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and Ice Cream
“Necessity is the mother of invention”
explains why Chinese have
come up with everything from exact pi to ice cream. The age-old struggle
for survival on limited arable land has forced China’s teeming millions
to be both pragmatic and innovative. And they’re still innovating
In a remote Shandong Province town, we came across a poor mayor’s
version of a modern street sweeper. A handmade tractor lugged an iron
and wood contraption from which whirled a dozen handmade straw brooms.
And it worked. That poor hamlet’s main street (it’s only street)
Peasant or urbanite, Chinese are resourceful, resilient, and persistent,
and if Cathay’s future even remotely mirrors her past, we can expect
some marvels in the coming century – particularly in commerce.
...The 1,000 mile Grand Canal,
earth’s longest manmade waterway, led Chinese to invent suspension
bridges, canal locks, and the segmental arch.
And China’s canals and rivers,
not Twain’s Mississippi, hosted the first paddlewheel ships,
so Chinese merchants never had to worry about being up a creek without
Venetian blinds came from China, not Venice. Pasta
originated in China, not Italy, as did the use of coal
for cooking it. Speaking of fuel, Chinese invented deep drilling
for natural gas and salt.
Chinese invented the rotary
crank, the waterwheel-driven bellows in steel
smelting, and the seismograph.
Given their penchant for paperwork, it is no surprise that Chinese invented
paper, as well as paper money. (The
note on the right was printed in Amoy).
Our planet’s first newspaper,
the Peking News, ran from A.D. 363 to 1935. (Chinese reporters may well
have been the first to fight deadlines, thanks to mechanical clocks
which originated not in Europe but in Tang Dynasty China).
While we’re on a roll on paper, over 1,000 years ago, Imperial behinds
luxuriated in 4” squares of perfumed paper—the world’s
first TP! (toilet paper)—though a famous poet warned
against using paper which had writing on it. (For more on Chinese TP and
potties, see "Dethroned"). And they
probably did their business while court musicians serenaded them on a
two-stringed ErHu—the world’s first violin.
Chinese, not Gutenberg , first printed with movable type.
And contrary to Britannica CD, the first greeting cards
were not European Valentine cards but Chinese New Year cards, invented
centuries earlier by noblemen tired of too many New Year visits.
Another lesson for Britannica: it wasn’t the French in 1783 who
first used parachutes, but Chinese acrobats way back
And if you think Laowai Life in Amoy is sometimes a zoo , there’s
good reason. China invented zoos way back in 1150 B.C.
While my Nordic ancestors huddled in bark shelters and caves and cowered
at moon-devouring eclipses, Chinese plotted the courses of sun,
moon and stars. Records of solar and lunar eclipses are found
on bones and tortoise shells dating from the Shang Dynasty, over 3,015
years ago, and Chinese astronomers recorded every one of Halley's
Comet's 27 appearances over the past 2,100 years.
Chinese came up with both the decimal system and binomial
mathematics, and about 1500 years ago, the mathemagician Zu Chongzhi
calculated the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter
to be 3.1415926.
Last but by all means least, Chinese invented ‘zero,’
which is really handy in Xiamen, now that her GDP has so many zeroes behind
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Last Updated: May 2007
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