The Chinese civilization used to lead the world for a fairly long period in history, with influential contributions in the areas of science and technology to other cultures on the Silk Road.

Among the most important contributions were ancient China’s greatest inventions: compass, dynamite, paper-making & printing techniques, water well drilling, cast iron technologies, alchemy, sericulture, Chinese medicine (in particular, acupuncture), etc.

Many of these exported inventions had profound impact on Western civilizations. Compass greatly facilitated oceanic navigation. Paper-making & printing techniques were brought to Europe via the Middle East, and greatly promoted the spread and development of knowledge and culture. The peoples in Central Asia learned to drill well and develop irrigation systems of wells connected by underground channels from the Chinese migrants and troops via the Silk Road, which boosted the economy of the desert region states. The cast iron technology precipitated the transition of many Central Asian peoples from the Neolithic Age to the Iron. Dynamite became extensively used in Europe in wars, triggering a revolution in weapons and warfare and giving the European powers an edge over the Orient. Alchemy, a technology developed by Chinese Taoist religion, spread to the Arabic world which in turn, influenced Europe and formed the basis on which modern chemistry had grown.

While spreading its knowledge overseas, China drew from the pool of knowledge of the whole world as well. Emperor Gaozong of Tang Dynasty and Jian Zhen (688–763, the monk known for propagating Buddhism in Japan) both received treatment from doctors from India where ophthalmology was advanced. Governments of the Ming & Qing Dynasties imported cannons from the Portuguese and later attempted to produce replicas modeled on them. The Jesuit missionaries, representatives of who included Matteo Ricci, Johann Adam Schall von Bell, and Ferdinand Verbiest, played a crucial role in introducing Western knowledge to China, and the Chinese rulers and intellectuals were interested in astronomy, mathematics, mechanics, shipbuilding technologies, etc. A world map drawn up by Matteo Ricci interested Emperor Kangxi, who were fascinated with, and worked hard to learn, Western natural sciences and ordered to draw a high quality map of China. Jean Adam Shall von Bell made various instruments or weapons for the Ming & Qing empires, including sundial (made of tusk), compass, planetarium projector, piano, steel cannon, etc. The astronomical instruments of Beijng Ancient Observatory were made under the instruction of Ferdinand Verbiest. And in the area of architecture, Giuseppe Castiglione, Italian painter, took part in designing Yuanmingyuan Palace.

Western modern history saw the blossom of natural sciences and engineering, and Europe surpassed China in these fields. Fruits of the Industrial Age --- silk-reeling machines, matches, cement, electricity, leather, rubber, tobacco, refinery, etc.--- spread to China via the Maritime Silk Road, opening the new chapter of Chinese modern history.
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