Paper In Ancient China

History ExpertPh.D., History, Boston UniversityJ.D., University of Washington School of LawB.A., History, Western Washington University
Dr. Kallie Szczepanski is a history teacher specializing in Asian history & culture. She has taught at the high school và university levels in the U.S. & South Korea.

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Try khổng lồ imagine life without paper. Even in the era of emails & digital books, paper is all around us. Paper is in shopping bags, money, store receipts, cereal boxes, và toilet paper. We use paper in so many ways every day. So, where did this marvelously versatile material come from?

According lớn ancient Chinese historical sources, a court eunuch named Ts"ai Lun (or Cai Lun) presented the newly-invented paper to the Emperor Hedi of the Eastern Han Dynasty in 105 CE. The historian fan hâm mộ Hua (398-445 CE) recorded this version of events, but archaeological finds from western china and Tibet suggest that paper was invented centuries earlier.

Samples of even more ancient paper, some of it dating khổng lồ c. 200 BCE, have been unearthed in the ancient Silk Road cities of Dunhuang and Khotan, và in Tibet. The dry climate in these places allowed the paper to survive for up khổng lồ 2,000 years without entirely decomposing. Amazingly, some of this paper even has ink marks on it, proving that ink was invented much earlier than historians had supposed.

Writing Materials Before Paper

Of course, people in various places around the world were writing long before the invention of paper. Materials such as bark, silk, wood, & leather functioned in a similar way lớn paper, although they were either much more expensive or heavier. In China, many early works were recorded on long bamboo strips, which were then bound with leather straps or string into books.

People world-wide also carved very important notations into stone or bone, or pressed stamps into wet clay và then dried or fired the tablets khổng lồ preserve their words. However, writing (and later printing) required a material that was both cheap and lightweight khổng lồ become truly ubiquitous. Paper fit the bill perfectly.

Chinese Paper-Making

Early paper-makers in trung quốc used hemp fibers, which were soaked in water and pounded with a large wooden mallet. The resulting slurry was then poured over a horizontal mold; loosely-woven cloth stretched over a framework of bamboo allowed the water khổng lồ drip out the bottom or evaporate, leaving behind a flat sheet of dry hemp-fiber paper.

Over time, paper-makers began to lớn use other materials in their product, including bamboo, mulberry và different types of tree bark. They dyed paper for official records with a yellow substance, the imperial color, which had the added benefit of repelling insects that might have destroyed the paper otherwise.

One of the most common formats for early paper was the scroll. A few long pieces of paper were pasted together to form a strip, which was then wrapped around a wooden roller. The other end of the paper was attached lớn a thin wooden dowel, with a piece of silk cord in the middle lớn tie the scroll shut.

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The Spread of Paper-Making

From its point of origin in China, the idea & technology of paper-making spread throughout Asia. In the 500s CE, artisans on the Korean Peninsula began lớn make paper using many of the same materials as Chinese paper-makers. The Koreans also used rice straw and seaweed, expanding the types of fiber available for paper production. This early adoption of paper fueled the Korean innovations in printing, as well. Metal movable type was invented by 1234 CE on the peninsula.

Around 610 CE, according to lớn legend, the Korean Buddhist monk Don-Cho introduced paper-making to lớn the court of Emperor Kotoku in Japan. Paper-making công nghệ also spread west through Tibet & then south into India.

Paper Reaches the Middle East và Europe

In 751 CE, the armies of Tang china and the ever-expanding Arab Abbasid Empire clashed in the Battle of Talas River, in what is now Kyrgyzstan. One of the most interesting repercussions of this Arab victory was that the Abbasids captured Chinese artisans, including master paper-makers like Tou Houan, & took them back to the Middle East.

At that time, the Abbasid Empire stretched from Spain & Portugal in the west through North Africa to Central Asia in the east, so knowledge of this marvelous new material spread far and wide. Before long, cities from Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan) to lớn Damascus & Cairo had become centers of paper production.

In 1120, the Moors established Europe's first paper mill at Valencia, Spain (then called Xativa). From there, this Chinese invention passed to lớn Italy, Germany, & other parts of Europe. Paper helped spread knowledge, much of which was gleaned from the great Asian culture centers along the Silk Road, that enabled Europe's High Middle Ages.

Manifold Uses

Meanwhile, in East Asia, paper was used for an enormous number of purposes. Combined with varnish, it became beautiful lacquer-ware storage vessels & furniture. In Japan, the walls of homes were often made of rice-paper. Besides paintings và books, paper was made into fans, umbrellas, even highly effective armor. Paper truly is one of the most wonderful Asian inventions of all time.

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Szczepanski, Kallie. "The Invention of Paper.", Jan. 26, 2021,, Kallie. (2021, January 26). The Invention of Paper. Retrieved from, Kallie. "The Invention of Paper." Https:// (accessed December 24, 2022).

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