China has been part of the very fabric of what makes this world work for hundreds of years. They were a major partner to several countries throughout history, yet they owned major sections of the known world as they did so. It did not matter what Dynasty was in charge, the innovation of the Chinese helped them stay ahead. In fact, Ancient Chinese Technology arguably changed the world more than any other culture known to mankind. The Chinese realized that the creativity they had to solve major problems was found nowhere else at the time. Sure, Ancient Greeks and Egyptians were responsible for some major technology and overall inventions. However, the Chinese are credited with things that can likely trump a lot of what we see from those Ancient Cultures.
The one thing that makes these inventions and concepts of the Chinese stand out is that most of them are still in use today. In fact, some people try to credit other cultures with China’s major inventions. In spite of this, the Chinese continued to innovate. There is a reason why so much is “Made in China” today. Sadly, we know today that the Chinese people are not treated as well as they should be. This has been an issue for years honestly. They also deal with constant pollution leading to sicknesses, a lot of which is preventable. However, many of these people are part of a family line that’s responsible for changing the world. It is hard to honor China, but we should honor their history and their people for what they have done for mankind. That led us to make this list of the best Ancient Chinese Technology. We hope you enjoy learning about these amazing inventions.
40. The Umbrella
Time of Invention:Roughly 1400s B.C.
The first true umbrella is actually truly ancient Chinese technology, dating back 3,500 years ago. Of course, we have seen the people of China carry around umbrellas in ancient imagery, so it makes sense to see that they invented it.
The person responsible was a Chinese carpenter named Lu Ban. He had the idea after seeing children use lotus leaves as shelter from the rain. He felt he could make something similar by using his skills to invent something mobile that could last. This led him to use local wood and controllable, flexible cloth to make the first umbrella.
The concept of Acupuncture first began in China well over 2,000 years ago. The first known Chinese medical book called “Neijing,” mentions the use of Acupuncture. This means it must have been used to help the people of China before the book was written. The book dates back to around 300 B.C. roughly.
The therapy itself had been in use for at least a few hundred years prior, perhaps several hundred. Therefore, it is quite difficult to “put a pin” on the timeframe. However, we do know that the Chinese were first to this. To further prove that, acupuncture needles were discovered in the tomb of Prince Liu Sheng, who died around 200 B.C. Thus, it seems pretty clear China led this one.
The Ancient Chinese were notable horseriders, especially the several different Armed Forces that were present. However, men often fell off of their horses and even had difficulty getting on one. The Romans built the saddle hand-hold but it was not enough to keep the legs in place while riding. That was until some iron and bronze were used to make what we now call stirrups.
Without these, it may have been impossible for certain warriors to ride their horses due to the heavy armor they wore at the time. The stirrups spread across Asia and Europe pretty fast once people began to see this amazing ancient Chinese technology. In fact, one could say stirrups made it possible for medieval knights to ride horses as well as several other major Armies throughout history.
Used for steering without using oars, the boat rudder became massively important to sailers on the open sea for several hundred years following its invention. The ability to accurately control navigation is very useful, clearly.
While the Romans/Greeks, as well as Egyptians, made something similar years prior…it was not a true rudder. It was especially nothing like the rudder made by the Chinese, nor as useful. Simply put, this major ancient Chinese technology revolutionized sea travel and allowed well-known sea travelers to become sea-dwelling icons.
The Chinese were the first to use bamboo to make various products. In fact, by the time the notable Shang Dynasty and those following came into power, bamboo was already used a lot in normal Chinese life. That was around the 16th Century B.C. The Chinese planted and used bamboo consistently for thousands of years. This is likely why it is still so widespread throughout China today.
While this may not seem like ancient Chinese technology, one must keep in mind all that they made with bamboo. We’re talking roofing, water containers, flooring, and much more. Bamboo is such a useful thing to have as it can be used in its hardest form for things like a roof. Meanwhile, it can be cut down to bristles to make things like clothing, bedsheets, brushes, and much more.
Chinese actually invented the first adjustable wrench. This tool used by certain individuals uses a sliding caliper gauge, which allowed pieced to be adjusted. While modern wrenches use a worm screw, but it’s essentially the same exact thing.
Funny enough, the Chinese Wrench was not used for tightening or loosening anything. Rather, the first use for it was actually as a measuring device. It’s pretty clear that they did not really need the wrench in the same way your local plumber needs it today.
The tremendously helpful wheelbarrow was invented by the Chinese roughly around 100 A.D. as a way to transport various things from place to place. They became a staple in China for hundreds of years and navigated throughout Asia and Europe in the years following.
Often called a cart or wheel barrel as well, the wheelbarrow was thought to have originated in Ancient Greece & Egypt hundreds of years before China. However, the connection to this is due to a few temple passages mentioning one-wheel, two-wheel, and four-wheel devices. In farming, the main reason for its invention, no proof exists that the Greeks or Egyptians used it before China.
The blast furnace was a massive asset to the world upon the time of its invention. In fact, a lot of armor and major tools ultimately could not have happened without it. The furnace was made by Chinese metallurgists to superheat batches of iron ore, which then made cast iron.
There is some controversy around the time of its invention, however. It is said to date back to the early Han Dynasty, near 200 B.C. However, bloomeries date back all the way to 800 B.C. archeologically. It very well could be that the bloomeries go back this far but the Chinese did not make the major blast furnace until the 200s B.C.
Since we were already discussing the blast furnace, it made sense to transition into iron casting. The iron ore used to be superheated but it did not always work well. It took a very long period of time to manage and even needed large long-lasting fires. Then the Chinese found a better way.
Steel is obviously more desirable for armor, but the ancient Chinese technology of this time period was catered to the needs of the people. It was harder to afford steel, while iron ore was cheap and could be found easier at the time. This is why a lot of weapons and tools were made from it versus better materials. Cast Iron products became a staple of Ancient China ever since.
While it may seem quite surprising to learn, the true Abacus was invented by the Chinese. It was used as a way to keep up with specified numbers and do simple calculations. On the Chinese Suanpan model, beads ran on wires as a way of doing calculations quickly and effectively. Both the Roman & Chinese models originated with the idea of counting things with 5 fingers per hand.
The Roman Model had 4 plus 1 bead per decimal place while the Chinese had 5 plus 2. In fact, hexadecimal use (any base up to 18) was possible with Suanpan. While the Roman model was mostly used for counting only, the Suanpan effectively allowed people to multiply, divide, subtract, add, and even find cube roots. Today’s calculator is actually based on the Suanpan Abacus too.
Suspension Bridges have become a major part of our daily lives. Some of our roadways are on a version of the suspension bridge too, such as San Fransico’s Golden Gate Bridge. While bridges were common across the world for centuries, the suspension bridge is a form of ancient Chinese technology. It used suspension cables on vertical suspenders to hold up the load-bearing deck.
These bridges could hold more weight than others. Keep in mind, the lack of materials Ancient Civilizations had. Suspension bridges allowed for all of the weight to be distributed, which made everything stronger. The Chinese version evolved from simple rope bridges to eventually strong, tough bridges with this system in play.
We can read your mind. How is alcohol considered ancient Chinese technology? Well, we do know the Chinese were among the first to make and use it for several different things as far back as 2000 B.C. However, some assume that Arabians were first to it. Yet this was proven false in 2013 when archeologists found 9,000-year-old alcohol-related pottery in the Henan province.
This was more than 1,000 years before the supposed Arabian invention. The tech part comes into play when the Chinese found out that alcohol could be used as somewhat of an energy source. They were the first to use isopropyl alcohol as a chemical power source and medical aide. They were even the first to use ethanol alcohol for similar purposes.
Silk is one of the most popular fibers to possess and even led to major trade for centuries. The first known location where Silk was found happens to be on the Yangshao culture site within the borders of the Xiaxian County, Shanxi Province in China. They actually found a silk cocoon torn in half that dated back to around 4000 B.C. Naturally, the Chinese were known for their impressive silk.
The popularity of silk led to a huge trade for it throughout Asia and parts of Europe. The item became so popular that other things were traded near it, resulting in the now-infamous Silk Road. Of course, it was more than one road and mostly a large trade route. If not for silk’s invention though, trade may have never been as advanced as it became.
A lot of impressive art has been made using Chinese porcelain, including some statues that still hold up to this day. It was invented by the Chinese at some point during the Shang Dynasty, which occurred from 1600 to 1046 B.C. Most people know Porcelain as something used for art or even ceramics and dishes.
In fact, when we see Porcelain plates, we literally refer to them as “China.” There are now several different versions of Porcelain but it all began somewhere. What makes this count as ancient Chinese technology is that Porcelain is used for today. We see it used in electric insulators as well as laboratory equipment and much more. Without it, the world might be a very different place.
The Kite was invented by the Chinese around 3,000 years ago, but the early use of it was far different than its use today. The military actually used them. The idea was that they could be seen from great distances and could easily deliver a message to far off troops several miles or meters away.
They could also carry messages, as the Chinese knew how to fly the kite to properly get it where it needed to be. They also used it to measure winds and distances from place to place. More importantly, it was a great signal device. Eventually, people like Ben Franklin used the kite to do tests on electricity. Without this ancient Chinese technology, who knows how the would have turned out?
While the atom bomb and rockets used for space travel were not invented by the Chinese, they were technically the father of their great ancestor. The original rocket was invented by the Chinese as a way of protecting their people. While torches were used for years as well as flame arrows, rockets were thought to be even more useful.
Their use for military purposes dates back to the 1200s, known as the medieval China period. Early rockets did not always cause a ton of damage, but as they were developed more and more, they became incredible explosives. Ancient Chinese technology like this changed the game, with more tech influenced by the rocket coming slowly but surely as the years went by.
While modern air travel would essentially come thanks to plans by people like Leonardo DaVinci and eventually the Wright Brothers, they have to thank the Chinese somewhat. The hang glider, often referred to as just “the glider” by many, was invented by the Chinese for various different uses. The idea behind the Chinese version was that they’d use kites large enough to hold up human beings.
If they could control where the glider went, unlike kites that were victim to wind direction, it could be revolutionary. Eventually, the strings were removed and the hang glider was born. Although somewhat still victim to the wind, it was changed up somewhat in design and allowed people to use their weight as directional points.
Europe is known often for its clockmaking ability as they were among the first to invent some major mechanical clocks. Yet they were not the first to do this. Essentially, the Chinese made a clock that was water-driven. Dripping water powered a wheel that made one complete revolution in 24 hours as far back as 725 A.D.
Then by the year 1092 A.D. the Chinese inventor, known as Su Song, invented the more modern and sophisticated clock called the “Cosmic Empire.” This was around 200 years before Europeans caught onto the revolutionary concept and made their own version. It even led to watches. However, without original ancient Chinese technology, the watch may never have come.
Some are under the belief that “paper” dates back centuries and that the Ancient Egyptians invented it. Yet they did not, but rather, they invented papyrus. No, they are not the same thing but they did have the same concept.
The paper we know today originated in China through a process called “pulp papermaking.” It was invented by a Chinese Eunuch named Cai Lun around 121 B.C. It then became a major fixture in China by 105 B.C. By the A.D. period, it had spread steadily across the Asian and European world. Today, China still leads the paper industry as the #1 maker and producer of paper worldwide.
Yet again, something that the European world often took credit for. The world of “tea” has typically been connected to England and the United Kingdom for years. Yet Chinese Tea is just as legendary in their culture. It was actually first discovered by a Chinese man named Shennong. Tea and its eventual production became a notable ancient Chinese technology that changed the world.
Eventually, a book known as Cha Jing (The Book of Tea) was written explaining how to cultivate tea. The book even went into detail about how to drink it and the different classifications of tea itself. Today, the world’s largest living tea tree can be found in Lin Cang, China. It traces back over 3,000 years too! Chinese Tea was made to enjoy and even to help as a medicinal drug at times.
Earthquakes were always huge problems. Realizing it could be good to know of them before they came, Chinese inventor, Zhang Heng invented an earthquake detector in 132 A.D. His attempt was to make an instrument that could to detect a possible earthquake and its direction before it reached China.
Eventually, he made this ancient Chinese technology even better by 138 A.D. The machine was able to detect an earthquake happening in Longxi, which was a little over 621 miles from his location. This was the first time mankind detected an earthquake before it reached them. The modern version of the Seismograph did not come until 1848, more than 1,000 years later.
China was one of the main world leaders in farming and agriculture for centuries. It is possible that the ancient Chinese technology they used to help them in this area allowed that leadership to grow. One of their biggest inventions in this world was the seed drill. It may not seem like a hard job to plant seeds by hand. However, it is time-consuming and can take days to weeks to accomplish.
There had to be a better way, right? Enter the Seed Drill. It managed to plant seeds in the soil at a proper uniform depth and then cover it up. It cut down massively in waste and uneven growth, making every seed count. Thus, the Chinese added to their supply and made even more money on their agriculture.
The original bristle toothbrush was invented by the Chinese in 1498. This is critical to remember, as it is the type of toothbrush still used by most of the world today. Several oral hygiene tools were invented before the toothbrush, but nothing worked quite as well.
The original version by the Chinese used coarse horse hairs attached to bone or bamboo handles. Europeans as well as “New World” Americans slowly began to implement it into their oral hygiene tools. By the mid to late 1500s, most first-world people had one.
We should make sure this is something that is explained well. Bronze itself consists of mostly copper along with another metal like aluminum, nickel, or zinc. Therefore, Bronze has now often been referred to as a “copper alloy.” During the infamous Bronze Age, several tools, weapons, and armor pieces used the alloy. It was the hardest metal of its time, so everyone wanted it.
The Chinese were the first to produce bronze objects. They became the world’s bronze masters during this point in history and were notable for the beauty of their bronze work. They used inscriptions and decorative patterns in it, making any Bronze item unique to the Chinese makers. Their work was always elaborate but perhaps the area this was most seen was in their armor and ships.
Many people see movies & television, then assume everything is connected to a group that it isn’t. Take fans for instance. While Kings & Queens in Ancient Egypt/Greece often had slaves or ladies in waiting to fan them, this was often done with a big leaf.
The first true “fan” we know of today originated in China. It was used by women to cool down Kings or Emperors and then by soldiers in combat. In fact, fans are a staple in the Kung-Fu martial art. These fans were made simply of bamboo and silk. Eventually, the hand fan came about. Women often carried these fans, helping them grow so popular that they are now staples in Chinese culture.
Astrological content is often connected to Ancient Greece & Egypt. It is even a major part of the Mayan Culture among many others around the world. In some areas, vast and impressive astrological planetariums popped up. Yet the first one was actually completed by the Chinese. It was ordered by the Emperor at the time, as they believed astrology was connected to health and success.
The Chinese made several, but the first was a big enclosed place with the constellations inside. Chinese Astrology was on par, if not ahead of most of the known world. In fact, Chinese astrological writings date back all the way to 2650 B.C. The Chinese have been fascinated with astrology since this time. To this day, there are still several cultural connections to it.
There are many forms of Lacquer today, but the original one invented by the Chinese used another invention of theirs, alcohol. Essentially, they made a liquid formed by shellac dissolved in alcohol or another synthetic substance. It is then added to something like wood or metal. When it dries, it hardens to make a truly incredible protective coating.
This helped several things such as their doors, flooring, and walls. At the time, it was used more for wood as a lot of Chinese homes were using this at the time. Not only did it sure up the wood, but it also made the surface waterproof. After the Chinese invented it, more lacquer types were invented in Europe, Asia, and beyond.
While it may seem odd to have something like this on a list involving ancient Chinese technology, it is actually of big importance. It does not matter if we’re discussing examinations academically or examinations in healthcare, they are clearly good to have. Of course, the Ancient Greeks were well-known for their academic innovation. Yet they did not invent one major thing here.
The true examination system that we use in the West was invented by the Chinese. Combined with printing, Chinese paper made it easier to examine a person’s knowledge. In order to move up in political power within China, you had to pass rigorous exams. Though not technology to some, an entire examination system is of massive importance to the world today.
The original fork was invented by the Chinese using bone. In fact, bone forks have been found by archeologists dating back to the Bronze Age. Yet it was likely that these utensils were used well before this time period too.
Several Chinese Dynasties used them and as time went on, forks were eventually made out of several different things. Bronze forks were a thing for a while, as well as various different metals. Eventually, Emperors even had utensils made from gold and silver. Yet this all started with the original bone forks.
The Chinese invented the process of deep drilling back in the 2nd Century as a way to extract Brine(water with lots of salt) beneath the surface of the Earth. They felt that by doing this in the province of Szechuan, a landlocked area around 1,200 miles from the sea, they could get salt from boreholes.
They did not succeed right off but eventually did later on. This ancient Chinese technology even allowed them to extract natural gas from the boreholes they dug. By the 11th Century, they ended up digging holes over 3,000 feet deep. It was inventive for the time, whereas today a big drill could dig massive holes in hours.
It is important to make the distinction that Alchemy and Chemistry are not exactly the same thing. As weird as it might be, there were actually three areas where Alchemy popped up. That is China, India, and the Greco-Roman sector. What many find so amazing about this is that each place did this independently from one another.
While there is some stuff that crosses through to each one, but most of China’s alchemy has now become relatively popular. Things like Tea was used for the holistic style Chinese Alchemy is known for. Today, there are still several things people can use from this to help themselves medicinally.
While it may seem obvious today, the idea of row crop farming was not something considered centuries ago. Row Crop Farming is the simple concept of merely placing various crops in numerous rows. The spacing between rows needs to be enough to where a person can walk through a specified area. Meanwhile, each crop needs to be spaced out in their particular row.
Too close and the crops may not grow correctly or as fast and strong. When implemented, seed loss was reduced massively. This is why, while it might be weird to think, row crop farming a slight artform. Individual seeds in rows were not a thing until the Chinese invented the concept in the 6th Century B.C. However, it was not used in the Western World until over 2,000 years later!
Primitive ways or things like flint were used to make fire happen originally, but the Chinese knew there was a better way. The Chinese made the original matches, which used small sticks impregnated with sulfur. This seemed to work very well, but better ways were to come.
Hundreds of years later, various chemicals were implemented. Eventually, the friction types were invented and then the use of white phosphorus seemed to truly complete it. However, if not for the ancient Chinese technology first invented, the matches of today may have never been in place.
Technically speaking, the Chinese invented the Hot Air Balloon. The idea truly began with the Chinese Sky Lantern, which used essentially hot air with a small flame to rise up into the air. These were used to signal the military during the Three Kingdoms Era in China from 220 to 280 A.D.
Hundreds of years later during the 18th Century, a Portuguese Jesuit Priest named Bartolomeu de Gusmão envisioned a larger version of this called the “Passarola.” He felt it could be useful as an air vessel and a quick way to help communication get back and forth between people. By 1709 he was funded for the project and a short while later, the hot air balloon was born. Yet if not for the ancient Chinese technology of the Sky Lantern, the hot air balloon never would have existed.
Several devices were simplistic by the time numerous explosive devices were first used. It should come as a shock to no one that the Chinese managed to find an art-form in all the explosive chaos. The first period in which fireworks were used dates back to the Song Dynasty in China. They were often used for festivities and major events, such as a new royal or something similar.
The Chinese pyrotechnicians were among the most respected people of their time. At one point, the Chinese felt that fireworks could expel evil spirits and even bring luck. Therefore, being a pyrotechnician was a very notable position to hold. Small versions of fireworks came before this, but nothing as significant as the modern version used by the 11th Century in China.
The normal bow and arrow combo were highly effective in the primitive world. However, by the time mechanical devices came along, it made complete sense to avoid working harder than you had to. The Crossbow could send people to the grave faster than a normal bow and arrow. Meanwhile, they shot people with as much force as the original. To top it off, accuracy went up a large percentage.
This was an ancient Chinese invention, but it should not shock anyone. They were already developing a lot during this time period, so the crossbow was part of this. The Chinese invented the “Vertical Trigger Lock” version, the original crossbow. They even used composite material, similar to many made today. Yet there were several others that came after from the Europeans.
Printing had been done before the Chinese got around to it. Yet no one had done the now-infamous “movable type printing” until the Chinese. Woodblock printing was used as far back as the Tang Dynasty, but it was quite expensive and took forever to do. Then a man named Bi Sheng came along and invented the moveable time printing concept and technology.
He carved Chinese characters out of clay then hardened them with fire. After moving them to an iron plate, he used the same material to print a page. He’d then break them up and redistribute things for another page. It would eventually spread around the world until a German man named Johannes Gutenberg saw it and felt he could better the technology. He’d invent the infamous “Printing Press,” changing the world in the process.
This navigational instrument uses the magnetism within the Earth to help people reach true directions such as North & South. The original Compass was invented in the latter B.C. period and first used by Feng Shui. He felt he could use this to help with the layout of buildings.
It worked pretty well, yet by 1000 A.D. the navigational compass was being used often by Chinese Ships. Eventually, while engaging in trade with the Chinese, Arab traders learned of this ancient Chinese technology. This would allow them to bring it to the West, where we have all been able to use one to this day.
Before the use of any type of skin or paper, the world often used coins. Usually, the coins would be made out of things like Copper, Silver, Gold, Bronze, or whatever else a particular country used as its currency type. However, coins were often hard to keep up with even with sacks to store them. The Chinese, ever efficient as they are, felt that there was a better way.
It was often hard to make new coins, especially if certain hard to obtain materials were used to make them. Paper was easy to make and very inexpensive. The wealth behind the paper money was always determined by the nation’s standing. Instead of paper being used as an IOU of sorts, it was now THE currency. Other nations began to follow the example of the Chinese and now we have the paper currency we see today.
Several major inventions involved with ancient Chinese technology use gun powder. Funny enough, gunpowder was actually discovered and invented by accident. At the time, the Chinese were trying to make a potion that could grant immortality to the person who drank it. Thus, Chinese Alchemists came together and mixed sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter.
They discovered that this was combustible, so they ended up using it for their fireworks. They’d also use it for weaponry they’d later use like rockets and cannons. However, it was the Europeans who used the Chinese gun powder to make major weapons. They’d do so in an effort to stop the Mongol expansion. Eventually, the Chinese would also implement it into several different types of weapons themselves, such as its namesake.