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History of Bamboo

China is known as the Kingdom of Bamboo because it has the most bamboo of any country in the world. More than 400 species of bamboo--one third of all the known species in the world--grow in China. China leads the world in the amount of area planted with bamboo, the number of bamboo trees, and the amount of bamboo wood produced every year. The oldest archaeological finds of bamboo articles in China were unearthed from the remains of a primitive society that existed some 7,000 years ago in what is now Hemudu, Yuyao County, Zhejiang Province. As early as the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century B.C.), the Chinese used bamboo for making household articles and weapons, such as bows and arrows. Before paper was invented, slips of bamboo were the most important writing medium. Bamboo has thus played an important part in the spread and development of traditional Chinese culture. Bamboo was closely connected with the daily lives of people in ancient China. Su Dongpo (1037-1101), a literary giant of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), said that people could not live without bamboo. The people of the time used bamboo as firewood and to make tiles, paper, rafts, hats, rain capes, and shoes. At that time, as today, bamboo shoots were eaten as a popular dish because of their crispness and fresh, sweet taste. Bamboo shoots also contain vitamins, sugar, fat, and protein. In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.220) bamboo was used for paper making because it produced high-quality, inexpensive paper. Bamboo is still an important raw material for paper making today. Some 1,600 years ago, people wrote with brushes on xuan paper made from young bamboo. Xuan paper is still popular for Chinese calligraphy and paintings. In the Jin Dynasty a special book on bamboo was written in 265-316 A.D., in which many of China's bamboo species were recorded in detail. During the last native Chinese dynasty to rule the empire, the Ming Dynasty that spanned almost three centuries between 1368 and 1644, bamboo was used as bedding and for flooring. Some historians argue that Early Ming China was the most advanced nation on Earth at the time. Today, in addition to molding, bamboo is widely used for household articles such as mats, beds, pillows, benches, chairs, cabinets, buckets, chopsticks, spoons, baskets, and handheld fans. Bamboo's resistance to stretching and its ability to support weight make it an ideal material for houses, flooring, scaffolding, supporting pillars, and work sheds. It is also used to make traditional Chinese musical instruments such as the sheng, a reed instrument; the di, a flute; and the xiao, a flute held vertically. Bamboo is also used in Chinese medicine. The leaves eliminate heat and phlegm; the juice cures strode, insanity, and a kind of asthma caused by excessive phlegm; and the root can stimulate the vital forces, quench thirst, and promote lactation. Bamboo continues to be an ecologically sound product with a variety of ideal uses.