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China has been the source of many innovations, scientific discoveries and inventions. This includes the Four Great Inventions: papermaking, the compass, gunpowder, and printing (both woodblock and movable type). The list below contains these and other inventions in China attested by archaeological or historical evidence.
The historical region now known as China experienced a history involving mechanics, hydraulics and mathematics applied to horology, metallurgy, astronomy, agriculture, engineering, music theory, craftsmanship, naval architecture and warfare. By the Warring States period (403–221 BC), inhabitants of the Warring States had advanced metallurgic technology, including the blast furnace and cupola furnace, while the finery forge and puddling process were known by the Han Dynasty (202 BC–AD 220). A sophisticated economic system in imperial China gave birth to inventions such as paper money during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). The invention of gunpowder during the mid 9th century led to an array of inventions such as the fire lance, land mine, naval mine, hand cannon, exploding cannonballs, multistage rocket and rocket bombs with aerodynamic wings and explosive payloads. With the navigational aid of the 11th century compass and ability to steer at high sea with the 1st century sternpost rudder, premodern Chinese sailors sailed as far as East Africa. In water-powered clockworks, the premodern Chinese had used the escapement mechanism since the 8th century and the endless power-transmitting chain drive in the 11th century. They also made large mechanical puppet theaters driven by waterwheels and carriage wheels and wine-serving automatons driven by paddle wheel boats.
The contemporaneous Peiligang and Pengtoushan cultures represent the oldest Neolithic cultures of China and were formed around 7000 BC. Some of the first inventions of Neolithic China include semilunar and rectangular stone knives, stone hoes and spades, the cultivation of millet, rice, and the soybean, the refinement of sericulture, the building of rammed earth structures with lime-plastered house floors, the creation of pottery with cord-mat-basket designs, the creation of pottery tripods and pottery steamers and the development of ceremonial vessels and scapulimancy for purposes of divination. The British sinologist Francesca Bray argues that the domestication of the ox and buffalo during the Longshan culture (c. 3000–c. 2000 BC) period, the absence of Longshan-era irrigation or high-yield crops, full evidence of Longshan cultivation of dry-land cereal crops which gave high yields "only when the soil was carefully cultivated," suggest that the plough was known at least by the Longshan culture period and explains the high agricultural production yields which allowed the rise of Chinese civilization during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–c. 1050 BC). Later inventions such as the multiple-tube seed drill and heavy moldboard iron plough enabled China to sustain a much larger population through greater improvements in agricultural output.
For the purposes of this list, inventions are regarded as technological firsts developed in China, and as such does not include foreign technologies which the Chinese acquired through contact, such as the windmill from the Middle East or the telescope from early modern Europe. It also does not include technologies developed elsewhere and later invented separately by the Chinese, such as the odometer, water wheel, and chain pump. Scientific, mathematical or natural discoveries, changes in minor concepts of design or style and artistic innovations do not appear on the list.
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