Paper and Printing

This image is called ‘method of writing’. It appears in Athanasius Kircher's China Ilustrata (Amsterdam, 1667) where it follows a description of block printing and the manufacture of paper - both Chinese inventions.

Polymath author Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) compiled China Ilustrata from accounts by travellers such as Marco Polo, and reports filed by Jesuit missionaries such as Michael Boym and Martino Martini.

Kircher Scribe

The work emphasises Christian elements of Chinese history. Indeed Kircher even claims that the Chinese are descended from the sons of Ham. Umberto Eco comments that this idea reflected and supported the European attitude to the Chinese: China was presented not as an unknown barbarian to be defeated but as a prodigal son who should return to the home of the common father.

China Ilustrata was a bestseller. Kircher’s comment on its public reception was that “it earned considerable praise from intelligent readers, who were astonished by the novelty of its subject matter”. Those critical of the work he dismissed as “stupid or obtuse”.

A particular interest of Kircher’s was language, on which he published several books. Kircher believed that Chinese characters were descended from Egyptian hieroglyphs.