The Birth of Papermaking
AD 105 is often cited as the year in which papermaking was invented. In that year, historical records show that the invention of paper was reported to the Chinese Emperor by Ts'ai Lun, an official of the Imperial Court. Recent archaeological investigations, however, place the actual invention of papermaking some 200 years earlier. Ancient paper pieces from the Xuanquanzhi ruins of Dunhuang in China's northwest Gansu province apparently were made during the period of Emperor Wu who reigned between 140 BC and 86 BC. Whether or not Ts'ai Lun was the actual inventor of paper, he deserves the place of honor he has been given in Chinese history for his role in developing a material that revolutionized his country.
Early Papermaking in China
Early Chinese paper appears to have been made by from a suspension of hemp waste in water, washed, soaked, and beaten to a pulp with a wooden mallet. A paper mold, probably a sieve of coarsely woven cloth stretched in a four-sided bamboo frame, was used to dip up the fiber slurry from the vat and hold it for drying. Eventually, tree bark, bamboo, and other plant fibers were used in addition to hemp.
The first real advance in papermaking came with the development of a smooth material for the mold covering, which made it possible for the papermaker to free the newly formed sheet and reuse the mold immediately. This covering was made from thin strips of rounded bamboo stitched or laced together with silk, flax, or animal hairs. Other Chinese improvements in papermaking include the use of starch as a sizing material and the use of a yellow dye which doubled as an insect repellent for manuscript paper.
Papermaking Spreads Throughout Asia
From China, papermaking moved to Korea, where production of paper began as early as the 6th century AD. Pulp was prepared from the fibers of hemp, rattan, mulberry, bamboo, rice straw, and seaweed. According to tradition, a Korean monk named Don-cho brought papermaking to Japan by sharing his knowledge at the Imperial Palace in approximately AD 610, sixty years after Buddhism was introduced in Japan. The Japanese first used paper only for official records and documentation, but with the rise of Buddhism, demand for paper grew rapidly.
Taught by Chinese papermakers, Tibetans began to make their own paper as a replacement for their traditional writing materials. The shape of Tibetan paper books still reflects the long, narrow format of the original palm-leaf books. Chinese papermakers also spread their craft into Central Asia and Persia, from which it was later introduced into India by traders. The first recorded use of paper in Samarkand dates from a battle in Turkestan, where skilled Chinese artisans were taken prisoner and forced to make paper for their captors.