The Chinese Compass Invention

The compass is an instrument showing the direction. In the process od mining ores and smelting and iron, people changed upon lodestone, which attracted iron and pointed fixedly in a north-south direction. The magnetic property of the lodestone was known to the Chinese as early as the Warring States Period. Making use of its special property, people then invented a variety of south-pointing instrument. The primitive compass was invented in the shape of a spoon cut from an intact piece of natural magnetite. The spoon was put in the center of a level tray and rotated. When the spoon stopped, its handle pointed to the south, its head to the north.

Then the Chinese learned to magnetize the iron and invented the “Pointing-to- the-South Tortoise or Fish”. a piece of thin iron sheet cut into the shape of a tortoise or fish, magnetized in a geomagnetic field and put into water, floating and lying Another method was that people made iron needles and rubbed them on a piece of natural magnetite, so that they would become magnetized. Then one such needle was hung with a thin thread, or put on something light that floated on the water in a bowl. it pointed south when floated on water or suspended. This was the earliest compass. And finally, the round compass came into being after constant improvements. The legendary compass-guided vehicle in which Emperor Huang Di rode was most probably the result of using the compass on a chariot. Later it was used extensively in navigation and military operations.

The invention of compass was epoch-making in navigation. In the Northern Song Dynasty the mariner’s compass was invented. It was made by putting a magnetic needle on a wooden disk called luopan. In the Northern Song Dynasty luopan compass was widely used on merchant vessels plying between China and the Malay Archipelago or India. Before the compass was invented, people had to determine direction by the position of the sun in daytime and the stars at fright. When it was cloudy and rainy, this had become impossible. The problem remained unsolved until the invention of the compass. The use of the luopan compass overcame many difficulties connected with navigation on the high seas. In the early Ming Dynasty, the navigator, Zheng He, made seven voyages going as far as the east coast of Africa. For each voyage he brought with him a fleet of l~J0 – 2O0 boats, q2ae compass played an important role in the long distance voyages in ancient China. It is said that China was the first country in the world to use the compass on seagoing ships. Historical records show that in 1099-1102 compass was used on ships sailing to or from Guangzhou.