Silk Road Encounters
Learn about the Silk Road.
Travel of Ideas and Techniques
A famous example of a Chinese invention that helped to transform the world is paper. Paper was invented during the Han dynasty, probably just at the time the Silk Road trade was beginning to flourish. Far superior to the narrow wooden strips or hard-to-handle rolls of silk that the Chinese had previously used for writing, paper soon became the writing material of choice throughout China and East Asia. It was found also in the Buddhist temples of China's northwest, but seemed not to make inroads beyond that for a long time, perhaps in part because the Chinese tried to protect the secret of its manufacture, and perhaps in part also because other writing materials, such as parchment and papyrus, were well established in the west.
In China, the invention of paper stimulated the invention of printing, sometime during the sixth century CE a development energetically supported by Buddhism, according to which the duplication of sacred texts was an act of religious merit. The re-invention of printing in Europe centuries later did not employ East Asian-style printing technology, but it may have been stimulated by accounts of Chinese printing that could have circulated in the Middle East.