Monday, May 9, 2016

The Machines of Ancient China

Ancient Chinese terracotta warriors depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

Today on Far Future Horizons we explore the technological revolution of Ancient China in another exciting episode of the acclaimed documentary series “Ancient Discoveries – Machines of Ancient China”.

Song dynasty mechanical clock

One thousand years ago, as Europe languished in the dark ages; China occupied a position at the very forefront of technology and innovation. While the European Renaissance occupies a firm place the historical understanding of most people, its Chinese counterpart has received comparatively little attention.

The innovations of Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus and Renoir have been explored in countless texts and films, yet most commentators have glossed over the achievements of Su Song, the legendary figure who had spearheaded the Chinese Renaissance five hundred years earlier.

This programme sets out to redress the historical imbalance. For the first time, we reveal the remarkable story of how China created a myriad of ingenious devices including cosmic machines able to collect data on the stars, hydraulic hammers, water-controlled clocks and even paper.

Ancient Chinese earthquake detector

We discover that ancient China was an industrial superpower, armed with devices such as ‘heaven carts’ able to drill down deep underground, geared milling machines and mass production plants powered by water. Incredibly, unlike the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese developed their inventions with an eye for safety. Sophisticated mining props were designed to prevent cave-ins, while ancient ‘carburettors’ were employed to control volatile natural gas. Indeed, Chinese inventors are even credited with designing the world’s first earthquake detector.

Cross section diagram of Ancient Chinese earthquake detector 

We embark upon an epic journey across all of China, meeting the leading historians and model-makers who have kept tales of ancient China alive. We visit a reconstruction of an ancient Chinese iron furnace, where we unravel insights into how the Chinese created a forty-ton iron artefact five centuries before the West discovered cast-iron technology. Most impressively of all, we meet the leading clay expert Professor Ye Hongming, who has spent a lifetime seeking to discover the secrets of ancient China’s vast terracotta army.

This pioneering documentary seeks to lift the centuries-old veil on China’s greatest inventions, revealing how many of the West’s modern-day inventions owe an extraordinary debt to ancient China’s greatest minds.

Ancient Discoveries – Machines of Ancient China” is one exciting documentary you should add to your DVD collection and is available from the History Channel’s online shop.

Ancient Discoveries - Machines of Ancient China
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