Some things the Chinese invented or discovered:
- -7000s: rice, millet
- -6000s: rice paddy, alcoholic drink
- -4000s: lacquer
- -3000s: silk, nail polish
- -2000s: tea, ink, umbrella, noodles, soybeans
- -1000s: Chinese characters, pontoon bridge, inoculation, kite, chopsticks
- -900s: go (board game)
- -500s: crossbow
- -400s: compass, blast furnace, cast iron
- -300s: mouldboard plough, stirrup (possibly from nomads)
- -200s: hot air balloon
- -100s: paper, wrapping paper, acupuncture, tofu
- 100s: seismometer
- 200s: wheelbarrow, negative numbers, stir frying, junk (ship)
- 300s: oil well
- 500s: horse collar, toilet paper, civil service exam, pill?
- 600s: china (porcelain)
- 700s: mechanical clock (escapement)
- 800s: gunpowder, printed book, paper money, playing cards
- 900s: canal lock
- 1000s: movable type, clock tower, chain drive
- 1100s: cannon, fireworks
- 1200s: bomb (iron), rocket, land mine, dominoes, restaurant menu
- 1300s: gun (musket), water-powered spinning machines
- 1400s: toothbrush
- 1800s: mahjong
- 1900s: barefoot doctor
- 2000s: electronic cigarette, hoverboard
And that is just according to Western sources!
Compare that to when words for some of these entered English:
- 1200s: rice
- 1300s: gun, silk, wheelbarrow
- 1400s: compass, crossbow, horse collar, pill, (playing) card, millet
- 1500s: tea, cannon, bomb, fireworks, lacquer, china
- 1600s: rocket, toothbrush, kite, umbrella, chopsticks, blast furnace, cast iron, acupuncture, junk (ship)
- 1700s: paper money, wrapping (paper), negative number, soybean, noodle, inoculation
- 1800s: toilet paper, civil service examination, nail polish, menu, domino, tofu
- 1900s: stir fry
- 2000s: electronic cigarette
Shakespeare knew less than half of these – even though all but electronic cigarettes had already been invented in China.
In the 1200s China was so amazing that many in the West did not believe Marco Polo’s account.
In 1368 the Ming dynasty came to power, overthrowing Mongol rule. While it was understandably xenophobic, it took it too far and shut off China from the outside world: it cut off the Silk Road, it destroyed the shipyards that built ocean-going ships, it turned its back on machines.
The West, meanwhile, was doing the opposite, just as the Four Great Inventions – paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass – were arriving from China.
By the 1800s China had fallen so far behind that Britain could force it to buy opium at gunpoint – the Opium Wars. China had become a weak giant that foreign powers could walk all over. It did not regain its independence and pride till the late 1900s with the rise of Mao.
- rice – feeds twice as many people for a given amount of land than wheat. The West could not match it on a large scale till it got maize from Native Americans after 1492.
- tea – seen as medicine till the 200s. Safer than water, it helped to make big cities possible.
- compass – used for geomancy by the Chinese, for guiding ships by Arabs and Persians (by 1100).
- mouldboard plough – cuts through the roots of weeds, turns up the soil and requires only one ox. Not common in the West till the 1600s.
- stirrup – makes fighting from horseback much easier.
- stir frying – brought to the West by Chinese Americans.
– Abagond, 2016.
Sources: mainly “1001 Invnetions That Changed the World” (2009) by Jack Challoner; “The Ancient Engineers” (1963) by L. Sprague de Camp; “Guns, Germs and Steel” (2005) by Jared Diamond; Wikipedia (2016); Etymology Online (2016).
- Welcome to Asian American Heritage Month 2016
- The last 6,000 years
- The White Inventor argument
- technocentric history