List of Chinese Inventions - Shang and Later - F

F

  • Field mill: In the Yezhongji ('Record of Affairs at the Capital Ye of the Later Zhao Dynasty') written by Lu Hui (fl. 350 AD), various mechanical devices are described which were invented by two Later Zhao (319–351) engineers known as Xie Fei, a Palace Officer, and Wei Mengbian, the Director of the Imperial Workshops. One of these is the field mill, which was essentially a cart with millstones placed onto the frame; these were mechanically rotated by the movement of the cart's terrain wheels in order to grind wheat and other cereal crops. A similar vehicle these two invented was the "pounding cart", which had wooden statues mounted on the top which were actually mechanical figures who operated real tilt hammers in order to hull rice; again, the device only functioned when the cart was moved forward and the wheels turned. The field mill lost its use in China sometime after the Later Zhao, but it was invented separately in Europe in 1580 by the Italian military engineer Pompeo Targone. It was featured in a treatise by Vittorio Zonca in 1607, and then in a Chinese book of 1627 (concerning Western technology) that was compiled and translated by the German Jesuit Johann Schreck (1576–1630) and the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) Chinese author Wang Zheng (王徵 1571–1644), although by then it was considered by the Chinese to be an original Western contraption.
  • Finery forge: In addition to accidental lumps of low-carbon wrought iron produced by excessive injected air in Chinese cupola furnaces, the ancient Chinese also created wrought iron by using the finery forge at least by the 2nd century BC, the earliest specimens of cast and pig iron fined into wrought iron and steel found at the early Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) site at Tieshengguo. Pigott speculates that the finery forge existed in the previous Warring States Period (403–221 BC), due to the fact that there are wrought iron items from China dating to that period and there is no documented evidence of the bloomery ever being used in China. The fining process involved liquifying cast iron in a fining hearth and removing carbon from the molten cast iron through oxidation. Wagner writes that in addition to the Han Dynasty hearths believed to be fining hearths, there is also pictoral evidence of the fining hearth from a Shandong tomb mural dated 1st to 2nd century AD, as well as a hint of written evidence in the 4th century AD Daoist text Taiping Jing.
  • Fire lance: The fire lance was a proto-gun developed in the 10th century with a tube of first bamboo and later on metal that shot a weak gunpowder blast of flame and shrapnel; its earliest representation comes from a painting found at Dunhuang.
  • Fireworks: Fireworks first appeared in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279), in the early age of gunpowder. The common people in the Song era could purchase simple fireworks from market vendors; these were made of sticks of bamboo packed with gunpowder, although grander displays were known to be held. Rocket propulsion was soon applied to warfare, and by the time of the mid 14th century there were many types of rocket launchers available.
  • Firecracker: The predecessor of the firecracker was a type of heated bamboo, used as early as 200 BC, that exploded when heated continuously. After the invention of gunpowder, gunpowder was applied to the bamboo. Traditionally, firecrackers were used to scare off evil spirits.
  • Fishing reel: In literary records, the earliest evidence of the fishing reel comes from a 4th century AD work entitled Lives of Famous Immortals. The earliest known depiction of a fishing reel comes from a Southern Song (1127–1279) painting done in 1195 by Ma Yuan (c. 1160–1225) called "Angler on a Wintry Lake," showing a man sitting on a small sampan boat while casting out his fishing line. Another fishing reel was featured in a painting by Wu Zhen (1280–1354). The book Tianzhu lingqian (Holy Lections from Indian Sources), printed between 1208 and 1224, features two different woodblock print illustrations of fishing reels being used. An Armenian parchment Gospel of the 13th century shows a reel (though not as clearly depicted as the Chinese ones). The Sancai Tuhui, a Chinese encyclopedia published in 1609, features the next known picture of a fishing reel and vividly shows the windlass pulley of the device. These five pictures mentioned are the only ones which feature fishing reels before the year 1651 (when the first English illustration was made); after that year they became commonly depicted in world art.
  • Flamethrower, double piston and gunpowder-activated: Although the single piston flamethrower was first developed in the Byzantine Empire during the 7th century, the 10th century Chinese flamethrower, or Pen Huo Qi, boasted a continuous stream of flame by employing double piston syringes (which had been known since the Han Dynasty) spouting Greek fire which had been imported from China's maritime trade contacts in the Middle East. It was first used in battle 932 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907–960), and the earliest illustration is found in the early Song Dynasty military manuscript Wujing Zongyao of 1044, which also described the device in full. Unlike the Greek model which employed a furnace, the Pen Huo Qi was ignited by an incendiary gunpowder fuse.
  • Flare, military signalling: The earliest recorded use of a flare for signalling purposes was the 'signal bomb' used by the Song Dynasty Chinese as the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty besieged Yangzhou in 1276. These soft-shelled bombs, timed to explode in mid-air and perhaps producing a vibrant colored burst like contemporary Chinese fireworks produced, were used to send messages to a detachment of troops far in the distance.
  • Forensic entomology: The Song Dynasty (960–1279) forensic science work Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified published by Song Ci in 1247 contains the oldest known case of forensic entomology. In a murder case of 1235, a villager was stabbed to death and authorities determined that his wounds were inflicted by a sickle; this was a tool used for cutting rice at harvest time, a fact which led them to suspect a fellow peasant worker was involved. The local magistrate had the villagers assemble in the town square where they would temporarily relinquish their sickles. Within minutes, a mass of blow flies gathered around one sickle and none other, attracted to the scent of traces of blood unseen by the naked eye. It became apparent to all that the owner of that sickle was the culprit, the latter pleading for mercy as he was detained by authorities.
  • Free reed aerophone: The musical pipe organ employing metal piston bellows had a long history in the West, dating back to the Hellenistic period. However, the Western pipe organ did not make use of the reed, which the ancient Chinese mouth organ employed. The latter instrument, called a sheng and made traditionally of bamboo pipes, was first mentioned in the Shi Jing of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1050–256 BC). The Chinese sheng is considered the ancestor of the harmonica, harmonium, concertina, accordion, and all other reed organ instruments. A free reed organ was invented in the Arab world in the 13th century, while the German Heinrich Traxdorf (fl. 15th century) of Nuremberg built one around 1460 AD. It is thought that the classical Chinese sheng travelled west through Russia during the 19th century, as it was described then in Saint Petersburg.

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