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Technologies and Inventions of Ancient China

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Bronze Zun (wine storeage vessel)

Bronze Zun (wine storeage vessel)

Focus Question: 

What were important technologies of China including bronze casting, silk manufacture, and gunpowder?


Topics on the Page


Overview of Ancient Chinese Technologies


Bronze Casting




Silk Manufacture




The Compass


Ancient Chinese Rockets


Cross-Links to other History of Technology pages






Overview of Ancient Chinese Technology



This page is about the inventions that Ancient China has created, many of these inventions are of importance because of how they changed the world. Paper, gunpowder, silk, bronze casting, and compasses have all dramatically affected history.


Paper was created in the 2nd century by Cai Lun. the material was made using bark, rags, and stalks to create a thinner more durable material. Before the invention of paper, scribes would use stone, leaves, and skin to record history or literature. In my opinion, paper is one of the greatest inventions in history. The reason I say that is because the invention of paper has not been an invention that has made paper obsolete. Paper has been around for a thousand years and is still an effective way to take notes and write.


Gunpowder is another invention from Ancient China. Gunpowder was used to create explosions and was initially used for fireworks. The invention of gunpowder has led to powerful weaponry such as firearms.


Silk was created by a process of silkworm forming a cocoon within which the larvae develop. A single worm is able to produce 0.025 mm thick thread that is over 900 meters in length. Filaments are then twisted together to make a thread thick enough to weave material. This material is quite valuable and was traded to East Asia, Europe, India, and Africa. The material was highly valuable and high in demand that it gave way to the name of the famous trading network called the Silk Road.


Compasses were invented by Ancient China. It was invented over 2,000 years ago and in 1000 A.D. the compass was used as a navigational instrument on Chinese Ships. The invention of the compass helped explorers and sailors navigate the world with more ease.


Bronze casting was used to make weapons and bronze vessels.

Craig Libby, March 2022 


The Great Bronze Age of China: An Exhibition from the People's Republic of China at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Top 20 Ancient Chinese Inventions


China's Age of Invention


Timeline of Chinese Inventions and When the West Incorporated Them






  • Bronze making requires iron and tin ores
  • Extreme heat used to cast it
  • Used clay for molds
  • The Bronze Age began in China around 2000 BC
    • Bronze vessels and weapons survive from China's earliest archaeologically recorded dynasty, Shang.


  • The "First Bronze Age"
  • The art focused on the "Cult of the Dead"
  • Occurred from the Shang to the Han Dynasties 
  • Concerned with securing immortality and safe passage to the afterlife, kings constructed and decorated lavish tombs


 The Piece Mold Process:

("Harmonious Balance" which exemplifies all aspects of Chinese culture, is exemplified in its art. Chinese bronze art is a careful balance of traditions and innovations, both native and foreign ideas, and of religious and secular images.) *

Click here for a website that shows the process for bronzing!!

PAPER 造纸术 


external image Making_Paper.gif

  • Ts'ai Lun (Cai Lun) was the inventor of paper, 105 CE. He used bark from trees, hemp waste, old rags and fishing nets.


  • The invention of paper helped the spread of literature and literacy across China.


  • China's first paper currency was created in the early 12th century. 


  • Chinese paper became a desired product that it was traded on the Silk Road.   



Another very important cultural use of paper was in its usage for calligraphy


Below is a link about Calligraphy, its history, and importance in Chinese culture. 


And a very good video about calligraphy and China's past


Print Making

  • The earliest example of printing was a print made on cloth dating around 220 AD from China.
  • Chinese woodblock printing became popularized during the Tang dynasty (618-906). 
  • They printed Buddhist religious scriptures
  • The Process: An engraver would carve letters in relief on a block of wood and then use the block to print images and texts on to paper or fabric (like silk). 
  • During the Song Dynasty (960-1279) literature and illustrations began to be manufactured with this technique using black and vermillion colored ink.
  • In 762 books about medicine, agriculture, and more began to be mass produced.
  • In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) full colors began to be used.
  • Woodblock prints were a crucial way of spreading information.
  • Here is a Video about the history of woodblock printing and a demonstration. 


File:CMOC Treasures of Ancient China exhibit - pictorial brick depicting a woman cleaning and drying vessels, print version.jpg

Ink print of a decorative brick depicting a woman cleaning and drying vessels

Northern Song Dynasty (A.D. 960 - 1127)





  • Silk originated in China


  • The Chinese took pride in their silk


  • Silk was used as currency and could be used to pay taxes, wages, and buy land


  • The process of making silk was kept secret for thousands of years


  • When silk was brought back to the Western empires, it quickly became a favorite of the wealthy


  • The silkworms feed off mulberry bushes


  • They form cocoons that are boiled and wound to create strong filaments


  • The silk can be dyed different colors


  • Many lower class women worked by weaving silk and caring for the silkworms. To learn more about women in Ancient China click here. 


  • For more information, click here


    • For information on the History of Silk Production click here 


  • Compare and Contrast the TWO videos on Silk Production: 
    • Present day silk production methods-
    • Traditional silk production methods-


   Link here for a YouTube video on the production of silk


  Link here for a learning plan on the silk road


This is an interactive map of the Silk Road Network. This map goes through major cities that participated in the Silk Road Trade Network


Primary Sources:

  • Real first hand accounts from travelers on the silk road. Click here





Earliest known written description of the formula for gunpowder (1044)
Earliest known written description of formula for gunpowder (1044)


  • One of the great Chinese inventions
  • Invented in the Tang Dynasty 唐朝, around 850 AD
  • Mix of saltpeter, charcoal, and sulfur
  • Originally thought to extend the life
  • Actually discovered as an accident
  • Used this discovery for fireworks along with use in military
  • Click here for more info



Here is an article about gunpowder by brown.edu.



The Compass


  • Invented over 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty 汉朝.


  • Originally used for Feng Shui it would help determine precise placement for items and buildings.


  • In 1000 A.D. compasses were being used as navigational instruments on Chinese ships. 


  • This was a major advancement for navigation.


  • The compass is believed to have been spread through Arab traders who utilized the new tech on their vessels as well.


  • The compass increased Chinese economy because it allowed for more efficient trading. 



Smith College has its own History of Science where they have many revolutionary inventions from the ancient world. One of those inventions is the compass but there are so many more inventions such as the catapult, the battery, stained glass, etc




Depiction of a fire arrow rocket launcher, or shen huo chien phai,

from the Ming Dynasty book Huo Long Jing

Ancient Chinese Rockets


Brief History of Rockets from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)


The First Fireworks:  Origins of the Rocket


Chinese Inventions, Asia Society Center for Global Education


  • Around 1150 it crossed someone's mind to attach a comet-like fireworks to a four foot bamboo stick with an arrowhead and a balancing weight behind the feathers.


  • To make the rockets multi-staged, a secondary set of rockets was attached to the shaft, their fuses lighted as the first rockets burned out.





The Great Wall of China 长城

Information about the Great Wall of China, click here


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