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Last of the old style Chinese printers

12-15-2011 09:45 BJT

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Invented in 1041, it is one of the four great ancient Chinese inventions. The old-style of printing texts used characters individually sculpted on wood seals.

You would think that this ancient method had long since been replaced by ink-jet and laser printers. But our reporter Ma Zechen takes us to a small village in East China's Jiangxi Province where local residents are still hanging on to their brushes and knives.

In this seemingly ordinary house is an extraordinary treasure that can't be found anywhere else. The secret of old-style Chinese printing. Composed of thousands of tiny seals, the plates cover almost all the frequently used characters. But this is no dusty old museum, but a storehouse containing finished works. But where are their owners?

In this old temple 10 km away from the workshop, the artisans busy with their latest project, printing a genealogy book for a local family. The knives and brushes are all self-made and the working conditions are a far cry from a modern workshop.

The team is led by Jiang Zhixing. He's in charge of crafting the detachable characters, while two other people choose the required characters and set them up for printing.

In a small village in East China's Jiangxi Province, local residents are still hanging on
to their brushes and knives.

The characters are arranged in the proper order and the ones used most frequently have several duplicates. The method is almost the same as that used a thousand years ago. Ink is brushed on the plate and then the paper is applied. The result looks as perfect as that from a modern printer, but added beauty from its intricate calligraphy and historical significance.

Jiang Zhixing, old-style Chinese printer, said, "I began to learn to sculpt with my uncle in 1984 and was capable of doing it myself after three years. Now I work as a genealogy book restorer. We can finish seven or eight pages per month and normally it takes at least ninety days to complete a book with about forty pages."

It all starts with the preparation of the Xuanzhi, a kind of Chinese traditional paper, cut to exact specifications. Then, the characters are written in calligraphy on a seal made from the wood of pear tree. Even though the form of the sculptor's tool cannot compare to that of a machine, it nonetheless has excellent accuracy as it carves out the material.

In a small village in East China's Jiangxi Province, local residents are still hanging on
to their brushes and knives.

After years of practice, it only takes four minutes for Mr. Jiang to finish a single seal. But he admits it's proving difficult to find an heir.

Jiang Zhixing said, "Now that more and more young people go to work in the cities and that a long period is needed to acquire the technique, its not easy to find someone who can take on the task. We must teach them patiently and guide them generally. Most of all, you need to have an apprentice who really wants to learn it."

The old-style printers aren't the only ones with these concerns. Many Chinese traditional technologies are on their way to extinction, as the young pursue their fortunes in modern industries, rather than taking the time to learn this less profitable technique. While moving rapidly toward the future, will China end up forgetting its past? Only time will tell.

In a small village in East China's Jiangxi Province, local residents are still hanging on
to their brushes and knives.



Editor:Liu Fang |Source: CNTV.CN

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