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中国是举世公认的发明指南针(compass)的国家。最初的指南针叫做司南(Sinan, a south-pointing ladle )，出现在战国时期。一般在指南针上标有东南西北四个方位，并且还有刻度。北对应零度，刻度随顺时针方向而增加。作为中国古代的四大发明之一，指南针对人们的生活，尤其是航海业的发展，起到了重要的作用。指南针对西方世界也产生了显著的影响，这些国家由此开始了大规模的海外冒险活动。
China is universally acknowledged as the countrywhere the compass was invented. The compass,originally called Sinan, a south-pointing ladle,appeared during the Warring States Period.Generally, the directions of north, east, west and south are shown on the compass, and so arethe angle markings in degrees. North corresponds to zero degree, and the degrees increaseclockwise. As one of the four great inventions of ancient China, the compass played animportant role in people’s life, especially in maritime undertakings. It also had a significantinfluence on the western world, as thereafter those countries began large-scale overseasadventures.