Cai Lun - Inventor of Paper

Modern history of paper-like materials started some 6 thousand years ago in the delta of Nile, when ancient Egyptians first started using papyrus plant for manufacture of many things, including papyrus paper. However, papyrus had serious disadvantages and it could be grown and processed only Egypt and Sudan, so other civilizations strived to find their own paper-like material. While some strived to perfect the use of parchment (dried and stretched animal skin), Chinese focused their attention to real wood-based paper.

Cai Lun

Paper appeared in china in 3rd or 2nd century BC, but it was greatly popularized during the life of Chinese political official and inventor Cai Lun. His exploits in the advancement of papermaking made significant waves in the Chinese empire, causing the rapid increase in paper production, standardization and future development of Chinese data recording capabilities.

Cai Lun was born in modern day Leiyang, Hunan (then known by the name of Guiyang) during the reign of Eastern Han Dynasty, sometimes around 50 AD. HE served as a court eunuch after 75 AD, after which he started advancing in the court of Emperor He of Han. At the age of approximately 55 in 105 AD, he managed to invent first stable recipe for papermaking, which was adapted from the traditional low-quality paper that was created by the lower class in the past 200 years. He improved not only the chemical mix of the compound, but also machinery that enabled much faster paper production, pressing and drying. His tactic of suspending sheets of wet fiber in the water, slowly draining the moisture with the presses until the paper was bone dry remained active for more than one and a half thousand years, spreading from china to the Middle East, Europe and then the world. For this invention, Cai Lun was awarded during his lifetime, but has received much higher fame and recognition after his death.

White Roll Paper

Cai Lun committed suicide with poison after Emperor An of Han managed to grab the throne left empty after the death of Empress Deng. Emperor ordered entire retinue of Empress Deng to be sent to prison, but Cai Lun prevented that fate by ending his life in ritual poisoning after taking a bath and dressing in fine silk robes. He was remembered very fondly by the Chinese nation after his death, even receiving a temple built in his name during Song Dynasty (960-1279). Temple was built in the area where several hundred papermaking families produced paper for large portion of China.

Today, Cai Lun is remembered as the father of the modern paper industry, and the man who was responsible for spreading of paper all across the world.

Making Paper by Cai Lun Process