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Dragon Scale Binding Book

16 February 2011


China is the birthplace of paper and printing, as well as numerous book binding crafts which first emerged during Yin-S hang era (殷商时代) when the oracle inscriptions were carved on tortoise shells, that was 2,000 years before the appearance of paper. Later, with the invention of bamboo slips, paper and printing, the book binding package also developed into a whole range of formats, from antiquated Policy Briefing (简策), Scroll (卷轴), Dragon Scale (龙鳞), Sutra (经折), Butterfly (蝴蝶), Amalgamation (和合), Back-cover (包背) Wire-bound (线装) to contemporary paperback, hardcover and saddle-stitch. On today's Chinese book market, you can find all these binding packages, archaic or modern, except one: Dragon Scale.

The heyday of the Dragon Scale package was during the Tang Dynasty with the latest such book believed to be produced 1,000 years ago by language scholar Wang Renxi (王仁煦) and his wife Wu Cailuan (吴彩鸾). Lady Wu was an accomplished calligrapher who hand copied the text of her husband's research report on paper which was then bounded by Mr Wang with Dragon Scale method. The final product looks like a scroll when it is closed with the content viewable either by spreading the scroll or flipping pages.

Yet somehow for centuries no one in China seemed to be able to figure out how the package was actually done. The situation eventually changed when Fortune Blessing Studio (祐吉斋) tried their hand at the forgotten craft. Late last year, the studio produced the first Dragon Scale book in a thousand years, and early this year, Zhang Xiaodong (张晓栋), a young master from the studio, ascended the West Hill in the outskirt of Beijing, and entered Dragon Spring Temple (龙泉寺) to present the second Dragon Scale binding book as his gift to Abbot Xuecheng (学诚法师), his Buddhist master.

It took Zhang a year to hand copy the entire Diamond Sutra on the book and illustrate Buddha images at the edge of each page which has rendered two magnificent paintings in 3D quality with the scenes shifting whenever you turn a page - a great way to remind the reader the essence of the Buddha's teaching: the impermanence of this material world and of our impression about it.


The Dragon Scale binding book


.. hand produced by Zhang Xiaodong (张晓栋). Zhang demonstrates how to view the entire content in one glance


... or just flip through to read one page at a time. The twelve chapters of the sutra were produced in twelve different styles of Seal Script


... with the paintings at both sides.


(Source of info & images: Dragon Spring Temple)

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A bridge on the West Hill leads to Dragon Spring Temple on the other side.

The thousand-year old temple gate

The monks from the temple clean snow from the roads to create a less pure but more negotiable path for lay followers to approach the Buddhist teaching centre.

The temple and the hills in the sun after the snow.

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