A Printing Millenary

Just over a thousand years ago Chinese printers completed the publication of the Confucian Classics—an event as important in the history of civilization as the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. By Adrian L. Julian.

Last year we commemorated the quincentenary of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, an event that is often said to have inaugurated the Western Renaissance. Yet an anniversary of perhaps even greater importance in the history of civilization has hitherto been overlooked: the millenary of the completion of the printing of Confucian Classics, a vast enterprise that was begun in a.d. 932 and finished in a.d. 953.

Modern scholars are coming to recognize that when Constantinople fell to the Turks, the Renaissance in the West had already begun, and that its real starting point was the printing of the Gutenberg Bible; for it is printing that has made possible almost every feature in which modern civilization differs from those of antiquity: rapid scientific progress; universal education; the democratic and yet efficient government of complex societies. If Gutenberg himself owed much to his Chinese predecessors as we owe to him, the year 953 is a date not only of great importance in Chinese history but in the history of the Western World as well.

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