On the first day of the Chinese New Year, these pages from a book purchased for Swem Library with support from the Vinyard Endowment Fund serve as an excellent reminder of the connection between printing and calligraphy. The character visible behind the printed page was actually brushed in by hand, so the book in question is unique despite being part of a print run. Just as in the early days of European printing, when books were finished by hand with colorful initials and flourishes, so this book reminds us that even in our modern world, the production of printed books is not totally divorced from the handmade or the individual.
Today this book is also a reminder of the long history of printing before Johannes Gutenberg’s efforts in the 1450s. The oldest dated printed book in the world comes to us from Tang Dynasty China (618-907). Found in a cave on the Silk Road, it is dated 868, but it is a product of at least two centuries of earlier printing history. Movable type was invented later, under the Song dynasty (960-1279, the successor to the Tang dynasty) around the year 1000. The first invention of movable type, then, was four centuries before Gutenburg created his movable metallic type in Mainz.
This book reminds us that the transmission of ideas through printing stretches deep into our collective past, and began in same civilization that produced this poem celebrating the birth of the new year and looking to the future.