Ancient Chinese Science and Technology

Athens, September 20, 2017.

Ancient Chinese Science and Technology.

September  23, 2017-April 29, 2018.

16 Herakleidon & 37 Apostolou Pavlou Str., Thissio.

T: 210 34 61 981 & 211 01 26 486 ● E: &

Thematic units

Chinese civilization, one of the most ancient in the world, has many remarkable achievements to offer in the area of the physical sciences and mechanical engineering. Chinese scientific discoveries and technological inventions cover almost the whole spectrum of the sciences, from mathematics, physics, mechanical engineering and astronomy, to geophysics, biology, botany, medicine, pharmaceutics, chemistry, et al. The ancient Chinese scientists were the first to observe the sunspots, they researched magnetic phenomena, but also calculated, as did the ancient Greeks, the precise value of the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle. The compass, gunpowder, paper, moveable type, bronze and iron casting, the seismograph, crossbow, iron plowshare, wheelbarrow, and the stern rudder were all, without exception, inventions of the Chinese.

The exhibition “Ancient Chinese Science and Technology” will present some of the most important Chinese inventions, in the following thematic units:

Astronomy and Time Measurement

China is one of the first countries in the world to have done astronomical research. Documents indicate that astronomical observations date as far back as some 4,000 years ago during the time of the legendary Emperor Yao. There are written records dating from the 16th century BC about sunspots, comets, meteors, novas, the sun, the moon and five of the planets, as well as star catalogues, star charts etc. Rich in content, some of these records are the earliest of their kind in the world. In the fields of astronomical theory and _instruments, the ancient Chinese established the famous theory of cosmography and invented such brilliant astronomical instruments as the armillary sphere and the simplified armillary sphere. In calendrical science, the protocalendar came into being in China between the 16th and the 11th century BC. Having been improved and perfected through the ages, it is still being used today.

Navigation and Orientation

The compass is one of the four great inventions of ancient China. The “Sinan” (literally “south governor”) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) was composed of a piece of lodestone carved in the shape of a ladle, which always pointed south, and a square bronze plate representing the earth. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) a new kind of compass appeared, made by the method of artificially induced magnetism, and was widely used in seafaring. Also in the Song Dynasty, Shen Kuo discovered magnetic declination, whereas in the West it was not until some 400 years later that Christopher Columbus made the same discovery.

Weaving and Embroidery

China was the first country in the world to practice sericulture and make silk. As early as 6,000 or 7,000 years ago, people realized that hemp and pueraria (kudzu) fiber could be used as raw materials for textiles. In the 16th century BC (Shang Dynasty), woven pattern technology and “Braid embroidery” appeared. After the 2nd Century BC (Western Han Dynasty), with the invention of the reeling car, spinning wheel, oblique loom and jacquard loom, textile technology and embroidery evolved rapidly. People at that time could not only weave gauze as thin as a cicada’s wings and damask with kaleidoscope compositions, but could also create wonderful embroidery, which made China renowned all over the world as the “Oriental country of silk”. During the long period from the Han to the Tang Dynasties, Chinese silk passed through the famous “Silk Road” to Central and West Asia, as well as Europe, greatly influencing world culture.

Papermaking and Printing

Invented by the Chinese people in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD), papermaking is one of the four great inventions of ancient China. After the 7th century, Chinese papermaking technology was gradually introduced to Korea, Japan, the Arab countries and the European continent. Printing, also one of the four great inventions of ancient China dates back to the 7th century AD Much later, in the mid-11th century, Bi Sheng invented printing with movable types. This resulted in a complete printing process of movable type design and manufacture, typesetting and printing. The invention of printing has played a significant role in the dissemination and development of human civilization. Around the 8th century, Chinese printing technology was spread to Korea and Japan. Before long it was transmitted to the Arab countries, with its influence reaching as far as Africa and Europe.


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