Imagine yourself reading this article on a smooth posh piece of silk, or on a clumsy papyrus, or on goat skin or vellum. The worst it can be you are reading it on an extremely heavy bamboo. Since the beginning of the 21st century, through the bloom of the internet, the habit of reading has been ever declining. If it were not for the invention of paper, the passion for reading books would have been divorced by this generation.

Ancient Egyptian writing material papyrus gave birth to the word paper. Papyrus was produced as early as 3000 BCE in Egypt, and in ancient Greece and Rome. Paper, not only it brought ease to the readers and writers but also revolutionized the realm of knowledge and intellectualism. It boosted the development of mankind. If it was not for paper, we would still be living in a 10th century world. Only GOD knows how long it would take us to flourish in science & technology, art & culture, philosophy and wisdom. Even the major religions of the world would find hard times spreading around the mankind without paper.

Given the importance of paper in our everyday life, here lies the biggest irony; most of us do not know, if asked, who invented paper? Did you know who invented paper before reading this article? Jingzhan by courtesy name, Ts’ Ai Lun or CaiLun is the infamous man who invented paper in the year 105 A.D. It is not a matter of surprise, since we are so influenced by the Western education and norms, it is more likely CaiLun being from China, who invented paper is least be praised and glorified in other parts of the world. Was he from Europe, he would have been a celebrity till the end of time.

CaiLun, born in 50 A.D, in Guiyan (modern day Leiyang) was an official of the Chinese Han Dynasty. Since the 2nd century B.C, early forms of paper like papyrus had existed in China. “The date usually given for the invention of paper is 105 A.D, but this date is chosen rather arbitrarily, since the first experiments in papermaking from disintegrated fiber probably extended over a long period before the process was actually brought to any degree of perfection and publicly announced”. The first sample of paper was presented to Emperor Ho Ti by Ceylon. Despite the unfair lack of praise for the Western world, the people of China never shied away from their honorable admiration toward Ceylon since his advent till the present time.

A famous 5th century Chinese scholar Fan Ye in his official history of the Han Dynasty, a golden era in Chinese history, gratified CaiLun for the invention of paper. He wrote “In times, writings and inscriptions were generally traced upon pieces of bamboo, or upon strips of silk… silk being costly and bamboo heavy these two materials could not be used conveniently. It was CaiLun who conceived of the idea of making paper from the bark of trees, hemp waste, old rags and fish nets.”

With all the benefits paper brought to mankind, there is one invention that not only complied with paper but also worked as a catalyst to further benefit the use of paper. You guess it, it is the printing press, invented by the German genius Johannes Gutenberg. Paper did help the spread of knowledge but if it was not for the printing press the expansion of knowledge would not had been boosted by much. Michael H. Hart in his infamous book “The 100” put Gutenberg in the 8th position right after CaiLun.

Hart even stated that if it was not for Gutenberg, it would have taken longer time for people to realize how PAPER revolutionized mankind. Again, at the end of the day, who would ever think to innovate a printing press if there were no paper to print on!

Gutenberg was a European and paper entered Europe through the help of the Arabs. In fact, if it was not for the Arab Muslims, only GOD knows how long the world would remain ignorant about paper, since China concealed their paper technology for many generations. Their secrecy on paper for a long period of time had elevated them intellectually from the rest of the world.

A dispute between the Chinese and the Arabs ended up in a war, and the Chinese being lost in that war, some of their important soldiers were caught upon by the Arabs. Later, their freedom was traded by giving up the paper making technology to the Arabs. For revealing the long-kept secret of paper technology, Arabs tribute to the world for paper should be well acknowledged.

CaiLun was indeed an unforgettable hero for his contribution on devising paper. Unlike many other brilliant minds of this world, the demise of CaiLun was rather heart touching. “Despite his accomplishments, CaiLun became involved in imperial intrigue, assisting the empress in dealing with a romantic rival for the emperor’s attention.

When power shifted in 121 A.D., he was called to be judged for his role. Rather than appear for judgment, CaiLun bathed, dressed in his finest robes and then drank poison, ending the life of the man who started one of the greatest inventions and innovations in history.”

By: Arafat Hossain


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