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The ancient Chinese had made many discoveries in maritime technology far before the rest of the world. This may be due to the extensive use of their coastline and rivers to facilitate trade between their own cities. Even though the Chinese had little contact with the rest of the world, they managed to become experts at sea. Their knowledge of magnetism was a major factor that would lead to the invention of the compass.
An Early Compass
The Chinese discovered that magnetic pieces of metal, which would align themselves in a North-South orientation. From this discovery, they made small needles from the magnetic metal. These needles floated on a reed in a bowl of water, so that the needle would be free to spin to align itself along a North-South axis. These primitive compasses were first discovered after the end of the Han dynasty, around 200 AD, when Buddhism was on the rise in China. They were refined over many years before a true navigational compass was developed and actually used on ships. These "real" compasses came about around 900 AD. It is interesting to note that the rest of the world, particulary western Europe, did not even know about magnetism, much less compass-making, until the 15th century.
Gunpowder is perhaps one of the best known inventions from China. It was developed during the latter part of the Han dynasty, or sometime in the early third century AD, but was generally not used for warfare until at least the eighth century. The Mongol invasion, which ended the Sung dynasty, featured the use of gunpowder-driven weapons against the Mongols, but to no avail. The Mongols quickly learned all of the Chinese tricks and used the technology against them.
Gunpowder is made from sulfur, potassium nitrate, and carbon (usually in the form of fine charcoal). Fireworks of various colors can be made from mixing gunpowder with other elements that burn in various colors, such as strontium (burns red), bromium (burns green), and magnesium. Gunpowder was mainly used in the rocket, which was used either for launching fireworks into the air, or as a means of delivering an explosive shell at an enemy.
The nearly continuous warfare from the end of the Han dynasty to the Mongol invasion triggered the development of many gunpowder-based weapons. Bamboo tubes were used to launch gunpowder-propelled spears known as fire lances. Catapults were used to throw canisters of gunpowder into enemy lines. This seems to be the precursor of the cannon, which the Chinese developed at a later date. The cannon was one weapon the West quickly adopted. When the cannon was installed on the superior European ships, the western countries were able to easily defeat the larger but slower Chinese ships.資料來源： 呢個係中國四大發明英文資料: http://www.wavespring.com/justin/china/index.html