Bi Sheng (Pi Sheng)

SUBJECT AREA: Paper and printing
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b. c.990 China
d. c.1051 China
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Chinese inventor of movable type for printing.
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Bi Sheng was a commoner, "a man of unofficial position". The only record of his invention is Shen Gua's writings, the Meng Qi Bi Tan (c.1088), which give a clear and complete description of the making of type, typesetting, printing and distribution of the type after printing. Each character was cut in a piece of clay and then baked hard. The type was placed in an iron frame or forme set on an iron plate coated with a sticky resin, wax and paper ash. Printing a few copies was laborious, but for 100 or 1,000 copies the process was relatively quick. Each character had several types, and the commoner ones had as many as twenty or more. No further information about the type has survived, nor has any book produced in this way. Bi Sheng died soon after his invention was made, and so he was probably unable to pass the details on to an apprentice or follower.
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Further Reading
Joseph Needham, 1985, Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. V(1) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, vols V(1), pp. 201–3; V(3), p. 187.
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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