Author: changabula

Chinese Inventions, Discoveries and Other Contributions   [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2007-1-25 20:52:00 |Display all floors
The parachute

Most people know that Leonardo da Vinci left sketches of the parachute, which was the first appearance of the idea in Europe. However, the Chinese seem to have invented the parachute and actually used it well over fifteen hundred years before Leonardo.

    The first textual evidence we have for this is in the famous Historical Records of China's greatest historian, Ssuma Ch'ien, which was completed about 90 BC. We can therefore safely consider the parachute as dating from at least the second century Bc. Ssuma Ch'ien had access to vast archives, and the fact that he attributed the parachute to such remote antiquity means that its origins may well have been some centuries before this time.

  As the story goes, the legendary hero, Emperor Shun, was fleeing from his father, who wanted to kill him. He took refuge in a large granary tower, and his father set light to it, hoping to burn him to death. But Shun tied a number of large conical straw hats together and jumped, using them as a parachute. From this we can assume that there was indeed a jump by someone and that over the years the tale became attached to a legendary episode in the life of Shun. There was a commentary on the story in the eighth century AD by Ssuma Chen (a different person from the historian just mentioned), who remarked that the hats acted like the wings of a bird, making Shun's body light and bringing him safely to the ground.

  Needham brings forward a medieval mention of the use of the parachute, from a book called Lacquer Table History by Yo K'o. This book was published in 1214 and recounts events witnessed at Canton in 1192. In Canton at that time there was a large Arab community of merchants, who had their own mosques, one of which had a 'grey cloud-piercing minaret like a pointed silver pen' with a spiral staircase inside. At the very top was a huge golden , which was missing one leg. The leg had been stolen in 1180 by a cunning thief who had escaped by parachute. The robber's own account is preserved, for he seems to have been something of a local hero. He describes the escape as follows: 'I descended by holding on to two umbrellas without handles. After I jumped into the air the high wind kept them fully open, making them like wings for me, and so I reached the ground without any injury.'

  We have documentary evidence that the first construction and use of a parachute in Europe was due to a report 'of a visitor to Thailand, who witnessed its use by Chinese and Siamese acrobats. The account was written by Simon de la Loubere, appointed Ambassador to Siam by King Louis XIV of France from 1687 to 1688. In his Historical Relation he wrote:

   There dyed [died] one, some Years since, who leap'd from the Hoop, supporting himself only by two Umbrelia's, the hands of which were firmly fix'd to his Girdle; the Wind carry'd him accidentally sometimes to the Ground, sometimes on Trees or Houses, and sometimes into the River. He so exceedingly diverted the King of Siam, that this Prince had made him a great Lord; he had lodged him in the Palace, and had given him a great Title; or, as they say, a great Name

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Post time 2007-1-25 20:54:08 |Display all floors
Hot-air Balloons

Chinese globe lanterns made of paper, like the one shown here, were used as miniature hot-air balloons in China for centuries. The invention of paper came at about the same time as the first balloons were tested - the second century BC.

  By the second century BC, the Chinese were making miniature hot-air balloons using eggshells. A book written at that time, The Ten Thousand Infallible Arts of the Prince of Huai-Nan, mentions this pastime: "Eggs can be made to fly in the air by the aid of burning tinder."

  An ancient commentary added to the text explains further: "Take an egg and remove the contents from the shell, then ignite a little mugwort tinder inside the hole so as to cause a strong air current: The egg will of itself rise in the air and fly away." Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is a very common weed, the long, dried stalks of which were used in China as tinder for lighting fires, and powdered as a flammable element in incense sticks.

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Post time 2007-1-25 20:56:22 |Display all floors
Circulation of the blood

  Most people believe that the circulation of the blood in the body was discovered by William Harvey, and that it was he who first brought the idea to the attention of the world when he published his discovery in 1628. Harvey was, however, not even the first European to recognize the concept, and the Chinese had made the discovery two thousand years before.

  In Europe, Harvey was anticipated by Michael Servetus (1546), Realdo Colombo (1559), Andrea Cesalpino (1571) and Giordano Bruno (1590). These men had read of the circulation of the blood in the writings of an Arab of Damascus, al-Nafis (died 1288), who himself seems to have obtained the idea from China. The writings of al-Nafis translated into Latin were lost, and rediscovered by a scholar as recently as 1956, establishing the source for Europe.

  In China, indisputable and voluminous textual evidence exists to prove that the circulation of the blood was an established doctrine by the second century BC at the latest. For the idea to have become elaborated by this time, however, into the full and complex doctrine that appears in The Yellow Emperor's Manual of Corporeal Medicine (China's equivalent of the Hippocratic writings of Greece), the original notion must have appeared a very long time previously. It is safe to say that the idea occurred in China about two thousand years before it found acceptance in the West.

  The ancient Chinese conceived of two separate circulations of fluids in the body. Blood, pumped by the heart, flowed through the arteries, veins and capillaries. Ch'i, an ethereal, rarefied form of energy, was pumped by the lungs to circulate through the body in invisible tracts. The concept of this dual circulation of fluids was central to the practice of acupuncture.

  The Chinese traditionally identified twenty-eight different types of pulse, which they recognized as emanating from the pumping heart. The entire view of the body and its functioning was that of a dual circulation theory of blood (which was yin) and ch'i (which was yang). The two were interrelated. As a text dating from about the time of Christ says: 'The flow of the blood is maintained by the ch'i, and the motion of the ch'i depends on the blood; thus coursing in mutual reliance they move around.' The Yellow Emperor's Manual says: 'The function of the tract-channel system of the human body is to promote a normal passage [circulation] of the blood and the ch'i, so that the vital essentials derived from man's food can nourish the yin and yang viscera, sustain the muscles, sinews and bones, and lubricate the joints.'

The Manual also says: 'What we call the vascular system is like dykes and retaining walls forming a circle of tunnels which control the path that is traversed by blood so that it cannot escape or find anywhere to leak away.' The Chinese, always so methodical at measuring and weighing things, carried out investigations in which they removed the blood vessels from corpses, stretched them to their full length, and made measurements of the total distance traveled by the blood in one circuit. This was estimated by these measurements to be 162 feet.

  Once every twenty-four hours, the blood circulation and the ch'i circulation 'met' again in the wrist, having completed fifty blood circuits, so that the circulations coincided. The Chinese thus computed that the blood flowed 8 1 00 feet per day. During this time, 13,500 breaths were supposed to take place; this meant that the blood flowed six inches for every breath. By making all these calculations, the Chinese imagined themselves to be pinning down the phenomenon quite comfortably.

  The heart was clearly conceived of as pumping the blood. Indeed, Chinese doctors used in their classrooms an extraordinary system of bellows and bamboo tubes to pump liquid in demonstrations for their pupils, showing how the heart and blood circulation worked.

  In the calculations of the flow of the blood in the body, each circulation was estimated as taking 28.8 minutes. We know through medical research that this is too slow by sixtyfold, the true time being only thirty seconds. William Harvey had not come to any conclusion about this, speculating that the time taken might be 'half an hour ... an hour, or even ... a day'.

  The Dutch East India physician, Willem ten Rhijne, stated in his book of 1685, Mantissa Schematica de Acupunctura, that the circulation of the blood was one of the basic tenets of the whole of Chinese medicine. He wrote: 'The Chinese physicians ... perhaps devoted more effort over many centuries to learning and teaching with very great care the circulation of the blood, than have European physicians, individually or as a group. They base the foundation of their entire medicine upon the rules of this circulation, as if they were oracles of Apollo at Delphi.'

  In the very same year, the renowned scholar Isaac Vossius wrote that the Chinese had known of the circulation of the blood for four thousand years. As Needham says: 'He was of course taking the legendary date of the Yellow Emperor. But some two thousand years would have been right enough.' We thus see that three hundred years ago, it was widely realized in Europe that th Chinese had originated the idea of the circulation of the blood. But since that time, Europeans have reverted to a state of ignorance on the subject and forgotten this entirely.

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Post time 2007-1-25 20:58:12 |Display all floors
Equatorial astronomical instruments

Modern astronomical observatories derive from a Chinese, not a European tradition, which makes an understanding of sky position easier. They are oriented and mounted according to what is known as the equatorial system of astronomy. This is traditionally Chinese, and it goes back to at least 2400 BC. It takes the equatoras the horizontal circle around the side of the instrument, and the pole as the top point. This may seem simple and obvious, but it was not the system used by European ancestors. In European tradition, which is called 'ecliptic', the two horizontal circles which were of importance were not the equator but the horizon and the ecliptic (the circle described by the Sun's motion in the sky, which is the same plane as the Earth's orbit around the Sun). It came to be realized in seventeenth-century Europe that the Chinese system of equatorial astronomy was more convenient and showed greater promise.

The Chinese system was really very simple. Everything was conceived of as radiating from the celestial pole, as if it were the point where the stem of an orange were attached. The sky was then divided up into twenty-eight sections rather like orange segments, known as hsiu, or lunar mansions. Each one of these hsiu contained certain star constellations which were known as given names. Since the pole star and the stars near it never set beneath the horizon at any time during the year (whereas most stars do), the Chinese gave greatest attention to them, and by noticing where the starts at the top of a sky segment were, they could then precisely specify where the stars at the bottom of the same sky segment were, even though they might be invisible beneath the horizon.

To do this sort of thing with precision required instruments. The Chinese had such superior expertise in metal casting, having after all invented cast iron, that they made large and impressive instruments of bronze and iron. These would take the form of huge metal rings precisely graduated with the degrees of the circle. Different rings representing different sky-circles would then be joined together at the two pionts where they crossed one another, forming what looked like the skeletons of spheres. These are called armillary spheres, from the Latin word armilla, meaning 'bracelet'. One ring would obviously represent the equator. Another would represent what is called the meridian, which is a great sky-circle that passes directly over one's head and also through the pole.

These instruments also had sighting-tubes, through which one could peer at particular stars. The sighting-tube was moved along the equator ring until a star was found.Then one counted the number of degrees marked on the ring back to the meridian ring, which stood up from it vertically. As soon as the degrees had been counted, the exact position of the star along the equator would become clear and one could tell what sky segment it was in. By such means as these, star maps were drawn with great precision, and positions of stars were recorded. The sky became not a maze of points of light, but a sensibly ordered arrangement of constellations. And to make sense of the night sky is, after all, what astronomy is.

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[ Last edited by changabula at 2007-2-5 10:07 PM ]

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Post time 2007-1-25 21:00:51 |Display all floors
The Rotary Winnowing Fan

The Chinese were about two thousand years ahead of the West in their approach towards the winnowing of grain, the means used to separate out husks and  stalks from the grain after harvest and threshing. The easiest method goes back even before the cultivation of crops:

'The grain is thrown up into the air, preferably in a strong wind, so that the chaff is blown away while the grain falls down to the ground. Later, winnowing baskets were used, which required dextrous handing. With the right  kind of rhythmic wrist movement, one can separate the heavy grain from the chaff, which is gradually tipped over the edge of the basket, leaving the grain behind. Later still, the winnowing sieve was introduced. By the second century BC, Chinese had invented rotary winnowing fan. Models of them have been found in the ancient tombs, made of pottery and with  miniature working parts.

[ Last edited by changabula at 2007-1-29 06:56 PM ]
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Post time 2007-1-25 21:02:33 |Display all floors
Deep Drilling for Natural Gas

The Chinese developed a drilling method by the first century BC and were able to drill boreholes up to 4800 feet deep.

The deep drilling for oil and natural gas is a development from these Chinese techniques.

The size of Chinese drilling equipment was remarkable. Derrick could rise as much as 180 feet above ground. Tubes for extracting could be as much as 130 feetlong. At the top of a borehole would be a shaft dug with spades, reaching down to the level of hard rock, whether this was one foot or dozens of feet down. Once the rock level is reached stones with holes through the middle were stacked one on top of another to ground level all perfectly centered so that a long hol 8 to 14 inches wide extended down through them all from ground level to rock level. Then the drilling would begin. A drill would be suspended by bamboo cables from a derrick. Cast iron was available at the time , so cast iron drilling bits were available. These would be dropped on to the rock, and any depth from an inch to three feet a day might be drilled. A deep borehole often takes years to drill.

The bamboo cables were made of strips 40 feet long. A single-strength cable would be used down to 1500 feet, but at depths greater than that, the cable was of double thickness.The strength of hemp rope is 750 punds per square inch. The bamboo is nearly four tons per square inch.

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[ Last edited by changabula at 2007-1-29 07:09 PM ]

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Post time 2007-1-25 21:03:52 |Display all floors
The segmental arch bridge

A conceptual breakthrough occured when a Chinese engineer was the first torealize that an arch did no have to be a semi-circle. A bridge could be built which was based not on the traditional semi-circle arch but on what is known as a segmental arch. The way to envisage this is to imagine a gigantic circle embedded in the ground, of which only the tip shows above ground level. This tip is a segment of a circle, and the arch it forms is a segmental arch. Such an arch forms the central arch of the bridge in the picture. Bridges built in this way take less material and are stronger than ones built as semi-circlar arches.

This advance took place in China in the seventh century AD. It was the concept of a genius, Li Ch'un, the founder of an entire school of constructional engineering whose influence lasted for many centuries. We are fortunate in that his first great bridge, built in 610, survives intact and is still very much in use today. Called the Great Stone Bridge, it spans the Chiao Shui river near Chao-hsien, at the foot of the Shansi Mountains on the edge of the North China Plain. It was featured on postage stamp in 1961 and is one of the achievements of early Chinese engineers of which the modern Chinese have most knowledge, and of which they feel most proud. Many legends have attached themselves to the bridge over the centuries, and about the sixteenth century a poet spoke of it as 'looking like a moon rising above the clouds, or a long rainbow hanging on a mountain waterfall'.

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