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140 BCE: The first paper is made from hemp

Ba Qiao paper found in a tomb in Xi'anBefore the invention of  paper, typical ancient Chinese writing materials were bronzewares and animal bones. By the beginning of the Han Dynasty, the chief writing materials were clay tablets, silk cloth, and rolled scrolls made from bamboo strips sewn together with hemp string; these were passed through drilled holes and secured with clay stamps.[1]

According to ancient legend, the invention of the paper was made by Ts'ai Lun, a eunuch in the Chinese imperial court. To call the attention of the emperor, Ts'ai Lun posed as dead and ordered burned hemp paper around his coffin. Then he organized his own resurrection and attributed the power of his new invention. Since then, the Chinese tend to burn hemp paper at their funerals.

Although legend credits Ts'ai-Lun with the invention, excavations in a tomb near Xi'an  in Shaanxi province recovered the world's oldest piece of paper dating from 140 - 87 BCE.[2] This type of paper, also known as Ba Qiao paper, was made during the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE to 24 CE) analysis showed it was made from pounded and desintegrated cannabis fiber[3]. The paper was generally very thick, coarse and uneven in their texture. Scraps of hemp paper have also been recovered from Han dynasty tombs in the Shanxi province.


1. Loewe, Michael. 1968. Everyday Life in Early Imperial China during the Han Period 202 BC–AD 220. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd
2.Temple, Robert K. G. 1986.  China - Land of Discovery.  Patrick Stephens, Wellingborough
3.Xi'an Banpo Museum Publication 1963.
Research and text © Hempshopper Amsterdam.