As a young child growing up in Chicago Illinois, I remember my family excitedly preparing for the fourth of July fireworks show that took place annually at the Navy Pier. I remember staring up into the Chicago sky at night in anticipation of the first round of fireworks. The crowed all around me excited and ready for the show. From the beginning of the show with the first explosion and until the last firework faded into the night, I was riveted, almost in a spell. At that time when I was a child, I made no connection between the Chinese and this great spectacle that I loved to see.
As I have grown older I have learned many things that escaped me when I was a child. I can remember sitting at home waiting for Kung Fu Theater to begin, I can recall most of the settings taking place during the early feudal times in China. I never really paid much attention to the display of fireworks in some of these movies or any of the other numerous inventions that the Chinese developed over time. I made no connections at all, now looking back it all makes sense, I understand the significance of those things I witnessed as a child.
Now I understand the quality of life many of those things invented so long ago have afforded me today. The following is an excerpt from the Minnesota-China Connection website; You may think that fireworks are as American as the Fourth of July, but we would not have them without Chinese inventiveness. The first fireworks might have been an accident. Legend tells that a cook discovered the ingredients for black powder, and quickly the Chinese were entertaining themselves with beautiful displays in the night sky.
In the year 1161, the Chinese used explosives for the first time in warfare. And who invented cannons and guns? The Chinese, of course. They also used gunpowder to make primitive flamethrowers and even explosive mines and multiple-stage rockets. The use of gunpowder in weapons gave those with access to the technology a greater ability to protect themselves from enemies or to conquer and control others. It greatly affected the balance of power in many parts of the world. Chinese firearms, fireworks and gunpowder were popular items of trade along the Silk Route (or Silk Road) to Europe. 1994-2011, The Franklin Institute) When I was a child I enjoyed fireworks so much that it has stuck with me all these years and so much that I made sure my children had the chance to experiences it too. Another memory comes to mind much later on in life and was while I was serving on board the USS Donald Cook DDG 75. I can recall one summer while we out to sea doing weapon systems certifications. During one particular evolution we fired more than 180 rounds from the ships 5” 54 main gun. After that evolution nearly every corner of the ship reeked of cordite.
This particular assignment brought that memory back. This is the first of the most important inventions ever. Not just because of fireworks, but because the invention of gun power enabled the average man to hunt for food more effectively, kill his prey from a greater distance and take down larger animals. It also enable man to defend his family, home, community and or country. The second greatest invention would be paper, printing and publishing, this Chinese invention could be arguably the number one most important invention in the history of man.
But if I had to chose with having paper or a gun, I will take the gun every time. But the ability to record and preserve information efficiently, could have only been done with the invention of paper. The ability to duplicate important documents for larger consumption by the general population could not have happened without this invention. Here is another excerpt from the Minnesota-China Connection website; In almost every respect, the Chinese were at the forefront of developing the printed word. In 105 A. D. Ts’ai Lun invented the process for manufacturing paper, introducing the first use in China.
The paper was superior in quality to the baked clay, papyrus and parchment used in other parts of the world. By 593 A. D. , the first printing press was invented in China, and the first printed newspaper was available in Beijing in 700 A. D. It was a woodblock printing. And the Diamond Sutra, the earliest known complete woodblock printed book with illustrations was printed in China in 868 A. D. And Chinese printer Pi Sheng invented movable type in 1041 A. D.
Exported to the Western world, it is similar to the technology that German printer Johann Gutenberg used in the 1450s to produce his famous editions of the Bible. And in 1155 A. D. , Liu Ching produces first printed map in China. The impact these inventions had on the educational, political and literary development of the world is simply incalculable. (1994-2011, The Franklin Institute) The third greatest Chinese invention would be the plow, this enabled man too master agriculture. This invention has been modified many times over the years but still maintains its basic function.
It is the reason that large metropolitan centers are sustainable today. Without this invention the leap in agricultural production may never have taken place and we would undoubtedly live in a very different environment . Here is another excerpt on this subject from the Minnesota-China Connection website; Around the Third Century B. C. , China produced the moldboard plow for tilling farmland. This ground-buster had a wing-shaped cast-iron blade that turned up the soil more easily and efficiently. Eventually, these plows would revolutionize agriculture in the Western world.
Chinese farmers greatly improved the ability of horses to pull wagons or plows with the “collar harness. ” Unlike the “throat harnesses” used in Europe, the collar harness did not choke the animal. When horses breathed easier, they could pull more weight greater distances. The wheelbarrow is another laborsaving device invented by the Chinese during the First Century B. C. These one-wheeled wonders wouldn’t even exist in Europe before the 11th or 12th Centuries. The forth most important invention would be the compass, without the compass we would not be as effective exploring and mapping out our environments.
This is what enabled us to cross the oceans as well as continents with certainty of location. The compass is at the heart of the GPS systems today, we use them every day now. We have them in our phones as well. We don’t have to pick up street maps if we don’t want too. This is without a doubt one of the greatest inventions the Chinese developed. We would be lost without the compass today. Here is another excerpt from the Minnesota-China Connection website on the subject ; By the third century AD, Chinese scientists had studied and learned much about magnetism in nature.
For example, they knew that iron ore, called magnetite, tended to align itself in a North/South position. Scientists learned to “make magnets” by heating pieces of ore to red hot temperatures and then cooling the pieces in a North/South position. The magnet was then placed on a piece of reed and floated in a bowl of water marked with directional bearings. These first navigational compasses were widely used on Chinese ships by the eleventh century AD. The Chinese have invented so many things that go hand in hand with our life styles today.
It is safe to say we would in no way be as comfortable or as efficient without those inventions. In addition to those inventions I have listed, here are a few more inventions that compliment the afore mentioned developments. The kite, a wonderful invention that led to the discovery and development of electricity later in history. Cast iron from the fourth century B. C. E. , also used in the development of the plow. The Horse Collar was another invention that enabled horses to be more effective when moving and pulling large loads. (1994-2011, The Franklin Institute)
The Chinese developed collar was far more effective than western collars that literally choked the horse under strain from large loads. And lastly but in no way the least is the Wheelbarrow. Developed in the first century B. C. E is one of the most useful tools ever invented. If you have a home with a large amount of land then you will and can appreciate this unassuming tool. It is one of the greatest inventions to me because its powered by me and enables me to keep my property clean, fertilize and mix compounds with potting soil for flower beds.
I move leaves, rocks and other debris on my property. (1994-2011, The Franklin Institute) The wheelbarrow is one of the most overlooked inventions the Chinese developed, it is one of those tools that you do not know that you need until you have to move large quantities of material, soil, mix concrete or clean up after a storm. That’s why it is my favorite and the most important invention to me, even though I do very much appreciate all the other inventions as well. (1994-2011, The Franklin Institute)