Zhang Heng's odometer, a mechanical carriage.

The Famous Ancient Chinese Inventions of Zhang Heng

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Odometer and the south-pointing chariot

Ancient Chinese texts describe the mechanical carriage’s functions. After 1  li (1,640 feet) was traversed, a mechanically driven wooden figure struck a drum, and after 10  li had been covered, another wooden figure struck a gong or a bell with its mechanically operated arm.

The south-pointing chariot, an ancient Chinese 2-wheeled vehicle with a figure that always pointed south and acted as a compass, was another mechanical device credited to Zhang Heng.

Odometer cart from a stone rubbing of an Eastern Han Dynasty tomb, c. 125 AD. ( Public Domain )

Posthumous Honors

In honor of Zhang’s achievements in science and technology, his friend Cui Ziyu (Cui Yuan) wrote a memorial inscription on his burial stele, which has been preserved. “[Zhang Heng’s] mathematical computations exhausted [the riddles of] the heavens and the Earth…”

Several things have been named after Zhang in modern times, including the lunar crater Chang Heng, the 1802 Zhang Heng asteroid, and the mineral Zhanghengite in recognition of the greatness of Zhang’s ancient Chinese inventions.

Zhang Heng (AD 78-139) was a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, inventor, geographer, cartographer, artist, poet, statesman, and literary scholar from Nanyang, Henan Province, China.

Zhang Heng (AD 78-139) was a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, inventor, geographer, cartographer, artist, poet, statesman, and literary scholar from Nanyang, Henan Province, China. (Image:  Wikimedia Commons  / CC0 1.0 )

Top image: Zhang Heng's odometer, a mechanical carriage. (Image:  wikipedia / CC0 1.0 )

The article, originally titled ‘ Zhang Heng’s Famous Ancient Chinese Inventions ’ by Christina Riverland was published on The Vision Times and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.

References:

Asiapac Editorial. (2004).  Origins of Chinese Science and Technology . Translated by Yang Liping and Y.N. Han. Singapore: Asiapac Books Pte. Ltd. ISBN 9812293760.

Balchin, Jon. (2003).  Science: 100 Scientists Who Changed the World . New York: Enchanted Lion Books. ISBN 1-59270-017-9.

Barbieri-Low, Anthony J. (2007).  Artisans in Early Imperial China . Seattle & London: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-98713-8.

Crespigny, Rafe de. (2007).  A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-220CE) . Leiden: Koninklijke Brill. ISBN 90-04-15605-4.

Loewe, Michael. (2005).  Faith, Myth and Reason in Han China . Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 0872207560.

Needham, Joseph (1986).  Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3, Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth . Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.

Temple, Robert. (1986).  The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention . With a forward by Joseph Needham. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc. ISBN: 0233002022.

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