Ancient Science of the Orient

If the ancient Chinese alchemists had got their recipe right, humans would be immortal. Instead, we have enjoyed centuries of celebratory night skies filled with rocketing lights and the sulfurous tang of gunpowder.

Some 1,800 years ago, a cousin of the alchemists invented the first seismograph. And centuries before Gutenberg created his press, a flourishing Chinese publishing industry was already using mechanical print and paper-making techniques.

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An exhibition hosted by Science World, which ran in 2001, enchanted people as much as it informed them. China! 7000 Years of Innovation gathered together dozens of artifacts of science in one 9,000-square-foot display. The Omnimax Theatre complemented the event with Chang Jiang: The Great River of China, a film documenting the cultural history of the great Yangtse River.

The highlight of the event lied with the master artisans demonstrating traditional Chinese industry and craftwork. Near the entrance to Science World, two men worked a forge, revealing ancient methods of minting coins. In the main exhibit, other artisans scooped pulp and rung water out to make a broad sheaf of paper 400 pages deep. Meanwhile, a carver worked a piece of soapstone to render the Chinese version of the name “Gloria.”

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A guided tour was included with admission. With so many different parts to the exhibit, visitors came away feeling enlightened. Frank Fang, liaison coordinator for the artisans, recommended the tour even for Chinese-born Canadians. He said, “I’m from China and I haven’t seen this stuff until now.” Speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin may have an advantage, as the artisans did not speak English, and translators were not always at hand. But everyone, Chinese or not, could have found something to interest them.

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According to Sandy Eix, curator of the exhibit, Science World wanted to illustrate the “universal pursuit” of using “technology as science to solve a problem.” Whether interacting with the artisans or building an earthquake-proof house, the objective of the exhibit was clearly met. China! 7,000 years of Innovation turned the spotlight on the true immortality of human ingenuity.

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