Paper making stemmed from the necessity of cultural development and exchange. Prior to its invention, the Europeans wrote on sheep skin (and it is said that the copy of the Bible needed 30 or more pieces of sheep skin), the Egyptians wrote on thin barks of stalks of papyri, and the Chinese resorted to animal bones, tortoise shells and bronze and stone wares in the Shang Dynasty and later on silk, wood and bamboo. The earliest Chinese books were made from flat strips of bamboo or wood, inscribed and then threaded together. They were heavy and bulky, inconvenient for reading and carrying. Necessity is the mother of invention.
In the Western Hun Dynasty, inspired by the process of silk-reeling, people learned to process silk fiber into thin pieces, called silk fiber paper (which is called “bo”), which was rudimentary paper making. Because silk was very scarce and expensive, people began looking for a new kind of writing material that is both cheap and available in large quantities. It was generally believed that paper was first made by a man called Cai Lun, a court eunuch during the Eastern Han Dynasty, which was not exactly true. It should be precise to say that Cai Lun assimilated the previous experiences, and, based on them, carried out many experiments and improved paper-making technique. Eventually he succeeded in inventing a new kind of plant fibre paper, making full use of scrap materials including bark, ramie combings, worn cloth, fishing nets, and other raw materials which were, comparatively speaking, cheap, light, thin and durable. Thus, the source of raw materials was enlarged and the cost was reduced. He popularized this papermaking process throughout the country, thus giving an impetus to the papermaking industry. His new technique spread quickly, and he was recognized by the later generation as the inventor of paper.
By the Jin Dynasty, paper was widely used, taking the place of bamboo slips and silk cloth. At the beginning of the third century, the Chinese paper making technique was introduced into Korea. India, Vietnam, and Japan. It was during the reign of Tang Xuanzong that it reached Arabia, and from Arab countries into Europe and the rest of the world, thus putting an cod to the history of writing on sleep skin for the Europeans. In 1150, the first European paper factory was established in Spain. lagging behind Cai Lun’s invention by over 1000 years.
The importance of the invention of paper can hardly be exaggerated. It gave a great impetus to cultural progress not only in China but throughout the world. “No matter how highly the effect of the invention of paper making upon the whole course of later Western inventions is evaluated, the evaluation is never an overestimation.” (Derk Bodde: The History of the Westward Spread of Chinese Articles ) In the medieval Europe, parchment was still the main carrier of information. Cultural information spread very slowly due to the scarcity of carrier material. The production of paper provided a most advantageous condition for the flourishing of education, polities. commerce, etc,, in Europe at that time. In this sense. “The world has benefited more from Cai Lun than from other more well-known celebrities.”