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Inventions from Ancient China

  Mirror with Animals of the Four Directions and the Zodiac (Detail)
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Mirror with Animals of the Four Directions and the Zodiac (detail)
Sui dynasty, c. 600
d. 24.8 cm
Museum Rietberg, Zurich
cat. no. 15


Lesson Objective: Students will research ancient Chinese inventions and create a chart that documents them.

Related Object: Mirror with Animals of the Four Directions and the Zodiac

Subject Area: Science
Suggested Grade Level: Secondary School

Instructional Materials:

Suggested Books:


  • Read the information on Mirror with Animals of the Four Directions and the Zodiac and discuss the four animals that represent the cardinal directions of the compass. According to ancient Chinese tradition, each direction was believed to have magical qualities and was aligned with a specific animal.
  • Help the class identify these animals using the descriptive information and the image.
  • Ask students to find out how bronze was used in ancient China by researching the history of bronze casting in the ancient civilizations of China and India.
  • Discuss the texture of bronze objects, such as the mirror. Encourage students to imagine how bronze might feel.
  • Resuming the discussion of the ancient Chinese perception of the four directions, explain that the compass was an ancient Chinese invention. Discuss the use of a compass and use one to locate the four directions in your classroom. Challenge students to find out how it works.


  • Divide the class into groups and have them research other inventions made by the ancient Chinese, such as porcelain, gunpowder, silk, and the seismograph. Create a list on the blackboard.
  • Assign one invention to each group, instructing them to find out how it was created, what it was used for, and if it is still used.
  • When all of the groups have finished, create a visual chart of ancient Chinese inventions, using words and images. Include the date of each invention as well as a variety of two- and three-dimensional works and time arts to articulate ideas.
  • Ask each group of students to present their findings to the other groups.

Art Institute of Chicago



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