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• Brings to life one hundred Chinese “firsts” in the fields of agriculture, astronomy, engineering, mathematics, medicine, music, technology, and warfare
• Based on the definitive work of the world’s most famous Sinologist, Joseph Needham (1900-1995), author of Science and Civilisation in China
• Organized by field, invention, and discovery for ease of reference
Undisputed masters of invention and discovery for 3,000 years, the ancient Chinese were the first to discover the solar wind and the circulation of the blood and even to isolate sex hormones. From the suspension bridge and the seismograph to deep drilling for natural gas, the iron plough, and the parachute, ancient China’s contributions in the fields of engineering, medicine, technology, mathematics, science, transportation, warfare, and music helped inspire the European agricultural and industrial revolutions.
Since its original publication, The Genius of China has won five literary awards in America and been translated into 43 languages. Its Chinese edition, The Spirit of Chinese Invention, was approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education for use in connection with the national secondary curriculum in China. Based on the immense, authoritative scholarship of the late Joseph Needham, the world’s foremost scholar of Chinese science, and including a foreword by him, this revised full-color illustrated edition brings to life the spirit and excitement of the unparalleled achievements of ancient China.
" . . . a top pick for any college-level collection strong in Chinese history and culture, offering a revised full-color edition that brings to life elements of ancient Chinese history."
" . . . richly illustrative narrative utilizing facsimiles of historical script and beautifully done photography. . . . a rigorous, but pleasurable intellectual endeavor without the trappings of tedious academic script. Fully referenced and loaded with facts . . . "
"These days, we Americans would do well to understand the Chinese as thoroughly as we can; this book is a good starting point in beginning to understand that before 'we discovered' the Orient, it was doing fine without us and our primitive technologies."
The Suspension Bridge
First Century A.D.
Few structures seem more typical of the modern world and its engineering achievements than the suspension bridge. And yet, the sophisticated form of the suspension bridge, with a flat roadway suspended from cables, was unquestionably invented in China. And it is highly likely that the two more primitive forms of suspension bridge also originated there, the simple rope bridge and the catenary bridge (where the walkway or roadway is not flat but follows the curve of the cables).
The simplest form of ‘suspension’ bridge--if we can even call it that--is simply a rope thrown across a gorge. Probably from the very beginning, the technique used for getting the rope across was that still used later for elaborate suspension bridges--shooting it across, tied to an arrow. After the Chinese invention of the crossbow greater power would have been available for heavier cables over longer distances.
Climbing or scrambling along a single rope above a gorge can be dangerous, and is hard on the hands. An ingenious solution is still in use in some areas, such as the Tibetan-Chinese border. The rope is threaded through a hollow piece of bamboo before being attached, and the person merely hugs the bamboo and slides along the rope without burning his hands or straining himself unduly. A more sophisticated method is by a cradle attached to the bamboo tube. Cable bridges of liana vines are known in the Andes mountains of Peru, dating back to at least 1290, and Needham suspects that this may be one of the many Chinese ideas to have spread to the New World across the Pacific.
Bridges of ropes and cables in China and Tibet evolved into multiple-cable bridges of various types. Sometimes three ropes or cables are stretched across together so that the person crossing can walk with his feet on two of them and hold a third above his head for balance. Or a woven walkway of matting is incorporated between the two bottom ropes or cables, to make the going easier. Another variation is to have a series of hanging straps by which the user pulls himself forward. All these and other variations occur in the area between China and Tibet, in the high mountains. A reference in the Chinese dynastic history for 90 A.D. appears to mention a suspension bridge which has planking and, hence, a proper platform upon which to cross:
There the gorges and ravines allow of no connecting road, but ropes and cables are stretched across from side to side and by means of these a passage is effected.
Th is reference is rather vague. The same dynastic history for 25 B.C. describes a harrowing Himalayan suspension bridge:
Then comes the road through the San-ch’ihp’an gorge, thirty li long, where the path is only 16 or 17 inches wide, on the edge of unfathomable precipices. Travellers go step by step here, clasping each other for safety, and rope suspension bridges are stretched across the chasms from side to side. After 20 li one reaches the Hsien-tu mountain pass. . . . Verily the difficulties and dangers of the road are indescribable.
Fa-Hsien, the first Chinese Buddhist pilgrim to India, crossed this very bridge in 399 A.D. and left this account of his experience:
Keeping on through the valleys and passes of the Ts’ung-ling mountain range, we travelled south-westwards for fifteen days. The road is difficult and broken, with steep crags and precipices in the way. The mountain-sides are simply stone walls standing straight up 8000 feet high. To look down makes one dizzy, and when one wants to move forward one is not sure of one’s foothold. Below flows the Hsin-t’ou Ho. Men of former times bored through the rocks here to make a way, and fixed ladders at the sides of the cliffs, seven hundred of which one has to negotiate. Then one passes fearfully across a bridge of suspended cables to cross the river, the sides of which are here rather less than 80 paces [400 feet] apart.
Cable bridges in China were most efficient when made of bamboo. The cables were made with a centre formed of the core of the bamboo surrounded by plaited bamboo strips made of the outer layers of the wood. The plaiting was done so that the higher the tension, the more tightly the outer strips gripped the inner core. This led to the safety factor that it is the inner strands of a cable which snap first, rather than the outer strips which would otherwise unravel very fast. An ordinary 2-inch hemp rope can stand stresses of only about 8000 pounds per square inch, but bamboo cables can stand a stress of 26,000 pounds per square inch. Ordinary steel cables will only take twice as much stress (56,000 pounds), so bamboo is remarkably strong. (Modern steel alloys such as used in the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco can take stresses of 256,000 pounds per square inch.)
The most famous Chinese suspension bridge is a catenary bridge (which has a roadway following the curves of the cables rather than hanging flat): the An-Lan Bridge at Kuanhsien in Szechuan. It has a total length of 1050 feet, composed of eight successive spans, and there is not a single piece of metal in the entire structure. An account of a traveller crossing it in 1177 describes only five spans at that time. It has planking on which to walk, originally 12 feet wide but today only 9 feet wide, and it is believed to have been built in the third century B.C. by Li Ping.
Forward by Dr Joseph Needham, FRS, FBA
The West’s debt to China
PART 1: AGRICULTURE
Row cultivation and intensive hoeing
The iron plough
Efficient horse harnesses
The rotary winnowing fan
The multi-tube (‘modern’) seed drill
PART 2: ASTRONOMY AND CARTOGRAPHY
Recognition of sunspots as solar phenomena
Discovery of the solar wind
The Mercator map-projection
Equatorial astronomical instruments
PART 3: ENGINEERING
Spouting bowls and standing waves
The double-acting piston bellows
The crank handle
The ‘Cardan suspension’, or gimbals
Manufacture of steel from cast iron
Deep drilling for natural gas
The belt-drive (or driving-belt)
The chain pump
The suspension bridge
The first cybernetic machine
Essentials of the steam engine
The ‘Siemens’ steel process
The segmental arch bridge
Underwater salvage operations
PART 4: DOMESTIC AND INDUSTRIAL TECHNOLOGY
Lacquer: the first plastic
Strong beer (sake)
Petroleum and natural gas as fuel
The magic lantern
The fishing reel
Biological pest control
Brandy and whisky
The mechanical clock
PART 5: MEDICINE AND HEALTH
Circulation of the blood
Circadian rhythms in the human body
The science of endocrinology
Use of thyroid hormone
PART 6: MATHEMATICS
The decimal system
A place for zero
Extraction of higher roots and solutions of higher numerical equations
Using algebra in geometry
A refined value of pi
PART 7: MAGNETISM
The first compasses
Dial and pointer devices
Magnetic declination of the Earth’s magnetic field
Magnetic remanence and induction
PART 8: THE PHYSICAL SCIENCES
The First Law of Motion
The hexagonal structure of snowflakes
PART 9: TRANSPORTATION AND EXPLORATION
Manned flight with kites
The first relief maps
The first contour transport canal
Miniature hot-air balloons
Masts and sailing
Watertight compartments in ships
The helicopter rotor and the propeller
The paddle-wheel boat
The canal pound-lock
PART 10: SOUND AND MUSIC
The large tuned bell
Hermetically sealed research laboratories
The first understanding of musical timbre
Equal temperament in music
PART 11: WARFARE
Chemical warfare, poison gas, smoke bombs and tear gas
Flares, fireworks, bombs, grenades, land mines and sea mines
The rocket, and multi-staged rockets
Guns, cannons, mortars and repeating guns
General map of China
Charts showing time lags between Chinese inventions and
discoveries and their adoption or recognition by the West