造纸术是中国古代“四大发明”之一。 在造纸术发明以前，人们把字刻写在龟甲、兽骨、竹片、木片和绢帛(juan bo)上。甲骨、木片很笨重，用起来不方便；绢帛太贵，一般人用不起。大约在西汉初期，人们用大麻和苎麻(zhu ma)造出了纸。这种早期的纸比较粗糙，不太适合写字。
Before the papermaking technology was invented, people carved or wrote Chinese characters on tortoise shells, animal bones, bamboo slices, wooden plates, and thin tough silksa. Tortoise shells, animal bones and wooden plates are too heavy to use while silks are too expensive. Around the early period of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD), people made paper from hemp and ramieb. Initially, this was very rough and not suitable for writing.
During the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), an official named Cai Lun improved the technique after years of experimentation. He used many plant fibers such as bark, rags, torn fishing nets as raw materials, steamed and cooked them with water, then pounded them into pulp, and then spread the pulp evenly on a fine screen and dried it into a kind of thin paper. The paper was suitable for writing and also very cheap so it became very popular.
Papermaking technology gradually improved so that various types of paper were created for different uses. For example, the Xuan paper made in Xuanzhou of Anhui Province is a high quality paper adapted for use in Chinese calligraphy and painting.
The technology spread to Korea and Japan in the late Sui (581-618 AD) and early Tang (618-907 AD) dynasties, and later to Arabia and other countries. The invention of paper made it more convenient for information storage and communication and had a great significance in promoting the development of international civilization.