Ts'ai Lun

 

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62 AD – Unknown

Court Official, Inventor

Chinese

“The invention of paper by Ts’ai Lun of China is arguably the most significant invention of all time. Paper impacts all of our lives. Its importance to society is comparable to the invention of the wheel.” -- Neil Warner

Before Ts’ai Lun invented paper, the ancient Chinese people carved characters (words) on bamboo, stone, soft metals, bone and even tortoiseshell.

In 105 AD, Ts’ai Lun, a eunuch in the Chinese court, presented Emperor Han Ho Ti with samples of paper he had made. Ts’ai Lun was a paperwork secretary who did experiments with different plant fibers to try to create a substitute for the expensive silk sheets which were being used to write on. Even though the exact formula is not certain, one theory is he boiled and pressed bamboo bark, hemp, rags and fish net. Legend says that to convince those who had reservations about his invention, Ts’ai Lun faked his own stoppage and had himself buried alive in a coffin with a paper lid. His friends told the mourners if the paper covering the coffin was burned, Ts’ai Lun would start again. While the paper was burning, he jumped from the coffin and startled the mourners. Ts’ai Lun’s resurrection was attributed to the magical power of his paper, and to this day many Chinese still burn paper over the graves of loved ones. Ts’ai Lun received fame and fortune for his invention and was promoted by the Emperor. Later, he became entangled in a palace intrigue and caused his own stoppage by drinking poison. The Chinese kept the papermaking process a secret for centuries. Finally, almost 700 years later, Arabs captured some Chinese papermakers, and eventually the technique of making paper made its way throughout the world. There is some debate as to whether Ts’ai Lun was the first to make paper, but Chinese records do mention and credit him with this invention.