- Wang Zhen (official)
:"This article is about Wang Zhen, agronomist and inventor. For other historical figures with this name, see
Wang Zhen (disambiguation)."Wang Zhen (zh-tspw|t=王禎|s=王祯|p=Wáng Zhēn|w=Wang Chen, fl. 1290— 1333) was an official of the Yuan Dynasty( 1271- 1368AD) of China. He is credited with the invention of the first wooden movable type printingin the world, while his predecessor of the Song Dynasty( 960- 1279AD), Bi Sheng( 990- 1051AD), invented the world's first earthenwaremovable type printing. His illustrated agriculturaltreatise was also one of the most advanced of its day, covering a wide range of equipment and technologies available in the late 13th and early 14th century.
Life and works
Wang Zhen was born in Shandong province, and spent many years as an official of both
Anhuiand Jiangxiprovinces.Needham, Volume 6, Part 2, 59.] From the years 1290 to 1301, he was a magistratefor Jingde, Anhui province, where he invented the use of wooden movable type printing. The invention of wooden movable type was described in Wang Zhen's publication of 1313 AD, known as the "Nong Shu" (農書), or Book of Agriculture. Although the title describes the main focus of the work, it incorporated much more information on a wide variety of subjects that was not limited to the scope of agriculture. Wang Zhen's "Nong Shu" of 1313 was a very important medieval treatise outlining the application and use of the various Chinese sciences, technologies, and agricultural practices. From water powered bellows to movable type printing, it is considered a descriptive masterpiece on contemporary medieval Chinese technology.
Wang Zhen wrote the masterpiece of the "Nong Shu" for many practical reasons, but also as a means to aid and support destitute rural
farmers in China looking for means to improve their economic livelihoods in the face of poverty and oppression during the Yuanperiod.Needham, Volume 6, Part 2, 60.] Although the previous Song Dynastywas a period of high Chinese culture and relative economic and agricultural stability, the conquering Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynastythoroughly damaged the economic and agricultural base of China during the conquest of it. Hence, a book such as the "Nong Shu" could help rural farmers maximize efficiency of producing yields and they could learn how to use various agricultural tools to aid their daily lives. However, it was not intended to be read by rural farmers (who were largely illiterate), but local officials who desired to research the best agricultural methods currently available that the peasants otherwise would know little of.
The "Nong Shu" was an incredibly long book even for its own time, which had over 110,000 written
Chinese characters. However, this was only slightly larger than the early medieval Chinese agricultural treatise of the "Chi Min Yao Shu" written by Jia Sixia in 535 AD, which had slightly over 100,000 written Chinese characters.Needham, Volume 6, Part 2, 56.]
Water powered bellows
The Chinese during the
Han Dynasty( 202 BC- 220 AD) were the first to apply hydraulicpower (ie. a waterwheel) in working the inflatable bellowsof the blast furnacein creating cast iron. This was recorded in the year 31 AD, an innovation of the engineer Du Shi, Prefectof Nanyang.Needham, Volume 4, Part 2, 370] After Du Shi, Chinese in subsequent dynastic periods continued the use of water power to operate the bellows of the blast furnace. In the 5th century text of the "Wu Chang Ji", its author Pi Lingwrote that a planned, artificial lake had been constructed in the Yuan-Jia reign period ( 424– 429AD) for the sole purpose of powering water wheels aiding the smelting and casting processes of the Chinese iron industry.Needham, Volume 4, Part 2, 371-371.] The 5th century text "Shui Jing Zhu" mentions the use of rushing river water to power waterwheels, as does the Tang Dynastygeography text of the "Yuan-he Jun Xian Tu Chi", written in 814 AD.Needham, Volume 4, Part 2, 373.]
Although Du Shi was the first to apply water power to bellows in metallurgy, the first drawn and printed illustration of its operation with water power came in 1313 AD, with Wang Zhen's "Nong Shu".Needham, Volume 4, Part 2, 371.] Wang Zhen explained the methods used for the water-powered blast-furnace in previous times and in his era of the 14th century:
Wang's movable type printing
In improving movable type printing, Wang Zhen mentioned an alternative method of baking
earthenwareprinting type with earthenware frame in order to make whole blocks.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 203.] Wang Zhen is best known for improving its use by inventing wooden movable type in the years 1297 or 1298, while he was a magistrate of Jingde in Anhui province from 1290 to 1301.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 206.] His main contribution was improving the speed of typesetting with simple mechanical devices, along with the complex, systematic arrangement of wooden movable types.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 208.] Wang Zhen summarized the process of making wooden movable type as described in the passage below:
Wooden movable type had been experimented with by
Bi Shengin the 11th century, but it was discarded because wood was judged to be an unsuitable material that Bi Sheng found difficult to use.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 205-206] Wang Zhen improved the earlier experimented process by adding the methods of specific type cutting and finishing, making the type case and revolving table that made the process more efficient.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 207] In Wang Zhen's system, all the Chinese writing characters were organized by five different tones and according to rhyming, using a standard official book of Chinese rhymes. Two revolving tables were actually used in the process; one table that had official types from the book of rhymes, and the other which contained the most frequently used Chinese writing characters for quick selection.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 208.] To make the entire process more efficient, each Chinese character was assigned a different number, so that when a number was called, that writing character would be selected. Rare and unusual characters that were not prescribed a number were simply crafted on the spot by wood-cutters when needed.
While printing new books, Wang Zhen described that the rectangular dimensions of each book needed to be determined in order to make the corrected size of the four-sided wooden block used in printing. Providing the necessary ink job was done by brush that was moved vertically in columns, while the impression on paper the columns had to be rubbed with brush from top to bottom.
Two centuries before
Hua Suipioneered bronze-type printing in China in 1490 AD, Wang Zhen had experimented with metal type printing using tin, a metal favored for its low melting point while casting.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 217] In the "Nong Shu", Wang Zhen wrote:
Thus, Chinese metal type of the 13th century using tin was unsuccessful because it was incompatible with the
inking process. Although unsuccessful in Wang Zhen's time, the bronze metal type of Hua Sui in the late 15th century would be used for centuries in China, up until the late 19th century.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 216-217.] Although Wang Zhen's "Nong Shu" was mostly printed by use of woodblock printing, his invention of wooden movable type soon became popularly used in the region of Anhui. Wang Zhen's wooden movable type was used to print the local gazetteerpaper of Jingde City, which incorporated the use of 60,000 written characters organized on revolving tables. During the year of 1298, roughly one hundred copies of this were printed by wooden movable type in a month's time. Following in the foot steps of Wang Zhen, in 1322 AD the magistrate of Fenghua, Zhejiangprovince, named Ma Chengde, printed Confucian classics with movable type of 100,000 written characters on needed revolving tables. The process of metal movable type was also developed in Joseon Koreaby the 13th century, while metal movable type was not pioneered in China until the Ming Dynasty( 1368- 1644AD) printer Hua Suiused bronze movable type in 1490 AD. Although metal movable type became available in China during the Ming period, wooden movable type persisted in common use even until the 19th century.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 208-209.] After that point, the European printing pressmachine first pioneered by Johannes Gutenbergin the 15th century became the mainstay and standard in China and for the most part the global community until the advent of digital printingand the modern computer printer.
With movable type printing during the Ming dynasty of the 14th to 16th centuries, however, it was known to be used by local
academies, local government offices, by wealthy local patrons of printing, and the large Chinese commercial printers located in the cities of Nanjing, Suzhou, Changzhou, Hangzhou, Wenzhou, and Fuzhou.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 209.] There were many books from a wide variety of subjects published in wooden movable type during the Ming period, including novels, art, science and technology, family registers, and local gazettes. In 1541 AD, two different significant publications using wooden movable type were made under the sponsorship of two different princes; the Prince of Shu printing the large literary collection of the earlier Song Dynasty poet Su Che, and the Prince of Yi printing a book written as a rebuttal against superstitions written by a Yuan Dynasty era author.
Qing Dynasty( 1644- 1911), wooden movable type was used on a much wider scale than even the previous Ming period. It was officially sponsored by the imperial court at Beijing, yet was widespread amongst private printing companies. The creation of movable type writing fonts became a wise enterprise of investment, since they were commonly pawned, sold, or presented as gifts during the Qing period. In the sphere of the imperial court, the official Jin Jian (d. 1794) was placed in charge of printing at the Wuying Palace, where the Yongzheng Emperorhad 253,000 wooden movable type characters crafted in the year of 1733. Jin Jian, the official in charge of this project, provided elaborate detail on the printing process in his "Wu Ying Tian Ju Zhen Ban Cheng Shi" (Imperial Printing Office Manual for Movable Type). In nineteen different sections, he provided detailed description for:
*cutting the type
*making type cases
*strips in variable thickness
*page and column rule forms
*setting the text
*distribution of the type
*and a schedule for rotation
There are notable differences between Wang Zhen's movable type process and Jin Jian's. Wang carved the written characters on wooden blocks and then sawed them apart, while Jin initiated the process by preparing type bodies before the characters were individually cut into types.Needham, Volume 5, Part 1, 211.] For setting type, Wang employed a method of revolving tables where the type came to the workers, whereas Jin developed a system where the workers went to the organized type. Wang's frame was also added after the type had already been set, whereas Jin printed the ruled sheets and text separately on the same paper.
The main focus of the "Nong Shu" written by Wang Zhen was the realm of Chinese agriculture. His book listed and described an enormous catalogue of agricultural tools and implements used in the past and in his own day.Needham, Volume 6, Part 2, 75.] Furthermore, Wang Zhen incorporated a systematic usage of illustrated pictures in his book to accompany every piece of farming equipment described.Needham, Volume 6, Part 2, 92.] Wang Zhen also created an agricultural calendrical diagram in the form of a circle, which included the
Heavenly Stems, the Earthly Branches, the four seasons, twelve months, twenty-four solar terms, seventy-two five day periods, with each sequence of agricultural tasks and the natural phenomena which signal for their necessity, stellar configurations, phenology, and the sequence of agricultural production.Needham, Volume 6, Part 2, 53-55.]
Amongst the various contemporary agricultural practices mentioned in the Nong Shu, Wang listed and described the use of ploughing, sowing, irrigation, cultivation of mulberries, etc. It listed and described many of the various foodstuffs and products of the many regions of China. The book outlined the use of not only agricultural tools, but food-processing, irrigation equipment, different types of fields, ceremonial vessels, various types of grain storage, carts, boats, mechanical devices, and textile machinery used in many applications. For example, one of the many devices described and illustrated in drawing is a large mechanical milling plant operated by the motive power of
oxen, with an enormous rotating geared wheel engaging the toothed gears of eight different mills surrounding it.Needham, Volume 4, Part 2, 195-196.] Of great interest to sinologisthistorians, Wang Zhen also outlined the difference between the agricultural technology of Northern China and that of Southern China. The main characteristic of agricultural technology of the north was technical applications fit for predominantly dryland cultivation, while intensified irrigation cultivation was more suitable for southern China. Furthermore, Wang used his treatise as a means to spread knowledge in support of certain agricultural practices or technologies found exclusively in either South or North that could benefit the other, if only they were more widely known, such as the southern hand-harrow used for weeding in the south, yet virtually unknown in the north.Needham, Volume 6, Part 2, 61-62.]
History of agriculture".
Nong Shu Book chapters
Chapters 1—6Needham, Volume 6, Part 2, 61.]
*Comprehensive prescriptions for agriculture and sericulture
*Treatise on the Hundred Grains
**Cereals (including legumes, hemp, and sesame)
**Cucurbits and green vegetables
**Bamboos and miscellaneous (including ramie, cotton, tea, dye plants, etc.)
*Illustrated Treatise on Agricultural Implements
**Wicker and basket ware
**Food-processing equipment and grain storage
**Ceremonial vessels, transport
**Irrigation equipment, water-powered mills, etc.
**Special implements for wheat
**Sericulture and textile production
List of Chinese people
History of typography in East Asia
History of western typography
History of Agriculture
Agriculture in China
*Needham, Joseph (1986). "Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Part 2". Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
*Needham, Joseph (1986). "Science and Civilization in China: Volume 5, Part 1". Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
*Needham, Joseph (1986). "Science and Civilization in China: Volume 6, Part 2". Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
* [http://big5.cgan.net/english/english/cpg/engcp20.htm Movable type and Illustration of Wang Zhen's wooden type]
* [http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_madeinchina/2005-06/28/content_70178.htm Wang Zhen at Chinaculture.org]
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