The Discovery of Paper

foliage of a young Paper Mulberry tree
Paper Mulberry Tree

I found this amazing article on paper and wanted to share it. When I lived in Japan, I discovered “washi” paper and even watched as it was made at this wonderful place in Kansai,  considered the cultural heart of Japan and located just outside of Tokyo.

Here is the first installment from “Living with Washi“. (Copied in full from the website listed under the Reference section of this post.)
The discovery of paper
 When we stop to consider the varieties of paper we see each day, it becomes apparent how useful this material is. Additionally, the fact that paper is made from plant fibers gives us the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between humanity and nature. From civilization’s earliest days, plants have been used for food, clothing and housing. Vines were used for tying, or were plaited into ropes. Early peoples fashioned long, strong threads by twisting together hemp or other sturdy fibers and from these thin threads wove clothing. Aboriginal peoples in Oceania and Central and South America soaked the bark of Broussonetia papyrifera Vent, a mulberry plant, in water, wrapped it in banana leaves to ferment, and pounded it flat with clubs to make tapa, or tree bark cloth, which was then dyed and made into clothing. In Mexico, amate, a similar kind of cloth, was also used for writing. The ancient Egyptians stripped the stems of the papyrus plants which grew along the River Nile, layered the fibers lengthwise and widthwise, soaked them in water, and then pressed them to make papyrus. Papyrus was unsuitable for clothing, but was useful for writing on, and the name later became the origin of the word “paper”. Thousands of years ago on the Asian continent, the Han Chinese people of the Yellow River valley invented a method for reeling silk from silkworm cocoons. Silk cloth, which is an ideal fiber, is long, thin, strong and beautiful; its smooth surface makes it suitable for both writing and painting on, as well as for the fabrication of clothing.  People the world over adored and longed for silk, but at this time it was too precious to use as a recording medium except for on special occasions. In its place, bamboo or strips of wood were typically used.Waste fibers created during the process of making silk yarn from cocoons were gathered and unravelled by beating them in water. The resulting floss silk was used for cold weather garments. After removing the floss silk from the water, a thin suspension of waste fibers remained. The first Chinese dictionary, published in AD100, explains how paper was made from these remaining fibers when strained and dried. This paper was somewhat weak for general use, but its production led to the important discovery that the waste fibers from hemp, a cheaper and more easily available clothing material in those days, could be similarly processed into a strong paper. Thereafter, paper was made primarily from plant fibers. Recently, hemp paper has been found in mounds in many locations in China dating from the Earlier Han period (180-50BC). In the Later Han period (AD100-200), Ts’ai Lun (unknown -121) improved papermaking techniques to make writing-quality paper from waste hemp products, tree bark, and other plant matter. This paper spread to regions all over China, and then to neighboring countries, replacing such contemporary communication tools as slates, clay tablets, leaves, hides and wood strips. Although it was to take years for paper to spread westward along the Silk Road, it advanced eastward rapidly.

Living with Washi:

Kansai Region:


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