Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Unforgettable Invention of China - Paper

Cai Lun
Paper is one of the greatest inventions of mankind. Without paper, man could not have written records for the future to know their history. Without paper, calculations and blueprints would not be produce to help the advancement of science and technology. Without paper, there would be no such thing as paper currency and all of us would be carrying heavy coins every day. The creation of paper was credited to none other than the Chinese. The Chinese developed a paper making technique, which would make a writable piece of paper.

Throughout the 20th century, archaeologist have dug a lot of pieces of paper dating back as far as the Han Dynasty. In 1942, a piece of paper dating back 110 CE was discovered in Tsakhortei. In 1957, another piece was found in suburb of Bagiao in Xian province. And in 1986, in Tianshi, Gansu Province, a map written on a paper made of silk and hemp fibers were discovered. The papers that were unearth were crude. It was rough and it was very difficult to write on. The papers were also unequal that added further for its unsuitability to be written on.

The Chinese in the past usually use bamboo or tapa. A tapa is a piece of cloth made of mulberry or fig tree bark that was dried and pounded. However, the tapa, as said were very difficult to write on. In addition, the production of Tapa was very limited. Firstly, the required raw materials for its production were expensive. Mulberry trees were needed of silk production. The other viable material for the medium of writing were bamboo scrolls. However, the bamboo scrolls could be very heavy if piled together. Plus it was cumbersome to write on.

In 104, Emperor Ho Ti wanted to solve the problem. He ordered one of his brightest counselors to take the task. The counselor that was given the task was Cai Lun, an intellect from the Hunan Province. Cai Lun must solve two problems. One, he must find cheap and common materials for making paper. Two, he must make a paper that was good quality, it must be equal spread and writable.

In search of materials for his paper, Cai Lun look it in the place were almost all goods can be find – the market.  He looked around the buzzling markets. Harvest from different area converge upon the area. Bricks, logs, and many other materials come together to be bought and sold. Upon roaming around he discovered two materials that were very common and sometimes, taken for granted. The two items were rags made from various trend from flax, to hemp, to silk, or even linen, and fish nets.

From this materials, he began to proceed to the creation of the paper itself. He studied and experiment ways of turning his materials into pieces of paper. So he decided to pound the materials together and mixed it together, boil it, and scooped them with a frame with screens of bamboo. However, it was not that easy. It was trial and error. He must find out the proper time of boiling, the proper pounding of the material, and the proper material for the screen of the frame. All of this must be checked and recorded by Cai Lun. It was a long time of research. Nevertheless, everything paid off. He found out that adding plant ash would help to form a good paper.

In 105, he presented his paper to the Emperor and to the delight of him, many pieces of paper were produce. The paper was made by the cutting and pounding them by mortar; then, boiling with plant ash; finally, it was poured into frame with screen made of bamboo. Later on, the materials in the screen changed with using of reeds, rattans, and straws.

Eventually, the paper making process continued to develop. The process made its way to Europe via the Silk Road. However, the credit of paper making and the word itself was not of Chinese in origin. Much of Europeans credited Egyptian for inventing paper with their version called the papyrus, the root word for paper.

Thanks to the observance and perseverance of the Chinese, the world had a material used for writing, which would lead to the spread of ideas. Education improved because of paper. Also, the world economy would never above trillion dollar, if it was not because of paper money and checks. Indeed, paper is one of the greatest inventions of the world, and also of the Chinese. 
Deng, Y. Ancient Chinese Inventions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 

Haven, K. 100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time. Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited, 2006. 

Kerbs, C. Groundbreaking Scientific Experiments, Inventions, and Discoveries Through the Ages. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Tsien, T. Collected Writings on Chinese Culture. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2011. 

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