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Topic – Ancient China: The Invention of Paper

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The Invention of Paper

The Invention of Paper 

Cuneiform writing on ancient clay tablet

For thousands of years, people wrote on many different materials, including clay, leaves, and silk. But some of those materials were too expensive, some broke apart too easily, and others were much too heavy to carry around. People were always looking for something better to write on.

The First Paper

In about the year 105, a Chinese government official named Cai Lun had an idea. He crushed grass together with small pieces of rags and wood to make a mash. He spread and pressed the mash into thin layers, then dried them into sheets of paper.

The invention of paper allowed the Chinese people to keep track of all the sales and trades they made. Writing everything down made it easier to do business. People could also write down their ideas on the pieces of paper and share them with others. Thanks to the invention of paper, people changed the ways they communicated with each other and stored information.

Paper made from wood – Robert C. Williams Paper Museum

The Secret Spreads

The secret of papermaking stayed in Asia for hundreds of years. Then, around 751, some Chinese papermakers were taken prisoner in a battle with Arabian soldiers. The papermakers were forced to give away the secret of making paper. Soon, the instructions spread from person to person and by the 1100s, people in Europe were making paper.

Paper Changes the World

After learning how to make paper, people began to bind pages of it together into books. Information began to spread more quickly. At one point, only lords and scholars could read and use information. Soon farmers and other workers had access to it. 

Reading made people from lower classes feel more equal to the richer, well-educated people. The workers began to want to have some input into the government. The idea of democracy, or everyone’s vote being equal, began to spread around the world.

Paper made from wood pulp

Papermaking Today

The paper we use today is made from wood pulp instead of rags. This change in materials happened in 1844. Companies began to grow and cut down trees just to use them to make paper. Now, paper made from wood pulp is used to manufacture many types of cardboard and paper. We use paper to create advertisements, documents, money, newspapers, packaging, and lots of other things.

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