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10 Inventions From China's Han Dynasty That Changed the World

September 20, 2019 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

The 400-year rule of the Han Dynasty generated a slew of innovations in everything from agriculture to metallurgy to seismology.

When a commoner named

“Administrative documents continued to be written on boards of wood and slips of bamboo for several centuries—they preserved better, perhaps,” Yates explains. But after the collapse of the dynasty, Cai Lun’s improved paper came into its own.

The Suspension Bridge

An undated photograph of a Chinese built suspension bridge, with boats docked at a pier in foreground, in the Szechwan Province, China.

According to Robert Temple’s highly-regarded history of Chinese inventions, The Genius of China, the Han Dynasty saw the development of the suspension bridge, a flat roadway suspended from cables, which probably evolved from simple rope bridges developed to span small gorges. But by 90 A.D., Han engineers were building more sophisticated structures with wooden planks.

Deep Drilling

Han Dynasty salt miners in 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, according to Temple’s book. The technique they developed was the forerunner of modern oil and gas exploration.

The Wheelbarrow

A model of a Chinese wheelbarrow. It can accommodate a much larger wheel, thus reducing the rolling resistance, and by having the wheel almost directly under the load it reduced the weight on the user’s arms.

The wheelbarrow was developed in China perhaps as early as 100 B.C, according to this 1994 article by M.J.T. Lewis in the journal Technology and Culture.

The Seismograph

The Chinese astronomer, mathematician and seismologist, Zhang Heng (78-139 A.D.) described the earliest seismoscope known in about 132 A.D. Arriving shock waves displace a pendulum linked to a mechanism which opens the jaws of the dragon facing the direction of the earthquake. A ball falls from the dragon’s teeth into the mouth of a toad below to record the event.

Zhang Heng, an early Chinese scientist, explored fields ranging from astronomy to clock-making. But he’s probably best known for creating the first device for detecting distant earthquakes, which he introduced to the Han court in 132 A.D. Its design was simple—an urn equipped with a pendulum.

When it picked up a vibration, it dropped a ball from the mouth of a metal dragon into a metal …read more


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