Chinese Crossbow and Other Inventions (Viewed as Single Page)

August 30, 2011

The Chinese invented the forerunner to the modern machine gun—a repeating crossbow. If you watch the video, you will see that firing the repeating crossbow takes the pull of one lever. The arrows are in a clip above the firing mechanism.

Then the Chinese invented the stirrup. Prior to that, all of the ancient people on earth rode horses without stirrups and staying on horseback and fighting was difficult without the stirrup.

Thanks to stirrups, the horse became a more stable platform for war. Prior to the stirrup, it was common for a man to ride about seven miles a day. After the stirrup, that distance was extended to as much as 70 miles a day.

The invention of the stirrup along with the repeating crossbow created a powerful weapon. The Chinese could also manufacture items in mass, quickly and efficiently. The Chinese used pottery molds to accomplish this—even to build the advanced trigger mechanism for the crossbow. When it came to cast iron, the Chinese were a thousand years ahead of the rest of the world.

However, by the time of the Sung Dynasty, the world was catching up—meaning China’s enemies were stealing their technology. It’s ironic that today, many in the West accuse the Chinese of stealing innovations. If so, China is only doing what was done to them centuries ago.

The invention of gunpowder did not come from weapons makers but from alchemists. Chinese alchemy has a long tradition that is interwoven with other areas of learning.

There was no clear line between alchemy and politics. In Chinese, the word for politics and finding a cure meant the same thing.

All Chinese alchemists had sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter. They just hadn’t combined them. Since saltpeter is white and many other powders used by China’s alchemist were white, there was a simple test to make sure. If a small amount of the saltpeter were heated in a charcoal fire, there would be a purple flame.

The first account of the discovery of gunpowder comes from about 850 AD. Soon after, they envisioned new kinds of weaponry. By the 11th century AD, there were gunpowder weapons—crude rifles, cannons, etc.

The first gun or “fire lance” was produced in 905 AD. The next innovation was to add bullets to the fire lance.

The first firearm was invented in China about one thousand years ago. It was made of bamboo, fired pebbles and had a range of about thirty yards.

Bamboo is strong, flexible and hollow in the center. It was perfect for the first crude gunpowder weapons. Over time, bamboo was replaced with bronze, and the pebbles became cast-iron chips or pellets. In fact, the first bronze handgun dates to 12th century AD. It was about a foot long and weighed eight pounds.

From these early weapons came cannons. Long before the rest of the world knew anything about heavy artillery, the Chinese were making strong, mobile cannons from bronze. Since the Chinese already had repeating crossbows, the next step was repeating cannons along with exploding artillery shells.

During the Ming Dynasty, in the 14th century, the Great Wall was equipped with more than 3,000 cannons. In Europe, the first cannons were still being developed. The Chinese also invented the hand grenade about a thousand years ago along with grenade launchers—the bow powered grenade.

A computer analysis demonstrated that China’s largest cannons could fire more than a third of a mile. It would take centuries before Europeans could match the weaponry of China.

The Chinese invented rockets long before anyone in the West did. By the 15th century, the Chinese had mass rocket launchers that fired hundreds of rockets in battle. In one battle during the Ming Dynasty, more than one-hundred rocket launchers were used capable of launching 32,000 rockets in an instant.

The Chinese also invented one of the most dangerous weapons on earth—the landmine. The first landmines were invented in 13th century China. The triggering mechanism for these weapons was kept a secret until the 16th century. Then this concept was used to create the first musket.

During world war I, armies used colored flares to send messages. The Chinese invented this signal method in the 13th century.

The most important contribution to warfare took place during in the 6th century BC — The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Today, American generals study this Chinese book for fighting wars.

Some might ask, if the Chinese were so advanced in waging war, why not conquer the world? The answer—they had no desire because they were satisfied with what they had in China.

Ironically, the Mongols (Yuan Dynasty 1277 – 1367) conquered China using the weapons that the Chinese had invented.

Discover more about Chinese inventions at Ancient Chinese Inventions that Changed the World

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

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Ancient Chinese Inventions that Changed the World

July 24, 2011

The first Seismograph

When critics accuse the Chinese of stealing technology from the West, consider that China was the most technologically advanced nation in the world for more than two thousand years until the middle of the 19th century.

One example of China’s technological abilities was when the first seismograph was invented in 132 AD.

When Zhang Heng‘s device measured an earthquake in 134 AD, he predicted the location.

Han Ministers did not believe the scientist. Then a courier arrived and reported that an earthquake had taken place where Zhang said it did.

In 1951, Chinese scientists from China’s National Museum worked on recreating Zhang Heng’s seismograph. Since there was a limited amount of information, it took until 2007 to complete the reconstruction.

In comparison, it wasn’t until the 18th century (AD), about seventeen hundred years later, that there was any record that Western scientists even worked on developing a seismograph.

The Compass

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 always pointing south.

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

Later in the 8th century AD, magnetized needles would become common navigational devices on ships.

The first person given credit for using the compass in this way was Zheng He (1371 – 1435 AD), who went on the voyages made famous in a book by Louise Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas.

Since the Chinese value education above business and the military, it makes sense that Chinese invented and used devices such as the compass and the seismograph centuries before the West did.

The Compass was also considered a symbol of wisdom. About the 12th century, through trading, the technology spread to Arabia and then reached Europe.

Paper

Imagine the rise of civilization without paper.

In fact, without paper to print books that spread ideas, would men have walked on the moon?

Papermaking is one of the four significant inventions from ancient China. Almost 2,000 years ago, Chinese discovered how to make paper.

In 105 AD, Cai Lon invented a way to make paper and submitted his discovery to the Han emperor.

This method soon spread to the rest of China, and the emperor rewarded Cai Lon by making him a member of the nobility.

The basic principles of papermaking invented by Cai Lon are still in use today.

To make paper was a six-step process, and properly manufactured paper lasts for centuries.

In fact, Buddhism arrived in China about the time of the invention of paper and this helped spread Buddhist ideas, which contributed to the spread of civilization.

By the 12th century, more than a thousand years later, the paper making process reached Europe, which may have contributed to the Renaissance of the 12th century and what followed.

The Printing Press

Six hundred years after paper was invented, the Chinese invented printing and the first printed books were Buddhist scripture during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD). The most basic printing techniques are older. Engraving came later and the carving, printing technique originated during the Tang Dynasty.

When we talk about paper and printing, we are talking about collecting knowledge, preserving and sharing it.

In fact, Ancient Chinese culture was preserved due to the invention of paper and these printing methods, which wouldn’t reach Europe until after 1300 AD, centuries later.

Once there were mass produced paper books being printed to share Buddhist ideas, the religion spread through China into Korea and Japan. The same happened in the West with the Gutenberg Bible and the spread of Christianity in the 1450s.

In China, for a thousand years, printing techniques improved until there were multi-colored printings.

Then during the Sung Dynasty (960 -1276 AD), the printing board was invented, which used clay characters. One character was carved into a small block of clay. Then the clay was put in a kiln to heat into a solid block. This method was efficient for printing thousands of sheets. These blocks would be placed together to create sentences and paragraphs of Chinese characters.

Later, the characters were carved into wood and over time, printing developed into an art.

Without the Chinese invention of printing, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism may not have spread to the extent that they have.

Gunpowder

Sulfur is the main ingredient for gunpowder, which was first developed during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD).

During the Northern Sung Dynasty, in 1044 AD, the book “Essentials of Military Art” published several formulas for gunpowder production.

It is ironic that the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1276 AD) used a Tang Dynasty invention to defeat them.

Several ingredients for gunpowder were in wide use for medicinal purposes during the Spring and Autumn Period of China’s history (722 – 481 BC).

According to the famous book “Records of History”, Chang Sangjun shared secret prescriptions with Pien Ch’iao (around 500 BC), who promised not to give the secret away, and then he became famous as a doctor of Chinese medicine.

In fact, gunpowder was discovered by accident.

While mixing ingredients to find an elixir for immortality, Chinese scientists stumbled on the formula.

Fireworks and rockets were invented but were first used to scare away evil spirits.

The irony is that gunpowder, which has killed millions when used as weapons, was discovered during the search for immortality.

One theory says that the knowledge of gunpowder came to Europe along the Silk Road around the beginning of the 13th century, hundreds of years after being discovered in China.

It is also ironic, that Britain and France used advanced gunpowder weapons to defeat China during the 19th century during the Opium Wars.

Note: There were more inventions than this short list shows. If you read the comments for this post, you will discover a few more.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Danger of False Truths – Part 3/3

July 23, 2011

In another e-mail, this “old” friend questioned China’s behavior in Asia and mentioned the disagreement between Vietnam and China over some offshore oil fields that both countries claim.

He felt this was a sign that China would wage war on other countries and inferred this would not happen if China were a democracy similar to the US, since “no democracy has ever gone to war with another democracy” (his words).

Soon after I received that e-mail, I used Google and found Democracies Do Not Make War on One Another … or Do They? by Matthew White, who does a great job throwing ice-cold water on another false truth.

White says, basically, it depends on the definition of democracy and that individuals will shift the meaning of the definition to fit what he or she wants to believe.

To come up with a set of probabilities, White studied the wars that took place in 1967 and came up with these results:

White wrote, “Now, 1967 is just a single year, but I’ve spent a good deal of this Atlas counting democracies. I can state with reasonable certainty that 44.5% of mapable sovereignties during the WW2-Y2K Era were full democracies. This calculates out to…

  • The odds of 2 random democracies going to war: 19.8%
  • The odds of 2 random non-democracies going to war: 30.8%
  • The odds of a random democracy going to war with a random non-democracy: 49.4%

He also mentions an interesting theory that “no two countries with a McDonald’s Restaurant have ever gone to war with one another”, which seems to indicate that as countries are incorporated into the global economy by trans-national corporations, they stop waging war on one another.

This theory is an individual truth that most of us might want to believe since there then should be no worry that the US and China will ever wage war.

In 2009, the US had 13,381 McDonalds and in 2010, China had almost 1,000 with thousands more planned. In addition, China has thousands of Pizza Huts, KFCs, Starbucks and the Chinese love to drive Buicks and Fords. Wal-Mart is even building stores in China.

However, I discovered the McDonald’s theory might be another false truth.

Pakistan has 25 McDonalds and the first one was built in 1998. India has 192 with the first built in 1996, and the last Indo-Pakistani War was in 1999.

Return to The Danger of False Truths – Part 2 or start with Part 1

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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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Qin Shi Huangdi – The Man who unified China – (Viewed as Single Page)

June 14, 2011

Professor Jeffrey Riegel, of the University of California, Berkeley traveled to China to unlock the truth behind one of the earth’s greatest legends, a man larger than life, the first emperor of China, Shi Huangdi (259-210 BC). This post comes from the documentary film of China’s first emperor.

The first time we visited his tomb was December 1999.

Shi Huangdi was barely thirteen when his father died (246 BC) after being king of Qin for three years. The legends say Shi Huangdi was a tyrant driven mad by power.

He had a tomb built the likes of which humanity has never seen. When the first emperor died, he was the most powerful man on earth. He created an empire that outlasted Rome by a thousand years, he ruled ten times the population of ancient Egypt, and today’s China owes its existence to this man.

Months after becoming king at thirteen, Shi Huangdi overcomes his mother’s desire to rule in his name and took his nation to war. He was the youngest king to wage war and soon proved he was also the greatest warrior.

He soon becomes known as the Tiger of Qin.

Shi Huangdi wages war against his enemies for ten years. At the time, there were seven countries in China besides Qin. The seven countries in what we know as China today were Zhao, Yen, Wei, Han, Chi, Chu and Qin.

During the war to conquer Zhao, Shi Huangdi’s army took ten thousand prisoners. The rules of war say these prisoners must be fed and sheltered. However, Shi Huangdi changed the rules.

He shows his troops what to do by beheading an enemy troop and calls on his army to do the same.

He says, “There is only one way to treat weakness and that is to exploit it. There is only one way for Qin to survive, and that is to conquer.”

All 10,000 Zhao prisoners were beheaded.

By the time Qin Shi Huangdi turns  twenty, he had captured thirteen cities from the state of Han and twenty from the other states. Huangdi’s rival countries send a combined army to stop him but they are repelled.

Some of Huangdi’s success is because of the precision weapons Qin craftsmen make for his loyal, highly trained army. Discover more of China’s Warrior King

However, while the king of Qin is conquering China, there is an enemy scheming to replace him.

His mother, the dowager queen, has taken a lover, who masquerades as a eunuch. The queen has had two illegitimate sons with this lover, who steals two royal seals that gives him authority to mobilize troops in an attempt to replace Shi Huandgi with one of the king’s half brothers.

Qin’s prime minister discovers the plot and a trap is set to destroy the rebel army. The dowager queen’s lover is captured, tortured and his mangled body pulled apart by four horses while the queen mother is forced to watch.

While the death sentence is being carried out, Huandgi has his two half brothers strangled to remove this threat to his throne.

With this challenge to the throne removed, Shi Huangdi has learned a lesson. He is ruthless and rids himself of his mother and his prime minister.

There is a dramatic scene where the prime minister asks for forgiveness for letting the queen mother do what she did.

The prime minister is exiled and not allowed to see the queen mother again. Within a year, the disgraced prime minister kills himself.

A scholar, who believes in harsh laws, becomes Huangdi’s closest advisor.

By 227 BC, the Qin state has conquered the states of Han, Wei and Zhao.

The state of Yen knows it is next and sends professional assassins disguised as peace emissaries to kill Shi Huangdi. The emissaries arrive in Xian with gifts and an assassin strikes.

Since no weapons are allowed in the throne room, there are no armed guards to protect the king. Only the king has a weapon and only the king can call the troops to save him.

By 223 BC, Shi Huangdi is ready to unify China. Only the states of Chi and Chu are left, but the Chu army destroys his first invasion force.

Shi Huangdi raises another army and invades again. A million troops face each other and it becomes a standoff. To win, Shi Huangdi tricks the Chu generals to make a mistake, and the last great obstacle to the unification of China falls.

Chi is the last country that has not been defeated. To avoid the slaughter, Chi joins Shi Huangdi without a fight.

Qin is now China.

At the age of 34, Qin Shi Huangdi was crowned with a veil of stars as the first god emperor of the Qin people and China.

The system of governance put into place will long outlast the emperor.

Qin Shi Huangdi commissions a Terra Cotta army that will guard him in death, and the troops are larger than life. In one pit, more than two hundred sets of armor made of stone have been found with no bodies to wear them.

It is believed that the armor may have been made for the spirits of dead soldiers who suffered violent deaths in combat so the dead would not become vengeful spirits.

The totalitarian philosophy in the new Chinese empire was called legalism.

Rules govern every part of every citizen’s daily life with the punishment spelled out. Physical punishment could mean mutilation.

For example, if two are caught having sex, they will be beheaded. Every aspect of private life is part of Qin law.

In 220 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi goes on an inspection tour of his empire. With the major wars over, millions of troops are put to work finishing the Great Wall of China, which was designed to stop the nomadic tribes to the north from raiding into China, which they have done for centuries.

The Great Wall is the greatest engineering project of the ancient world. It is thirty feet high and more than three thousand miles long. At one point, over a million people worked on the wall and about a quarter died.

The emperor makes more demands. He sends hundreds of thousands to build a tomb that fits his rank as the first divine emperor of China.

The burial mound, larger than the largest pyramid in Egypt, is at the center of an above ground and underground city. His tomb is made of bronze surrounded by
mercury rivers and oceans.

Recently, using ground penetrating radar and other instruments, a three dimensional model is built of this underground complex.

By 215 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb is almost finished. The chamber where his body will rest is the size of a football field and will be hermitically sealed.

Then the tomb will be covered with a million tons of earth creating the hill we see today.

However, the Emperor doesn’t plan to die. Seeking advice from his doctor, he is given mercury capsules. At the time, it was believed that mercury would increase longevity.

Having lots of sex with multiple partners was also considered another way to increase life. The emperor follows the doctor’s advice and sends his doctor on an expedition to find an elixir for immortality.

The emperor isolates himself and delegates the power to rule the empire to those he trusts most. These men suppress free thought.

Entire libraries are burned. Those who try to hide documents are branded on the face and sentenced to a life of force labor — mostly on The Great Wall. Anyone who resists is buried alive.

Professor Jeffrey Riegel, of the University of California, Berkeley, says that Chinese archeologists have no immediate plans to unearth the tomb, because there is no way to safeguard the contents from decay.

Chinese alchemists knew liquid mercury as the only substance that could dissolve gold. To the ancient mind, that meant mercury had power that might prolong life.

However, the human body cannot absorb pure mercury so the Chinese alchemists made a compound the emperor could digest.

As the mercury is absorbed, it slowly destroyed his nervous system and brain.

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi becomes aggressive, argumentative and paranoid. He goes into hiding. Anyone revealing his location is killed. His kidneys’ are failing and he starts talking to the gods.

Thirty-five years after becoming the king of Qin at thirteen, he goes on another Imperial tour. But this time, he is blind to a nation that is bankrupt and near famine.

All the emperor can think about is living forever.

He’s told that giant fish guards the island of the immortals. The emperor dreams that he is a sea god who will kill the giant fish.

Near the end of 210 BC, he visits the ocean hunting the giant fish with a crossbow while wading in the surf.

His advisors plan what to do with China once the emperor dies. On the return to the capital, the emperor falls ill and the Imperial convoy stops.

In the seventh month of 2010 BC, the first emperor’s search for immortality ends. At the age of fifty, Qin Shi Huangdi is dead.

While China’s first emperor is being buried according to his wishes, a power struggle rages outside the tomb.

By tradition, the oldest son should have become the emperor but several ministers want a younger son on the throne. The others are assassinated and there is a slaughter.

The emperor will also not go alone to the afterlife.

While his chosen successors are being assassinated, hundreds of his favorite concubines will stay with their master and die with him.

The tomb’s designers and builders will be sealed in the tomb too. Everyone who knows the way dies.

Qin Shi Huangdi left a legacy—a unified nation with a single written language and a system of administration that is still in use today.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Chinese in America – Part 2/3

June 8, 2011

This was the second post from 2010 that I remembered after reading John Putnam’s guest post of the Chinese during the California Gold Rush.

Angel Island in San Francisco Bay was America’s west coast Ellis Island.

From 1919 to 1940, mostly Asian immigrants entered the US through Angel Island.

After 1940, the immigration station on Angel Island was forgotten until a California Park Ranger, Alexander Weiss, discovered the stories carved in the walls.

He thought that there were stories here as if there were ghosts waiting to be heard.

Over half of the Angel Island immigrants came from China and Japan and most of the carvings on the walls were poems written in Chinese.

A former detainee, Dale Ching, went through the station in 1937 when he was sixteen. Even though Dale’s father was born in the United States, he still had to go through the immigration station.

While the East Coast’s Ellis Island welcomed immigrants, Angel Island’s story was one of sadness and suffering.

Most European immigrants who went through Ellis Island stayed a few hours, but immigrants on Angel Island were kept locked up under armed guard with barbed-wire fences surrounding the buildings and some people stayed for days, weeks, months and years.

The park service wanted to tear the Angel Island buildings down but Weiss found supporters and they struggled to preserve this history. They succeeded and the restoration project was challenging.

Alexander Weiss sums up the video saying we should know both the right and the wrong from U.S. history.

Continued on June 9, 2011 in The Chinese in America – Part 3 or return to Part 1

This post first appeared on September 8, 2010 as America’s Angel Island

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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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