One of the Four Great Inventions of China: Paper-making
Cai Lun improved the paper-making technique during Han Dynasty. (PHOTO:VCG)
By BI Weizi
Paper-making, one of the Four Great Inventions of China, was invented in the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC - 9 AD) and improved in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 -220 AD). In particular, the paper-making technique improved by Cai Lun (also known as Cai Hou Paper) brought a revolution in writing. Cai Hou Paper was easy to carry, incorporated many different raw materials and promoted the cultural development of China and even the whole world.
Before paper was invented, people throughout the world wrote on many different kinds of natural materials. Ancient Egyptians used papyrus scrolls to write down history; in ancient Europe, people wrote on animal skins; while in ancient China, bones, tortoise shells, and bamboo strips were all used for writing, which were later proven unsuitable because of their bulk and weight. Hemp fiber and silk were also used to make paper, but the quality was far from satisfactory.
By the Han Dynasty, due to its rapid economic and cultural development, oracle bones, bamboo and silk were far from adequate to meet people's needs, which resulted in the improvement of a writing medium. The invention of paper is a symbol of advanced science and technology in ancient China.
Improved paper-making traditionally dates back to 105 AD, when Cai Lun, an official at the court of the Han Dynasty, made a sheet of paper from mulberry and other coarse fibers as well as fishing nets, old rags, and hemp waste. This kind of paper was much lighter and cheaper than previous materials. And it was more suitable for Chinese calligraphy.
Paper has been used for wrapping in China since the 2nd century B.C., and it was not widely used for writing until the 3rd century. By the 6th century, paper also began to be used as toilet paper. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) paper was folded into square bags to preserve the flavor of tea. The subsequent Song Dynasty (960 -1279) was the first government to issue paper money.
The invention and use of paper also brought about a revolution in writing, paving the way for the invention of printing technology in the years to come.