The Battle That Made Paper Global and Revolutionized the Spread of Knowledge

一场使造纸术走向全球并彻底改变了知识传播的战役


Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest known printed book using woodblock printing on paper. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons.

图:《金刚经》 ,世界上已知最早的印刷书籍,使用雕版印刷术印刷 图片来源和授权: 维基共享资源


Once upon a time, the method of making paper was kept a closely guarded secret. The Chinese invented paper and it was inaccessible in Eurasia. The globalization of paper happened a thousand years after its invention.
A bloody conflict in the mid-8th century CE was the event that established paper making as a global technology. For centuries, the battle changed how knowledge spread around the world. It paved the way for the popularity of the mechanized printing press.
The conflict was between the era’s two superpowers, the Chinese Tang dynasty, and the Arabic Abbasid Caliphate. In 752 CE, a clash at the Talas River in the modern-day Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan border opened up access to papermaking.

很久以前,造纸的方法是一个被严密保护的秘密,中国人发明了纸,而欧亚大陆却无法使用,纸张的全球化发生在它发明后的一千年。
公元8世纪中叶的一场血腥冲突使造纸成为一项全球普及的技术,这场战争改变了知识在全世界的传播方式,它为机械化印刷机的普及铺平了道路。
这场冲突发生在那个时代的两个超级大国——中国的唐朝和阿拉伯阿拔斯王朝之间。
公元752年,今哈萨克斯坦和吉尔吉斯斯坦边境的塔拉斯河发生的一场冲突打开了造纸的大门。


The Battle of Talas River (752 CE)
A mural from Mogao caves commemorating Tang victory over Tibet, Mogao caves ,China. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia commons
Why did the Chinese and Arabs clash in Central Asia?
To understand this, we must examine the evolution of the two dynasties as well as the complex politics of the time.
The Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) ruled China from Chang’an (now known as Xi’an). During Emperor Taizong’s reign (626–649 CE), the Tang dynasty subjugated the powerful G?ktürks. Taizong was the first Chinese ruler to be crowned the Khan of Heaven.


图:莫高窟一幅纪念唐朝战胜西藏的壁画,莫高窟,中国
# 塔拉斯河之战 ( 公元752年 )
中国人和阿拉伯人为什么会在中亚发生冲突?
要理解这一点,我们必须考察两个朝代的演变以及当时复杂的政治。
唐朝(公元618-907年)建都长安(现称西安)并开始统治中国,唐太宗在位期间(公元626-649年),唐朝征服了强大的突厥,太宗是中国历史上第一个被奉为天可汗的统治者。

Tang dynasty in 669 CE after absorbing the powerful Turkic Khaganate. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons

图:地图略,公元669年,吸收强大的突厥汗国后的唐朝


The Tang decided to check the new rising power’s influence in their territory. Tang forces defeated the Arab-Tibetan alliance at Aksu in the modern-day Xinjiang province of China in 717 CE.
Following their victory at Aksu, the Tang and their Turkic allies launched successful campaigns retaking control of Central Asia, Tarim Basin, and the Hindu Kush region.
The Umayyads’s influence waned, and the Abbasids emerged as the new Middle Eastern superpower.

唐朝决定遏制这个新兴大国在其领土上的影响力,公元717年,唐朝军队在阿克苏击败了阿拉伯-西藏联盟。
阿克苏大捷后,唐军和他们的突厥盟友成功发动了一场战役,重新控制了中亚、塔里木盆地和兴都库什地区。
倭玛亚王朝的影响力减弱,阿巴斯王朝崛起为中东新的超级大国。


Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid receives a gift from Charlamagne by German painter Julius K?ckert, dated 1864. The first paper mill in the Arab world was established during al-Rashid’s reign. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons

图:阿巴斯哈里发哈伦·拉希德收到查理曼大帝涅送给他的一份礼物,由德意志画家朱利叶斯·科克特1864年创作,阿拉伯世界的第一家造纸厂是在拉希德统治时期建立的

The Baghdad-based Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258 CE) continued the policy of expansion into Central Asia. But the outcome was the same. The Tang defeated the Arabs once more in Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital. Gao Xianzhi, a Korean general, was Tashkent’s hero for the Tang. The Tang army was multi-ethnic and it recruited the best brains from the empire irrespective of their nationality.

以巴格达为基地的阿拔斯王朝(公元750-1258年)继续推行向中亚扩张的政策,但结果是一样的,唐人在乌兹别克斯坦首都塔什干再次击败了阿拉伯人,朝鲜族将领高仙芝,是塔什干一战唐朝的英雄,唐军是一支多民族军队,他们不分民族,从帝国中招募最优秀的人才。



Modern day view of the Talas river, the site of the historic battle. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons

图:塔拉斯河的现代景观,一场历史性战役的遗址



According to the second version of the battle, Arabs and Chinese were at a stalemate for three days. The Arab general Ziyad bribed the Karluk Turks on the fourth day. During the battle, they attacked the Tang army. The Chinese were caught off guard and easily defeated.

根据第二个版本,这场战役阿拉伯人和中国人僵持了三天,阿拉伯将领齐雅德在第四天贿赂了葛逻禄人。
战斗中,葛逻禄人倒戈向唐军发起了攻击,中国人猝不及防,被轻易击败。

Regardless of which version you believe, it is undeniable that the Chinese were defeated because of the Karluk Turks’ betrayal. Arabs kidnapped many Chinese soldiers and officers. This changed the dynamics of knowledge transmission in the future. The prisoners of war knew the art of papermaking and would help set up paper mills in the Middle East.

不管你相信哪个版本,不可否认的是,中国人被打败是因为突厥葛逻禄人的背叛,阿拉伯人绑架了许多中国士兵和军官,这改变了未来知识传播的态势,战俘们懂得造纸术,可以帮助在中东建造造纸厂。

Papermaking goes global
Oldest paper book, 256 CE, China. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons
Invention of Paper
According to the Chinese tradition, a eunuch named Cai Lun invented paper in 105 CE. Observing paper wasps build their nests inspired him. Bamboo and silk were writing mediums in China prior to the invention of paper. Bamboo was brittle, and silk was expensive.

# 造纸术走向世界



图:最古老的纸质书,公元256年,中国
· 纸的发明
根据中国的记载,一个名叫蔡伦的太监在公元105年发明了纸,他在观察黄蜂筑巢的过程中受到启发,在纸张发明之前,竹简和丝绸是中国的书写媒介,竹子易碎,丝绸昂贵。



The earliest known paper sample dated 179 BCE: A map found in Fangmatan, Gansu, China. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons

图:已知最早的纸样可追溯到公元前179年:中国甘肃放马滩发现的地图

Advances in paper manufacturing technology transformed reading and writing. According to Timothy Hugh Barrett, the culture of reading flourished in China after the invention of paper. Paper overcame the limitations placed by bamboo and silk.

造纸技术的进步改变了人们的阅读和写作,根据据蒂莫西 · 休 · 巴雷特的说法,在纸张发明之后,阅读文化在中国蓬勃发展,纸克服了竹子和丝绸的局限性。

Papermaking spreads in Asia
Weber manuscxts dated 5–6th century CE. A total of 9 manuscxts written in Sanskrit and Pali were discovered in Tarim Basin. Four manuscxts were from paper made in Nepal. Image source and credits: Wikimedia commons
The Chinese did everything they could to keep the knowledge of paper making a secret. However, parts of Korea, Tibet, and India soon began to manufacture paper.
The Chinese Buddhist monk Tijing (Romanized I-ching) mentions that Indians used paper to draw and worship images of Buddha. A Sanskrit Dharani (Buddhist recitation) discovered in a Tang tomb in China suggests that Indians were familiar with papermaking.

· 造纸术在亚洲的传播



图:韦伯手稿,可以追溯到公元5-6世纪,在塔里木盆地共发现了9份梵文和巴利文手稿,四份手稿自尼泊尔的纸张
中国人竭力保守造纸的秘密,然而,朝鲜、西藏和印度的部分地区很快开始生产纸张。
中国佛教高僧 Tijing提到,印度人用纸来绘制和崇拜佛陀的形象,在中国一座唐代古墓中发现的梵文密语 (佛教经文)表明印度人已经熟悉了造纸术。

The spread of knowledge was not a one-way street.
From India, the Chinese learned the art of binding. In India, palm leaf manuscxts known as talapatra were bound; in China, the same technique was used to bind books and documents.
By 751 CE, the art of making paper had spread to Central Asia. But it was the Battle of Talas River that changed everything. Chinese prisoners of war quickly began making paper in the Abbasid Caliphate, and by 793 CE Baghdad had its first paper mill.

知识的传播不是一条单行道。
中国人从印度学到了装订的艺术,在印度,被称为Talapatra 的棕榈叶手稿被装订成册 ; 在中国,同样的技术也被用于装订书籍和文件。
到公元751年,造纸术已经传播到中亚。
塔拉斯河之战改变了一切,中国战俘很快开始在阿巴斯王朝制纸,到公元793年巴格达有了第一家造纸厂。


Depiction of papermaking in Middle East. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons.

图:关于中东造纸业的描述


During the Tang dynasty, China had the world’s largest libraries. However, over the next 300 years, libraries in Baghdad, Cordoba, and Cairo surpassed their Chinese counterparts in terms of book volume.
The knowledge of woodblock printing transformed the world of book publishing. As early as 1000 CE, woodblock printing was seen in the Byzantine Empire. However, it was not until the 13th century that it became widely used in Europe.

在唐代,中国拥有世界上最大的图书馆,然而,在接下来的300年里,巴格达、科尔多瓦(西班牙南部城市)和开罗的图书馆在图书数量上超过了中国同行。
雕版印刷的知识改变了世界图书出版业,早在公元1000年,拜占庭帝国就出现了雕版印刷术,然而,直到13世纪,它才在欧洲得到广泛应用。

Paper arrives in Europe
Roman fresco depicting a young man holding a papyrus scroll, 1st century CE. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons.
Prior to the invention of paper, the official writing medium in Europe was papyrus scrolls and stone tablets.
Papyrus was invented in Egypt and is made from the reeds of the papyrus plant, which grows in the Nile delta. Because papyrus cracked when folded, large scrolls were rolled to store information. Papyrus was phased out in favor of vellum and parchment made from animal skins.
Vellum was more resistant to moisture and did not crack like papyrus. However, clergy continued to use papyrus until the 11th century. The most recent papal decree on papyrus was issued in 1057 CE, after which paper became popular in Europe.

· 纸张传入欧洲



图:罗马壁画,描绘了一个手持纸莎草卷的年轻人,公元1世纪
在纸张发明之前,欧洲的官方书写媒介是纸莎草卷和石板。
莎草纸是在埃及发明的,用生长在尼罗河三角洲的莎草植物芦苇制成,因为纸莎草纸折叠时会裂开,所以卷轴被卷起来以储存信息。纸莎草纸被逐步淘汰,取而代之的是用动物皮制成的羊皮纸和牛皮纸。
牛皮纸更耐潮湿,也不像莎草纸那样容易开裂,然而,直到11世纪,神职人员仍在使用莎草纸。
最晚的一项关于莎草纸的教皇法令是在公元1057年颁布的,此后,纸在欧洲开始流行起来。

The Missal of Silos made by the Mozarabs, dated 1080 CE, is the earliest known record of paper in Europe. Mozarabs were Christian subjects of Al-Andalus, Spain’s Islamic caliphate. This may sound familiar from Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, in which he refers to this historic document. The Missal was created in Spain during the Arab rule, indicating that the Arabs were responsible for the transmission of papermaking technology to Europe.
By 1085 CE, Toledo, Spain, had a well-established paper mill. In 1190 CE, papermaking arrived in France. Germany began producing paper in 1390 CE, when Ulman Stromer set up a paper mill in Nuremberg. Papermaking took a little longer to arrive in England, with John Tate starting the first paper mill near Hertford in 1490 CE. Austria, Poland, Russia, and Denmark were producing paper by the 15th and 16th centuries.

公元1080年,莫扎勒布人制作的《西洛斯弥撒》是欧洲已知最早的纸质记录。
莫扎勒布人是西班牙伊斯兰哈里发国安达卢西亚的基督教臣民,在翁贝托·艾柯的《玫瑰的名字》中,他提到了这一历史性的文献。
《西洛斯弥撒》是在阿拉伯人统治时期的西班牙创造的,着说明阿拉伯人将造纸技术带到了欧洲。
到公元1085年,西班牙的托莱多已经有了成熟的造纸厂,公元1190年,造纸术传入法国,公元1390年,德国开始生产纸张,当时阿尔曼斯托默在纽伦堡建立了一个造纸厂。
造纸术用了较长的时间才传到达英格兰,约翰 · 泰特于公元1490年在赫特福德附近创办了第一家造纸厂,奥地利、波兰、俄罗斯和丹麦15和16世纪开始生产纸张。

Printing press at Nuremburg, bottom right. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons
Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith from Mainz, Germany, is credited with the invention of the metallic movable printing press. But historians have challenged the narrative, mentioning the existence of metal movable printing presses in China during the 11th century Song dynasty, and in 13th century Korea. Despite its invention in China and usage in Korea, it would not become popular in the next 300 years. Woodblock printing remained the de facto printing method.
The movable printing press was faster than the Chinese woodblock printing technique and became popular in Europe. German printers set up printing shops in Italy, France, and England. This increased book output over the next few centuries, as shown in the graph below.


图:纽伦堡的印刷机,右下角
德国美因茨的金匠约翰内斯·古腾堡被认为是金属活字印刷术的发明者,但历史学家对这种说法提出了质疑,11世纪宋代的中国和13世纪的朝鲜都存在金属活字印刷术。
尽管它在中国被发明,在韩国被使用,但在接下来的300年里,它并没有得到普及,雕版印刷仍然是事实上的印刷方式。
活字印刷术比中国的雕版印刷术速度更快,并开始在欧洲流行起来,德国印刷商在意大利、法国和英国设立了印刷厂,这在接下来的几个世纪里增加了图书的产量,如下图所示:


European book production during Medi Ages. Data from “Charting the Rise of the West” by Buringh et al. Image source and licensing: Wikimedia Commons

图:中世纪时期的欧洲图书产量,数据来自布林等人的 "西方崛起绘"

As a result, knowledge spread faster than before across Europe, with the new rising middle class demanding more books. This was a watershed moment in learning, ushering in a new era of enlightenment. Progress in science, technology, philosophy, fine arts, and literature heralded the beginning of a new era in European history.

因此,知识在欧洲的传播速度比以前更快,新兴的中产阶级需要更多的书籍,这是一个学习的分水岭,开创了一个新的启蒙时代。
科学、技术、哲学、美术和文学的进步预示着欧洲历史新时代的开始。

The story of paper and its role in changing the course of human civilization is fascinating.
But would it have been possible without the Tang dynasty’s defeat at Talas River? Many historians have questioned the narrative indicating the presence of paper manufacturing in Central Asia at the time of the battle. However, the spread of the technology would have been excruciatingly slow. The advancements we have today may have been delayed by several centuries.
Trade secrets were closely guarded, and there was a tendency to monopolize knowledge. The Battle of Talas River led to the end of China’s seven-century paper monopoly. There is no doubt that this conflict was a watershed moment in human history.

纸的故事及其在改变人类文明进程中的作用是引人入胜的。
但是,如果没有唐朝在塔拉斯河的失败,这一切还有可能发生吗?许多历史学家对战争爆发时中亚存在造纸业的说法提出了质疑,然而,这项技术的传播将会极其缓慢,我们今天所取得的进步可能被推迟了几个世纪。
商业秘密受到严密保护,而且存在着垄断知识的倾向,塔拉斯河之战结束了中国长达7个世纪的造纸垄断——毫无疑问,这场冲突是人类历史的分水岭。
参考资料:略