TidBits 049: Perfumed toilet paper: it was the year 1393.

We're all resigned to the fact that the Chinese invented everything before anyone else.

The interesting thing is to discover which of the inventions that we think may belong to us, are in fact part of this millenary civilization.

Between 1943 and 1946, the English sinologist Joseph Needham performed in-depth studies in that Country, producing an extraordinary work: “Science and Civilisation in China”. Here, he documents - among other things - the Chinese people's great inventive capabilities: from the abacus to the wool-winder, from the compass to mobile characters, from gun powder to the stirrup, from astronomical maps to... perfumed toilet paper!

Indeed, he reports that in 1393, during the reign of Hongwu - first regent of the Ming dynasty - the imperial paper mill produced 720,000 sheets in a 60x90 cm size for useat court, and 15,000 smaller (7-8 cm2) perfumed sheets made of a better quality, forthe behinds of the imperial family.

But the use of toilet paper in China dates even further back in time. Its presence is mentioned by a annotator of the VI century who, underscoring the intrinsic, almost sacred value of a piece of written paper, warns that, even if discarded, no one shouldeven dare to trample on it or, much less, use it as ... toilet paper.

More recently, in the era of Empress Ci Xi (1835-1908), her lady-in-waiting told that forher mistress' needs, she used to prepare sheets ironed by hand and accurately folded in the form of a triangle.

There's always much to be learned from history!

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