position: EnglishChannel > Innovation China > Article

Southward-pointing Cart Mechanics

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2023-11-02 11:04:49 | Author: BI Weizi

A model of the south-pointing chariot is presented at the National Museum of China. (PHOTO:VCG)

By BI Weizi

The southward-pointing cart was a historic mechanical device, which was invented and used earlier than the compass. More than five thousand years ago, ancient Chinese had utilized it to indicate direction.

Originally, the southward-pointing cart was one of the ceremonial vehicles used by ancient emperors to demonstrate their superiority, and was later used to point south in the battlefield.

According to some extant ancient Chinese texts, the southward-pointing cart was a two-wheeled wagon drawn by horses, usually with a wooden figure standing on top with one arm extending forward. The rotating wheels mechanically operated a gear mechanism to keep the hand pointing south.

The cart had no magnets and did not automatically detect which direction was south. At the beginning of a journey, the hand would point south. Then, as the chariot turned, the mechanism would rotate the hand relative to the body of the cart to counteract the turning and keep the hand pointing in a constant southerly direction. The mechanism thus performed a kind of directional dead reckoning, but which was inherently prone to cumulative error and uncertainty.

Wang Zhenduo, a famous Chinese historian of science and technology, restored and made a model of the south-pointing chariot based on years of research and documentary records, which is now collected in the National Museum of China.

The southward-pointing cart is manufactured according to the automatic clutch gear system, which is similar to the differential gear used in modern automobiles, with the advantages of being smooth and precise. It reflects an outstanding achievement in the practical application of ancient Chinese mechanics.

Editor: 毕炜梓

Top News

  • In ancient times, the military deployed a vehicle equipped with a cabin for observing enemy movements from a high altitude, known as the Nest Car because the cabin was suspended high up on a pole, just like a bird's nest.

Selfless Medical Teams Boost Healthcare in Developing Countries

China has sent more than 30,000 medical staff to 76 countries and regions around the world over a 60 year period. They have not only treated diseases with modern medicine and TCM, but also shared technology and experience with their local counterparts, trained medical teams and improved local public health conditions. 

Uniting for Successful Asia-Pacific Cooperation

China has been calling on APEC members to stay committed to innovation-driven development, and create new drivers of growth in the Asia-Pacific region.