View Full Version : What is/are the greatest Chinese contribution(s) to the world ?

Feb 12, 2010, 03:15
I have been reading The Man Who Loved China (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0060884614?ie=UTF8&tag=eupedia-21&link_code=as3&camp=2506&creative=9298&creativeASIN=0060884614) by Simon Winchester. It is a biography of Joseph Needham (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Needham), an English biochemist who fell in love with China, learned to speak and write the language fluently, and decided, on a three-year tour around China, to write an encyclopaedia called Science and Civilization in China (http://www.nri.org.uk/science.html). His original aim was to answer what was later called the "Needham question": Why had China been overtaken by the West in science and technology, despite once being the world's most technologically advance nation ?

Needham was the first person to realise and to tell the Western world that China had invented the compass, gunpowder, paper-making and printing (the so-called Four Great Inventions of ancient China (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Great_Inventions_of_ancient_China)) before Europe or any other place in the world. This was not known before Needham popularised the idea in the 1950's.

Although these four inventions are undeniably important, China has hundreds of other inventions to be proud of. My question is : which one do you think are the most important for the rest of the world (besides these four) ?

Here are lists of Chinese inventions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_inventions) and Chinese discoveries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_discoveries) to help you choose. Other contributions are welcome too (e.g. food, arts, ideas, influential people).

You can review the list of greatest contributions of other countries and civilizations as comparisons :

Japan (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16125),
India (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=19746),
Ancient Egypt (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=19850),
Israel (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=20667),
Ancient Greece (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=20654),
Ancient Rome (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=20285),
Italy (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16873),
Germany (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16867),
France (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16869),
Belgium (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16861)
Netherlands (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=16865),
Britain (http://www.eupedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=18036)

Feb 12, 2010, 18:30
The TV series "Connections" once postulated that it was tea that did China in, scientifically speaking. Tea was drunk from ceramic mugs. The development of *glass*drinking utensils never came about. In the West, we drank from glass and made windows. With glass, you get optics, lenses, microscopes, telescopes...

For my money, China's greatest contribution to the world was the bao.

Feb 13, 2010, 00:36
I have added a poll, combining similar inventions together. I hope I didn't forget anything important. Please vote for those which you think had the biggest impact on the world and on your modern lifestyle.

The Chinese are credited with hundreds of inventions, but most were cultural, specifically Chinese things, and few have had an actual impact on the rest of the world, except inevitably immediate neighbours like Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The world could continue to evolve without chopsticks, kites or the abacus, and without caring about Feng Shui or Chinese zither tunes.

In some case we can only presume that the Chinese were the first to come up with some inventions, because no written evidence survived (or was ever written) elsewhere. The fact that they invented paper and made such conscientious use of it for official records, and that China suffered considerably less ravage and destruction from outside invasions and wars with neighbours than Europe or the Middle East certainly played a role in preserving the evidence for early technologies. But the absence of evidence elsewhere does not necessarily mean that these things didn't originate outside China.

Many technologies were invented independently in Europe and therefore cannot be credited to have come from China. Modern toothbrushes, rotary fans and restaurant menus are not an evolution from the ancient Chinese ones. Westerners who developed them were unaware that these things had existed before in China.

Feb 16, 2010, 00:22
I forgot that I had already posted a similar poll here (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=19748) 4 years ago. I think the new poll is better though.