Chinese Inventions

Chinese Inventions

We have to hand credit to the Chinese for most of the things we use-or eat- daily: writing paper, noodles, paper money, dominoes, the kite and more! Read on and find out about the real Chinese.

Invention #1: Paper (紙)

Face it: without paper, we really wouldn’t live modern-ly.

Many people argue when – not if – the Chinese invented paper, but  by the 3rd century, paper as a writing utensil was in widespread use. When paper was invented, it mostly replaced more expensive things to write on, like bamboo rolled into threaded scrolls, strips of silk, wet clay tablets hardened in a furnace, and wooden tablets. The earliest known piece of paper with writing on it was discovered in the ruins of a Chinese watchtower by Cai in 105. It was a boiled mixture of  tree bark, hemp, old linens and fish nets created a pulp that was pounded into paste and stirred with water, then on a frame with a net and set to dry. The end result was paper… and that’s still how we make it today! Find more on paper here.

Invention #2: The Toothbrush (牙刷)

Yup, it’s true: our teeth would be all maggoty and yellow if not for the Chinese. When the Egyptians used sticks and the Aztecs used their fingers, the Chinese used rods with the hair of a hog on the end. One one hundredth of an ounce of rock salt, 2 hundredths of an ounce of mint, one one hundredth of dried iris flower, twenty grains of pepper and a few drops of water equals toothpaste… and this stuff maaay clean your teeth… but may make your gums bleed. Find more on toothpaste here.

Invention #3: Paper Money (紙幣)

Traditional coins in China back then were called yuan and were bits of metal (much like our coins today) with a hole through the middle so you could string them together with a bit of yarn. However, this proved to be tedious and the Chinese thought of a way around that: you could hand someone at a shop or a bank or something a bunch of coins, and they would give you a piece of paper that basically read (in Chinese) “This bill is worth 50 yuan” or something like that. Then you could hand the slip to someone and you could use it to buy something from them or exchange them for actual yuan coins. The Chinese called these slips “Flying Money” because they were so light. By 1000, these handwritten notes made way for printed ones… which brings this article to the next invention. (Find more on paper money here)

Invention #4: The Printing Press (該印刷機)

When people began getting frustrated by, when the need arose, to copy books by hand when a duplicate was wanted, Chinese people began to create the printing press. They realized if ink was put on wood, it would make a mark. So when people wanted to make copies of books, they would paint the words on a large block of wood, then carve out all of the wood except the parts with ink. Then they would dunk the wood slabs in ink and put the inked wood in machines. If a crank was turned, the slab would slam down on paper and create a mark. Of course, it was necessary to remove the slab and re-dunk it in ink every few prints. Find more on the printing press here!


Okay, let’s take a little break. You’ve learned about 4 inventions, but to reach 10, we need 6 more. But, by now, you should literally be worshiping the Chinese.  And the next one, if the Chinese didn’t care to invent, we wouldn’t have big 4th of July celebration: fireworks. But to first understand fireworks, we have to touch up on gunpowder.


Invention #5: Gunpowder (火藥)

Called “Fire Medicine” or “Fire Powder” in Ancient China, gunpowder was invented when people were trying to make a powder that would make you live forever. However, it was used in the art of war instead. It started with grenades and bombs and lead to flamethrowers and poison gas spheres. Gunpowder  is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate. When the Chinese came upon this thinking it was a powder that made you live forever, I’d bet a few people were blown up!

Invention #6: Fireworks (煙花)

The early forms of fireworks made only a loud bang and a puff of smoke, but were used at royal celebrations. The discovery of fireworks happened by accident during the creation of “Immortality Powder” and scared many people. Once China realized how useful they could be, the celebrations took off, including firecrackers and more! Find more on fireworks here!

Invention #7: Toilet Paper (衛生紙)

Yes, this roll of wipes was invented by the Chinese. Because it was made from rice straw, it was rough and uncomfortable. However, the emperor and his family used the soft, perfumed variety. Imagine using a paper made of woven straw to wipe!

Invention #8: Silk (絲)

Legend has it that the process for making silk cloth was first invented by the wife of the Yellow Emperor, Leizu, around the year 2696 BC. The idea for silk first came to Leizu while she was having tea in the imperial gardens, when a cocoon fell into her tea and unraveled. She noticed that the cocoon was actually made from a long thread that was both strong and soft. Leizu then discovered how to combine the silk fibers into a thread. She and her husband, the emperor, knew they had to keep silk-making a secret. Silk cloth was extremely valuable in Ancient China. Wearing silk was an important status symbol. At first, only members of the royal family were allowed to wear it. Later, silk clothing was restricted to only the noble class. Merchants and peasants were not allowed to wear silk. Silk was even used as money during some Ancient Chinese dynasties. Nobles and kings of foreign lands desired it and would pay high prices for the cloth. The emperors of China wanted to keep the process for making silk a secret. Anyone caught telling the secret or taking silkworms out of China was killed or tortured. The Chinese managed to keep silk a secret for over 1000 years. However, in 550 AD the secret of silk became known to other countries when two monks from the Byzantine Empire managed to smuggle some silkworm eggs out of the country. They hid the eggs inside of their bamboo walking sticks. Silk became less valuable. Find more on silk here.

Invention #9: The Compass (羅盤)

The compass is Chinese. Originally, it pointed south after the Chinese learned about magnetism, and they called it an “All South-Pointing Fish” as it was a magnetic fish in a bowl of water. When the Europeans later improved the design to make it point north, though still floating in a bowl of water. The compass only became like a modern one in Italy 3002. Find more on the compass here!

Invention #10: Noodles (中國麵條)

Ah, noodles. What a popular dinner. When an archaeologist working in the People’s Republic of China reported finding a bowl that contained cold, dried-out noodles, it was classified as the oldest noodle ever found. The earliest written record of noodles is found in a book dated to the Eastern Han period. Noodles became a much-eaten food for people of the Han Dynasty. here


That is finally 10 Chinese inventions. If not for the Chinese, we would not have 紙,牙刷,紙幣,印刷術,火藥,衛生紙,絲綢,指南針 or 麵條. That’s a lot, and we should be grateful.


Thanks for reading and more Chinese inventions can be found here!

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