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The Story of Paper


Before the invention of paper, people used to write on slabs of stone or pieces of wood. Writing on such materials was difficult as stone and wood are hard. Moreover, stone and wood are heavy and difficult to carry. They also require a large place to store.

At about 4,000 BC, the Egyptians found a way to make writing material from the many reeds growing by the banks of the Nile river. The papyrus reed was softened with water, woven together much like a mat and dried. The dried papyrus was flexible, light and could be written on easily. The Egyptians drew pictures to depict everyday life and wrote important things that happened in Egypt. The Egyptians loved writing on the papyrus so much that at one point, there were so few papyrus reeds left in the Nile to make anymore ”paper”!

Although we get the word “paper” from the word “papyrus”, the papyrus did not look like the paper we use today. It was rough and uneven. The real inventor of modern paper was a Chinese man named Cai Lun. He lived about 2,200 years ago (in 202 BCE).

Before the invention of paper, the Chinese wrote on pieces of bamboo and bones. Cai Lun created sheets of paper using mulberry, fishnets, old rags and hemp. He pounded the mixture together with water and then spread the pulp on a piece of sieve cloth. Then he left it to dry. Once the water dried, he had a piece of paper to use! Paper soon replaced bamboo and bones for writing on.

The Chinese did not only use paper for writing, but they also dyed it with beautiful colours for wrapping presents for the emperor. They also found it was better to wrap poisonous medicine in paper than with cloth. Paper was also used to wrap tea. The paper preserved the flavour of the tea which was important to a tea drinker. The Chinese used paper to make the first tea bags.

The secret of making paper was kept inside China for many years. Many people outside China tried to get the secret for making it but failed. For almost a thousand years, only the Chinese knew the secret of making paper. The secret stayed with them till 751 CE.

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BCE (n) – short form for “Before Common Era”; before the birth of Jesus Christ.
reed (n) – a tall, grass-like wetland plant.
depict (v) – to show as; represent.
hemp (n) – a tall coarse plant grown for its fibre, oil and seeds.

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