September 16, 2008


Paper was an early Chinese invention, but the concept of the book in codex form did not appear until many centuries later, sometime in the 10th century (Giles, 1957). The majority of the manuscripts found at Dunhuang are in the form of scrolls, the longest measuring 99 feet. Sheets of paper were pasted together to form the scrolls, since the papermaking frame was a standard size. A wooden roller was attached to one end; the other had a silk ribbon or braid which was used to fasten the scroll once it was closed.

Some of the later manuscripts have been folded concertina style, making it easier to navigate through the text, and some are small booklets, but these were still the exception rather than the norm even in the late 10th century (Giles, 1957). By this point in Chinese history block printing was becoming widespread, and these new book formats were conducive to being printed. There are extant examples of block-printed scrolls, however, so even as printing began to take over book production the old methods of binding were still in use.

One transitional method of binding has been discovered – whirlwind binding (Or.8210/S.6349). This was composed of separate pages, bound at one side, that were rolled up and stored as a scroll. Examples of this binding are extremely rare, and thus far only reference texts have been found using this format; obviously it would have been much easier to find specific sections in such a book than in a long scroll so the format was perfectly suited to reference materials (Chinnery, 2007).

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