Asians are Either Idiots or Liars: 1
There is nothing like a controversial title to get people riled up and read my post.
So let us dissect the wikipedia entry on the printing press.
Modern paper and print technology first originated in China. In 105 A.D., Ts’ai Lun invented the process for manufacturing paper, introducing the first use in China. The paper was superior in quality to the baked clay, papyrus and parchment used in other parts of the world. By 593 A.D., the first printing press was invented in China, and the first printed newspaper was available in Beijing in 700 A.D. It was a woodblock printing. And the Diamond Sutra, the earliest known complete woodblock printed book with illustrations was printed in China in 868 A.D. Chinese printer Pi Sheng invented movable type in 1041 A.D. Additionally, Chinese inventor Liu Ching produced the first printed map in 1155 A.D.
Hmm, sounds like a good story. Note the years, though.
The mechanical systems involved were not assembled in Europe until the Holy Roman Empire by the German Johannes Gutenberg around 1441, based on existing screw presses. Gutenberg, a goldsmith by profession, developed a complete printing system, which perfected the printing process through all its stages by adapting existing technologies to printing purposes, as well as making ground-breaking inventions of his own. His newly devised hand mould made for the first time possible the precise and rapid creation of metal movable type in large quantities, a key element in the profitability of the whole printing enterprise. The mechanization of bookmaking led to the first mass production of books in history in assembly line-style.A single Renaissance printing press could produce 3,600 pages per workday,compared to forty by hand-printing and a few by hand-copying.Books of bestselling authors like Luther or Erasmus were sold by the hundred thousands in their life-time.
So which part of the Gutenberg press and associated technology was beyond the reach or ability of the chinese?
From a single point of origin, Mainz, Germany, printing spread within several decades to over two hundred cities in a dozen European countries. By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. In the 16th century, with presses spreading further afield, their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. The operation of a press became so synonymous with the enterprise of printing that it lent its name to an entire new branch of media, the press.As early as 1620, the English statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon could write that typographical printing has “changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world”.
Note the time lines and speed of adoption/ refinement. Why was it so fast in the west? It is not that they were any more technically skilled than chinese or indians. Moreover it was only in the 1800s that people started using steam-driven presses.
Any asian country could have copied the Gutenberg press, and built better ones. Making paper, typefaces and oil based inks was not exactly cutting edge stuff. The skills, abilities and resources were there for the asking.
So why did asian countries, not just east-asian ones such as china, ignore the printing press. It is certainly not for lack of contact as india and the middle-east had extensive dealings with europeans during that period. The indian and arabic alphabet systems were quite suitable for movable types.
So why didn’t they?