50 Amazing Asian Inventions

Innovations Made From 10,000 BCE to 2000 CE

Chocolate ice cream in a dish with a sprig of mint on a wooden table with scattered chocolate bits.

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

Prehistoric Asian Inventions (10,000 to 3500 B.C.E.)

Cow at a commercial cattle farm.

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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, modern India, saw the domestication of wheat. Farther east, China pioneered the domestication of rice.

In terms of animals, the domestication of cats occurred widely in ancient times, in regions from Egypt to China. Domestication of chickens occurred in southern 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, was invented.

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

Ancient Inventions (3500 to 1000 B.C.E.)

Colorful bars of soap arranged in a row.

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Mesopotamia saw the invention of written language around 3100 B.C.E. China developed a written language around 1200 B.C.E. 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 B.C.E. 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. Ink 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 China's case.

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

Classical Asia (1000 B.C.E. to 500 C.E.)

Colorful paper kites against a cloudless blue sky.

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In 100 B.C.E., China invented paper. This led to the design of paper kites in 549 C.E. 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, which was made 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 C.E. India saw the invention of Indo-Arabic numbers sometime between 100 and 500 C.E. 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 B.C.E. The saddle and stirrups were spread to Europe through Central Eurasia's nomadic people since they rode on horseback constantly. 

Ice cream had its origins in China with flavored ices. But if you think ice cream, 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 they developed into gelato and ice cream. 

Medieval Era (500 to 1100 C.E.)

Chessboard with woman playing blurred in background.

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An early version of chess was played in India during the Gupta Empire around 500 C.E. China's Han Dynasty saw the invention of porcelain. Manufacturing of porcelain for exporting began during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 C.E.). 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. An early version of the flamethrower was invented for military use. A piston flamethrower using gasoline-like substance was used in 919 C.E. in China. 

The pound lock is attributed to Chinese inventor Chiao Wei-Yo, who designed it in 983 C.E. The miter gate, an integral part of canal locks today, is credited to Leonardo Da Vinci (who lived in the mid-1500s).

Early Modern and Modern Inventions (1100 to 2000 C.E.)

Close up of a toothbrush with toothpaste on it sitting on the sink.

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

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

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