Playing Cards - A Chinese Invention

Playing Cards - A Chinese Invention

Have you ever wondered how money came about, or who invented gambling playing cards. Surprisingly, the two questions share the same answer.

Continually stunning the rest of our species with their reality-changing inventions, China has been at the forefront of technological breakthroughs for the past 2,500 years. 

While it is generally known that the Chinese were the creators of gunpowder and the engineers of the Great Wall of China, it is less known that we owe them thanks for two other nifty gadgets that are in regular use: playing cards and paper money. Even less known is a third fact: that these two used to be the same thing. 

A historical document dating to the 9th century claims that the Tang Dynasty Princess Tongchang played the "leaf game" with members of the Wei clan to pass the time. It is suggested that these game cards were the ancient Chinese "Money Cards" which funnily enough had four suits. 

It's generally accepted that these Money Cards were both the tools for gambling, and the stakes being played for, which the winner received at the end of the game. 

In their ingenuity, the Chinese then took those cards and applied them to another fascinating task - single sheets of writing paper, like those used in a modern laser-jet printer. This differentiated them from the rest of the world, who still used scrolls for their contracts and records, and gave China another noble title in human firsts. 

From there on, the history of the playing card is one of duplication rather than invention. The Muslim Mamelukes caught wind of the idea at some point, after which it was a quick journey across the Mediterranean to Europe, and finally to France, where in 1500 CE the modern deck was designed and developed. 

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