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Living Heritage: Woodblock Printing

chinadaily.com.cn| Updated:  June 26, 2023 L M S

Delicate strokes, carved onto wood, with ultimate precision. This is woodblock printing, an ancient printing technique that propelled human civilization.

As Buddhism prevailed in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), there was a strong need to produce a large amount of Buddhist scriptures, and copying by hand could not meet the rising demand. Ancient Chinese craftsmen thus came up with a novel way to mass produce printed works. Hence came the prototype of woodblock printing.

Traditional woodblock printing can be divided into four major steps: writing, engraving, printing, and binding. With each step then sub-divided into several procedures, it takes roughly 30 steps to produce a woodblock print.

Carving lies at the center of woodblock printing as this arduous step can make or break the final print. Characters and images are carved to produce raised areas or lines that will eventually apply ink to paper. It calls for a pair of skilled hands.

A five-meter-scroll of the Buddhist scripture Diamond Sutra, printed in 868, is the "earliest dated printed book" in the words of the British Library where it is stored. It is just one example of ancient works of art that not only tell the wisdoms of our predecessors, but also is a testimony to the pursuit of beauty by Chinese craftsmen throughout centuries.

The invention of writing gave life to great thoughts, but it is the invention of printing that made knowledge a shareable fruit for all humankind.