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A Chinese Printing Pioneer

( Originally Published 1927 )



It appears that the first attempt known to exercise a crude sort of stereotyping was made in China; however, the method used was later lost and never introduced in Europe. In the year 1041 a Chinese blacksmith, named PI-SHENG, invented a method of printing with plates, called "ho-pan", or with plates formed of movable types—this name being still preserved to designate the plates used in the Government Printing Office in Pekin. The method employed by Pi-Sheng is interesting. He made a paste of fine glutinous earth, forming regular plates of the thickness of a Chinese piece, of money called "tsien", and engraved upon them the characters most in use, making a type for each character. He then baked these types by the heat of a fire in order to harden them. He then placed upon the table a plate of iron, and covered it with a coat of very fusible mastic, composed of rosin, wax and line. When he wished to print, he took an iron frame sub-divided by narrow perpendicular bars of the same metal—the Chinese writing from above downwards. This frame was placed upon the iron plate, and the types were then arranged upon it, pressed closely together. Each frame thus filled with type formed one plate or page. The plate being heated at the fire sufficiently to soften the mastic, a smooth piece of wood, serving as a planer, was then placed upon the composition, and the type was fixed into the mastic by pressure. By using two of these forms alternately, the impression of each page was produced with great rapidity. When the printing from a plate was completed, it was heated again to soften the mastic, and the types were brushed by hand, detaching them from each other and freeing them easily from the mastic. When Pi-Sheng died, so says the Chinese Chronicler, his friends, who inherited his type, preserved them as very precious, but discontinued the practice with them. Pi-Sheng had no successor and in the course of time the invention was lost.



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