Volume 41, 2020
The Premodern Book in a Global Context
Printing and Publishing in East Asia through circa 1600
An Extremely Brief Survey
The history of book culture and printing in East Asia shows how different cultures that used the same manuscript and print techniques to produce many of the same books in the same language (Chinese) developed distinctive book cultures. This essay focuses on China and compares its book culture with those of Korea and Japan, from the inception of woodblock printing around the late seventh century until about 1600. Other peoples were also heavily influenced throughout history by Chinese culture in East Asia and Inner Asia, such as the Mongols, Khitans, Tanguts, and Uighurs. We should note, however, that some of the peoples in this vast area adopted and modified the Chinese writing system, even if their languages were very different from Chinese. They also used printing technologies from China—both woodblock and movable type, often within a century of the development of a writing system for their own languages. The history of the uses of printing technologies and their adoption and adaptation in different cultures therefore helps us understand the nature of technologies in general.