Why no movable type revolution in Asia in the countries that have a limited number of characters?

Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 659
edited July 31 in History of Typography
We all know that the hanzi are too much in number for movable type to be feasable, but China was surrounded by countries that more or less have alphabets, abugids and so on, like Korea, Cambodia, Burma, not to mention the various Indian states. It seems peculiar that the printing press did not spark such a revolution as it it did in Europe. 

The topic has been tackled by the Web:
https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1harxt/if_east_asians_invented_movable_type_well_before/
https://www.google.com/search?q=why+no+movable+type+in+burma&rlz=1C1CHWL_bgBG867BG867&oq=why+no+movable+type+in+burma&aqs=chrome..69i57.7567j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

I would like board memebers to contribute their thoughts on this topic. Was it backwardness? Clingin to tradition? Cultural elitism? Technical issues? Religious obscurantism?

Comments

  • Aaron BellAaron Bell Posts: 77
    Um. Not sure where you got your information, but moveable type did exist in Asia, and was used, prior to Gutenberg / the European printing press. And that includes China, as well as Korea (which was printing with Chinese characters). 

    Just take a gander at the info / sources mentioned on the wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movable_type

    Why didn't it spark a revolution like in Europe? Well, in Korea at least, printing was so expensive that only the wealthy could afford it. It was much cheaper to hire scribes to duplicate a book by hand than it was to pay for printing. I expect it was much the same in China. 

    While I can't speak to other locations like you mentioned, it is worth keeping in mind that printing (as envisioned by Europe or China / Korea) requires multiple technologies to be in place—a medium for the letterforms to be replicated (be it wood block, moveable type, etc), ink that can transfer easily from medium to substrate, and a substrate that can receive it in a consistent, clean way. Without all of that in place, printing is not going to be viable. Certainly there could be other factors, but I'd expect the technical ones would be the most impactful. 
  • Hin-Tak LeungHin-Tak Leung Posts: 323
    @Vasil Stanev you really need to read some history books... Movable type existed in China in the 11/12th century, a few century before Gutenburg did it later. It was used, among other things, for printing religious texts (in this case, Buddhist texts) just like the later Gutenburg for the bible...

    The Korean alphabets were invented in the 15/16th century as a royal mandate to promote general literacy and also a somewhat political move to assert their own independence and distance themselves from Chinese influence.

    And Brahmic/Indic scripts, because of shaping requirements, don't lead themselves to movable types...
  • @Hin-Tak Leung Movable wooden types were also known and used in Europe before Gutenberg, maybe brought from Asia.

    What he really invented (or developed, improved) was the mass production of metal types (the tools, the process, the alloy), the ink and the special printing press, allowing fast printing.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,791
    Why didn't it spark a revolution like in Europe? Well, in Korea at least, printing was so expensive that only the wealthy could afford it. It was much cheaper to hire scribes to duplicate a book by hand than it was to pay for printing. I expect it was much the same in China.

    Why was printing so much more expensive in Korea than it was in Europe?
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 858
    Why was printing so much more expensive in Korea than it was in Europe?

    My guess would be that paper was much more expensive. There was a different selection of trees available.
  • Asians had more plant materials for paper available and used them long before (Korea 6th century) the Europeans (14th century). The method of paper making was the same until the use of machines (~1850).

    The movable letters of China were made from burnt clay. Casting and burning clay is not so fast and precise. Also the Asian writing systems have thousands of letters. Gutenberg used ~300 characters for his bible. For Latin script without accents ~70 characters are enough. The tools of typecasting allowed one worker to produce 4000 metal letters per day.

    Gutenberg et al. experimented with casting matrices from wooden letters using lead. Punchcutting came a bit later.

    What Gutenberg really developed alone was his printing press with a double helix, allowing an impression with one push at the lever.
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