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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

August 2, 2010

Written by C.N.

Invented by Asians: Technology That Originated in Asia

The following is guest post by Kyle Simpson. His post summarizes several important inventions and technology that originated in Asia. It’s a good reminder that many Asian cultures are several thousands of years old and through the years, have accumulated much history and innovation.

The Asian continent has a long and storied history of grand dynasties and bustling metropolitan areas that predate similar Western civilizations by a long shot. As a result, they seem to have been ahead of the curve on technological advancements (especially those that benefit all mankind) for a lot longer than you may imagine.

Did you really think Europeans invented warships? Or man-made tools? Or that they were the first to discover the world was round? All of these advancements occurred in one part of Asia or another long before they trickled into Western civilization. And it has to be said, they hit on many of the sciences long before Westerners.

In fact, many conveniences that we depend on and take for granted in our modern life had origins in different parts of Asia, from plumbing and municipal planning to the paper we use without a thought to where it came from. Here are a few of the big ones you might not know about.

1. Gunpowder
China was the first to discover the combination of elements needed to produce gunpowder. In an attempt to create an elixir that would bring about immortality (through the use of chemistry), they found that mixing sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate produced an explosive black powder. This definitely dates back at least as early as the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), since it was used at that time to create bombs and other explosives used in wars. However, historians have found veiled textual references as far back as 850 BCE.

Chinese dragon and firecracker

2. Guns
Closely following the arrival of gunpowder, it’s no surprise that weapons meant for targeted use came next. What is interesting is that it wasn’t the Chinese who created the technology. In fact, Arabs are credited with introducing the first firearm in the early 14th century CE after gunpowder made its way over from China.

3. Sewage Systems
The ruined city of Mohenjo-Daro in India, which existed around from about 3000-1500 BCE has unveiled many secrets about early civilization. The city was not only laid out in a clearly planned grid system with homes two or more stories high, but the layout included complex waste-control measures. Both human waste and trash were carried out of houses through chutes that connected to underground sewers, all of which led to a central sewage system.

4. Water Control
Systems of canals, waterworks, and even some hydraulics and a man-made lake were used in and around the areas of Cambodia and Vietnam (then the kingdom of Funan) to control flooding and transport water as early as the 3rd to 6th century CE.

5. Paper
The Chinese were the first to develop a process for making paper and they did so during the Tang dynasty. As the production and use of paper spread, Asians also began to dabble in moveable type (at least as early as the 13th century CE, and possibly sooner). Although the Chinese were doing wood-block printing about 200 years before that, it was Korea that implemented the use of moveable metal type for printing.

Kyle Simpson writes for Medical Coding Certification website where you can find information on a career in medical billing and coding industry.

May 15, 2009

Written by C.N.

Top 10 Ancient Chinese Inventions

As we continue celebrating May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a common question I get from readers is, what are some common inventions that came from Asians? Basically, this question relates to the larger inquiry of what have been the contributions of Asians and Asian Americans to American society and the world through the years/centuries?

While I can’t give an exhaustive list, to help us answer one part of that question, HowStuffWorks recently featured the Top 10 Ancient Chinese Inventions. Their article includes an extended description and historical summary for each invention (certainly worth reading) but for those who want to cut to the chase, here is their list in reverse order:

10. Gunpowder
9. The Compass
8. Paper
7. Pasta
6. The Wheelbarrow
5. Seismograph
4. Alcohol
3. Kites
2. Hang Gliders
1. Silk

As probably the oldest and most well-known Asian culture, the Chinese and their inventions certainly deserve to be recognized since such inventions undoubtedly have had a significant impact on world civilizations and events throughout history. At the same time, we should remember that many other Asian cultures, along with Asian Americans, have made other contributions to benefit their society in many other ways.