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Lesson 30 History 4 – The Compass

The Chinese and the Europeans were very different in culture.  They used the same invention, the compass, for different purposes.


The Chinese invented the compass during the Han Dynasty, around 200 BC, and was adapted during the Song Dynasty, around 11th century AD. The earliest Chinese compass was a lodestone, suspended in air. The Chinese did not, at first, use the compass for navigating, but for fortune telling. The Chinese used the magnetic compass in their practice of Feng shui, which was to harmonize their lives with the environment. Other uses of the earlier Chinese compass were to find suitable areas for building houses, and finding valuable, rare gems.


The Europeans started using the compass in the 13th century. They created a floating compass for astronomical purposes, and dry compasses for sea-faring.  The magnetized pointer floating in a bowl of water made improvements in dead reckoning methods and developed Portolan charts. The compass enabled Venetian convoys to make two round trips a year instead of one.  The compass also contributed to European navies traveling to far off lands, and eventually colonizing them.

The difference in the cultures was the reason why the compass was utilized for different purposes.  In China, the compass served to enrich spiritual harmony while in Europe, it was used for more practical reasons such as navigation.



Author: sophiaelahirpc

10th Grade student in the Ron Paul Curriculum. Full-time teen writer living in Singapore.

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