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Many are well aware that Johann Gutenberg invented printing. On the other hand, do we know who invented paper ? Ts'ai Lun's name has never gained as much popularity as Gutenberg's. Researchers have discovered that the former invented paper about the year 105 AD. However, many major encyclopaedias and standard history textbooks seldom mention him. Not a great deal is known about Ts'ai Lun's life.

According to certain Chinese records and the official history of the Han Dynasty, he was an employee of the imperial court about 1800 years ago. Around the year 105 AD, he presented Emperor ho Ti with samples of paper. The emperor was so pleased with his invention that he promoted and bestowed on him an aristocratic title. However, he became involved in a political problem which soon led to his downfall. Upon being disgraced, he committed suicide. The Chinese have always credited Ts'ai Lun with the invention of paper, and his name is well known in China. Other aspects of his biography are hardly known, if not vague. However, his contribution to society is too important to ignore.

Today, paper is so common that we take it for granted, and it is hard to imagine what the world would be like without it. In China, before Ts'ai Lun's invention, most books were made of bamboo. Obviously, such books were extremely heavy and clumsy. Some books were written on silk, but that was too expensive for general use. In the West, before paper was introduced, most books were written on parchment or vellum which was made of specially-processed sheepskin or calfskin.

The use of paper became widespread in China during the second century, and within the next few centuries, the Chinese were exporting paper to other parts of Asia. For a long time, they kept the technique of paper-making a secret. However, they were unable to keep it for too long. In 751 AD, some Chinese papermakers were captured by the Arabs, and not long afterwards, paper was manufactured in certain parts of the Arab world. The art of papermaking gradually spread to the rest of the area. I was only in the 12th century that the Europeans learnt the art from the Arabs. The use of paper gradually spread, and after Gutenberg invented modern printing, paper replaced parchment as the main writing material in the West.

Due to the existence of paper, books and other written materials can be produced so cheaply today and in such considerable amounts. The Chinese civilization advanced rapidly because of paper. However, the invention of printing by Gutenberg improved the use of paper. Gutenberg was born about the year 1400 in the city of Mainz, Germany. He improve the inefficient style of printing so that books could be produced in masses with speed and accuracy. This contribution to he art of printing was made in the middle of the century.

Gutenberg did not gain much fame or fortune through his invention during his time. His best known work is the Gutenberg Bible. It was printed at Mainz, around 1454. Although it was clearly printed with the equipment he had invented, his name did not appear on the Bible. This was the case for many of his books. In his lifetime, he did not appear to have been a good businessman either.

Both Ts'ai Lun and Gutenberg died leaving a tremendous impact on Man's progress. Their contributions during their era helped cultivate a better civilization for the Chinese and the Europeans respectively.

Answer the following questions using complete sentences
  1. Why was Ts'ai Lun not well known for his invention for a long time ?
  2. How did Ts'ai Lun rise in status ?
  3. What were books made of in China before paper was invented ?
  4. ' ... the Chinese were exporting paper to other parts of Asia.' (paragraph 4). Although other parts of Asia were aware of the existence of paper, explain clearly why they did not make their own.
  5. Why are books made of paper considered better than those made from other materials ?
  6. Explain briefly how the knowledge of papermaking spread to Europe.
  7. When did the West stop using specially-processed sheepskin or calfskin for writing ?
  8. How were books printed before Gutenberg made some changes to the older form of printing ? State two ways.
  9. 'Gutenberg did not gain much fame ...' (paragraph 6). Explain what could have been the reason for this.
  10. Why did Gutenberg not gain much fortune from his invention during his time ?
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Many encyclopaedias and history text books did not mention his name.


The emperor was pleased with his invention of the paper, so he promoted and bestowed on him an aristocratic title.


Some books were made of bamboo while others were made of silk. / The books were made of bamboo or silk.


The Chinese kept the technique of papermaking a secret for a long time.


Books made of paper were not as heavy or clumsy as books made of bamboo and were cheaper than those made of silk. / Books made of paper were not as heavy (or clumsy) or expensive as books made from other materials.
  6. The Europeans learnt it from the Arabs who had begun manufacturing paper after capturing some Chinese papermakers in 751 AD. / The Arabs learnt how to make paper from the Chinese paper makers they had captured in 751 AD and the Europeans learnt it from the Arabs.
  7. They stopped using these when paper became popular in the West (or after Gutenberg invented modern printing).
  8. Books were not printed fast enough. / They were not printed in large numbers. / There were mistakes in the printing.
  9. Gutenberg's name did not appear on the books he had printed, including the Bible. / Gutenberg's name did not appear on the Bible and the other books he had printed.
  10. He was not a good businessman and so he did not make much money from his invention.

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Comprehension 1


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