When I lived in China I was told many times by Chinese people about the four great inventions that China gave the world- the compass, gunpowder, paper, and printing. Since then I have heard about other inventions that the Chinese lay claim to- alcohol, pasta, the kite, silk, and the wheelbarrow. Not all of these inventions are universally accepted as of Chinese origin. Although with a four to five thousand year history, there are many opportunities for the Chinese to say at least they were the first.
But of the four great inventions, which would you say is the most important? Being a writer, I am tempted to say paper or printing. After all, it was only after humans had the ability to record their thoughts and discoveries, then spread them quickly that we began to make greater and greater progress. But after thinking about it for awhile, I think the invention of the compass is the most important. The compass helped seafaring men to leave the coastline, strike out across the ocean, and discover new lands. It helped them mark sea routes and then find places where earlier explorers had gone before them.
The compass helped to open up the world to trade, the exchange of goods and ideas. This lead Europe into the Renaissance and eventually brought about mercantilism, capitalism and democracy, which together have been responsible for a greater percentage of the world’s population escaping poverty than any other system devised by humans. I don’t think you can give all the credit to the compass, but the compass was the match that started the fire. And without the compass, the different parts of the world might have jsut remained in their isolated pockets.