One of the most important event for the world that took place during the Tang (618-906) dynasty was the invention of printing, sometime between the 4th and 7th century A.D. It began as blocks cut from wood used to print textiles and then used to reproduce short Buddhist religious texts that were carried as charms by believers. Later long scrolls and books were produced, first by wood-block printing and then, beginning in the 11th century, by using movable type. Inexpensive printed books became widely available in China during the Song (960-1279) dynasty. The earliest printed book found so far was a Buddhist scripture, printed in 868, hidden at Dunhuang cave, along the Silk Road.
The first mentioned of printing was in an imperial decree of 593 in which Sui emperor Wen-ti ordered the printing of Buddhist images and scriptures, but no details with regard to this enterprise were given. The text was first written on a piece of thin paper, then glued face down onto a wooden plate. The characters were carved out to make a wood-block printing plate, which was used to print the text. Wood-block printing took a long time as a new block had to be carved for every page in a book (See picture on the right). A expert can print 2,000 or more sheets a day. In the 9th century, printed books first appeared in quantities in Shu (modern Szechuan province) and could be purchased from private dealers. Soon the printing technique spread to other provinces, and by the end of the 9th century it was common all over China. The printed books included Confucian classics, Buddhist scriptures, dictionaries, mathematics and others. The technique was advanced very fast. By 1000, paged books in the modern style had replaced scrolls. Two color printing (black and red) was seen as early as 1340.
In the 1040's the printing technique was further advanced through the invention of movable type, by someone named Pi Sheng (died 1051). Block printing was a costly and time-consuming process, for each carved block could only be used for a specific page of a particular book. However movable type changed all of that. Each piece of movable type had on it one Chinese character which was carved in relief on a small block of moistened clay. After the block had been hardened by fire, the type became hard and durable and could be used wherever required. The pieces of movable type could be glued to an iron plate and easily detached from the plate. Each piece of character could be assembled to print a page and then broken up and redistributed as needed.
Throughout the centuries both movable type and blocking printing existed side by side in China. The Muslims knew about the technology but didn't use it. It is uncertain when the printing was introduced to the Xinjiang area; however the printing material in several languages was found in Turfan, dated as early as the 13th century. When Marco Polo visited China in the 13th century, he must have seen printed books. It is possible that he or some other Silk Road travellers brought that knowledge to Europe, which later inspired John Gutenberg to invent printing in the West. In 1456, Gutenberg printed a new edition of the Bible, using movable type.