The following is another in our series of articles from the Jamaica China Friendship Association.
When we think of Chinese inventions we usually think of the well-known big four - paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass. But there are a number of others that China claims to have invented, some of which we have in everyday use.
It is acknowledged that the first kites flew in China 2,300 years ago. These were in the form of birds, eagles, magpies among them. Butterflies were also very popular. One of the earliest was in the shape of a magpie, and was reputed to have flown for three days.
Early Chinese kites were used to relay information and to undertake reconnaissance missions as well as to determine the force and direction of the wind. Kites were at first primarily for the amusement of the emperors and aristocrats, but with the invention of paper, quickly spread to the populace. It is thought that the kites gave man the idea of flying and led to the invention of the airplane.
Another of the items we take for granted is the umbrella. This came almost 2,000 years before the kite. The story goes that a lady who had to take lunch for her husband in the field was often hindered by rain resulting in the spoiling of the food she carried. Her husband put pavilions along the way. This was impractical and, inspired by the children who put lotus leaves on their heads when they had to walk in the rain, he invented the umbrella by making a flexible framework of bamboo covered by cloth.
This soon caught on and, officials on their inspection tours of troops used the idea to shelter from both rain and sun. Soon they were used not so much for protection, but elaborate ones were used at weddings and in theatrical productions. Europeans visiting China, it is said, took this and other inventions to their countries, and soon it spread to every corner of the world.
China also claims to have invented the wheelbarrow, the earliest evidence of which appeared in a tomb painting in 147AD. An even earlier account says wheelbarrows were in use in China in the first century BC. Wheelbarrows in early China came in two types - one with a large central wheel in the middle and one with two smaller wheels in front. These transported anything from goods to produce to animals to human beings. Wheelbarrows made their appearance in Europe in early 1200s.
The bank note or cheque was invented in China in the early 600s to avoid transporting heavy coins, especially in large transactions. In the early 12th century, the government began issuing printed currency notes. It is difficult to see today's business operations without their use.
Using pig bristles, the Chinese are said to have invented the first toothbrush about 1490. Toothbrushes were not mass produced in Europe until 1780. Here again, they were first used by the emperor and the aristocrats, but soon spread to the populace as they were gradually produced at a cheaper rate.
There are many more inventions credited to the Chinese, as well as countries such as Africa and India. For this, we should be grateful as it is difficult to see life, even in our modern times without them. We look to our young people to find better ways and means of making our daily lives better.