Chinese book culture’s political history was reciprocally affected by both the epistemology of its society, and the advancement of writing technologies that impacted peoples’ literacy and education. Governance, bureaucratic factors, and power relations were a continuing effect on the development of book culture. 

The earliest date of Chinese writing goes back to its invention by Cangjie, in 1700. Starting in the Zhou Dynasty, all political factions offered allegiance to this empire. Intellectual autonomy is politically sanctioned, and freedom to write new ideas about a number of subjects is authorized. Many citizens had extensive book collections and the important establishment of the bureaucracy, and as a response to writing treaties, leads to the development of archives, a kind of library storage to hold copies of ‘spirit’ agreements.

Image result for small seal script on bamboo

                                                            Bamboo-made book, Han Dynasty

The awarding of a small kingdom to the Qin family, by the Zhou empire, leads to its dynasty. Qin Shi Huang defeats the last of the challenging ‘Warring States’ in 221 BCE, and abolished feudalism and imposes legalism. He standardizes the introduction of the “small-seal style” utilizing a stylus and the substrate of wood or bamboo. The unity of this script helped government officers and clerks reduce the time involved with handling official duties and increased the efficiency of governmental operations and state functions. The script was used in promoting the movement of civilian social status and the royal government; by consolidating the stability of monarchical power.  

        Small Seal Calligraphy Style. Public Domain.

                                                                       221 BC. Qin Dynasty. Small Seal Script

Chinese calligraphy was unified under the powerful Shi Huangdi, an emperor who reigned from c. 259-210 CE, and issued various decrees of different types of standardizations. Book culture advanced with this writing method under the Han Period, 206 BCE – 220 CE, and it continued the bureaucratic structure of control and standards; through the governance of communication and people.

Confucianism, as a state religion, is officially sanctioned by Emperor Wu in his reign of 141 – 87 CE through bureaucratic means for its aspects of humanistic philosophy, character development and governance. It positively influences education, literacy and book culture under a system of five texts. Ordinary people had regular contact with printed images of books. The ability to read and write was considered being part of the aristocracy and included in the social system. 

Image result for cai lun paper inventionCai Lun paper

In 105 CE, Cai Lun invents paper, and trade with other countries influences how books were made. The sharing of the decoding of Chinese writing and printing methods positively affects these Asian cultures and enriches both the history and culture of typography.