Artifact Spotlight–Chinese Printing

Chinese Printing Block

This original Chinese Printing Block dates back to the 19th century and, interestingly enough, is from Korea.  Made out of wood, the printing reads a mourning essay and prose honoring a deceased friend.


Block Printing:

Block printing, before the advent of moveable type, gave society the ability to produce and circulate mass propaganda; however, because of the tireless work of carving, wood blocks were only extensively used for printing concise material as in the case of this printing block—a mourning essay and prose in honor of a deceased friend.

“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” (Lee).

It is widely held that the inspiration for such printing came from the earlier use of clay, bronze, or stone seals (The Invention). Although Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing movable type in 1439, it was utilized much earlier, not by the Europeans, but by the Chinese during the Ch’ing-li period (1041-1048). However, even with this invention, the use of movable type was difficult because of Chinese’s complicated alphabet system. In order to use this system of printing, thousands of individual blocks would have been needed. Four hundred years later, Gutenberg’s rendition using German (a relatively simple Romantic language), took off.


“The Invention of Woodblock Printing in the Tang (618–906) and Song (960–1279) Dynasties.” Asian Art Museum. Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Lee. “Printing.” Silkroad Foundation, 2000. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.

Aciihmnh. “The Art of Chinese Traditional Woodblock Printing.” Heritage Museum. 1995. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.


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