Print Culture and the Modern World | Notes

Print Culture and the Modern World | Notes

Print Culture and the Modern World


Printing Technology


Printing in China

  • The earliest form of handprint technology was developed in China, Japan and Korea.
  • Later, books in China began to be printed with the help of wooden blocks. In this technique of printing, paper was rubbed against the surface of inked wooden blocks.
  • Because the state officials in imperial China were selected through civil service examinations, textbooks for exam preparations began to be printed in large numbers.
  • Development of urban culture in China also led to a sharp increase in the sale of printing books with people taking to the habit of reading during their leisure time.
  • In the late nineteenth century, the latest techniques of printing came to China from the western countries and Shanghai became a new centre of print culture.


Example of wood block printing during the Yuan Dynasty in China

Printing in Japan

  • In Japan, handprint technology was introduced by the Buddhist missionaries of China.
  • The Buddhist Diamond Sutra was the oldest Japanese book which was printed in AD 868.
  • Later, pictures were printed on paper money, playing cards and on textiles. During the mediaeval period, books were regularly published by writers and poets.
  • During the late eighteenth century, in present-day Tokyo, with the blooming urban culture, many paintings involving artists, courtesans, court culture and tea house gatherings came to be depicted. There were also books on instruments, famous places, tea ceremonies, flower arrangements and cooking.
  • An ukiyo was a form of art which developed in Japan. It dealt with the depiction of common and simple human expression.


A page from the Diamond Sutra

Printing in Europe

  • Chinese paper reached Europe through the Silk Route during the eleventh century. This led to the production of manuscripts.
  • In 1295, Marco Polo brought the technology of woodblock printing to Italy from China. This technology then spread to the other parts of Europe. Merchants and students began to use printing material on a large scale.
  • Gradually, the demand for books increased and booksellers in Europe began to export printed books in large numbers.
  • However, handwritten manuscripts and woodblock technology were not enough to meet the growing demands of the people.
  • Johann Gutenberg developed the first printing press in the 1430s which gradually changed printing technology in Europe. The Bible was the first book which was printed by him.
  • Printing presses were set up in many parts of the world by 1550, and the production of printed books increased tremendously.
  • The shift from handprinting to mechanical printing led to the Print Revolution.


Johann Gutenberg

Impact of the Printing Revolution


  • The printing revolution minimised the time taken to produce books. As a result, the European markets were flooded with books.
  • A new reading public emerged as a result of the printing revolution in Europe. They read sacred texts, ballads and folktales.
  • Many books were also published with beautiful pictures, and illiterate people could now understand folktales with the help of pictures.
  • Books introduced a world of debate and discussion. Those people who disagreed with the Church and the Pope could now express their ideas in the book and forced the people to think on rational lines.
  • Many conservatives however did not welcome so many printed books into the markets. According to them, this could spread rebellious ideas among the people. This proved true when Martin Luther King criticised the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church and pasted his ideas on the door of the Church. His writings were published in many books. The printing press thus led to the beginning of the intellectual atmosphere and new ideas which later paved the way to Reformation.


Martin Luther

Print and Dissent

  • Inspired by printed materials and books, people began to question the existence of the dogmas in religion and began to interpret religion in their own ways.
  • In the sixteenth century, Menocchio, a miller in Italy, after reading books which were available in his locality formulated a view of God and his creation which was very different from the ideas preached by the Roman Catholic Church.
  • He was executed by the Church and several bans were imposed on publishers and booksellers. Thereafter, an index of prohibited books was maintained by the Church.

The Reading Mania

  • Literacy rates went up in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and Churches played an important role in carrying literature to the common masses such as peasants and artisans.
  • As literacy rates went up and schools came to be established, reading mania spread to many countries of Europe.
  • Almanacs, calendars, pocketbooks, ballads and folktales began to be read. Pedlars were employed by booksellers to carry books to far-off villages to sell them.
  • Many periodicals began to be published in Europe which also provided information to the people on wars, trade and developments taking place in other parts of Europe.
  • People could now also read about the ideas of scientists and philosophers. Many scientific texts were translated into common and local languages. The writings of thinkers such as Voltaire, Thomas Paine and Rousseau inspired the people to adopt new ideas. This also led to the birth of the idea of revolution in the hearts of the Europeans.

Threat to Despotism

According to many historians, widely available printed materials and books created the conditions for the outbreak of the French Revolution. Three arguments were put forward in this case:

  • The printed books popularised the ideas of the thinkers which led to an era of Enlightenment. People now believed in rationalism and humanism. They criticised the illogical and corrupt practices of the Church.
  • Because books inspired new ideas, various debates and discussions took place in society and new ideas of social revolution came into existence.
  • By the 1780s, many new books and literature mocked the royalty and criticised their unethical actions. Questions were also raised about the social orders which favoured royal and aristocratic families.


After reading books and magazines, the common people of Europe began to question absolute despotism.

The Reading Class in the Nineteenth Century

  • In many European countries, primary education became compulsory. Thus, children became an important category of readers. Many school textbooks were published. Many folk stories were also published for children.
  • Women emerged as another category of readers. Many penny magazines were published for women containing guidelines on good behaviour and housekeeping.
  • Some important women novelists in this period were the Bronte sisters, Jane Austin and George Eliot. They all depicted women with a strong personality, determination and the power to think and decide.
  • Many lending libraries existed during this period. They were instrumental in educating the working and white-collared class. Many workers even wrote political tracts and autobiographies.

Later, many innovations were made in the methods of printing books. By the late eighteenth century, the press was made of metal. Its place was then taken by the power-driven cylindrical press. Then the electricity-operated printing presses increased production. Printers and publishers always looked for new ways to market their products. Cheap paperback editions came into the market during the economic depression during 1930’s.

Printing Comes to India


  • During the ancient period in India, manuscripts were handwritten in Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic and vernacular languages. They were then copied on palm leaves or on handmade paper. Manuscripts were published well into the late nineteenth century.
  • These manuscripts were not widely used as they were fragile, expensive and had to be handled carefully.
  • The Portuguese missionaries of Goa introduced the printing press in India in the later half of the seventeenth century.
  • About 50 books in Konkani and Kanara languages were published by Jesuit priests. This was followed by the publication of Malayalam and Tamil texts.
  • In 1780, James Augustus Hickory began the publication of the English weekly magazine Bengal Gazette. Because he published a lot of gossip about the Company officials in India, the then Governor General Warren Hastings encouraged the sanctioning of all news items which were to be published in newspapers and magazines.
  • Bengal Gazette was the first weekly to be published by an Indian—Gangadhar Bhattacharya.

Religious Reforms and Public Debates

  • Publication of various newspapers and magazines resulted in many public debates and discussions which were mostly centred on religious and social issues.
  • Raja Ram Mohan Roy began the publication of Sambad Kaumudi in 1821. In this paper, he criticised orthodox Hindu practices.
  • Two new Persian newspapers—Jam-i-Jahan Nama and Shamsul Akhbar—began to be published. At the same time, The Bombay Samachar began to be published in Gujarati.
  • Many ulemas published translations of the Muslim Holy Scriptures. They also published thousands of ‘fatwas’ asking the Muslims to follow strict Islamic practices.
  • Many Hindi religious texts were also published in vernacular languages during this time. Ramcharitmanas written by Tulsidas was published in Calcutta in 1810.
  • Newspapers made people aware of their surroundings and informed them of events taking place in the other parts of the country, thus laying a foundation for the creation of pan-Indian identities.


Raja Ram Mohan Roy advocated caste equalities, improved position of
women and the adoption of western ideas in various journals and books.

New Forms of Publications

  • Many new forms of writing came into circulation in India. Short stories, lyrics and essays on political and cultural lives were being published.
  • The printing press also enabled the reproduction of visual images. Paintings of Raja Ravi Varma were circulated widely.
  • Cheap prints and calendars could even be bought by the poor section of society. Various religious and social messages were propagated with the help of these media.
  • By the 1870s, we find the publication of various cartons and caricatures in newspapers. Cartoons ridiculed people following the western style of dressing.

Women and Print

  • Many middle class women began to read during this time. While some read openly, some read secretly. Many journals written by women were published. They advocated the need of women to be educated.
  • Many conservative families however did not allow their women to read and write. Such writers read and wrote secretly. Rashsundari Debi secretly wrote Amar Jiban in Bengali which became the first autobiography written by an Indian woman.
  • Kailashbashini Debi, a Bengali woman, wrote about the experiences of women in day-to-day lives.
  • In the 1880s, Tarabai Shinde and Pandita Ramabai wrote about the poor and miserable conditions of high caste Hindu widows in Indian society.
  • Many Hindi books in the twentieth century became very popular. They dealt with a variety of subjects such as education of women, religious and social issues, and political movements.
  • Many books were also published in Punjabi, Tamil and Bengali.

Poor and the Print

  • Books became very cheap in the twentieth century and began to be sold on the streets. Public libraries were also set up for the people to read books.
  • During this time, many books began to be written on the issue of caste discrimination. Jyotirao Phule, a noted reformer, criticised the caste system in his book Gulamgiri.
  • B. R. Ambedkar and E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker (Periyar) protested against the caste discrimination and wrote about it in many newspapers and books.
  • The workers were overworked at this time. Kashibaba, a mill worker from Kanpur, showed links in caste and class exploitation in industries.
  • In the 1930s, the cotton workers of Bangalore set up libraries to educate themselves.


E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker popularly known as ‘Periyar’ criticised the caste system through his writings.

Print and Censorship

  • In the beginning, the colonial government was not eager to put censorship on the press, but as the tide of the nationalist movement grew, they began to take measures for controlling the press.
  • After the revolt of 1857, the Englishmen were apprehensive of providing freedom to the nationalist printing press in India.
  • The Vernacular Press Act was passed in 1878 which armed the Government with censorship rights. Any newspaper publishing seditious news was first warned. Its machinery was confiscated if it still
  • persisted with seditious reporting.
  • Despite of all these attempts, several nationalist newspapers began to rise in India. Attempts to curb these newspapers further sparked revolutionary activities. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was imprisoned for writing against the Government in his newspaper Kesari. This sparked protests all over India.

Thus, the development of printing had far-reaching effects on political, social and economic lives of the people.