A sweeping, richly detailed history that tells the fascinating story of how paper—the simple Chinese invention of two thousand years ago—wrapped itself around our world, humankind’s most momentous ideas imprinted on its surface.
The emergence of paper in the imperial court of Han China brought about a revolution in the transmission of knowledge and ideas, allowing religions, philosophies and propaganda to spread with ever greater ease. The first writing surface sufficiently cheap, portable and printable for books, pamphlets and journals to be mass-produced and distributed widely, paper opened the way for an unprecedented, ongoing dialogue between individuals and between communities across continents, oceans and time.
The Paper Trail explores how the new substance was used to solidify social and political systems that influenced China even into our own time. We see how paper made possible the spread of the then new religions of Buddhism and Manichaeism into Japan, Korea and Vietnam . . . how it enabled theologians, scientists and artists to build the vast and signally intellectual empire of the Abbasid Caliphate and embed the Koran in popular culture . . . how paper was carried along the Silk Road by merchants and missionaries, finally reaching Europe in the late thirteenth century . . . and how, once established in Europe, along with the printing press, paper played an essential role in the three great foundations of Western modernity: the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution.
Here is a dramatic, comprehensively researched, vividly written story populated by holy men and scholars, warriors and poets, rulers and ordinary men and women—an essential story brilliantly told in this luminous work of history.
In this well-researched history, Monro (China: City and Exile), a British reporter who has written extensively on China, digs into the long and complicated evolution of paper and its effects on civilization. "This is the story of how that soft and supple substance became the vehicle of history and the conduit for landmark innovations and mass movements across the world," he writes. Monro begins with paper's emergence in ancient China, and as he chronicles how paper supplanted other forms of writing material, he follows the trail of art, literature, religion, and politics across the course of centuries and continents. His primary focus is on how paper affected Chinese culture, but as the technology spreads to other countries, he studies those trails as well, leading to tangents on the printing press, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and more. Religion plays a large role, with the Bible, the Qur'an, and Buddhist texts finding widespread audiences thanks to the portable, convenient medium. Monro finishes by acknowledging the power of the book itself and how "paper's greatest role has been as courier of books to individual owner-readers." The result is an engaging, lively, informative examination of a ubiquitous resource and its multimillennia influence on the world.