This gorgeous woodblock print is the front "page" of the oldest surviving print manuscript in the world. This Chinese version of the Buddhist "Diamond Sutra" was printed in northern China in 868.

Photograph courtesy International Dunhuang Project

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    On May 11, 868, publishers in northern China printed the Diamond Sutra, which survives as the oldest dated, printed book. The manuscript was one of many discovered in the Mogao Caves of Dunhaung, China. A Daoist monk, Wang Yuanlu, discovered the so-called Dunhaung manuscripts in 1900. 
     
    Sutra” is a Sanskrit word meaning a religious teaching or sermon. Sutras are very important to Buddhism, a religion that developed in what is now India and spread to China hundreds of years before the 868 Diamond Sutra was printed. The Diamond Sutra is a teaching from the Buddha himself. The book earns its name from being as short (it can be chanted in about 40 minutes) and sharp as a diamond blade, cutting through worldly illusions. 
     
    The 868 version of the Diamond Sutra is a collection of seven rectangular woodblock prints pasted together to form a scroll
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    Buddha Noun

    (c. 563-483 BCE) Indian prince, spiritual leader, and founder of the Buddhist religion. Also called Prince Siddhartha and Gautama Buddha.

    Buddhism Noun

    religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha).

    carve Verb

    to cut or slice through.

    chant noun, verb

    short, simple melody that is repeated as it is sung.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    Daoist Adjective

    (also Taoist) person who follows the spiritual tradition of Daoism, outlined by Chinese philosophers Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, emphasizing harmony, simplicity, and non-interference with natural events.

    develop Verb

    to expand or grow.

    discover Verb

    to learn or understand something for the first time.

    illusion Noun

    plan or occurrence that creates a false belief.

    manuscript Noun

    written material.

    publisher Noun

    person responsible for producing a printed or electronic set of information.

    religion Noun

    a system of spiritual or supernatural belief.

    Sanskrit Noun

    ancient language that developed around the Indian subcontinent, and the primary religious language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

    scroll Noun

    rolled-up sheet of paper or other thin material for writing.

    sermon Noun

    religious teaching or lecture.

    survive Verb

    to live.

    sutra Noun

    set of Buddhist religious teachings.

    woodblock printing Noun

    technique of transferring a design onto a surface by: cutting the design in a block of wood, inking the wood, and pressing the wood onto the surface of the item to be printed, such as cloth or paper.