China Pointed the Way

In the last post, I wrote about Zhang Heng, the man who invented the first seismograph centuries before anyone in the West would consider it.  In this post, you will discover that the Chinese were the first to notice that the lodestone pointed one way, which led to the invention of the compass. The first compass was on a square slab, which had markings for the cardinal points and the constellations. The needle was a spoon-shaped device, with a handle that always pointed south.

Archeologists have not been able to discover the exact time the ancient Chinese discovered magnets. But it was first recorded in a book, Guanzi, written between 722 BC – 481 BC.

Later in the 8th century AD, magnetized needles would become common navigational device on ships. The first person given credit for using the compass  in this way was Zheng He (1371 – 1435), who made the voyages made famous in book by Louise Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas.

Since the Chinese value education above all else, including business and the military, it makes sense that Chinese invented and used devises like the compass and the seismograph centuries before the West did.

Besides being used to avoid getting lost, the Compass was also considered a symbol of wisdom. About the 12th century, through trading, the technology spread to Arabia and last to Europe.

Learn about the seismograph and/or The First Emperor: The Man Who Made China


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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5 Responses to China Pointed the Way

  1. […] For other Chinese inventions, see China Points the Way – the invention of the compass […]

  2. I like learning about the inventions of ancient China, before they stopped developing travelers like Zheng He, lost their innovative and adventurous nature, got addicted to opium, became the slaves of gunboat policies and World War peace treaties, went through nasty rebellions and civil wars, and ended up with a regime that declared war on their amazing culture.

    At the museum in Xian, there was a sword that had some sort of technology that protected the iron from rusting (aka steel technology) and it was still shining! They had such an amazing culture and I hope they can find their inner China again and stop this silly copy cat stuff.

    Thanks again!

    • In my opinion, they will return to the inner China after they are satsified that they are strong enough to resist any power on the earth economically and militarily so no other nation can boss them around again. I don’t believe they want to return to the horrors of the 19th and 20th centuries. One challenge–avoid the corruption of the mind and spirit that is taking place in the West, and they may already be losing that. We shall see.

  3. Loving this chain of posts! Keep it coming!

    • Are you talking about the Chinese inventions? If so, they will appear spread out among others and after they all are active posts, I will go back and provide more links between that series. Thanks.

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