50 Amazing Asian Inventions

Innovations Made From 10,000 BCE to 2000 CE

Asian inventors have created countless tools that we take for granted in our daily lives. From paper money to toilet paper to PlayStations, explore 50 of the most revolutionary Asian inventions throughout time.

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Rooster struts his stuff; his ancestors were red junglefowl in Southeast Asia
Pretty bantam rooster, descended from red junglefowl that were domesticated in Southeast Asia. Domestic rooster by Carly and Art on Flickr.com

In prehistoric times, finding food was a huge part of everyday life. So you can imagine how farming and the domestication of crops was a big deal and played a large role in making people's lives easier.

The Indus Valley, in modern day India, saw the domestication of wheat. Farther east, modern day China pioneered the domestication of rice.

In terms of animals, the domestication of cats was occurring widely, in regions from Egypt to China. Domestication of chickens occurred in Souther China. Mesopotamia in Asia Minor most likely saw the domestication of cattle and sheep. Mesopotamia was also where the wheel, and subsequently the pottery wheel, were invented.

In other news, alcoholic drinks emerged in China as early as 7000 BCE. The invention of the oar occured as early as 5000 BCE in modern China and 4000 BCE in Japan. So now you can think about where the oar originated from the next time you go kayaking, rowing, or paddleboarding! 

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Phoenician sailors in what is now Lebanon first learned glassmaking
Blown glass art, derived from an ancient Phoenician discovery. Blown glass, photo by destinelee on Flickr.com

Mesopotamia saw the invention of written language around 3100 BCE. China developed a written language around 1200 BCE independently of Mesopotamia. Writing systems were also emerging in locations around the world during this time, such as Egypt and India, though it is unclear if they were developed independently or influenced by existing written languages.

Silk weaving became a practice in China around 3500 BCE. Ever since then, silk has been a highly sought after luxury fabric around the world. This time period also saw the invention of soap in Babylon and glass in Egypt. Additionally, ink was invented in China, though it was heavily traded through India thus the name, Indian ink.

First editions of the parasol emerged in Egypt, China, and Assyria. They were initially made from tree leaves, and then eventually animal skins or paper in the case of China.

In Mesopotamia and Egypt, irrigation canals were invented given both ancient civilizations proximity to rivers, Tigris/Euphrates and Nile respectively.

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Inventions of Classical Asia: 1,000 BCE - 500 CE

Beautiful old saddle from Inner Mongolia, possible birthplace of saddles and stirrups.
An ancient saddle from the Museum of Inner Mongolia, in China. Mongolian Saddle, by Sam Ose / Olai Skjaervoy on Flickr.com

In 100 BCE, China invented paper  invented paper. This led to the design of paper kites in 549 CE. The first record of a paper kite was when it was used as a message vehicle during a rescue mission. China also saw the invention of the collapsible umbrella; it was made out of waterproofed silk and used by royalty. The crossbow was another original device by the Chinese. During the Zhou Dynasty, an easily reloadable and triggered device was needed to advance warfare. Other classical Chinese inventions included the wheelbarrow, abacus, and an early version of a seismometer.

It is believed that mirrors made of metal-backed glass were first seen in Lebanon around 100 CE. India saw the invention of Indo-Arabic numbers sometime between 100 and 500 CE. The number system spread to Europe via Arab mathematicians, hence the name Indo-Arabic.

To make horseback riding easier, which was important for farming and warfare, saddles and stirrups were needed. The first confirmed reference to the paired stirrups we know today was in China during the Jin Dynasty. However, paired stirrups could not have existed without a solid-treed saddle. The Sarmatians, people who lived in areas of present-day Iran, were the first to make saddles with a basic frame. But the first edition of a solid-treed saddle was seen in China around 200 BCE. The saddle and stirrups were spread to Europe through Central Eurasia's tnomadic people since they rode on horseback constantly. 

Ice cream had its origins in China with flavored ices. But you're probably thinking about Italy's famous gelato! You're not too far off the mark. Marco Polo is often cited as the person who brought China's flavored ices back to Italy, where it developed into gelato and ice cream. 

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Medieval Asian Inventions: 500 - 1100 CE

Developed in ancient India to teach battle tactics, chess is enjoyed around the world.
Chess players in Dupont Circle, Washington DC, hone their skills at an ancient Indian game. Chess game, by dbking on Flickr.com

An early version of chess was played in India during the Gupta Empire around 500 CE. China's Han Dynasty saw the invention of porcelain, and porcelain manufacturing for exporting began during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE). As the inventors of paper, it is not a stretch that China also invented paper money in China during the Tang Dynasty.

China also saw the invention of gunpowder. While gunpowder could have existed in China before, the first confirmed account of gunpowder occurred during the Qing Dynasty.Not meant to be weaponized, gunpowder emerged out of alchemy experiments. On the other hand, an early version of the flamethrower was invented for military use. A piston flamethrower using gasoline-like substance was used in 919 CE in China.  

The pound lock is attributed to Chinese inventor Chiao Wei-Yo who designed it in 983 CE, but the mitre gate, an integral part of canal lock's today, is credited to Leonardo Da Vinci in who lived in the mid-1500s. 

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Museum model of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite (1957).
Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, was launched from Russia in 1957. Model of Sputnik, by Marcin Wichary on Flickr.com

Early versions of the magnetic compass first appeared in China sometime between 1000 and 1100 CE. First instances of metal moving type were recorded in 12th century China. Bronze movable type was used especially for the production of printed paper money.  

The Chinese also invented the land mine during Song Dynasty in 1277, as well as the bristle toothbrush in 1498. Around 1391, the first toilet paper was made and the luxury item was only available to royalty.

In 1994, Japan made the original PlayStation console which revolutionized the world of gaming.