The ACTUAL First Printed Book: A History

The Diamond Sutra
The Diamond Sutra is a very important Buddhist text.

Courtesy of my AP World History teacher, a certain historical misconception has come to my attention that I would like to pass on to all of you.

In seventh grade I learned all about European history, from medieval castles and knights to the voyages of explorers like Magellan and Vasco de Gama. I often find that history classes in schools these days teach a curriculum that is very Eurocentric, but that’s a whole different topic for another day. Anyways, it was drilled into our heads that Johannes Gutenberg created the first printing press. Depending on what sources you are using, it is said that he did this somewhere from 1440 CE to 1450 CE. The first book printed on this printing press was the Bible. In fact, it was ingrained in my brain so much that today, many years later, I still remember that. However, it turns out that this was a LIE. The utterly Eurocentric public school curriculum that I was taught was flawed, and failed to acknowledge the fact that the printing press was created in Asia, not in Europe.

The very act of printing was created in the eighth century by Buddhists in the Sui dynasty, mainly for distributing images and short passages of texts. The movable-type printing press was invented by Bi Sheng somewhere around the eleventh century. Movable-type printing became very popular in dynasties like the Song. Therefore, the first ACTUAL printed book was really the Indian “Diamond Sutra” which was printed in China in late 800 CE. You may take this time to note that 800 CE is in fact earlier than 1400- by several centuries!

However, it is not only the curriculum of my middle school that was flawed: even Google says that Gutenberg invented the printing press. Go ahead: try typing in “Who invented the printing press?” into the Google search bar and see who comes up. Why hasn’t this been corrected when the history books clearly say that the facts are otherwise? I guess it’s just one of those life mysteries that will never be solved. But the next time that someone tells you that the Europeans created the printing press, feel free to tell them otherwise. Don’t worry- history has your back.





One response to “The ACTUAL First Printed Book: A History”

  1. Hi Holly. Great piece. Did you ever wonder why Sir Edmund Hillary is credited with being the first “person” to climb Mount Everest? Of course, he hired local guides to show him the way up the mountain. Weren’t those local guides “persons”? They’d been to the top before…

    You nailed it with “Eurocentric.” I was a Political Science/Geography/Economics major in college (they call it International Relations today) and I have believed this is hypocritical for a very long time. But in America it isn’t a popular thought. Here we often don’t acknowledge the contributions of Europe!

    Here is a quote that I’ve had on my refrigerator for years: “The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.” Wade Davis (I really like this quote…)

    You are probably surprised to have someone comment on your blog. Your father mentioned it to me…bragging about his daughter’s writing abilities…which you definitely have.

    I publish This Week in Raymond, a local online news”paper” for the town of Raymond. I would love to carry a column of your writing. Any topic you like! You can check out the columnists (all local) we carry now and see what a delight your writing would be: If you’d like to work with us, I’d be so glad to have a fresh, youthful, thinking voice. Two of our writers write under pseudonyms if you prefer. Or use your name and bring your father even more credit!

    We are also having a poetry challenge during the month of April, which is National Poetry Month. Your father mentioned you write poetry too (he is VERY proud of you), so if you’d like to join in…Great!

    Let me know what you think…Kim Tyndall

    Editor and Publisher
    This Week in Raymond, LLC


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