Movable type printing is one of the four great inventions in China and symbolizes the great technological revolution in printing history. In the Song dynasty, Bi Sheng invented the clay movable type, which marks the birth of movable type printing. Almost 250 years old later, Wang Zhen successful created wooded type and revolving table typecase.
According to the historical records, Bi Sheng was a craftsman for woodblock printing in North Song Dynasty. Since his longtime working experience, he found that the drawback of the woodblock printing is that it requires to re-engraved every time for each book. It not only wastes a lot of time but also increase the cost. But if change it to the movable type, it only needs to crave one movable type once and use repeatedly. By this revelation, Bi Sheng invented the clay movable type.
Bi Sheng tested wooden type printing. Due to the uneven density of wood texture, difficulty engraving, easily deformed after wetting water and easily stick with agent layer and other reason. He failed. After repeated experiments, clay was chosen as main material to make same specification cube. And each cube only was engraved each inverted word on one side surface and only one coin thickness. Then using the hard fire roasted. In order to meet the needs for the type words, some high-frequency use words usually are prepared with dozens just in case it will appear multiple times in the same article. But for those rarely use words, if not prepare in advance, the craftsman can make a new one and use it immediately. Priority to typesetting, it needs an iron board full of the grid as the base, then applies the layer with the turpentine, wax and paper dust at the top. When printing, putting the iron frame on the iron plate, and arrange the font closely. Each plate will be a single plate and then hold it close to the fire. When rosin and other objects begin to melt, taking a tablet to flatten its surface and waiting for agent cooled and solidified. As a result, the pattern on the board is flat as a whetstone.
This invention is especially quickly when printing dozens or even thousands of books. Usually, the craftsman will prepare two iron plate. Two iron plates are alternating use: one is being printed and the other is already typeset. The printing method is also easy. As long as brush the ink and covered with paper and add a certain amount of pressure. The printing is finished. After finishing printing roasted the agent layer and gently shaking the hand, the movable type can easily fall from the iron plate, and then put back to the wooded grid storage for restoring and ready for next reuse.
After Bi Sheng died, movable type printing has been popularized in the whole country. After 250 years later, Wang Zhen invented wooden movable type printing. Wang Zhen is a great inventor in Yuan dynasty. The wooden movable type printing is a technical improvement which is based on Bi Sheng’s clay movable printing. In order to publish his book Nong Shu earlier, Wang Zhen improved Bi Sheng’s invention and successfully invent the wooden type printing technology. Also, he invented the revolving table typecase for craftsman easily to pick words instead of keeping walking around. It can be a summarize in seven steps: write the rhyme and engrave the words, hollow up the words and changing the mistake, make revolving table typecase, check words, typeset, brush ink and print and classification.
In the 1980s, archaeologists found Buddhist scriptures and amanuensis in wooden movable type printing in Xixia period in Gansu province. It indicates that 100 years after published movable type printing, this technique has spread to the remote minority area. At the end of the 14th century, movable type printing was transmitted to Korea, as well as to Japan and Southeast Asian countries, and then to the Middle East and Europe through the Silk Road. And it was four hundred years earlier when German Johannes Gutenberg uses mental type to print Bible in the mid-15th century.
There is a short video about movable type printing below.
“CCTV.com.” Unofficial position Bi Sheng, 30 May 2015, tv.cntv.cn/video/C39295/de6accb535404282a48e12d395e3f255.
Shen, Kuo. Meng xi bi tan: Publisher not identified.
“WangZhen.” Wang Zhen-Research- China Printing Museum, www.printingmuseum.cn/Wap/Collection/Details/7ce616dc-97d4-42c8-b5c3-9b0e4d78af32.
“Wooden movable type printing.” China Printing Museum, China Printing Museum, www.printingmuseum.cn/News/Details/db94375f-8c35-4a58-a3e5-6bc90266ff28#comehere.