The Invention of Paper

5 steps Ancient Chinese papermaking
process in 105 AD
Photo by: Wikipedia Creative Commons

A lot of the people living in the modern age take paper for granted. It is a common object found nearly everywhere, it is cheap and light, and it is easy to get a hold of. But paper has come a long way from its creation to the form we know today. People may not know it but the invention of paper has revolutionized a lot of things like the very civilization and culture and education of people.

According to recent research and excavations, the earliest form of paper was dated back to the Western Han Dynasty, but this type of paper was made hemp that was pounded and disintegrated. It was very coarse, had an uneven texture and it was very thick. This type of paper was unearthed in a Han tomb somewhere in Ganshu Province and it is so far the earliest type of paper found.

But during the Eastern Han Dynasty around 104 A.D., a eunuch of the Imperial Court named Cai Lun invented a new type of paper. It was said that he took bamboo fibers and the inner bark of a mulberry tree. He then added water to these and pounded them using a wooden tool. When they were pounded thoroughly, he poured the whole mixture over a flat woven cloth letting the water drain out. When it was dried, only the fibers remained and with this, Cai Lun realized he had made a material that has a good writing surface and that it was lightweight. It was also very easy to make. Cai Lun used other materials for his paper making, such as remnants or hemp, tree barks, fishnets and linen rags. In 105 A.D., he presented this invention to He Di, the emperor at that time and paper was then invented, according to Chinese History.

Before Cai Lun invented paper, writing surfaces were made from different materials such as bones, bamboo slips, wooden boards and even tortoise shells. These things are not only heavy but they also took up a lot of space and are hard to carry around. People then needed not only intelligence to study, but they needed to be strong to carry their books as well. Because of this, many thought these kinds of writing surface were unsuitable. It was probably what prompted Cai Lun to invent a new lightweight writing surface that wasn’t too thick or too bulky.

This new art of paper making later spread to East Korea about 384 A.D. Then around 610 A.D., a Korean monk took his paper making skills with him to Japan. And during the Tang Dynasty war, the Arab Empire captured soldiers and also some paper making workers so the skills were brought to the Arab nations. Paper making was also brought to India by Chinese monks who traveled there searching for the Buddhist sutras. And through the Arabs, paper making skills were learned and mastered by the Africans and the Europeans. Paper making skills and paper then became widespread all across the globe.

With the invention of a cheap and easy writing surface, it meant that ideas, teachings and philosophies can now be easily passed on to other people. Education became a much easier task and communication with people from a distance is now simpler. The use of paper changed the way people taught and learned. It also promoted and hastened the progress of civilization and culture, and literature.

The technique of paper making had gone through different processes being refined and perfected, from its humble beginnings in the Eastern Han Dynasty to the factory made and mass produced product it is today. It truly is one of the best inventions made by man.

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