The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today. It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times. I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know! This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!
I'm going to start a small series on The Refined Reader on printing, starting with the oldest known method of printing called woodblock printing. Printing in this case is the reproduction of text or images using a template. Woodblock printing originated in China, around 200 b.c. and is basically like using a stamp to reproduce the text. This could be done in two ways however - by pressing the block to the paper or cloth (like a stamp) or by rubbing - placing the paper on top of the woodblock and rubbing the back of the paper with a smooth flat item. The idea of using a stamp for making marks was not new at the time - many clay tablets in ancient times had markings made by stamps or seals, but woodblock printing was on a larger scale.
The origins of woodblock printing is strongly associated with Buddhism, because sutras, or manuals, of Buddhist teachings were more widely circulated through these printings. The earliest known print is the Mugujeonggwang great Dharani sutra which is a Buddhist text. At the time, 1 million copies of the sutra was printed for distribution.
Woodblock printing traveled to Europe some centuries later and became more common in the 13th century. Soon movable type and the printing press would become more widespread in Europe, but woodblock printing would continue to be used in Asia mostly because the language has thousands of characters, and it was easier to make the woodblock as each character came up as opposed to creating them all on a woodblock. Woodblock printing is still used in Asia (which is exciting since I love that such an ancient technology is still useful.)
Next week: Movable type
Wikipedia (Many thanks to Wikipedia for having these kinds of printing grouped together on the site!)