History of printing

This post is brought to you by the awestruck feeling of finding yet another underexplored bit of world history….
We all know Gutenberg wasn’t the first person to experiment with movable type; it had been tried in China before. What I hadn’t realised was just how international the world was first time round.
One of the first examples of movable type comes from the [Tangut Empire](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangut_Empire). They were printing in a [language](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangut_language) unrelated to Chinese, written in a script inspired by Chinese characters – but with a set of 6000+ totally different logograms.
And some of the first texts that they tried to print like this were buddhist text translated from Sanskrit (possibly via Tibetan).
So: this culture created a writing system inspired by the Chinese, a religion from India, and out of them developed movable type 400-odd years before Gutenberg. Impressive, no?
But, there’s a flaw. Movable type makes a lot less sense with 6000 characters than it does with an alphabet of 30-something. So for the most part, they just printed by carving wood-blocks, one per page. So when they created a Tangut version of the [Tripitaka](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripitaka), the Buddhist scriptural canon, they used 130,000 blocks. Most of them are now in London or St. Petersburg, having been raided by people like Aurel Stein. Here are some papers on Tangut history and language.

[The picture is a fragment from a written Tangur text of the Platform Sutra, taken from the British Library]

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