Every educated Chinese knows the name of Bi Sheng, who invented movable-type printing, one of the four important inventions that ancient China contributed to world civilization. Bi Sheng lived in Bianliang (today's Kaifeng City), then capital of China in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). He used movable-type blocks for printing during the reign of Qingli (1041-1048) by composing text by placing ceramic type side by side on an iron plate, resulting in pieces of movable type.
Bi Sheng's feat is described in Meng Xi Bi Tan(Dream Stream Essays) by Shen Kuo, an eminent scientist of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Bi Sheng started making clay types, one for each character. These were fired for hardness. For typesetting a square sheet of iron was prepared with a layer of resin, wax and paper ashes mixed and spread on it. The mixture was circumscribed with an iron frame. A plate was complete when the frame was full. This was heated over a fire until the mixture melted. The types meanwhile were pressed down to the height of the frame with a wooden board and the plate was ready for printing. For higher efficiency two iron sheets were used, one for fresh typesetting and the other for printing, so that a new plate was ready before the specified number of copies had been made from the previous one. Several duplicate types were made for each character, the number depending on the frequency of its use. As for rarely used characters, they were carved and fired when necessary and used on the spot.
Bi Sheng's method had great merit in its notable speed compared with the traditional process of plate engraving. Bi Sheng's invention revolutionized the printing press and had far-reaching impact. About 400 years later, Gutenberge invented the machine to make use of movable type in Germany.
China was the first country in the world to make proper paper. Paper made during the Western Han Dynasty (260BC-8AD) has been found in Gansu Province, Xi'an City and other places in Shaanxi Province. A further development of paper was credited to Cai Lun of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220). Cai Lun as a eunuch engaged in the study of papermaking during his stay in the imperial palace. He used plant fiber such as tree bark, bits of rope, rags and worn-out fishnets as raw materials. In 105AD, Cai Lun successfully invented the world's first batch of paper. Cai presented it to the Han emperor, who was very delighted. In 114, Cai Lun was given Longting Town as his domain; Cai was also called "Longting Marquis". Hence, his invention was named "Marquis Cai's Paper". Unfortunately, Cai Lun was forced to commit suicide due to conflicts in the imperial palace in 121.
Eastern Han Dynasty paper, found in Gansu Province in 1974, carried words that were still clearly decipherable. Cai Lun's paper was one of the four great inventions and has greatly contributed to the development of world civilization.
Cai Lun Paper Culture Museum, China's first museum of paper culture, has been set up in Yangxian County in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province to show China's papermaking culture. In memory of Cai Lun, the museum was built at his domain Longting Town to mark his outstanding efforts in paper invention and papermaking technique.
Feng Dao (882-954) was the initiator of government-backed printing of Confucian books on a large scale. He was respectively appointed as prime minister of Hou Tang (923-934) and of Hou Jin (936-940) during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907-960).
In 932, approved by the emperor, Feng Dao started to organize engraving of Kai Cheng Shi Jing and block printing ofNine Classicsin Kai calligraphy (regular script).Nine Classicscomprises ofthe Book of Changes(Yi),Book of History(Shu),Book of Poems(Shi),the Rites of Zhou(Zhou Li),the Rites of EtiquetteandCeremonies(Yi Li),the Book of Rites(Li Ji) and three commentaries onthe Spring and Autumn Annals--Master Zuo's Commentary to the Spring and Autumns(Chunqiu Zuoshi Zhuan),Gongyang's Commentary to the Spring and Autumns(Chunqiu Gongyang Zhuan),Guliang's Commentary to the Spring and Autumns(Chunqiu Guliang Zhuan). The printing work of the whole was completed in 953.
Confucian books printed by Feng Dao were widespread and had a far-reaching impact at that time. It is a pity that the edition no longer exists today.
The Yu Family of Jian'an
The Yu Family of Jian'an was well known for printing in ancient China. They lived in Jian'an County, Fujian Province. The family engaged themselves in engravings one generation after another from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
When it comes to the family's heirloom -- the Song Dynasty style block printing, Yu Renzhong and his Wanjuan Printing House were the most famous and their representative block-printed works includedChunqiu Gongyang Zhuan Jiegu(a development study of Gongyang's Commentary to the Spring and Autumns),Shangshu Jing Yiandthe Book of Rites(Li Ji).
Another famous branch was the Qinyou Printing House managed by Yu Jing'an. The Qinyou Printing House, named after its best manager Yu Qinyou, was further developed in scale by Yu Zhi'an in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Works engraved by the Qinyou Printing House handed down included theSaga of Ancient Women Martyrs(Gu Lie Nu Zhuan),Qian Jia Zhu Du Gong Bu ShiandTang Lu Shu Yi, etc.
The Yu family compiled many folktales, novels and essays with illustrations such as theSaga of Different Kingdoms(Lie Guo Zhi), the Journey to the West (Xi You Ji) and theOrthodox School of Poems(Shi Lin Zheng Zong). Their works were well received at that time.
The Chen Family of Lin'an
The Chen Family of Lin'an (today's Hangzhou City) was a well-known family engaged in printing business in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). For Instance, Chen Qi run a printing house in Pengbei Street in Lin'an, where a great variety of books were block-printed. His books were regarded as outstanding representatives of printed works in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and some of them have been handed down such as A Collection of Poems by Zhou He, A Collection of Poems by Wang Jian, A Collection of Poems by Zhu Qingyu and A Collection of Poems by Madame Yu Xuanji. Chen Qi's sociability made him establish close friendship with many poets, which did a lot of help to his business. Chen Xuyun, son of Chen Qi, continued to operate his printing house.
Another example, Chen Si, also called Chen Daoren, once wrote Bao Ke Cong Bian, Shu Yuan Jing Hua and Shu Xiao Shi. His printing house was also located in Pengbei Street. Its famous printed work wasA Collection of Celebrities in the Song Dynasty(Liang Song Ming Xian Xiao Ji). Another printing house run by the Chen family was located by the Wangu Bridge and it once bock-printed books including A Collection of Poems by Prime Minister Li and Rong Zhai Sui Bi.
Mao Jin (1599-1659) was a famous printer and a bookkeeper in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). He was also named Feng Bao when he was born in Changshu (in today's Jiangsu Province). He took up bock printing and bookkeeping at the age of 30 or so. He offered high prices for block-printed editions of the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368) and altogether had a collection of over 84,000 volumes.
Mao Jin hired many workers to print books. The most famous among his over 600 block-printed works includedAnnotation to The Thirteen Classics(Shi San Jing Zhu Shu),The Seventeen Dynastic Histories(Shi Qi Shi),Li's Annotation to Analects(Wen Xuan Li Zhu),Kuang Chuan Shu Pa,Han Mo Chuan Shuand so on. Block-printing editions by Mao Jin are the greatest in numbers among all the private printing workshops at that time.
Wang Yunwu (1888-1979) was a famous printer, compiler and educationist. He was born in Shanghai in July 1888 with a given name of Yunrui and died in Taipei in August 1979. Self-taught, he only learnedThe Three-Character Classic(San Zi Jing) andThe Thousand-Character Essay(Qian Zi Wen) in his childhood. At the age of 14, Wang Yunwu began to serve as an apprenticeship in an ironware store in Shanghai while studying English at a night school. He became an English teacher at 18. He later bought an encyclopedia with 35 volumes, read it for two or three hours every day and finished the whole book three years later. That is why Wang Yunwu had encyclopedic knowledge though he had never been to a college or university. Wang Yunwu served as a professor in National Cheng-chi University, Taiwan for 13 years and more than 100 students studying for a master's degree or a doctorate under his supervision successfully graduated from the university.
Wang Yunwu was once invited to serve as a secretary to the then temporary president after 1894. In 1913, he was appointed as a government official in the Ministry of Education. Seven years later, Wang Yunwu worked with Shanghai Commercial Press under the recommendation of his student Hu Shi. He was later appointed as managing director. In 1946, he left the mainland for Taiwan and was in charge of Taiwan Commercial Printing until he died in 1979.
The publishing ofWanyou Wenku,Daxue Congshu,Congshu Jicheng,First Collectionand other books organized by Wang Yunwu has made the Commercial Press a publishing house with great contributions to Chinese contemporary culture. Wang Yunwu was also an initiator of using modern principles with the famed Four-Corner Classification System.
Wang Zhen was an agronomist and inventor of wooden movable type. He was born in East China's Shandong Province in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Wang Zhen served as an government official in Anhui and Jiangxi provinces in succession. He engaged himself in the study of farming, mulberry, maize and farming implements. Wang Zhen advocated that farmers should plant cash crops such as mulberry, cotton and hemp. He taught farmers how to plant trees and how to improve farming tools. In addition, he wrote the famous bookNong Shu(Agricultural Treatise).
During the printing ofNong Shu, China's printing techniques saw great progress and the greatest achievement was Wang Zhen's innovation in the technology of wooden movable type. He hired people to carve movable wooden types and then designed a revolving typesetting plate to store the movable types according to the order of rhymes. He made use of this technique to typeset and print books. Hence, efficiency of printing was greatly raised. Wooden movable type was very popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1840).
The Hua Family of Xishan
The Hua Family of Xishan was noted for printing with copper movable type in Xishan, Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Menorials of the Song Ministerswas produced in the Huitong Printing House set up by Hua Sui in 1490. It was the earliest Chinese book printed with movable types extant today. In addition, the Huitong Printing House printedJinxiu Wanhua Guin 1492,Rongzai Suibiin 1495 andJiujiing Yunlanin 1498.
Hua Sui's uncle printedCollected Works of Weinanwith copper movable types in 1502. The Lanxue Printing House, run by his nephew Hua Jian and his son Hua Jing, composed and printedCollected Writings of Bai Shi Chang Qing,Yiwen Leiju,Chunqiu Fanluand so on.