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 Museum Explorer

Tools and technology in Asia

Woodblock print

Height: 40.000 cm (printed area)
Width: 26.500 cm (printed area)
Height: 40.000 cm (printed area)
Width: 26.500 cm (printed area)

Asia OA 1919.1-1.0245

Woodblock print

From: Cave 17, Dunhuang, China
Date: AD 947

The Chinese invented printing hundreds of years before it was discovered in the West. Before this, books had to be copied out by hand, which was very hard work. This page shows one of the very earliest examples of woodblock printing, where the shape of a letter or a picture is carved into a wooden block. This is then dipped into ink and used to print with.

This picture was found alongside the world’s earliest dated printed book, which is called The Diamond Sutra. The tall man in the middle is the Buddhist king Vaishravana, the Guardian King of the North. He is standing on the hands of the Earth Goddess, with other gods and spirits beside him. The writing underneath is a kind of spell, asking Vaishravana for his help.