by Wey Huang and Lingyu Yue,
PhD candidates at Polytechnique School of Montreal
Imagine that we can only write on stones, bones or bamboo, how can we express our thoughts to a group of people, even the amount of that group is just 1000? Imagine that a book costs at least $1,000, how can we learn the knowledge we are interested in to explore the world? Imagine that there is no thoughts exchanging in the society, how can we push our civilization forward?
This is not just imagination, it was the situation before 1900 years ago in China. At that time, people could only carve characters on turtle shells, animal bones and stones, cause these were the only materials people could use. It was not easy to write on those things, so people managed to express themselves in the most simple ways (which is where the Chinese pictographic characters come from).
Then, people wrote on bamboo slips or silks, which was a much easier way for people to use ink brushes, which in some certain level pushed forward the civilization. However, to produce a bamboo slip or silk is rather expensive, so only rich people would be able to afford bamboo slips. And a single bamboo slip had a limitation on how much it could contain, it would take hundreds of slips to finish just one book, which takes several carriages to transport.
Though later people had the technology to produce paper, but with the high cost of production, the technology would be only used in military and politics, or rich people’s luxury. So at that time, communication was rather difficult, and it was hard to connect the whole society together. Hence the small steps people take to push forward the civilization.
To solve this severe problem, the minister of Han dynasty, Lun CAI, took the order from the emperor, started to do research on how to complete mass production in low cost. And finally, he got the technology.
With this technology, the cost of producing paper was lowered greatly; therefore people were able to use it in education and transmitting knowledge and thoughts. By producing low-cost books, people started to communicate on an academic level. And thus the civilization got to develop with a much faster speed.
Nowadays, when we acknowledge a true invention, we’re not honoring the moment something was invented, we’re in fact celebrating how it really brought to the human society something meaningful and significant, just like the beginning of real communication.