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Early Papermaking

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Wild Paper handmade paper > handmade paper > Paper History > Early Paper

Early Paper-making in China

and the early uses of paper

Paper was used mainly for writing and for wrapping goods in early China.
1.Before paper

Writing on bone & shell and
Writing on bamboo

2.Paper used for Writing

oldest paper, oldest paper book and oldest printed paper book

3.Paper to wrap etc

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Early writing materials

Oracle bone script on ox scapula | Wild Paper handmade paper1200 BCE - Oracle bone script on ox scapula

During the Shang dynasty (1600–1050 BCE) of ancient China, bone (including ox scapulae & turtle shells) was used as a surface for writing in oracle bone script.

Bamboo slips | Wild Paper handmade paper350 BCE - Chinese manuscript written with brush on bamboo strips

By the Zhou dynasty (1050 BCE – 256 CE), documents were usually written on bamboo slips sewn and rolled into scrolls. Both bone and bamboo slips were heavy and difficult to transport. Silk was sometimes also used but was expensive.

Early map from Fangmatan | Wild Paper handmade paper150 BCE - oldest paper

By the early Western Han dynasty (early 2nd century BCE), paper started to be used for writing and started to displace bamboo. In the 4th century CE, bamboo had been largely abandoned as a writing surface.

Oldest piece of paper for writing was excavated from a tomb at Fangmatan in Gansu province, China, and dates from the early Western Han (179-41 BCE). The occupant of the tomb was buried with a paper map laid on his chest, showing mountains, waterways and roads.

Parable sutra | Wild Paper handmade paper256 CE - oldest paper book

The world’s oldest surviving paper book is the Phi YŁ Ching or "Parable sŁtra", from 256 CE, made in Liu-ho in northern Chiangsu.

Diamond Sutra 868 AD | Wild Paper handmade paper868 CE - oldest printed book

The Diamond Sutra of 868 CE is the world's earliest known printed book. It is printed with woodblock printing and shows the widespread availability and use of paper in China.

Paper used for wrapping

Hemp paper Han tomb | Wild Paper handmade paper87 BCE - oldest paper for wrapping

One of the first uses for paper was for wrapping and padding delicate or valuable objects such as bronze mirrors. It was also used for safety, including the wrapping of poisons, as noted in the Chinese Standard Histories.

Chinese hemp fibre paper used for wrapping not writing, was excavated at Xi'An, in China, from the tomb of Han Emperor Wu Di of the 2nd century BC (140-87 BCE).

Although paper used for writing became widespread by the 3rd century, paper continued to be used for wrapping and other purposes.

The Standard Histories
The Standard Histories (or “Twenty-Four Histories”) are the Chinese official history covering the period from 3000 BC to the Ming dynasty in the 17th century. They were started in 91 BCE and completed in 1739 CE.

where BCE (Before Common Era) = BC and CE (Common Era) = AD

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Last updated on 28 June 2017
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