May 11 - First Printed Book (Possibly?)

    Posted on May 11, 2022

This is an update of my post published on May 11, 2011:

Sometimes people wonder when the first book was printed. They might vaguely remember something about the Gutenberg Bible, which was first printed around 1450. But there were printed books earlier than that in Asia.

The problem is, not only is the question tricky because we have to define the word printed, but it is also almost certainly impossible to answer. We have some very old books that have survived until modern times—but isn't it possible that the very FIRST printed book has fallen into ruin or otherwise been destroyed? Not only is it possible, it seems incredibly probable. Another problem is that we have some very, very old books that may be older than the first book that is dated—but those very old books are not dated, so we don't know which is oldest.

So, today's anniversary is of the first survivingdated printed book. The honor goes to the Diamond Sutra, which was made with a 16-foot scroll with six large “pages” or sheets of text, plus one picture, and it was printed from laboriously carved wood blocks. The sheets measured 12 inches by 30 inches!

The scroll was dated “the fifteenth of the fourth moon of the ninth year of Xian Long” – which is the equivalent of May 11, 868 CE (or AD)--almost 600 years before the Gutenberg Bible! 

The Diamond Sutra is a Buddhist scripture. Even though Buddhism started in India, this scripture is written in Chinese and was discovered in a cave in Northern China. By the way, the discovery was made by a Hungarian archeologist, and the scroll is now located in the British Museum!

If you are wondering about the picture, it is thought to be an illustration of the Buddha surrounded by his disciples and two cats.

Make Prints!

Printmaking is a very interesting art form. For little kids, try string block printing or roller printing

Kinder Art has a variety of fascinating projects in printmaking! It would be fun to try several and compare.


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