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DOWNTOWN : Chinese Exhibit Shows Arts, History

November 27, 1994|BRETT MAHONEY

If not for Chinese inventor Cai Lun, what you're reading right now might have been etched in stone.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, after years of trial and error, Lun threw together some rags, rope ends, worn-out fishing nets and tree bark.

He soaked the stringy combination in water and when the soggy mess dried, Lun had come up with the first paper as we know it today.

Because most people don't think of Lun when they dump their newspapers into recycling bins, the Asian Pacific Mart imported the Chinese Science & Arts Expo from Beijing to familiarize Americans with China's 7,000-year history.

"All the inventions here on display were invented by the Chinese, but they belong to the world," the show's director, Jin Wan Quan, said through an interpreter.

And the display is plentiful.

Grace Wu, 12, and her girlfriends raced from exhibit to exhibit in the hall, which is the size of a football field. Of all the inventions and artifacts, she was most impressed with "the earthquake machine."

Wu was referring to the replica of the earliest-known seismograph. Resembling a six-foot urn, it could detect when an earthquake hit and determine the direction of the epicenter. It was invented in AD 132.

When the earth shook, a bar delicately balanced inside fell in the direction of the movement, causing one of eight bronze dragons attached to the urn's base to spit out a tiny ball.

The ball fell into the mouth of one of the eight bronze toads that circle the urn.

A resounding bong then sounded the alert that an earthquake had occurred.

The device could detect a temblor up to 500 miles away.

The exhibit also brings to life the ancient Chinese arts by including masters in papermaking, painting and silk embroidery who perform their crafts at various tables. Visitors are even invited to try their hand at sculpting and rub printing.

Eileen Ng, 11, was excited about making paper.

She watched as a master papermaker dipped a fine bamboo screen into boiled bamboo pulp and lifted it evenly to obtain a thin layer of the milky liquid. He pressed the pulp to squeeze out the excess water. While the pulp layer was still wet, the craftsman peeled it off the screen and hung it on the wall.

Once dry, Ng had a piece of handmade paper on which a master artist painted something for her.

But although the girls may have been taken with the various Chinese inventions, including gunpowder, the compass and the first printing device, they spent most of their time rubbing the handles of a 10th-Century bronze basin. They were hoping to see the water vibrate and spout upward, which was said to have amused the emperor centuries ago.

The exhibit is a joint venture between the Bi-Pacific Exhibiting and Marketing Co. Inc., which owns the Asian Pacific Mart, and the Beijing National Science and Technology Museum.

It cost more than $200,000 to transport the four containers holding the exhibit to the Mart, at 1100 S. Flower St., and thousands more to upgrade the show, but Dan Lin, general manager of the Mart, said the cost was well worth it.

"It's not always about money. We're building mutual understanding, building friendship," said Lin.

The show continues through Jan. 31.

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