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Chinese History - Han Period Science, Technology, and Inventions

Periods of Chinese History
The state guided production of salt and iron, coin casting (in China, coins were cast, not minted), the production of iron tools and of standard weights and measures, and the governmental task to control water ways and water supply for agriculture was a great chance of development of technical inventions in these areas. To administer the vast Chinese empire, the Han emperors had made several census to count the population - and to control the households (huji 戶籍) in tax registers. The Taoist scholars, trying to find a medicine that gives eternal life or to make gold, contributed in the development of alchemy and chemistry. Astronomy and calendar were a important subjects for the ruling class to ensure their Heaven-approved mandate to rule: Zhang Heng 張衡 invented the armillary sphere (hunyi 渾儀), a celestial globe (hunxiang 渾像) and a seismograph (didongyi 地動儀)  to predict earthquakes. In 104 BC (reign motto taichu 太初), a calendar reform was undertaken.
In the field of agriculture,  Fan Shengzhi 氾勝之  (his book Fan Shengzhi shu 氾勝之書) proposed measurements to ameliorate the harvest results (changing crops, pithole sewing and planting, selecting crops according to soil quality, irrigation, use of fertilizers, transplanting seedlings, especially in the southern paddy field agriculture). The peasantry was recognized as the provider of the whole society, and his work had to be estimated. While men worked the fields, women had to spin and to wave. The iron plough became more widespread, drawn by a team of oxen. Fan Sheng also made propositions for gardening, horse breeding, and the breeding of silkworms.
The eunuch Cai Lun 蔡倫 is said to have invented the paper, made from mulberry bark and other ingredients.
Han Dynasty artisans made great contributions to the development of a sophisticated culture: smithery (decorated mirrors, lamps, burners), spinning, weaving, lacquerware, earthenware. Of the architecture, nothing is left but the wonderful burial offerings in the tombs of the Han rulers and officials, mostly earthenware houses, towers, farms and their inhabitants and their kettle.
To govern the empire, courier routes throughout China were built, and waterways faciliated the transport of grains and taxation objects. Along the northern frontier, fortification walls were built. The  opening of China to Eurasia's west along the Silk Road enabled the exchange of cultural products and technological inventions.
The state academy (taixue 太學) was installed to produce intelligent and well-educated scholars for state service. Graduates of the academy engaged in many fields of science and technology - theoretical like mathematics (book Jiuzhang suanshu 九章算術) and musical temperation, and practical, like medicine (book Huangdi neijing 黃帝内經 about clinical medicine and acupuncture; and Zhang Zhongjing's 張仲景 Shanghanlun 傷寒論 about febrile diseases), pharmakology (book Shennong bencaojing 神農本草經) and astronomy. Much more than before, criticians like Wang Chong 王充 (book Lunheng 論衡) tried to develop a worldview based on natural science.


October 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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