Printing Technologies


Given the time and resources necessary to reproduce the complex rime tables by hand, how could those in the Song Dynasty reproduce them in large numbers while keeping costs down?  



Woodblock printing, which first appeared in China around 600 AD, greatly streamlined the mass production of texts and images. The idea was likely inspired by the use of seals and inked rubbings off of stone stele reliefs. This process for block printing on paper was perfected by the end of the Tang Dynasty.




Each wooden printing block was hand-carved and when a character broke off or became damaged, it could not be repaired.



The Movable Woodblock Printing Press was invented by Bi Sheng (990–1051 AD). Before this time, wood plates would need to be re-carved in full each time a character broke (which happened often). With Bi Sheng’s invention, printers only needed to switch out a single block of movable type, which improved the speed and lowered the cost of printing, allowing for a wider circulation of rime tables across the empire and beyond. 


How do you organize the thousands of Chinese characters needed to create printing plates?



The rotating print case was invented in 1298 AD by Wang Zhen, a Yuan Dynasty government official who organized the characters by their rimes (vowels and tones). A printer could spin and bend the tabletop to select characters more quickly and efficiently. This technology has been adapted in the print case you see here to organize Song Dynasty English into its consonants (outer circle) and vowels (inner circle).


Print top table.