In the past week, we've had the chance to visit two places where the focus is on preserving and maintaining the ancient tradition of Chinese woodblock printing. Since at least the Tang dynasty (almost 2000 years ago), the Chinese have used woodblocks to print documents, books, posters and images--a much more efficient process than hand-drawn calligraphy for producing multiple copies. While the creation of the woodblocks themselves is just as laborious, the block can then be preserved and used for centuries if properly stored.
Nanjing is not one of the biggest cities in China. Despite a population of over 7 million, it has a modesty about it. The traffic though congested, flows along in a civilized way, a sort of ballet between cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians. There are flashy shopping areas, but they aren’t enormous. Most everything is on a reasonable level, a human scale. Anything edgy or provocative is kept under wraps.
Television is a funny medium. It brings us together through shared viewing experiences, and it isolates us in a pool of light in a darkened room. We look to the ubiquitous box for information, forgetting that what we see is produced and edited to fit a format. What we receive is someone’s creation.
This week, our host department, the Office of International Cooperation and Exchanges at Nanjing University, provide a full-day tour of Nanjing, complete with driver and guide. Our guide was a Nanjing native, a 25 year-old masters degree candidate in Linguistics named Yuan Yuan, but who asked us to call her Vivian. Most Chinese students whom we have met have an English name, which Vivian says they typically adopt in middle school as they are learning English. So one of the students in my class, Wang Li, is Lily, another of our assistants, Jia Shi, is Cici, and our very capable program as
Once upon a time, communicating took a great deal of work. Paper was made by hand, writing was done with a handmade pen and handmade ink, and every word was handwritten. Printing presses allowed for multiple copies, but early type was hand carved, hand-set and the pages of text were pulled by hand. Nowadays in our so-called paperless society, children learn to print then go straight to “keyboarding.” Cursive writing is becoming a lost art—will we have to have special classes in creating a signature? Or will those unique scribbles of identity disappear as well?