“cartloads of books” e-publishing

There is a Chinese saying describing a brilliant scholar as having read “five cartloads of books”. In Confucius’ era, heavy bamboo or wood strips were the medium of publication, today its e-publications.

Published in English by the Foreign Languages Press, From Oracle Bones to E-Publications: Three Millennia of Publishing in China has aroused keen interest.

The book consists of five parts: the era of oracle bones, bamboo and silk; the era of books handwritten on paper; the hand printing era; the mechanized printing era; and application of modern digital technology and new forms of publishing.

Bamboo and wood media publications were extant for the longest period and were responsible for classic works such as Confucius’ The Analects, Laotzu’s Classic of the Way and Virtue, and Suntzu’s The Art of War.

Paper-making and printing were two of the great contributions of China to the world. It is generally assumed that Cai Lun of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) was the inventor of plant-fiber paper; though some archaeologists believe China’s papermaking technology originated in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25).

Bi Sheng in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) invented movable clay printing. He formed characters, in relief, in clay, and then fired the pieces to harden them. The formed characters were then added to a frame for printing. In the following dynasties, printers turned the clay type-pieces into wood or metal ones. Such printing technology lasted in China until the early 1980s.

This method of printing led to the compilation and publication of classics such as Yongle Encyclopedia of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Complete Library of the Four Treasures of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Beginning in 1840, Western powers entered China and provoked violent social and cultural changes. Influenced by advanced Western publishing, China’s traditional publishing slowly transformed. In the early 20th century, a modern publishing industry took shape. The two representative publishers were the Commercial Press, founded in 1897, and the Zhonghua Book Company, founded in 1912.

In the 1950s, the publishing industry made rapid progress. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, the industry declined due to political and economic reasons. The printing technology gap between China and the West also widened. As developed countries started to use laser photo typesetting, China was still using letterpresses.

Thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up in 1978, China’s publishers began to accept new publishing ideas and import new printing equipment and technologies from developed countries.

The invention of Chinese character laser photo typesetting technology enabled China’s publishing industry to leave behind the “hot metal” age and enter the age of “light and electronics” to realize digital printing. The pioneer was Wang Xuan, a professor at Peking University.

Publishing on demand has made the industry more individualized and market-oriented. Yet, despite the new tide of e-publications, traditional paper books still dominate book markets, partly because elderly readers retain their reading habits and partly because e-publications are still being developed.

Entering the 21st century, Chinese publishers are eager to draw on advanced foreign culture and promote Chinese civilization. Copyright trading and cooperative publishing have borne abundant fruit.

While China has imported excellent books from foreign countries, it has also exported a large number of publications about Chinese civilization. National publishers have showcased their best works to visitors from around the world at international events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair, London Book Fair and BookExpo America.

The timely release of From Oracle Bones to E-Publications will help readers come to grips with China’s publishing history and its current state.

Source: China Daily

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