Wooden movable-type printing of China


Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© 2009 Culture Ministry
One of the world’s oldest printing techniques, wooden movable-type printing is maintained in Rui’an County, Zhejiang Province, where it is used in compiling and printing clan genealogies. Men are trained to draw and engrave Chinese characters, which are then set into a type-page and printed. This requires abundant historical knowledge and mastery of ancient Chinese grammar. Women then undertake the work of paper cutting and binding, until the printed genealogies are finished. The movable characters can be used time and again after the type-page is dismantled. Throughout the year, craftspeople carry sets of wooden characters and printing equipment to ancestral halls in local communities. There, they compile and print the clan genealogy by hand. A ceremony marks the completion of the genealogy, and the printers place it into a locked box to be preserved. The techniques of wooden movable-type printing are transmitted through families by rote and word of mouth. However, the intensive training required, the low income generated, popularization of computer printing technology and diminishing enthusiasm for compiling genealogies have all contributed to a rapid decrease in the number of craftspeople. At present, only eleven people over 50 years of age remain who have mastered the whole set of techniques. If not safeguarded, this traditional practice will soon disappear.