Medieval Asia saw the invention of products both luxurious (porcelain, toilet paper, perfume, chess) and intensely practical (the flamethrower, canal locks, and hypodermic needles).
589 CE | Invention of toilet paper, China
The name of the first person to use toilet paper has been lost to history, but the first reference to the practice comes from Chinese court official Yan Zhitui in 589 CE. Other self-cleaning techniques around the world at that time included rags, leaves, grass, moss, corncobs, wool, a sponge-on-a-stick, or simply washing with water. Toilet paper has become one of the most favored bathroom hygiene methods because it is simple, effective and light-weight.
621 CE | Invention of chess, India
The game of chess probably evolved from a four-sided Indian game played with dice and a board. The original game, called Chaturanga, was used to teach military tactics. After some time, the game was simplified into a two-player strategy contest. Chess spread to Persia, Arabia, and finally into Europe in the eighth century, via the Moorish occupation of Spain and Portugal.
Although people had been using the oils of different herbs and nuts to perfume their bodies for thousands of years, but it wasn't until much later that Arab chemists had the idea of distilling flower oils for perfume. These oils, mixed with fragrant tree resins and musk, formed the basis of the modern perfume industry.
c. 850 CE | Invention of porcelain, China
Around 850 CE, Chinese potters developed a transluscent and fragile form of ceramics called porcelain. Made from a mixture of feldspathic rock and kaolin (also known as "China clay"), Chinese porcelain was a prized luxury item for importers in Europe and the Middle East for centuries. The secret of porcelain manufacture was not discovered until the eighteenth century in Europe.
Ninth century Chinese alchemists in search of the Elixir of Life found instead a rather explosive combination - gunpowder. Despite the fact that it burned down several homes and did not increase life spans, the Chinese inventors recognized the military and civilian uses of this concoction, including fireworks, artillery shells, land mines, cannons and flamethrowers.
9th century CE | Windmills with verticle sails invented, Persia
Early windmills in Persia had between six and twelve sails, made of a wooden frame covered with cloth or reed mats. The mills were used both for drawing water and for grinding grain.
919 CE | Invention of the flamethrower, China
The Chinese used an early flamethrower (called a "pen huo qi" - fire throwing machine) in their frontier battles against the Mongols and other Central Asian peoples. The flamethrowers were ignited by slow-burning fuses, and used a petroleum-based fuel.
983 CE | Invention of navigation locks for canals by Qiao Weiyo, China
Moving boats up a steeply-graded river or canal can be a daunting task. 10th century Chinese engineer Qiao Weiyo was the first person to realize that by building two locks, one after the other, on the watercourse, a pond of stillwater will be created between the locks. Then water from the higher side can be directed into the pond, raising the water level, and the boat. This system is still in use all around the world.
c. 1000 CE | Invention of medical syringe by Ammar ibn Ali al-Mawsili, Iraq
The Iraqi surgeon Ammar ibn Ali al-Mawsili invented the first medical syringes. His syringe was a hollow glass tube topped with a needle, which he used for extracting cataracts from the eyes of his patients.
1092 CE | Invention of the mechanical water-wheel clock by Su Sung, China
The Chinese Buddhist monk, Su Sung, invented the first reliable mechanical clock in 1092. The mechanism was driven by a water wheel, and drove astronomical models used for astrology and predicting the future.