China engraved block printing technique

The traditional Chinese engraved block printing technique, inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009, is a meticulous craft requiring the expertise of skilled artisans. Here are the key aspects of this ancient printing method:

Materials and Preparation

  1. Wood Blocks: The blocks are typically made from fine-grained wood, such as pear or jujube trees. These blocks are cut to a thickness of about two centimeters and meticulously polished with sandpaper to prepare a smooth surface for engraving.
  2. Design Preparation: The process begins with drafting the desired images or text onto extremely thin paper. These drafts are carefully inspected for accuracy before being transferred onto the wooden blocks.

Engraving Process

  1. Inking and Testing: Once the design is transferred, the blocks are inked and tested with red and blue inks. This step helps identify any errors in the engraving that need correction. The artisan meticulously carves the design into the wood, creating raised characters or images that will later apply ink to paper.
  2. Correction and Refinement: Corrections are made as needed during the testing phase. The engraver ensures that each detail, line, and character is accurately represented to achieve the desired printing effect.

Printing Process

  1. Inking the Blocks: When the blocks are deemed ready, they are thoroughly covered with ink.
  2. Hand Printing: The inked blocks are then pressed by hand onto paper. The pressure applied and the technique used during printing are crucial to achieving clear and precise impressions of the engraved designs.


  1. Printing Books: Engraved block printing is used to produce books in various traditional styles, including those with conventional binding methods. It is also employed for reproducing ancient Chinese books, preserving their cultural and historical significance.
  2. Continuation of Craft: Despite technological advancements, several printing workshops continue to practice this traditional handicraft. The knowledge and skills of expert artisans ensure the preservation and continuation of the engraved block printing technique.

Cultural Significance

  1. Intangible Cultural Heritage: Inscribed on the UNESCO list, this technique embodies China’s rich cultural heritage and craftsmanship. It reflects the historical importance of printing in disseminating knowledge, literature, and art throughout Chinese history.
  2. Artistic Expression: Beyond its practical applications, engraved block printing is considered an art form in itself. The meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail contribute to the artistic and aesthetic qualities of the printed works.

In conclusion, Chinese engraved block printing represents a blend of technical precision, artistic expression, and cultural heritage. It continues to be practiced and revered for its role in preserving traditional Chinese books and artworks, while also adapting to modern printing needs and techniques.