Book Technology and Production
Traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture is primarily based on the oral transmission of written texts from one generation to the next. Throughout Tibetan history, kings and great masters have sustained these traditions by assembling and sponsoring woodblock printeries and scriptoriums for the scribing of manuscripts in both monastic and library settings. Today, both physical and digital libraries are critical to ensuring access to these rich textual traditions, while protecting their continuity.
Books in Tibet up to the fourteenth century were entirely written by hand. Such manuscripts were copied and distributed within learned circles and for use in monastery curriculums. By the year 1284, the earliest print of a Tibetan text appeared, and by the year 1407, printing presses were established in Central Tibet. These prints were based on blocks of wood that were engraved by hand in reverse Tibetan script, smothered with ink, covered with sheets of birch bark or paper, and pressed onto the block-book.
By the late 15th century, with literary works including the Life of Milarepa and others, Tibetan texts began to be mass produced and circulated. Though xylographic printing techniques were in use for the production of texts in Tibet several decades before Gutenberg’s movable type, mass printing in Tibet corresponded roughly with the Printing Revolution in Europe.
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