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Printing


Woodblock Printing and Movable Type Printing

Printing is listed as one of the four great inventions of ancient China. The earliest surviving printed text in China dates from before 220 CE (while in Egypt from the 4th century). The text was a few woodblock printed fragments of silk from the Han Dynasty. The earliest example of woodblock printing on paper is dated in the mid-7th century. Printing on paper became popular in Tang Dynasty, with the earliest extant complete printed book, the Diamond Sutra in 868, found at Mogao Grotto. It is said that by the 10th century, a skilled printer could print up to 2,000 double-page sheets per day.
 
 
Movable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventions

Performances at the Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympic Games, 2008, featuring woodblock printing, one of China's greatest ancient inventions.


Chinese printing techniques went through a revolution in Song Dynasty, when Bi Sheng (990~1051) invented the movable type printing. Compared with woodblock printing where the plate for any given page is fixed, the movable type printing is the system of printing and typography by assembling movable individual pieces of characters. Bi Sheng’s model used character types made of clay. By 1298, Wang Zhen developed a more durable type made of wood, and invented a system of revolving tables where the pieces of the thousands of Chinese characters are put in order, with a number reference system. In practice, the printer first finds the types from the table, and assembles and fixes them in a framework. This made the typesetting and printing more efficient.
 
 
Movable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventionsMovable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventions
Woodblock Printing
Each page requires a carved plate of its own.
Movable Type Printing
Putting individual Chinese character type pieces into a framework to form a carved plate.
Movable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventionsMovable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventions

Bi Sheng (990~1051) invented the movable type printing technique.

Revolving table in which thousands of Chinese character type pieces are stored according to certain order and number-reference system.


The movable type printing did not fully supersede woodblock printing which remained the most common method in China. Even though each page requires a carefully carved printing block of its own, which sounds much too laborious, the same woodblock can be used many times. However, for those texts which require just a small quantity of copies, movable type printing would be more economical.

History of Printing in China

As was the case around the world, most print work was initially done to reproduce religious texts, sacred writings and images. Development in public education and popular culture gave rise to a growing market for printed material. It was recorded that the poems by Bai Juyi (772~846), one of the most popular poets in Tang Dynasty, circulated among the upper class in printed forms as well as by hand writing. In certain areas, the Chinese folk began using calendars printed by private printers despite the government’s ban on private publications. And in Song Dynasty, state authorities laid emphasis on public education, and copies of classical texts of Confucianism were provided for the entire population. Printing houses emerged, and printing became an industry.
 
Movable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventionsMovable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventions
Diamond Sutra found in Mogao Grotto, printed in 868
Most print work was initially done to reproduce religious texts.

Printing made texts available to the public at lowered costs, greatly promoting the dissemination of knowledge.


Spread of Printing Techniques

The Chinese printing techniques were to spread overseas. In the far east, Japan began printing Buddhist sutras using woodblock printing from the 8th century, and Korea from the end of 10th century. Out in the west, the printing techniques were to spread via the Silk Road to Central Asia, the Islamic World, Egypt and Europe. By the end of 14th century, woodblock-printed playing cards, icons, and Latin textbooks appeared in Europe.

The movable type printing inspired Johann Gutenberg, who developed a letterpress printing system using metal type pieces in the 1440s.
 
 
Movable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventionsMovable Type Printing, Woodblock Printing, History of Printing, Chinese ancient inventions

Movable type printing techniques spread to Korea.

Johann Gutenberg drew inspiration from movable type printing techniques and developed a letterpress printing system based on metal type pieces in the 1440s.

 


 

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