Daily Archives: May 11, 2018

One Thousand One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago Today

A copy of the Chinese version of the Diamond Sutra was dated (before, at some point being lost to history until their rediscovery in in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang on June 25, 1900.)

So why do we care about an old book?

First of all, it’s the oldest known dated book in existence, at least 585 years before Gutenberg printed his first bible. Because, even though the invention of the printing press was attributed to Gutenberg, he was just the first person to create a press out of metal. Woodblock printing was developed in China approximately 1200 years before Gutenberg developed his press, with examples of woodblock-based cloth printing dated back to pre 220 AD and the earliest examples of woodblock-based text-printing dating back to the Tang dynasty in the 600s. However, books were not dated at that time, making the Diamond Sutra, from 868 AD the first dated book.

However, it’s not just relevant to us that this was the first dated book, which is quite relevant to copyright and legal systems — that now use dates to determine inventorship, ownership, and so on — and to those of us that want to understand the origination of a work.

What’s really relevant to us is that accompanying the date was a dedication that said “for universal free distribution”, making it the first known creative work with an explicit public domain dedication. It seems that formally dedicating work to the public domain to ensure it’s continued free usage may not be as recent an occurrence as we may think.

And its another example of just how rich and innovative the cultures of the east have been over time, and why we should learn all we can instead of putting up trade barriers.