Block Print

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.

 

Block Printing

 

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. 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.

 

Block Printing

 

Block Printing

 

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.

 

Block Printing

 

Block Printing

 

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.

 

RECOMMENDED READING

 

Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks: 1680-1900 by Andreas Marks 

Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks: 1680-1900 by Andreas Marks//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=historygraphi-20&l=am2&o=1&a=B0157HYO48

Japanese woodblock prints, or ukiyo-e, are the most recognizable Japanese art form. Their massive popularity has spread from Japan to be embraced by a worldwide audience. Covering the period from the beginning of the Japanese woodblock print in the 1680s until the year 1900, Japanese Woodblock Prints provides a detailed survey of all the famous ukiyo-e artists, along with over 500 full-color prints.

Unlike previous examinations of this art form, Japanese Woodblock Prints includes detailed histories of the publishers of woodblock prints—who were often the driving force determining which prints, and therefore which artists, would make it into mass circulation for a chance at critical and popular success. Invaluable as a guide for ukiyo-e enthusiasts looking for detailed information about their favorite Japanese woodblock print artists and prints, it is also an ideal introduction for newcomers to the world of the woodblock print. This lavishly illustrated book will be a valued addition to the libraries of scholars, as well as the general art enthusiast.

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