China may already have paper in real terms during the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-AD24), experts said after the recent discovery of a batch of ancient paper pieces from the Xuanquanzhi ruins of Dunhuang in northwest China's Gansu Province.
The newly unearthed paper is expected to be of the earliest paper found in the world by now and may push China's paper-making history back to the Western Han Dynasty, about a century earlier than the widely acknowledged time of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220).
Some 200 pieces of book fragments and linen paper were found in the ruin, being the biggest discovery in terms of quantity within China, according to He Shuangquan, researcher with the Archaeological Institute of Gansu.
Judging from the unearthed ancient documents and the earth layer in which the paper pieces were found, they were made during the period lasting from Emperor Wu who reigned between 140 BC and 86 BC of the Western Han Dynasty, via the Eastern Han Dynasty all the way down to the Western Jin Dynasty (AD265-420).
According to their thickness and colors, these paper can be divided into eight groups including black thick, black thin, brown thick, white thin, yellow thick and so on. Mainly made from linen and silk fabrics, these ancient paper pieces are used for writing on and packing.
This discovery challenged the long-term and widely accepted theory that China's earliest paper was invented by Cai Lun in 105AD, a eunuch who engaged himself in the study of papermaking during his stay in the imperial palace of Eastern Han Dynasty.
(People's Daily May 13, 2002)