Modern paper making methods are attributed to Cai Lun, a member of the Chinese royal court, in 105 A.D. Prior to his invention, books were bulky, heavy, and inconvenient for scholars to travel with. Cai Lun’s technique utilized worn fishnet, bark, and cloth, and the resulting paper was light, easy to write and paint on, relatively inexpensive to produce, and durable.
Portrait of Cai Lun
Cai Lun’s invention proved popular and useful, and found great favor within the royal house. The different regions of China eventually generated paper made with ingredients from that specific area, and were prized for their unique qualities. Wenzhou Juan paper, made from pickled bamboo, was used to print money and official documents. “Juan” in the name of the paper apparently signifies that the papermakers did not have to pay taxes on their business.
The following is an old recipe for making Wenzhou Juan Paper, using the pickled bamboo method:
“First step. To take off the bamboo’s leaves and cut the bamboo into approximately one meter. Then, split the bamboo into strips & tie up into the bundles. The workers called this ‘Sha.’
Second step. To put these bamboo bundles under the blazing sun in order to make them dry.
Third step. To put these bamboo bundles into a stone pond full of quicklime and press them with big stones. This stone pond can hold the capacity of 1,500 kg. of the bamboo bundles.
Fourth step. After 3-5 months, take the bamboo bundles out and put them under the sun for drying and then put them into clean water to wash the lime away and be ready for use. We call this process ‘pickling bamboo’.
Fifth step. To put the pickled bamboo into the pit of the water power trip hammer, which is a simple hydraulic tool with a big water wheel driven by water and rotating as a turbine. It can propel a four-meter long wooden hammer slightly to crush the pickled bamboo into golden, fluff pulp. We call this process ‘smashing the bamboo bundle’, which is the only step in which the workers can use external force in the entire traditional method of papermaking.
Sixth step. To put the fluff pulp into the stone pond with clean water and stir it completely and drain the water. It becomes the pulp. We call this process ‘stirring the fluff pulp’.
Seventh step. To put the pulp into clean water and stir up thoroughly and use the sieve, which was made of small bamboo strips and scoop out the paper membrane. Then, to pile up these paper membranes and use a wooden board to squeeze out the water. We call this process ‘scooping out paper’.
Eighth step. To depart and dry the paper. The piled paper membranes are very easily broken. Usually, this work should be done by female workers who are clever and deft and careful. After taking the membrane from the piles, the women workers had to put it on the absolute level ground or on the wall for drying.”
This is apparently the same paper making method first utilized by Cai Lun, 1,897 years ago. The Chinese exported their paper making methods to Korea in 384, and in 610 a Korean monk brought his paper making knowledge to Japan. During a war between the Arab Empire and the Tang Dynasty, (the battle of Tallas – 751 AD), paper making workers and Tang soldiers were captured by the Arabs, who used the paper workers to set up a paper making factory in Bagdad. The Muslim paper makers substituted linen for mulberry bark, whereby linen rags were shredded, soaked in water, and fermented. The rags were then boiled, and beaten into pulp by using a trip hammer, which was an improvement initiated by the Arab papermakers. Baghdad became a center of paper making in the Muslim world, and paper mills in Damascus became a major source of paper for European countries. The increase in supply contributed to paper’s affordability, which allowed bookmaking to flourish.
The tools and technique of making paper leaf depicted in a volume illustrating crafts and trades, Kashmir (Source)
British Library: Making Islamic-style paper
From the Middle East, paper production moved west incrementally, with the first African paper mill founded in Egypt around 850 A.D., which is slightly less than a thousand years ago. From Egypt, papermaking spread to Morocco, and then reached Spain by 950. After landing in Spain, paper continued its world tour, landing in Sicily, where it was put to great use by the Christians in their quest to spread the teachings of the Bible. By 1293, Bologna had their first paper mill, and sixteen years later, England joined the paper brigade. Germany finally joined the ranks of paper producing countries by 1322 in Dordrecht, spreading to Nuremberg by 1390. From there, Poland was making paper by 1491, and Russian papermakers were in Moscow by 1578.
With the spread of easy, efficient, and inexpensive methods for producing paper, information and a wealth of knowledge was disseminated throughout much of the world, leading to the Renaissance in Europe, from which many cultural and industrial advances spread. The mapmakers of Europe added to the age of discovery, mapping the vast oceans of the world as well as newly ‘discovered’ continents. Paper changed the world.
A 1475 woodcut world map, published in Rudimentum novitiorum. PUBLIC DOMAIN
A 13th-century depiction of the world as a circle divided by into three continents, Asia, Europe, and Africa. BRITISH LIBRARY/ PUBLIC DOMAIN
Barrett, T. (1992). Japanese papermaking: Traditions, tools, and techniques (2nd ed.). New York: Weatherhill. (Original work published 1983)
Barrett, T. (2012). Paper through time: Nondestructive analysis of 14th- through 19th-century papers. Retrieved from the University of Iowa, Institute of Museum and Library Services: http://paper.lib.uiowa.edu/index.php
· Bloom J.M. (2017) Papermaking: The Historical Diffusion of an Ancient Technique. In: Jöns H., Meusburger P., Heffernan M. (eds) Mobilities of Knowledge. Knowledge and Space, vol 10. Springer, Cham Open Access Chapter First Online: 17 January 2017
THE HISTORY OF ANCIENT PAPER MAKING AT WENZHOU AREA, ZHEJIANG, CHINA Pan Mengbu, Senior Research Librarian, Wenzhou City Library, China, and Zhang Yongsu, Associate Research Librarian, Wenzhou City Library,China
The Chinese symbol for paper: