China traditionally lays claim to four great inventions: paper; printing; gunpowder and the compass.
It can also make a justifiable claim to many other inventions including: Iron casting; Examinations; Spaghetti; Fans; Porcelain; Blast furnaces; the Abacus; Ship rudders; Silk; Planetaria; Printed books; Pasta; Kites; Paper money; Ice cream; Wheelbarrows; Acupuncture and many more.
Paper is considered one of China's greatest inventions.
Paper seems such an uninteresting thing, but when you think of it, the development of all scientific and artistic endeavor has needed a durable writing medium for permanent records to be kept.
Other materials like stone and pottery are permanent but just too bulky and slow to fashion in any quantity.
Good quality vellum (parchment) is expensive to produce and was reserved for official documents, it remained in use in Britain up to the 16th century.
In China paper is considered to have been first used as a writing substrate in the Han dynasty, fragments have been found as far back as the 2nd century BCE but more definitely 109CE.
The first paper was made from bark, hemp (a nettle-like herb) and flax (linen).
The secret is to create something tough enough to withstand folding and crumpling and it is the flax and hemp fibers that provide the strength.
One key advantage of paper over vellum and papyrus is that the ink can not be so easily removed.
at Cambridge have discovered that many of the great achievements in science and technology actually originated from China.
Working out who invented precisely what and when is a daunting task as contemporaneous records are fragmentary.
The first invention of something is by its nature an isolated event and it is unlikely that the initial discovery is faithfully recorded.
It is only when an invention becomes widely adopted that there is a realistic chance that someone will have written down an accurate account.
Even so it is quite possible for the same idea to be independently discovered in several places at more or less the same time, greatly complicating any search for the origin.
In Egypt the somewhat similar substance papyrus was developed at about the same time as paper in China.
It is made from the central core of papyrus (a type of reed).
It is from this origin that the English word ‘paper’ is derived.
However it is the Chinese form of paper that proved superior and longer lasting.
In the cold, moist climate of northern Europe writing on vellum (animal skins) became dominant for greater durability, as paper made from papyrus only lasted a few decades before it fell apart.
Any modification is easier to spot - an essential attribute for official documents.
Over the centuries the ingredients have varied, in Ming times bamboo was used extensively.
The bamboo was chopped up; pounded and then mixed with lime to break it down into fibers.
After boiling for a day the pulp is laid out on mesh frames where it can then be pressed and dried.
The legendary inventor of paper is Cai Lun (50-121CE) who is reputed to have watched the behavior of wasps making their nests from paper.
There is a tale that he despaired of making a living from his invention, so he feigned death, he instructed his mourners to burn his stack of paper.
He then miraculously came back to life, and the paper became immediately associated with immortality and then became a popular product to burn at funerals up to the present day.
The Chinese character for paper is , it has the radical for silk which is combined with the symbol of a 'water plant' on its side giving an impression of something being flattened.
Before paper was invented writing in China had been on bamboo strips; silk or wood.
The bamboo strips were tied together through a cord running through holes at the top and bottom and could then be rolled up into a scroll.