Printing before Gutenberg: Buddhist and Daoist Woodblock Prints from China

AHA Session 33
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Tremont Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Valerie Hansen, Yale University
Cynthia J. Brokaw, Brown University

Session Abstract

Each speaker will focus on a single image that captures a moment in the history of woodblock printing in East Asia, each tied to Buddhism or Daoism, and so relating to the AHA theme of society and the sacred. We begin with the earliest extant example of printed matter, which survives in Japan and Korea: a small prayer sheet, most likely from 700 AD (Hansen, chair’s introduction). Circa 900, printers produced larger sheets of paper that combined prayers with images (Denise Foerster). Printers continued to perfect their techniques; Fan Zhang will introduce a printed sheet showing beauties – or perhaps women actors portraying famous women of the past – that was printed in Shanxi but traveled all the way to Karakhoto, on the edge of Inner Mongolia, where it was placed in a Buddhist stupa in 1100 and only discovered in the early twentieth century. By 1200 the Chinese were producing large sets – called canons in East Asia – of multiple volumes of books. Hyunhee Park will analyze a map from the Buddhist canon; Wang Jinping will consider an early Daoist canon. Our commentator, Cynthia Brokaw of Brown University, has published extensively on Chinese woodblock printing.

           This panel is aimed at two audiences: Asian and non-Asian historians. Asian historians will learn about the impact of printing done from a talented group of graduate students and assistant professors. Non-Asian historians can learn about the advances in Asian printing at the same time the panelists consider the conference theme from a non-European perspective.

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