Paper was first invented in Ancient China around the year 105 A.D. by a court official named Cai Lun. It was during the Eastern Han Dynasty that Cai Lun is credited with inventing paper, although the exact origins of paper can be traced back as far as 2000 B.C. in Ancient China.
The exact timeline of paper’s development in Ancient China is unclear, but it is speculated that paper began to be actively used around the second century B.C. During this time silk and bamboo were used as the primary mediums to write on. Paper began to replace these materials around the Han Dynasty (202 B.C–220 A.D.).
Cai Lun was born in the year 50 A.D. in what is now known as Hubei Province in Central China. Working at the Imperial Court of the Eastern Han Dynasty during the rule of Emperor He of Han, Cai Lun created paper from a combination of sources that included bark, rags, hemp, and fishing nets. He mixed the materials in water and then mashed them into pulp before adding a sticky solution so that it could form a sheet. This primitive version of paper was then dried and finished in the sun, resulting in the first paper sheets known to man.
Cai Lun’s invention of paper quickly gained popularity throughout China and spread to other parts of Asia such as Korea and Japan. Due to its lightweight and affordability, paper allowed for easier storage and the potential for mass production of books at a much lower cost than other writing materials, such as silk and bamboo. This resulted in an increased availability of information and education among the general population.
The advancement of paper-making techniques continued over the course of several centuries. Around the fourth century A.D., paper manufacturers would use a bleaching process to remove impurities and create a brighter, whiter paper. By the eighth century, a process called “xuan papermaking” was developed, which used different varieties of plants such as reeds and mulberry bark and gave paper a smoother texture and durability.
By the twelfth century, a method of producing paper from wood pulp was developed. This allowed for an even cheaper method of producing paper and eventually led to the large-scale production of books and documents. This new development of paper also rapidly spread to Europe as a result of the Mongol invasions.
The invention and development of paper in Ancient China has had long lasting effects on the world. From its role in making education more widely available to its assistance in mass communication, paper has fundamentally changed the way information is shared. The invention of paper by Cai Lun in 105 A.D. was one of the most important innovations of Ancient Chinese society and it’s influence is still felt today.