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The Big Four Inventions
Web> Special> The Big Four Inventions
UPDATED: August-26-2008 No.35 AUG.28, 2008
Do We Need to Redefine the Top Four Inventions?
While papermaking and printing remain but are merged into a single one, compass and gunpowder are replaced by bronze, silk and porcelain
Cun Caoxin ( The status and significance of the original Four Great Inventions are unimpeachable. Other inventions, such as silk, porcelain and bronze, have an equal status with the original ones and they also have significant influence around the world. The problem lies in only the unnecessarily rigid quota of "four" for the list of great inventions. Since the number is restricted, when silk, bronze and porcelain are proposed, compass and gunpowder have to be delisted. This is the wrong way of going about it.

The research into ancient Chinese inventions will realize more and more inventions of high technological content and great influence, and among them, some may even have more scientific merit than the new top four. Will we need to keep updating these inventions constantly?

Actually, ancient China had contributed a lot of significant inventions to the world and it's insignificant to select four and label them as the best. As far as the human inventions are concerned, there is no best one, but only better ones. They all help to promote social and scientific progress to some extent. Why do we have to put some above others?

Change is inevitable

Xiu Yuan ( We remember the Four Great Inventions to show respect to the ancestors of the Chinese nation. To improve the definition on the basis of new scientific findings is better than just inheriting an unalterable concept.

Today, the trend is that paper is used less and less. Even the inventor of paper would have to learn how to use a computer if he lived till now.

The researchers' attempt to redefine the Four Great Inventions according to their own studies does not mean betraying ancient ancestors, but is an updated way of cultural promotion. Comparatively, silk, bronze and porcelain are more Chinese than compass and gunpowder, and they are expected to be better received by foreigners against the background of globalization.

These newly listed inventions also have irreplaceable symbolic and aesthetic significance. The ancient Silk Road used to be a crucial link to connect China and other parts of the world and is therefore well-known throughout the globe. To add silk to the list of the Four Great Inventions will effectively awaken foreigners' memory of the grand civilization of ancient China. In English, porcelain is called "china," which later became the English name of this country. Bronze is a kind of massive metal. It can fully reflect the profoundness of the Chinese civilization. The smelting technique involved in bronze production also fully reflects the Chinese people's great wisdom.

Xia Yucai ( The traditional concept of China's four top inventions was allegedly first discussed by British philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and Sinologist Joseph Edkins (1823-1905). Bacon said, "Printing, gunpowder and the compass: These three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes, in so much that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence on human affairs than these mechanical discoveries." Edkins said, while comparing Japan with China, that people should remember forever that Japan didn't have similar kinds of superexcellent inventions such as printing, papermaking, compass and gunpowder.

Bacon was a famous politician and philosopher, but not a scientist, nor was he an archaeologist. Therefore, Bacon's proposal is only his personal opinion, and also the inclusions in his list are actually not ancient Chinese inventions but three Western analogs. Joseph Edkins was a missionary and Sinologist and the four inventions he referred to are only examples showing ancient China's lead over Japan in science and technology.

Some experts have pointed out that the inventions of printing, gunpowder and compass by the ancient Chinese are in nature different from current technologies that originated in Europe. For example, what the ancient Chinese invented was actually black gunpowder, but explosives play a very important role in military use.

If the false definition of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China is carried on and on, it shows our ignorance. The redefinition updates an old concept.

Li Ji (Chongqing Times): The attempt to redefine the Four Great Inventions of ancient China is not to destroy the traditional culture, but to provide a new explanation of that culture. The reason is very simple. The exhibition of the newly defined four great inventions can better display the historical line of China's traditional cultural development and show its enormous impact on social and economic development.

Wang Qiudong (New Culture View): The three inventions of silk, bronze and porcelain not only have great influence around the world, but also use advanced techniques. Even today, they still have great scientific value. Their inclusion in the Four Great Inventions can better reflect China's ancient scientific and technological development level.

Although this new definition may encounter opposition, still we need to go ahead with it. After all, when the original top inventions were selected, there might have been some technical restrictions, so it's proper to redefine these inventions now.

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