Early Modern and Modern Asian Inventions

1100 - 2000 CE

Between 1100 and 2000 CE, Asian nations produced an astonishing array of inventions. Beginning with the magnetic compass, and moving on through the toothbrush, the multi-function bidet, and the PlayStation game console, modern Asian inventions span the continent and the realm of possible functions.

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The magnetic compass was a key invention for world exploration.
The magnetic compass was a key invention for world exploration. Digital Vision / Getty Images
Chinese engineers and mariners discovered the magical properties of magnetic, iron-rich minerals (called "lodestones") in the twelfth century, and used these minerals to produce the first magnetic compasses. These new instruments expanded navigational possibilities, as sailors were able have an idea of their heading even while out on the open ocean. (The problem of calculating latitudes would not be solved for several centuries longer, however.)

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1165 CE | Circulation of paper currency, China

Paper money was first circulated in China, at least 900 years ago.
Paper money was first circulated in China, almost 900 years ago. superiphi on Flickr.com
Although some evidence exists that China's government issued its first paper money as early as 605 CE, paper currency first went into wide circulation in 1165, during the reign of Sung Dynasty Emperor Hiao Tsung. Each note included an official red seal of authenticity, and a drawing depicting its value in silver ingots. The paper money was large, about 8 x 12 inches, and laid out vertically. China abandoned paper currency for several centuries after the fall of the Sung Dynasty.

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1234 CE | Invention of metal movable type by Choe Yun-ui, Korea

One of the first books ever printed with metal movable type, from ancient Korea.
One of the first books ever printed with metal movable type, from ancient Korea. Public domain via Wikipedia
Goryeo Dynasty minister Choe Yun-ui of Korea is credited with publishing the first book printed with metal movable type. This book, "Sangjeong yemun," detailed the manners and social niceties of the Korean court from ancient times through the 1234.

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1277 CE | First use of land mines, by General Luo Qianxia, China

Landmines were invented in China about 800 years ago. Can you spot them?
Landmines were invented in China about 800 years ago. Neil Rickards on Flickr.com
Song Chinese general Luo Qianxia used land mines in the Song Dynasty's (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to stave off the Mongol invasions. These early mines were triggered either by a rip cord or a complicated motion-detecting booby trap involving pins, flint strikers, and fuses. (They must not have been too reliable, given the touchiness of the system.)

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1413 CE | Invention of the ironclad "turtleboat," Korea

The iron-clad turtleship was invented in Korea in the 15th century.
The iron-clad turtleship was invented in Korea in the 15th century. gin_e on Flickr.com

Around 1413 - 1415, Korean shipbuilders designed the first turtleboats. These double-masted ironclads were used primarily for ramming pirate ships. Turtleboats came into their own as a weapon of war during the Japanese Invasion of Korea in 1592-1598. Admiral Yi Sun-shin used turtleboats to great effect in the Battle of Hansan-do, helping to defeat the Japanese drive through Korea and toward Ming China.

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The boar-bristle toothbrush was invented c. 1500 in China. Plastics came later.
The boar-bristle toothbrush was invented c. 1500 in China. Plastics came later. Michael_Lehet on Flickr.com
The world's first known toothbrush, with bristles embedded at right angles to the handle, was described in a Chinese encyclopedia in 1498. The toothbrush was made from pig bristles set into a bamboo handle. Toothbrushes spread to Europe some 150 to 200 years later.

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Model of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, invented in Russia.
Model of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, invented in Russia. Marcin Wichary on Flickr.com
The Soviet Union launched planet Earth's first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957. The satellite, known as "Sputnik" - fellow traveller - triggered the space race between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. Today, thousands of satellites orbit the earth, gathering scientific and intelligence data, transmitting cellphone calls and television shows, and performing other tasks.

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1980 CE | Invention of the Washlet bidet toilet, Japan

Controls for the bidet and rear-end dryer features of a Japanese toilet.
Controls for the bidet and rear-end dryer features of a Japanese toilet. Ben+Sam on Flickr.com
The world's most complicated toilets, Japan's option-packed bidets (often called "Washlets" after the original maker's brand) provide the ultimate bathroom experience. Features offered may include: a lid that automatically raises and lowers itself, based on motion detectors; a bidet that will squirt warm or cool water for washing private parts, in a steady stream or pulses; an air-dryer; musical accompaniment to cover the sound of urination; a heated seat; and automatic flush. These bidets are so complicated that foreign users often have trouble finding the flush button.

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1989 CE | Invention of the PC sound card by Sim Wong Hoo, Singapore

The PC sound card was a popular early addition to personal computers.
The PC sound card was a popular early addition to personal computers. Yoppy on Flickr.com

Sim Wong Hoo is the founding CEO of Singapore-based Creative Technology, manufacturer of the Sound Blaster card for personal computers. This card, first produced in 1989, was one of the first commonly used to add sound to computers.

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The Playstation game console is one of Japan's most popular recent inventions, world-wide.
The Playstation game console is one of Japan's most popular recent inventions, world-wide. MNgilen on Flickr.com
The original PlayStation is part of the fifth generation of game consoles, but it was the first to sell 100 million units, and brought gaming to the masses. Ken Kutaragi led development of the PlayStation and its successors until he was demoted in a shocking move by Sony Corp., in 2005.

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