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Writing and Reading as Technology (6): Stop Press. Who invented moveable type?

Not Gutenberg

Gutenberg put several important pieces together in a new way in 1439(ish) when he built what most of us probably think of as the first printing press, and he deserves his status as an incredibly important innovator. He made it work and the thing took off.*


“The world’s first movable type printing technology for paper books was made of porcelain materials and was invented around AD 1040 in China during the Northern Song Dynasty by the inventor Bi Sheng (990–1051).”

You Know Where – and more at


In 1234 the first books known to have been printed in metallic type set were published in Goryeo Dynasty Korea. They form a set of ritual books, Sangjeong Gogeum Yemun, compiled by Choe Yun-ui.

While these books have not survived, the oldest book existing in the world printed in metallic movable types is Jikji, printed in Korea in 1377.

(It was Wikipedia)

You can see examples of the type and the book in this amazing slideshow from Google Arts and Culture.

Alphabet bottleneck

It seems that the number of characters required in written Chinese (also used in Korea at this time) limited the efficiency gains from moveable type printing China and Kora, preventing the sort of take-off that occurred in 15th Century Europe when Gutenberg began using moveable type in the Latin alphabet.

Further Reading

Here’s Wikipedia again on Movable Type and The Global Spread of the Printing Press

There’s a good article on the whole thing here at lithub – with the disclaimer that the author seems rather cross about our ignorance.

Read’s amazing set of references on printing and you won’t be ignorant at all.

*Shortly followed by the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the birth of the nation state, the novel, the Enlightenment, and various Industrial Revolutions. – more on these in future posts.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...