Great inventions ‘made in China’

Gunpowder that is used in fireworks is one of China’s greatest inventions. (winhorse / Getty Images / iStockphoto)

The Asian country has been the cradle of such revolutionary creations like gunpowder, paper, printing and the compass

If we read the tag of any object that we have on hand, we’ll probably find ‘made in China’ written on it: this is the main export power in the world.

But, besides that, the Asian country has contributed to the world’s some key inventions that prove to us how advanced its culture has been throughout history. 


Determined to find the formula for a potion of immortality, some Chinese alchemists came up with the ninth century to mix elements such as saltpeter, sulfur and coal. They did not manage to create the elixir they were looking for, but something very different came out instead: gunpowder.

The Mongols and Muslims helped to expand the new invention around the world, when they discovered the utility it had in the war: it served to fire projectiles in firearms and make bombs.

Gunpowder has also been used in mining and construction of infrastructure (tunnel excavations, for instance), as well as making fireworks, a sure art in China.


The invention of paper was very important to enable the transmission of culture, commerce and accounting.

Finding something that was cheap and easy to produce, transport and store was not easy. Before paper, other materials such as papyrus or leather were used. The advantages of paper, however, eventually took over.

It is not known for sure when paper began to be produced in China. It is known that, around the year 100 BC an advisor to the emperor, called Cai Lun, laid the foundations to its improvement and extending its manufacture.

Photo: The five main steps in the old Chinese paper making process. (Wikipedia)

Around the 8th century, the use of paper spread throughout the Islamic world, and through it it entered medieval Europe around the 11th century.

The five main steps in ancient Chinese paper-making process. (Wikipedia)

The Printing Press

The printing press was another invention that greatly contributed to extending culture because it allowed to mechanize the reproduction of texts, a very heavy task that until then had been done by hand.

In the Western world, the invention of modern printing is associated with the name of Johannes Gutenberg (around 1440).

However, four centuries before his brilliant idea, the Chinese had already found a way to print with movable-characters, in other words, using an individual piece for each character.

This treatise on medicine is one of the oldest texts that are preserved printed with wooden splits. (Wikipedia)

The compass

The compass has been one of the most important allies of sailors throughout history. Originally it was a magnetic needle floating in a container full of water. The magnetized end of the needle always points north, which allows us to know which way to go.

It is not clear when magnetism was discovered. At first, between the second and third centuries BC, it was considered a magical phenomenon and was used in fortune-telling rituals.

The first mentions to the use of magnetic needles for orientation purposes date back to the eleventh century. Over time, compasses were perfected and turned into small boxes where the needle floated in an oil that made them more stable.

Translated by Chaplin’s Languages | Find out more in Junior Report


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