomy to clock-making. But he is probably best known for producing the first device for detecting distant earthquakes, which he introduced into the Han court in 132 A.D. Its design was simple–an urn equipped with a pendulum.
When it picked up a vibration, then it dropped a chunk from the mouth of a metallic dragon into a metal frog, making a loud clang. The first time that happened, nobody at the courtroom allegedly felt anything, but a couple of days later, a messenger from a village 400 miles off came to inform the emperor that an earthquake had happened there.
The Blast Furnace
Right around the start of the Han Dynasty from the early 200s B.C., Chinese metallurgists constructed the initial blast furnaces, which pumped a burst of air into a heated heap of iron ore to produce cast iron, based on Chinese technology historian Donald B. Wagner.
The Adjustable Wrench
According to Temple, the very first Century B.C. Chinese used a tool somewhat like the one used by plumbers and tinkerers, where a sliding caliper gauge allowed the pieces to be adjusted. (Modern wrenches have a worm screw, another mechanism, but the purpose is identical.) Initially, the devices appear to have been used for measuring, as opposed to loosening and tightening lug nuts or pipes.
The Moldboard Plow
Based on Robert Greenburger’s publication The Technology of Ancient China, the Chinese were using iron plows to until farm areas as far back as the 6th Century B.C.. But a few hundred years later, some inventive Han inventor created the plan, also called the moldboard plow. The instrument had a fundamental piece that ended in a sharp point, and wings to push away the soil and reduce the friction. The new plow helped the Chinese practice contour plowing, where they followed the contours of the hills, to decrease soil erosion.
Ancient horsemen had to allow their legs dangle as they rode, although the Romans rigged a hand-hold on saddles to help them stay on the horse when things got rough. A Han Dynasty inventor made things much simpler by creating cast iron or bronze apparatus that a rider could slide his foot into, according to Temple. It was such a radical innovation that it spread over the next few centuries across Asia to Europe, where it made it possible for medieval knights to ride their steeds in heavy armor without tumbling off.
The Chinese developed the apparatus for steering a boat in the First Century A.D., based on Chinese technology historian Yongxiang Lu.
The rudder enabled ships to maneuver without using oars, which makes it a lot easier to navigate. According to Temple’s book. The invention required about a millennium to reach the west, where it helped Christopher Columbus and other explorers navigate the sea.
Source of History information and images: https://www.history.com/news/han-dynasty-inventions