China Pointed the Way

July 7, 2010

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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