O que é este blog?

Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org. Para a maior parte de meus textos, ver minha página na plataforma Academia.edu, link: https://itamaraty.academia.edu/PauloRobertodeAlmeida;

Meu Twitter: https://twitter.com/PauloAlmeida53

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paulobooks

quarta-feira, 26 de maio de 2021

So, Gutenberg Didn’t Actually Invent Printing As We Know It - Sophia Newman (Literary Hub)

So, Gutenberg Didn’t Actually Invent Printing As We Know ItSo, Gutenberg Didn’t Actually Invent Printing As We Know It

On the Unsung Chinese and Korean History of Movable Type

If you heard one book called “universally acknowledged as the most important of all printed books,” which do you expect it would be?

If you were Margaret Leslie Davis, the answer would be obvious. Davis’s The Lost GutenbergThe Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey, released this March, begins with just that descriptor. It recounts the saga of a single copy of the Gutenberg Bible—one of the several surviving copies of the 450-year-old Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg, the putative inventor of the printing press, in one of his earliest projects—through a 20th-century journey from auction house to collector to laboratory to archive.

Davis quotes Mark Twain, who wrote, in 1900, a letter celebrating the opening of the Gutenberg Museum. For Davis, Twain’s words were “particularly apt.” “What the world is to-day,” Twain wrote, “good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg. Everything can be traced to this source. . . .” Indeed, Gutenberg’s innovation has long been regarded an inflection point in human history—an innovation that opened the door to the Protestant Reformation, Renaissance, the scientific revolution, the advent of widespread education, and a thousand more changes that touch nearly everything we now know.


In a traditional printing press, small metal pieces with raised backwards letters, known as movable type, are arranged in a frame, coated with ink, and applied to a piece of paper. Take the paper away, and it’s a printed page. Do this with however many pages make up a book, and there’s a printed copy. Do this many times, and swiftly printed, mass-produced books appear.

The printing press is often said to have been created by Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, around 1440 AD, and it began taking root in Europe in the 1450s with the printing of the aforementioned Bible. Books themselves had been present in Europe long before then, of course, but only in hand-copied volumes that were accessible mainly to members of the clergy. Access to mass-produced books revolutionized Europe in the late 1400s, with advancing literacy altering religion, politics, and lifestyles worldwide.

“What the world is to-day,” Twain wrote, “good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg. Everything can be traced to this source.”

At least, this is how the story is rendered in most books, including, for the most part, The Lost Gutenberg. But a single sentence late in the book nods to a much longer story before that: “Movable type was an 11th-century Chinese invention, refined in Korea in 1230, before meeting conditions in Europe that would allow it to flourish—in Europe, in Gutenberg’s time.”

That sentence downplays and misstates what occurred.

The first overtures towards printing that began around roughly 800 AD, in China, where early printing techniques involving chiseling an entire page of text into a wood block backwards, applying ink, and printing pages by pressing them against the block. Around 971 AD, printers in Zhejiang, China, produced a print of a vast Buddhist canon called the Tripitaka with these carved woodblocks, using 130,000 blocks (one for each page). Later efforts would create early movable type—including the successful but inefficient use of ideograms chiseled in wood and a brief, abortive effort to create ceramic characters.

Meanwhile, imperial imports from China brought these innovations to Korean rulers called the Goryeo (the people for whom Korea is now named), who were crucial to the next steps in printing history. Their part of the story is heavy with innovation in the face of invasion.

First, in 1087 AD, a group of nomads called the Khitans attempted to invade the Korean peninsula. This prompted the Goryeo government to create its own Tripitaka with woodblock printing, perhaps with the aim of preserving Korean Buddhist identity against invaders. The attempt would be prescient; it preserved the concept and technique for later years, when more invaders eventually arrived. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan had created the largest empire in human history, which stretched from the Pacific coast of Asia west to Persia. After he died in 1227, his successor, Ögedei Khan, continued conquering, including gaining ground that Genghis Khan had never held. In 1231, Ögedei ordered the invasion of Korea, and in 1232, invading Mongol troops reached the capital. As part of their conquering, they burned the Korean copy of the Tripitaka to ash.

The Goryeo dynasty immediately recreated the book. This is thought to have been “as prayers to the power of Buddhas for the protection of the nation from the invading Mongols,” per a text by Thomas Christensen, but it was also done with the intention of preserving the dynasty’s culture. This was important; attacks by Mongols would continue for the next 28 years.

Perhaps it should be Choe Yun-ui whose name we remember, not Gutenberg’s.

It is important to recognize what this means. The innovation that Johannes Gutenberg is said to have created was small metal pieces with raised backwards letters, arranged in a frame, coated with ink, and pressed to a piece of paper, which allowed books to be printed more quickly. But Choe Yun-ui did that—and he did it 150 years before Gutenberg was even born.

Perhaps it should be Choe Yun-ui whose name we remember, not Gutenberg’s.

However, Korea’s printed books did not spread at a rapid pace, as Gutenberg’s books would 200 years later. Notably, Korea was under invasion, which hampered their ability to disseminate their innovation. In addition, Korean writing, then based closely on Chinese, used a large number of different characters, which made creating the metal pieces and assembling them into pages a slow process. Most importantly, Goryeo rulers intended most of its printing projects for the use of the nobility alone.

To get from East Asia to Persia at that time, one traveled the Silk Road. In the middle of that route lay the homeland of the Uyghur people, a Turkic ethnic group that had been recruited into the Mongol army long before. “If there was any connection in the spread of printing between Asia and the West,” the scholar Tsien Tsuen-Hsien wrote in Science and Civilization in China in 1985, “the Uyghurs who used both blocking printing and movable type had good opportunities to play an important role in this introduction.”

This is because, in the 13th century, Uyghurs were considered distinguished, learned people—the sort for whom printing might be a welcome innovation. They had also something no one else in printing had had up till then: an alphabet, a simple group of relatively few letters for writing every word one wished to say.

Furthermore, the Mongols may have carried the technology not only through Uyghur and Persian territory, but into Europe, including Germany. The Mongol empire repeatedly invaded Europe from roughly 1000 to 1500 AD; that period saw the entry of enough Western Asian recruits and captives to bring the loanword horde from their Turkic languages into European ones. “Generally, if something is going from East Asia [to the west], it would be hard to imagine without the Mongols,” Christopher Atwood, a Central Eurasian Studies professor at Indiana University, said in an interview.

The fantastical idea that Gutenberg alone invented the printing press ignores an entire continent and several centuries of relevant efforts.


Indeed, the entire history of the printing press is riddled with gaps. Gutenberg did not tell his own story in documents created on the printing presses he built; to the best of modern knowledge, he did not leave any notes on his work at all. And if Gutenberg was reticent, the Mongols, their Uyghur compatriots, and Eastern Asia government heads were even more so.

But if doubts are natural, then the result we’ve made of them is not. The fantastical idea that Gutenberg alone invented the printing press ignores an entire continent and several centuries of relevant efforts and makes no effort to understand how or why technology might have spread. During a study of Gutenberg’s lettering techniques, computer programmer Blaise Agṻera y Arcas pointed out how strange this is: “The idea that a technology emerges fully formed at the beginning is nuts. Anyone who does technology knows that’s not how it works.”

Indeed, she never explains that the Gutenberg Bible is not universally acclaimed as the most important book in history. Nor are copies of the Bible the oldest books created with movable type that still exist today—although a reader could be forgiven for gathering that impression from The Lost Gutenberg.

Korea regards it and other ancient volumes as national points of pride that rank among the most important of books. But it is only very recently, mostly in the last decade, that their viewpoint and the Asian people who created printing technologies have begun to be acknowledged at all. Most people—including Davis, who declined an interview with the remark, “I’m afraid I can’t really add much further on the topic of ancient printing”—still don’t know the full story.

M. Sophia Newman
M. Sophia Newman is a writer and medical editor from Chicago. As a health journalist, she reported from Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and France, and has received grants from the International Thomas Merton Society, Collegeville Institute, and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. In addition, Sophia has researched mental health in Bangladesh under a Fulbright fellowship and earned a certification in global mental health from the Harvard Program on Refugee Trauma.

Nenhum comentário: