Compass is one of the most influential inventions of China. A compass-like device called Si Nan was first discovered by Chinese during the Warring States Period and was used as a device for judging the Feng Shui, the placement and fortune of a location.
In early Song Dynasty, Chinese people created a non-practical equipment called the pointing-to-the-South Fish based the theories about geomagnetism. About one thousand years ago, Chinese people first developed the maritime compasses and applied the ideas of magnetism to navigation. During Big Era 5, a long time period from 300 CE to 1500 CE, the maritime compasses became a great invention which can demonstrate the society of China and its relationship with other civilizations by supporting long-distance trading, strengthening the power of the empires, spreading of ideas.
Before the invention of compasses, sailors used to rely on position of stars and sun to know about directions. However, environmental conditions, such as clouds, could cause the sailors to lost their directions. In BE 5, maritime compasses solved this issue and allowed the sailors to have long-distance voyages by providing them with reliable navigation. One contribution of the Chinese maritime compasses is that the compasses stimulated the trading between China and other great Civilizations. Because of the compasses, Song Chinese merchants and sailors could travel to distant areas, such as Saudi Arab, at about 1000 CE.
The Ming Chinese people could even sail to every coastal ports in Indian Ocean and even Eastern Africa with more advanced compasses. Zhu Di, the Ming Emperor, sent an enormous fleet commanded by Zheng He to have expeditions. The compasses and the huge treasure ships helped them to sail around the Indian Ocean and to build relationships with civilizations in Africa, Middle East and Southeastern Asia. Some evidences even suggest that Zheng He' s fleet have traveled to the Americas much earlier than Christopher Columbus. Based on the invention of Maritime, the distance of sailing was extended and the trading between China and other civilizations became more intense.The increase of trading caused by maritime compasses helped the Chinese society to grow richer and stronger. During Song Dynasty, the increasing marine trade caused the commercialization which brought Song Dynasty to its height. The growth of trading appealed farmers to grow cash crops, like teas, instead of food. Artisans who made silk and other manufactured goods also thrived due to the growth of trading. Coastal cities in Southern China, such as Hangzhou, also became more populated and prosperous partially because of the marine trading increased by advanced navigation technics. In history, the maritime compasses also helped the Chinese dynasties to increase theirauthority in Southeastern Asia. As I mentioned, Ming ruler gained great economic and political power from the expeditions of Zheng He. The fleet of Zheng He brought abundant and diverse treasures for the Ming ruler who sponsored the expeditions. The treasures were mostly given by the Southeastern Asia people and kingdoms that admired the power and technologies of Ming Dynasty. The expeditions supported by developed maritime compasses helped the Ming Dynasty to gain more influence in the areas around the Indian Ocean and to experience its golden age which was largely supported by the profitable trading. Besides of increasing trading and improving influence of China, the invention of maritime compasses also allowed Chinese people to communicate with those Medieval Islamic people who also had constant connections with the Europeans.
The sophisticated and curious Muslims later adopted many advanced Chinese technologies even including compasses which helped to maintain the cultural exchange. The Arabic ships equipped by this invention sailed successfully in Mediterranean and later brought the maritime compasses to Medieval Europe at about 1180. This cultural exchange influenced the Renaissance in Europe by making trading much more easier than before.
European artisans and guilds gained more wealth directly from the more reliable navigation devices which allowed them to trade more easily. The growth of trading again caused the prosperity in Italian cities, such as Florence and Venice which were rich enough to afford artists to create art pieces. The closer communication between the Europeans and Muslims caused by compasses also brought the Classical Greek writings back to Europe. The Classical writings created by philosophers like Aristotle enlighten the Europeans and introduced those ideas, such as humanism, to Europe. After BE 5, the maritime compasses eventually played an important role in the Europeans' discovery of the Americas.
As I discussed, the Chinese maritime compasses were significant in BE 5, since they allowed people to have long-distance trading, made Chinese dynasties to consolidate their influence over Southeastern Asian countries, and stimulated the exchange of cultures and technologies. The great impacts of the maritime compasses shaped the societies of different civilizations and benefited people all over Afroeuroasia. It eventually brought prosperity to Chinese people and helped the Europeans to gain knowledge and to discover the new continents. From this specific type of navigation devices, we gained deeper understanding about BE 5.