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Machines of Ancient China

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Ancient Chinese inventions have had a huge impact on the modern world as we know it

Numerous technological and cultural advancements have spawned off from the inventions derived from Ancient China, which spans over thousands of years ago. A lot of the inventions really attest to how more advanced Ancient China was in science and technology.

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Machines in ancient China included the following eight categories: simple, vehicle and animal-drawn, hydraulic, wind-powered, weaponry and thermal, time keeping, earthquake detection and automated, and flying machines. Simple machines are the foundation of all complex and large scaled machines. From the point of view of classical mechanics, there are four simple machines: lever, pulley, inclined plane, and screw. From the lever, shadoofs were invented. From the pulley, wheel-and-axles, and cranes were invented. The inclined plane evolved into wedges, or into screws when the wedge was coiled. Construction technology also had simple machines such as ropes, chains, hinges, linkages, cranks, wheels, gears, and springs. Vehicles included both manual, and animal-drawn carts

They were some of the oldest means of transportation, hauling and also military vehicles. To use an animal to pull a cart, to operate a mill, or to plow the field, an effective harness first had to be custom made to address the unique shape and form of the animal. The invention of the harness was an outstanding achievement which opened the door to many other developments. The compass-equipped “south-pointing chariot” (zhinan che) and an odometer-equipped chariot called the “li-recording drum chariot” (jili guche) or hodometer were two brilliant inventions that incorporated machines in vehicles. As for animal powered machines, the eight-wheeled ox-powered mill (niuzhuan bamo) and the field mill (chemo) were first invented by the Chinese in ancient times.

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The Chinese opened the door for the golden ages of technology. Their inventions paved the way for great thinkers and great nations alike to create things never heard of before and to conceive new ways of doing things (Murphey, Rhoads, 2009). It’s obvious that not all the world’s innovations came from China, but it is safe to say that many of them were either adapted from ancient Chinese inventions or simply continuations of the inventions themselves. Things like the compass, for example, are Western adaptations of Chinese south pointing chariots. China, with all its riches, land, and manpower, was the perfect place for innovation to flourish. But why did the Chinese invent? It is natural for a person to explore and experiment with his environment, but what the Chinese did was not merely exploration and random wonderment. They wondered with a goal, and they explored with direction. [5] It can be said that, based on their early inventions, they created because they valued the gift of life highly. They sought not only to exist, but also to live. To merely go throughout life breaking one’s back for daily meals did not appeal to them. They created tools such as the wheelbarrow and trip hammer that would help alleviate the workload of everyday life. They created games such as Cu Ju and Chui Wan that would allow one to enjoy life. They created practices and medicine to sustain life. They created things such as the early seismograph and star maps to understand life and the world around them (Hochman, Karen). They also created weapons, but not with the primary purpose of destroying life, but with the purpose of protecting life and protecting order.

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On balance, there were numerous mechanical inventions in ancient China, but few people know about these achievements due to the lack of surviving archives

Major mechanical elements and mechanisms of ancient Chinese machines, such as linkage mechanisms, cam mechanisms, gear mechanisms, and flexible connecting mechanisms (ropes and chains), were invented.

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Kleeman, Terry F., and Tracy Barrett. The Ancient Chinese World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hochman, Karen. “Salt History.” Gourmet Food Magazine Website: The Nibble Gourmet

Murphey, Rhoads. A History of Asia. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ [etc: Pearson Education, 2009.

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