One of World’s Oldest Books Printed in Multi-Color Now Opened & Digitized for the First Time

Manual of Calligraphy and Painting2

Now free for the world to see on the Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Dig­i­tal Library are some trea­sures from the library’s Chi­nese col­lec­tions. Fire up that time machine called the Inter­net, and you can start perus­ing:

  • The ora­cle bones (pieces of ox shoul­der blades and tur­tle shells used for div­ina­tion in ancient Chi­na) which impor­tant­ly bear the ear­li­est sur­viv­ing exam­ples of Chi­nese writ­ing. They’re over three thou­sand years old.
  • A dig­i­ti­za­tion of one of the world’s ear­li­est print­ed books (Mahapra­j馻-parami­ta-sutra or Per­fec­tion of Wis­dom), a Bud­dhist text dat­ing between 1127 and 1175.
  • 14th-cen­tu­ry ban­knote. Accord­ing to Cam­bridge, “Paper cur­ren­cy first appeared in Chi­na dur­ing the 7th cen­tu­ry, and was in wide cir­cu­la­tion by the 11th cen­tu­ry, 500 years before its first use in Europe.”

But what’s been burn­ing up the Inter­net dur­ing the past few days (large­ly thanks to Hyper­al­ler­gic) is the dig­i­ti­za­tion of the Man­u­al of Cal­lig­ra­phy and Paint­ing.

Manual of Calligraphy and Painting1

Made in 1633 in Nan­jing, the Man­u­al of Cal­lig­ra­phy and Paint­ing is note­wor­thy part­ly because “It is the ear­li­est and finest exam­ple of mul­ti-colour print­ing any­where in the world, com­pris­ing 138 paint­ings and sketch­es with asso­ci­at­ed texts by fifty dif­fer­ent artists and cal­lig­ra­phers.” And part­ly because “The bind­ing is so frag­ile, and the man­u­al so del­i­cate, that until it was dig­i­tized, we have nev­er been able to let any­one look through it or study it – despite its undoubt­ed impor­tance to schol­ars,” says Charles Aylmer, Head of the Chi­nese Depart­ment at Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Library.

Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu2

Begin your dig­i­tal tour of the 388-page Man­u­al here (or see a few sam­ples above) and be among the first to lay eyes on it.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic/Book Patrol/Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Library

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