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The Diamond Sutra:

The World's Earliest Dated Printed Book

The Diamond Sutra - The World's Earliest Dated Printed Book Copyright 1997, The British Library Board
British Library, Or. 8210/P.2.

Jin gang ban ruo bo luo mi jing. (The Sanskrit Vajracchedika-prajnaparamitasutra, translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva.) The Diamond Sutra of AD 868.

Frontispiece (detail), showing the Buddha preaching to his aged disciple Subhuti Click for a close up.

This scroll was found in 1907 by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein in a walled-up cave at the 'Caves of the Thousand Buddhas', near Dunhuang, in North-West China. It was one of a small number of printed items among many thousands of manuscripts, comprising a library which must have been sealed up in about AD 1000. Although not the earliest example of blockprinting, it is the earliest which bears an actual date. The colophon, at the inner end, reads: `Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong [i.e. 11th May, AD 868]'.

Frontispiece (detail), showing image and text Click for a close up.

The technique of blockprinting had been known in the Far East for well over 100 years by 868, and the quality of this illustration makes it clear that the blockcutter had a considerable period of experience and skill behind him. It is not known where the printing was carried out, although Sichuan, in south-west China, is known to have been a centre of printing activity at this time.

Turn the pages of the Diamond Sutra online