technology of Ancient China

Apr 2016
61
USA
Hello friends. Is it true that from 500 ad to about 1500 ad China was the most technologically advanced society(or military)?
 
May 2009
1,348
Pretty much, yes. The Sung dynasty (960-1279) especially is known as a period of many major technological advances.
 
Jan 2016
316
United States
Hello friends. Is it true that from 500 ad to about 1500 ad China was the most technologically advanced society(or military)?
Most technologically advanced - probably during Tang, Song, Yuan, and early Ming
Strongest militarily - probably during early Tang, early Yuan, and early Ming

However, the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates/Islamic Golden Age are arguably as technologically advanced and as militarily powerful (arguably even more at certain periods).
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
Hello friends. Is it true that from 500 ad to about 1500 ad China was the most technologically advanced society(or military)?

Debatable. Perhaps from 500 to 1100, but the Islamic world was also advanced too, and why the Chinese was advanced in some areas, it was behind in other areas, and 1300's other areas were at least advance, and Europe was definitely more advanced by 1400's.

1. By the 1300's, Europe gimbal mounted marine compass was more advanced than the magnetic compasses of the Chinese.

2. The mariner Astrolabe (Arabic invention) and backstaff navigational aids were more advanced.

3. European reading eyeglasses were more advanced than the Chinese. Optic theories by Islamic scholar Alhazen in the 11th century was more advanced than Chinese optical theory.

4. Islamic and European glass making (blowing) skills were more advanced than the Chinese.

5. Complex machines were as advanced in the Islamic world as in China, and European clock making had surpassed China by the late 1300's, developing all mechanical clock, and the first modern escapement mechanism that is the basis for all modern clocks. Chinese clock making skills had declined by the 12th century. European horizontal axis windmill, invented sometime in the 11th or 12th century, were more powerful the vertical axis windmills (a Persian invention) used by the Chinese.

Europe by the 1300's had at least if not more applications of water powered machinery, using watermills to power trip hammers, saw mills, fuller mills, paper mills, and a host of other applications. The West (Islamic and Europe) also had ship mills and tide mills.

6. European printing technology by the mid 1400's had at least equaled Chinese printing.

7. By the 1400's European had matchlock guns, superior firing mechanisms to what the Chinese had invented for their handguns, and the technique of corning gunpowder greatly improved its performance and reliability

8. The counterweight trebuchet invented in the west in the 12th century was superior to the Chinese traction trebuchet, being far more powerful.

9. The Europeans invented frame first ship construction (by Byzantines in 11th century), allow for faster, cheaper, and large ship construction. (The Chinese watertight bulkheads is overrated. It restricted cargo placement and room, which is why the Lorcha ship, with an European hull and Chinese rigging, was popular in the far East. Watertight bulkhead are no magical cure to prevent sinking, as the Titanic demonstrate.)

10. The Chinese still adhered to a believe in a flat earth, in 1500 which had been discarded by the peoples of the West more than a 1000 years. Not knowing the basic shape of the earth is a huge miss, far greater than miss than possibly discovering magnetic deviation.

11. By the 14th century Europe had also developed the pound lock for canals.

And there are many other things the Chinese were not superior.


And many of the Chinese achievements are simply overstated

1. While it is claimed that the Chinese discovered magnetic deviation, but that is not true. Magnet deviation is the variation of magnetic to true north with position. While the Chinese knew their magnetic compasses did not point to due South/North, their is no indication that the Chinese knew the magnetic north changes with position. And it is an accident of history that the difference between True North and Magnetic North was so great in China that it would have been impossible not to notice. Magnetic deviation from True North was much less in Europe, small enough not to notice.

2. The watertight bulkheads of Chinese ships were no great invention - if you can build a watertight hull, you could also build a watertight bulkhead. Westerners did not both, because watertight bulkheads would have restricted cargo placement, and would have added cost - In the far East, as I noted, they built local Asian ships without watertight bulkheads but with Chinese rigging (Chinese rigging because that is what local sailors they hired were used to.). Only when they could build ships with watertight bulkheads with water tight doors that allow passage between sections, which eliminated the inconvenience of the Chinese design, did the Europeans start building watertight bulkheads in their ships. Lack of desire, not knowledge, was the factor.

3. Yes, Chinese pottery, porcelain, was superior to other type of pottery, but at the end of the day, it didn't allow you do anything you couldn't do with other types of pottery, or pewter. In contrast, the crystal clear glass making skill the Europeans possessed allow them to build eyeglasses and microscopes and telescopes. Without the ability to make crystal clear glass, the Chinese would not have been able to make telescopes and microscopes, and in fact they did not until Europeans taught them how.

The value of clear glass and glass blowing to mankind is in my opinion far more important than that of porcelain, fine an achievement that it is.

4. Paper was an major invention, true. But it is not essential for printing, a number of the surviving Gutenberg Bibles were printed on parchment, not paper.

5. The Chinese were the first to invent magnetic compasses, but their first recorded use for navigation is hardly much earlier than the first recorded use in Europe, only a 100 years, and it is entirely possible that the European use of compasses for navigation is just as early, since there is no evidence in Neckham's writing that the compass was recent invention, and the compass in Europe clearly invented earlier. My the 14th century, the European mariner's compass, with a windrose and mounted on a gimbal that allowed for compensation of ship movement, was simply a superior navigational tool than the Chinese one.

(All evidence points that it was independent European invention. European compasses always pointed North, Chinese south, and the earlier report of compasses in the Islamic world between China and Europe is after the first European report. The way European dry compass was mounted was different too.)

6. The Chinese are often given credit for the pound locks on canals, but that is debatable

. Needham would very much like to make the pound lock a Chinese invention of about AD 1000, but the case he argues is very weak (Vol. 4, part 3, Sec. 28), resting solely on the interpretation of a literary text. He must explain the lack of any later use of pound locks, since there were none when Western contact was made, and he gives no illustrations. If there ever was an early Chinese pound lock, it was a sport and had no consequences. The Grand Canal sank to a very low state in the early 20th century, but has been restored. Canals
In contrast, there is no doubt the Europeans invented the pound lock themselves and made further improvements

The first in Europe is believed to have been built in the Netherlands in 1373 at Vreeswijk, where a canal from Utrecht joins the river Lek. ....

The last missing piece in the design of the modern lock is the mitred lock gate. ..... The first lock with mitred gates is probably the one built in Milan in about 1500 to join two canals of differing levels. Known as the San Marco lock, it is likely that its design is by Leonardo da Vinci. HISTORY OF CANALS
7. The Chinese were the first to come up with printing, but just one style of printing and the least important method today. The Chinese never came up with an ink designed to adhere to metal, unlike in the West (Gutenberg), which is one of the reasons that metal type did not work out in China, and not just the complexity of Chinese characters, as was the use of bronze with high melting point, while Gutenberg developed the far lower melting temperature type metal, which also has the superior ability of expanding cooling, resulting in less distortion.. Other forms of printing, far more important today - engraving, etching, lithography. were invented in Europe.

8. Chinese are often given credit for creating escapement for clocks, but the Chinese "escapement" works on a different principle than the escapement principle used by modern clocks, including atomic, and in any case, within a couple of centuries they had forgotten how to make it.


Ultimately, I would say, yes, the Chinese were the most advance from the 500 to 900, since the Western world was in decline, and the Islamic world had not yet reached its peak. After that, I would say the Islamic world was on par, and by the 14th European world had caught up as well - for every achievement of the Chinese had, the west had one of its own - Chinese had gunpowder, and the West had reading glasses. Chinese first used printed money, but Italians invented double entry bookkeeping, the basis of modern accounting. (Chinese paper money ultimately failed, in part because Chinese printing methods couldn't produced the microscopic detail that European engraved printing allowed, making the Chinese notes too easy to counterfeit.) Already by the 1400's Chinese had fallen behind technologically, and increasingly so over the next couple of centuries, until the mid 20th century. One difference, is that since the European recovery from the early middle ages, say around 1000 CE,. European technological has steadily progressed, and not gone backwards. China is different - in many cases, Chinese technology regressed. Its clock making, crossbow technology actually became inferior in later dynasties, regressing. for example. And if the Chinese did develop pound locks, later dynasties forgot how.
 
Jan 2016
316
United States
10. The Chinese still adhered to a believe in a flat earth, in 1500 which had been discarded by the peoples of the West more than a 1000 years. Not knowing the basic shape of the earth is a huge miss, far greater than miss than possibly discovering magnetic deviation.
By the Yuan dynasty, the Chinese knew that the earth was spherical. Jamal ad-Din brought a spherical terrestrial globe to China.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
By the Yuan dynasty, the Chinese knew that the earth was spherical. Jamal ad-Din brought a spherical terrestrial globe to China.
If Jamal ad-Din brought the idea of a spherical earth to China, they apparently didn't accept it.

As late as 1595, an early Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, recorded that the Chinese say: "The earth is flat and square, and the sky is a round canopy; they did not succeed in conceiving the possibility of the antipodes."[52][112] The universal belief in a flat Earth is confirmed by a contemporary Chinese encyclopedia from 1609 illustrating a flat Earth extending over the horizontal diametral plane of a spherical heaven.[52]

In the 17th century, the idea of a spherical Earth spread in China due to the influence of the Jesuits, who held high positions as astronomers at the imperial court https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth
I suspect the Chinese may have rejected the idea, because it was brought to them in the hate Yuan dynasty. The Jesuits probably finally convinced the Chinese the earth was a sphere, because the Jesuit's astronomy gave superior predictions, and the Jesuit astronomical results depended on a spherical earth.
 

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,627
China
1. By the 1300's, Europe gimbal mounted marine compass was more advanced than the magnetic compasses of the Chinese.
not really heard of, for "1300s" and for "compass"
2. The mariner Astrolabe (Arabic invention) and backstaff navigational aids were more advanced.
chinese measurement was focusing on stars in night. but i really do not know how to define advance here.
3. European reading eyeglasses were more advanced than the Chinese. Optic theories by Islamic scholar Alhazen in the 11th century was more advanced than Chinese optical theory.
yes, except mozi did some thinking and practicing in optics. few later guys in china made more researches.
but Marco Polo recorded eyeglasses, which is not a thing he had seen before. on this issue, since the poster added no explicit time period, such as say "after 1600s", the assertion obvious is void. even people may argue Marco Polo never really came to china, it is accepted chinese invented sunglasses.
4. Islamic and European glass making (blowing) skills were more advanced than the Chinese.
"blowing", perhaps. the fact is ancient chinese paid little interest on total transparent glasses. even though, qing still output many glass products, even to american indians(obviously, indians did not come to trade, the white did).
this random selecting is totally pointless, i can also say the europe was inferior on china productions, but that is pointless for an overall picture.
5. Complex machines were as advanced in the Islamic world as in China, and European clock making had surpassed China by the late 1300's, developing all mechanical clock, and the first modern escapement mechanism that is the basis for all modern clocks. Chinese clock making skills had declined by the 12th century. European horizontal axis windmill, invented sometime in the 11th or 12th century, were more powerful the vertical axis windmills (a Persian invention) used by the Chinese.

Europe by the 1300's had at least if not more applications of water powered machinery, using watermills to power trip hammers, saw mills, fuller mills, paper mills, and a host of other applications. The West (Islamic and Europe) also had ship mills and tide mills.
why everything 1300s......
and what is point of "horizontal axis windmill" mills, this thing did not exist in china?
6. European printing technology by the mid 1400's had at least equaled Chinese printing.
since printing was no big deal, as suggested in bellowing quotation, why the europe spent centuries to catch up?
7. By the 1400's European had matchlock guns, superior firing mechanisms to what the Chinese had invented for their handguns, and the technique of corning gunpowder greatly improved its performance and reliability
indeed, thanks for european improvement on chinese inventions. we wave your patent money based on this.
8. The counterweight trebuchet invented in the west in the 12th century was superior to the Chinese traction trebuchet, being far more powerful.
no idea, but starting from song china, chinese used hot weapons now. no point on stones and trebuchets
9. The Europeans invented frame first ship construction (by Byzantines in 11th century), allow for faster, cheaper, and large ship construction. (The Chinese watertight bulkheads is overrated. It restricted cargo placement and room, which is why the Lorcha ship, with an European hull and Chinese rigging, was popular in the far East. Watertight bulkhead are no magical cure to prevent sinking, as the Titanic demonstrate.)
no idea how could one compare frame first with watertight, they are not components having similar functions, and are not supposed to be compared.
in fact, read it carefully with scientific reasoning, titanic was doomed to sink because of its terrible watertight design, it cannot balance the weight so that once water got in, the ship will tilt and continue letting water in. that is not how chinese teach the west to do the design.
10. The Chinese still adhered to a believe in a flat earth, in 1500 which had been discarded by the peoples of the West more than a 1000 years. Not knowing the basic shape of the earth is a huge miss, far greater than miss than possibly discovering magnetic deviation.
a issue in deep debate
11. By the 14th century Europe had also developed the pound lock for canals.
"also"? point?

1. While it is claimed that the Chinese discovered magnetic deviation, but that is not true. Magnet deviation is the variation of magnetic to true north with position. While the Chinese knew their magnetic compasses did not point to due South/North, their is no indication that the Chinese knew the magnetic north changes with position. And it is an accident of history that the difference between True North and Magnetic North was so great in China that it would have been impossible not to notice. Magnetic deviation from True North was much less in Europe, small enough not to notice.
so funny, here is the map, see for yourself
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dd/World_Magnetic_Model_Main_Field_Declination_D_2010.png
2. The watertight bulkheads of Chinese ships were no great invention - if you can build a watertight hull, you could also build a watertight bulkhead. Westerners did not both, because watertight bulkheads would have restricted cargo placement, and would have added cost - In the far East, as I noted, they built local Asian ships without watertight bulkheads but with Chinese rigging (Chinese rigging because that is what local sailors they hired were used to.). Only when they could build ships with watertight bulkheads with water tight doors that allow passage between sections, which eliminated the inconvenience of the Chinese design, did the Europeans start building watertight bulkheads in their ships. Lack of desire, not knowledge, was the factor.
if fact.....why do not you just cut off all the components that may prevent you from sinking, that really saves a lot of space for cargo, really!

3. Yes, Chinese pottery, porcelain, was superior to other type of pottery, but at the end of the day, it didn't allow you do anything you couldn't do with other types of pottery, or pewter. In contrast, the crystal clear glass making skill the Europeans possessed allow them to build eyeglasses and microscopes and telescopes. Without the ability to make crystal clear glass, the Chinese would not have been able to make telescopes and microscopes, and in fact they did not until Europeans taught them how.
The value of clear glass and glass blowing to mankind is in my opinion far more important than that of porcelain, fine an achievement that it is.
try not use pottery, and/or any ceramic based material that used pottery production techs in industry. forgive me, but this is really childish.
and in contrast to the discussion, eyeglasses and microscopes and telescopes do not used blowed glass, they use the casted glass, which is in fact what ancient chinese was good at. how could you produce the glass for scopes with blowing? so why would I call all of these stuff euro-centerism, because all those, even when it sounds to have a scientific bases, it does not have the bases. all of the stuff twisted how science developed and twisted science knowledge itself, with only one purpose to bash the non-europe civilization. it is fine to criticize china, but please, for the real and valid points, which are known to exist in many aspects.
4. Paper was an major invention, true. But it is not essential for printing, a number of the surviving Gutenberg Bibles were printed on parchment, not paper.
try not print on paper today.
5. The Chinese were the first to invent magnetic compasses, but their first recorded use for navigation is hardly much earlier than the first recorded use in Europe, only a 100 years, and it is entirely possible that the European use of compasses for navigation is just as early, since there is no evidence in Neckham's writing that the compass was recent invention, and the compass in Europe clearly invented earlier. My the 14th century, the European mariner's compass, with a windrose and mounted on a gimbal that allowed for compensation of ship movement, was simply a superior navigational tool than the Chinese one.

(All evidence points that it was independent European invention. European compasses always pointed North, Chinese south, and the earlier report of compasses in the Islamic world between China and Europe is after the first European report. The way European dry compass was mounted was different too.)
what is point on "pointing north"? the planet's magnetic field determines anything uses magnetic properties to point north or south.
6. The Chinese are often given credit for the pound locks on canals, but that is debatable
In contrast, there is no doubt the Europeans invented the pound lock themselves and made further improvements
not sure what is point.
7. The Chinese were the first to come up with printing, but just one style of printing and the least important method today. The Chinese never came up with an ink designed to adhere to metal, unlike in the West (Gutenberg), which is one of the reasons that metal type did not work out in China, and not just the complexity of Chinese characters, as was the use of bronze with high melting point, while Gutenberg developed the far lower melting temperature type metal, which also has the superior ability of expanding cooling, resulting in less distortion.. Other forms of printing, far more important today - engraving, etching, lithography. were invented in Europe.
thanks to west. chinese never invent *everything*. inventing everything or everything important, that is what a euro-centerist may claim.
8. Chinese are often given credit for creating escapement for clocks, but the Chinese "escapement" works on a different principle than the escapement principle used by modern clocks, including atomic, and in any case, within a couple of centuries they had forgotten how to make it.
okay, still thanks to west, to remind and to invent more.
Ultimately, I would say, yes, the Chinese were the most advance from the 500 to 900, since the Western world was in decline, and the Islamic world had not yet reached its peak. After that, I would say the Islamic world was on par, and by the 14th European world had caught up as well - for every achievement of the Chinese had, the west had one of its own - Chinese had gunpowder, and the West had reading glasses. Chinese first used printed money, but Italians invented double entry bookkeeping, the basis of modern accounting. (Chinese paper money ultimately failed, in part because Chinese printing methods couldn't produced the microscopic detail that European engraved printing allowed, making the Chinese notes too easy to counterfeit.) Already by the 1400's Chinese had fallen behind technologically, and increasingly so over the next couple of centuries, until the mid 20th century. One difference, is that since the European recovery from the early middle ages, say around 1000 CE,. European technological has steadily progressed, and not gone backwards. China is different - in many cases, Chinese technology regressed. Its clock making, crossbow technology actually became inferior in later dynasties, regressing. for example. And if the Chinese did develop pound locks, later dynasties forgot how.
it appears, this time, europeans did not invent everything. and arab did something too. i guess, however, that serves only to make europe more great in some way.
we know china did not invent everything, and china did do badly and lost many innovation spirit in last centuries.
but, that is not the reason we have to twist science history and pushing all the euro-centerism stuffs.
 
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