History of Chinese Invention - The Invention of Paper
The word "paper" is derived from the word "papyrus," which was a plant found in Egypt along the lower Nile River. About 5,000 years ago, Egyptians created "sheets" of papyrus by harvesting, peeling and slicing the plant into strips. The strips were then layered, pounded together and smoothed to make a flat, uniform sheet.
No major changes in writing materials were to come for several thousand years. Recent archaeological restoration work on a Western Han garrison near Dunhuang identified linen paper, some with writing on it dating to 8 BC. According to Chinese written historical accounts, paper was manufactured about 104 AD by Cai Lun , an official attached to the Imperial court during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220). He took the inner bark of a mulberry tree and bamboo fibers, mixed them with water, and pounded them with a wooden tool. He then poured this mixture onto a flat piece of coarsely woven cloth and let the water drain through, leaving only the fibers on the cloth. Once dry, Cai Lun discovered that he had created a quality writing surface that was relatively easy to make and lightweight. Some other materials he used for various papers included tree bark, remnants of hemp, linen rags, and fishnets. He presented the invention to Emperor He Di in 105 AD. Over several centuries, with trade and war, knowledge of papermaking was passed along to Korea, Samarkand, Baghdad, and Damascus.
In the province of Guizhou, papermaking has been a tradition in several local towns for hundreds of years. Many papermaking workshops are well-preserved and continue to make paper in small quantities. Today, both rough-straw paper and paper money are distributed in all corners of the province.
Chinese paper making was introduced to Korea and Vietnam and later to Japan at the beginning of the 3rd century. It was a valued export in Silk Road trading, but the manufacturing process was kept secret.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279), varieties of paper were developed for different purposes. The varieties include hemp paper, hide paper, bamboo paper, and xuan paper. Xuan paper is mostly used in Chinese paintings and calligraphy because of its smooth, durable, and whiteness of the paper. The Song Dynasty was the first government to issue paper currency.
By the end of the 7th century, the papermaking process reached India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In 751 after the battle of Battle of Talas in Samarkand (in present day Uzbekistan) the secret of papermaking was obtained from two Chinese prisoners captured by the Arab Abbasid conquerors. This subsequently led to the first paper mill in the Islamic world to be founded in Samarkand. The invention then spread to the rest of the Islamic world, and from there to Europe. By the 10th century, Arabians were substituting linen fibers for wood and bamboo, creating a finer sheet of paper. In 1150, Europe's first paper mill was built.
Early Muslim traders of the 15th century from Afghanistan and the Macassar region of Indonesia spread Chinese paper making methods to the northern coasts of what is now Western Australia , the Northern Territory and Queensland. Independently in Mesoamerica, about the 16th century, the Aztecs had developed a papyrus-like paper from agarve plant fibers.
The woodblock prints show some of the six major stages in papermaking, recorded in a seventeenth-century book "The Exploitation of the Works of Nature." In the province of Guizhou, papermaking has been a tradition in several local towns for hundreds of years. Many papermaking workshops are well-preserved and continue to make paper in small quantities. Today, both rough-straw paper and paper money are distributed in all corners of the province.
Return to History of Chinese Invention and Discovery
China: 7000 years of Discovery
China's Ancient Technology, written
and edited by China Science and Technology Museum.
Published by China Reconstructs Magazine, Beijing, China, 1983.
Paper, Printing and the Printing Press
A Horizontally Integrative Macrohistory Analysis,
by Shelton B. Gunaratne.
Gazette, Vol. 63(6): 459-479, 2001 Sage Publications.
Times Online at August 10, 2006 article on 2,000-year paper trail
History for Kids at historyforkids.org
Australia in Muslim Discovery by Dzavid Haveric