Cai Lun

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Engineers and inventors

Cai Lun ( Traditional Chinese: 蔡倫; Simplified Chinese: 蔡伦; Hanyu Pinyin: Cài Lún; Wade-Giles: Ts'ai Lun) (ca. AD 50— 121), courtesy name Jingzhong (敬仲), was a Chinese eunuch, who is conventionally regarded as the inventor of paper and the papermaking process, in forms recognizable in modern times as paper (as opposed to Egyptian papyrus).

He was born in Guiyang during the Eastern Han Dynasty, and became a paperwork secretary (中常侍) of Emperor He. For papermaking, he tried materials like bark, hemp, silk, and even fishing net, but his exact formula has been lost to history. The emperor was pleased with the invention and granted Cai an aristocratic title and great wealth. Later, he became involved in intrigue, as a supporter of Empress Dou. He was involved in the death of her romantic rival, Consort Song. Afterwards, he became an associate of Empress Deng Sui. In 121, after Consort Song's grandson Emperor An assumed power after Empress Deng's death, Cai was ordered to report to prison. Before he was to report, he committed suicide by drinking poison after taking a bath and dressing in fine robes.

While paper is widely used worldwide today, the creator of this extremely important invention is little-known outside East Asia. After Cai invented paper in 105, it immediately became widely used in China. In 751, some Chinese paper makers were captured by Arabs after Tang troops were annihilated in the Battle of Talas River. The techniques of papermaking then spread to the West.

Cai's contribution is considered one of the most important inventions in history, since it enabled China to develop its civilization much faster than with earlier writing materials (primarily bamboo), and it did the same with Europe when it was introduced in the 12th century or the 13th century.

Cai was ranked #7 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.

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