In this book, we will take you on a journey back 10,000 years to take a look at how hemp has remained an important plant in many cultures around the world. It’s only recently (over the last 80 years) that hemp has received a bad reputation and been classified as a drug along with Marijuana. Even though hemp is in the cannabis (Cannabis Sativa L) family, the main difference between the two cannabis plants is that hemp has very little TCH (tetrahydrocannabinol), less than .03% of the psychoactive ingredient. Hemp has been grown for thousands of years for the many products it can be used for. Let’s start at the beginning of time.
The Ancient Beginning of Hemp
Hemp is an ancient plant used in many cultures throughout time... in fact the earliest records of hemp use and cultivation date back over 10,000 years from the island of Taiwan located off the coast of mainland China, where archaeologists unearthed an ancient village site dating to the Stone Age.
Archaeologists also found scraps of hemp cloth that dates to 8,000 BC in Mesopotamia. Then around 6,000-4,000 BC in ancient China the first evidence of hemp seed and extract used as a food was found. The ancient Chinese made their clothes from woven hemp, and used the sturdy fiber to make shoes. Ancient manuscripts are filled with passages urging people to plant hemp so that they will have clothes.
The mulberry plant was also highly regarded because it was the food for silkworms that made silk fabric, which was one of China's most important products. But silk was very expensive and only the very wealthy could afford it. Because of this, hemp material was used for those less fortunate who could not afford silk. For this reason the Chinese called their country the "land of mulberry and hemp." Of all the cultures where hemp is found, China has the longest and most continuous history of hemp production.
The Chinese Legend of Paper Invention – It’s Hard to Believe!
According to Chinese legend, the paper making process was invented by a minor court official, Ts'ai Lun, in A.D. 105. Like they say, invention comes from necessity. Back in those days, writing was done on bamboo slips and wooden tablets.
The first evolution from the heavy tablets was writing on silk... but it was very expensive. So Ts’ai Lun had an idea. What if he used fiber from hemp and mulberry – a less expensive material? He tried many ways and eventually, most likely through trial and error, he found a way to make a pulp out of crushed hemp fiber and mulberry bark. He put the pulp in a vat of water and when the fibers rose to the top he removed them and placed them in a mold. After drying he had sheets, which could be written on.
You would think people would have been excited about this invention. But this was not the case. In fact, he was jeered out of court when he first presented his “paper”. What he did next was what we call a great marketing campaign today... but in those days, it was more like trickery.
He started a rumor that he would use his paper invention to bring back the dead! Then with the help of his friends, he faked his death and was buried (alive) – but here’s the twist. The coffin was rigged... it had a small hole with a bamboo shoot inserted in it so he could breathe while buried.
After he was buried for some time, his fellow conspirators announced that if some of the paper the dead man invented was burned, he would rise from the dead and take his place among the living again. Even though people were highly skeptical, they wanted to give the dead man a chance, so they gathered a sizable quantity of paper and set it on fire. When the man’s friends felt enough suspense had been created, they exhumed the coffin and opened it. To the shock and amazement of everyone, Ts'ai Lun sat up and thanked them for their devotion and faith in his invention.
Ts'ai Lun became an overnight celebrity. He was appointed an important position in court and his invention was given the recognition it deserved. His fame however, became his demise. Because of being rich and powerful, the squabbles of life took over and he found himself in a power battle between the empress and the emperor’s grandmother. When he was summoned to court, instead of appearing he went home, took a bath, combed his hair, put on his best robes and drank poison.
The Chinese kept paper a secret for many centuries, and as intriguing as this story is... Ts’ai Lun may not have been the inventor of paper at all. Fragments of paper containing hemp fiber were discovered in a grave in China that dates back to the first century B.C., which puts the invention of paper long before Ts'ai Lun.