Song Dynasty Invention

diagram of Su’s astronomical clock tower

The Song Dynasty (960-1279) was a time of significant scientific development in China, with new inventions and technologies being developed and refined. Here are some of the most notable inventions and technological advances of the Song Dynasty:

Movable-type Printing

One of the most significant inventions to come out of the Song Dynasty was movable-type printing, which revolutionized how information was disseminated in Song Dynasty China. This system involved the use of single tiles made of clay for common characters, which could be rearranged to create different text.


The standard formula of gunpowder was invented during the Tang Dynasty, but it wasn’t until the Song Dynasty that gunpowder began to be used extensively. The Song even found new uses for gunpowder, and they used it for both military and celebratory purposes. The development of gunpowder led to the creation of new weapons, such as cannons, landmines, flamethrowers, and fire arrows (known as “flying fire”) which changed the face of warfare. Gunpowder was also used for fireworks displays during festivals, which became an important part of Song Dynasty culture.

Magnetic Compass

The compass was first used for divination and geomancy (Feng Shui) in Ancient China, but it wasn’t until the Song Dynasty that it began to be used for navigation. This device allowed sailors to determine their position and course, even when out of sight of land. This tool helped the Song Empire explore other territories, map out the world around them, and trade with other cultures.

Astronomical Clock Tower

The astronomical clock tower was invented by Su Song—a well-known scholar-official, botanist, and calligrapher—in 1092. It was used to tell the time of day, day of the month, and phase of the moon. Su’s clock tower was powered by water and contained an armillary sphere, a celestial globe, and a calculagraph. This invention was significant not only for its technological advances but also for its architectural beauty.

Paper Money

Since the economy was booming during the Song Dynasty and merchants were traveling further distances, bringing heavy strings of coins was too much of a hassle. It also made them a good target for thieves. They needed a more efficient way of carrying money, so they started using paper. Once the government saw how successful this was, they started taking over the printing of paper money, which became an essential part of the Song Dynasty economy.