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

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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. 

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.


Measuring Earthquakes During the Han Dynasty

July 6, 2010

When critics accuse the Chinese of stealing technology from the West, consider that China was the most technologically advanced nation in the world at one time. In fact, the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) put the Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD) to shame.

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, Zhang predicted the location. Han Ministers didn’t believe the scientist. Then a courier arrived and reported that an earthquake had taken place where Zhang said it did. For more information about Zhang Heng, see China Culture.

Zhang Heng's seismograph

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) that there is any record that Western scientists worked on developing a seismograph.

Discover more about Earthquakes

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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.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.