Woodcuts highlight ancient printing

By Deng Zhangyu ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-06-16 07:11:36

Woodcuts highlight ancient printing

The printing blocks show includes relics of wood blocks for printing of sutras in the Western Xia (1038-1227) regime. [Photo by Deng Zhangyu / China Daily]

Ancient books are today rare, but even rarer are those wooden blocks used to print books hundreds of years ago. The show of precious printing blocks at the National Museum of Classic Books, which opened last week and runs through the end of July, features a large collection of the blocks known as woodcuts. It's the first and the most comprehensive exhibition of its kind in China.

On display are 147 blocks used for printing text, images and patterns collected by more than 10 Chinese museums, libraries, institutions and private collectors. In addition, 60 ancient books published by woodblock printing are also on show.

Block printing originated from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), when Buddhist sutras were widely printed. People had to engrave characters on a block, and a book required hundreds of woodcuts to print. The world's earliest book is the Chinese scroll known as the Diamond Sutra, printed in 868 and now in the collection of the British Museum.

The earliest woodcut in the show is from the Western Xia regime (1038-1227), unearthed in 1990 in a pagoda in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region. It was used to print an interpretative book of sutras. Blocks from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) reveal important medical texts passed down from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when the spread of block printing reached its peak.

Woodcut printing was used for more than books. The technique was widely applied in daily life. Blocks in the exhibition were used to print posters, contracts, pictures for Spring Festival, marriage certificates and patterns to ward off diseases and troubles. Most blocks of this kind were used only once; they are more difficult to find than books.

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