Ancient China Paper Making

One of the greatest inventions of all time was paper-making.

The Ancient Chinese are responsible for these inventions and paper-making helped to change the world around us.

Life Before Paper

Before paper was invented, people of Ancient China would have to find ways to write and to keep what they wrote safe.  They would find things to write on such as turtle shells or bones.

The problem with these type of writing surfaces was that they were large and hard to carry around, they also were not easy to keep together if someone had a large amount of writing to do.

The Ancient Chinese also tried out hemp fibers and silk to write on, but these materials were hard to write on.  These materials were better suited for other things such as making clothing.


Invention of Paper

Paper was invented during the Han Dynasty.  This was around the year of 100 CE and it was when the national civil service was first created.

The civil service workers had to have paper in order to do their work and they decided that they would figure out a way to create paper.

The first paper was made from rags, but rags were hard to come by and it made paper-making more expensive.


The Chinese would have to trade their goods in order to get material to make paper.

Later, Cai Lun created paper from bark, cloth and fish net.  He found that he could get these materials for cheap and could find them in large quantities.

Cai Lun

This way paper could be made easier and cheaper.  This newfound way of paper helped many people.

Also, the people that worked for the civil service learned that factories were needed to help make a lot of paper and the government created factories for this purpose.

Making of Books

Books were also invented from wood and bamboo and they were very hard to carry since they were super bulky and heavy.

One person named Hui Shi needed five different carts in order to carry his books because he was a teacher and the books were so heavy.

Reading books was not as easy today because they needed strong minds and strong bodies to be able to read them.

The History of Paper

After Cai Lun invented paper, the paper technique went all around the world.  People in Korea learned to make paper and factories were built all around the world to help make paper in large quantities.

Paper factories became popular in India, Arab, Africa, Europe and even in Spain.  Eventually paper-making factories were set up all over the world.

Extant Paper Fragment

Paper and the Silk Road

Paper-making became a custom for people that traveled on the Silk Road.  At first, the Ancient Chinese wanted to keep paper-making a secret so that they could sell the paper and trade the paper for higher prices, but it eventually spread.

Paper in Korea was made from hemp, rattan, bamboo, rice straw and seaweed.

Japanese paper-making was taught to the Japanese people by a Don-cho, a Korean Buddhist monk.

When the Ottoman Turks defeated the Chinese T’ang army, some of the prisoners that were taken knew how to make paper and they taught the Arab their secrets.

Paper Making

In Egypt, they had already learned to make paper from papyrus, but they were taught from the Arab’s the tricks that the Chinese had taught them.  This made paper-making easier for them.

It is exciting to see that all of the paper-making from around the world started with one Chinese man that was looking for a better way to write!

How Does Paper-Making Work?

The first step of paper-making is to soak the material.  If the material is hemp, bark or rags, they must all be soaked in water.

After they have soaked for a long period of time, they need to be beaten and grinded.  When this happens, it makes a material called slurry.

The next step is to drain the slurry through a cloth.  This cloth is attached to a frame and it takes out the water and leaves the fibers on the cloth.

The final paper-making step is to let the fibers dry out and then the paper is made from the fibers.

More Facts About Ancient Chinese Paper-Making

  • Paper-making spread to the Islamic world when Chinese prisoners were captured.
  • In Bagdad, there were water-powered factories that were made to help with paper-making.
  • One way that paper-making spread was through prisoners.  It was tradition that Muslims would release prisoners if they could teach ten different Muslims some type of knowledge.  This is how paper-making knowledge spread in some areas.
  • Ancient Chinese writing is older than paper-making.
  • Silk was too expensive to be used to make paper.
  • Cai Lun worked for the government.
  • Paper was also used to help wrap items that were delicate such as pottery or paintings.
  • Another exciting paper invention was that it was used to wrap tea.

What Did You Learn?

  • Why was paper a very needed invention?  Paper was an invention that was needed because the Ancient Chinese loved to write.  It was hard to write and even harder to carry books on the material that they had available to them.
  • What were some of the materials that were written on before paper?  People would write on turtle shells, bamboo sticks, and even bones.  This material was hard to carry around.
  • Who is the Ancient Chinese man who is credited with inventing paper?  Cai Lun is credited with inventing paper.
  • What job did Cai Lun have?  Cai Lun worked for the government as a court worker.
  • How did paper-making spread to other places and countries?  Most of the paper-making knowledge spread through the Silk Road and through prisoners.  When Chinese prisoners were captured, they would be required to teach their paper-making skills to be released.