Wooden movable-type printing of China
Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding
- Wooden movable-type printing of China
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.
- Nomination form: English|French
- Consent of communities: English
- Consent of communities - Consent of communities: Chinese/English
Decision 5.COM 5.3
The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:
- U1: The knowledge and skills of wooden movable-type printing have been handed down for many generations in Rui’an County, constituting a source of local pride and identity; the tradition maintains its viability through its association with clan genealogies that are themselves written repositories of community cultural memory;
- U2: The complexity of the artisanal skills and the deep knowledge of Chinese history and language required to practise the tradition are daunting to younger generations, and the continuity and future transmission of the element are therefore threatened; competition from digital printing technologies further puts the wooden movable-type printing at serious risk;
- U3: Safeguarding measures have been elaborated, focusing most urgently on strengthening transmission from elder master printers to younger people, and aiming to enable the community concerned to continue practising movable wooden-type printing in the future;
- U4: The nomination resulted from close collaboration between State officials and the master practitioners of movable-type printing, and the latter have given their free, prior and informed consent to it;
- U5: In June 2008, upon approval of China’s State Council, wooden movable-type printing was included in the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage administered by the Department of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.
© 2009 Culture Ministry
These videos (and many more) can also be consulted through the UNESCO Archives Multimedia website