1902 Encyclopedia > China > Chinese Literature (cont.) - Invention of Brush-Pencils and of Paper; Invention of Printing.

(Part 48)


Invention of Brush-Pencils and of Paper. Invention of Printing.

Invention of Brush-Pencil and of Paper

Curiously enough it was during the reign of this uncompromising enemy to literature that the brush-pencil as at present used in China for writing purposes, was invented,—an invention which implies that about this time a substitute was found for the bamboo tablets which had up to that period served the purposes of paper. At first this new material was a kind of closely woven silk. But this was soon found to be as unsuitable for general purposes from its expense as the tablets had been from their cumbrousness ; and shortly after the establishment of the Han dynasty, when the decrees of Che Hwang-ti were reversed and every encouragement was given by the state to men of letters, the Marquis Tsae "invented the manufacture of paper from the inner bark of trees, ends of hemp, old rags, and fishing-nets." The increased facility thus afforded for the multiplication of books was eagerly taken advantage of ; and from the Annals of the Han dynasty, 206 B.C. to 25 A.D. , we learn that the imperial History of that reigning house consisted of 3123 sections on the classics, 2705 on philosophy, 1318 of poetry, 790 on military affairs, 2528 on mathematics, and 868 on medicine. But at the end of the second century an insurrection, which brought the Han dynasty to a close, gave another check to the growing literary taste. And though the then reigning emperor, in his flight from his capital at Lo-yang, attempted to carry off the contents of the imperial library, only half the books reached their destination at Chang-gan, and the remnant was shortly after given to the flames by the successful revolutionists.

Invention of Printing

Such as had been the course of literature up to this time, so it continued until the close of the 6th century, when the art of later, was invented in China. A well-known Chinese Encyclopedia tells us that on the 8th day of the 12th month of the thirteenth year of the reign of W_n-ti (593 A.D), it was ordained by a decree that the various texts in circulation should be collected, and should be engraved on wood, to be printed and published. Thus within a few years of the time when St Augustine brought the enlightening influences of Christianity to these Isles, the art of printing—a civilizing agency second only to Christianity—was made known in China. But at first comparatively little use seems to have been made of the invention, for we are told that though it made some way during the Tang (618-907) and the five following dynasties (907-960), it only arrived at its full development under the Sung dynasty (960-1127). It was during this last epoch that a further improvement was made in the art by the introduction of movable types, by a blacksmith named Pe Ching. The inventor, writes M. Julien, used to take a paste of fine and glutinous clay, and make of it regular plates of the thickness of a piece of money, on which he engraved the characters. For each character he made a type, which he hardened at the fire. He then placed an iron plate on the table, and covered it with a cement composed of resin, wax, and lime. When he wanted to print, he took an iron frame divided by perpendicular threads of the same metal, and placing it on the iron place, ranged his types in it. The plate was then held near the fire, and when the cement was sufficiently melted, a wooden boards was pressed tightly upon it, so as to render the surface of the type perfectly even. This method was neither convenient nor expeditious, so says a Chinese writers, when only a few copies of a book were to printed them off at a prodigious speed.

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