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One mistake could ruin the entire block, and once used the block became useless, because it was unique.In the Song Dynasty (960-1279) a man called Bi Sheng had the idea of carving individual characters on small, identical square pieces of clay, which was hardened by slow baking.

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These are paper, gunpowder, the compass and printing.

Interestingly the word 'paper' is derived from 'papyrus'.

He made his paper by boiling up all the raw materials with wood ash or lime for up to 35 days.

Another vital ingredient was birch leaves, from which the mucilage was drained out for strengthening the paper, and giving it evenness and smoothness.

But it was an improvement over the materials previously used for writing on, like bone, wood and stone.

The invention of paper as we know it came in China around 105 AD.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) the technique spread across Asia, through Philippines, Vietnam, Korea and Japan..

But although it was a great advance, this block printing technology had a serious drawback.

As early as 2000 years ago, in the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-25AD) a form of printing had been developed.

This was stone-tablet rubbing, very similar to brass rubbing in principle.

The only significant difference between the paper you print on from your computer and the Chinese paper is the 'filler' we now use to make the paper really smooth. Before printing was invented, knowledge could only be passed on my word of mouth, or by extremely expensive handwritten manuscripts.

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