The Famous Ancient Chinese Inventions of Zhang Heng
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.
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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 )
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. (Image: Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0 )
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