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18 March 2009 @ 12:56 pm
What is the Greatest Chinese Invention of All time?  
I've been rereading S. M. Stirling's "Against the Tide of Years" (well, re-listening, but whatever.)

There was a certain bit that piqued my interest (pg 344 of the paperback if there's actually anyone else who has a copy):

"Her partner clung to her like a warm, drowsy octopus, as Marian's hand fumbled in the dark through the clutter on the side table. Matches, handkerchief, water glass, Greatest Chinese Invention of All time, right, there it is, telephone, she thought, yawning."

So what is "the Greatest Chinese Invention of All time"?

Appeals to the author for enlightenment have apparently been met with grins and chuckles and not much else. We're not sure if he's being sly because it's kinky, or just because he enjoys taunting us :) Speculation amongst readers has led to some of the following guesses:

A dildo
Ben-wa beads
Tissue paper
"some kind of feminine hygiene product"
the telephone (apparently by someone who has a very different understanding of both sentence structure and history than i do)
a magnetic compass

So does anyone have any better guesses than those? Or good explanations of why any of the above might fit? The only one that makes sense to me offhand is the ben-wa beads. But i don't really know where any of them actually came from (except for the telephone =) although i would kinda think that dildos have been discovered independently many times over.

I think we can probably assume it's not a printing press or gunpowder :)

Edit: Apparently the traditional "Four Great Inventions of Ancient China" are the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing. Not that Marian necessarily agrees with that interpretation (or that the greatest invention was an ancient one.) And since it might be considered relevant, the two great loves of her life are sailing, and her female lover/domestic partner (well, and their children, though i doubt that's really relevant here,) which some people might consider to tilt things one way or the other.
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Dieppedieppe on March 18th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
What's wrong with gunpower? What do you think fireworks are made out of? Chinese were originally with the fireworks, ya know? :)
DonAithnendonaithnen on March 18th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
You keep piles of gunpowder on your bedside table because you like it so much? SRSLY?

Please don't tell me what you use it for :)

(Someone did actually suggest a gunpowder filled dildo. It was clearly in jest. I presume. I hope.)
Dieppe: Concertinadieppe on March 18th, 2009 08:27 pm (UTC)
Oh I see...yes on the side table. Hm. I'll go with sunglasses.
Leora: ouroborosleora on March 18th, 2009 08:22 pm (UTC)
Paper.
DonAithnendonaithnen on March 18th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
So you're going with tissue paper then?
Coraa: booksescoraa on March 18th, 2009 09:50 pm (UTC)
In situations like these, I often suspect that the author doesn't know either, and just really likes making everyone squirm. ;)
DonAithnendonaithnen on March 18th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)
That is a definite possibility :)

(Though _usually_ the stuff he taunts us with does have a specific answer that's just not going to be revealed until later. Although OTOH sometimes the "later" is in another book that he has a rough draft for but hasn't been able to find a publisher for yet =P)
Squidceph on March 19th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
The "List of Chinese Inventions" on Wikipedia is pretty fascinating (forensic entomology!) but there's nothing obvious on it. Tea/teacup? Bristle toothbrush?