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Graphic Information Design: Print History

The British Library holds a copy of the Buddhist text known commonly as the Diamond Sutra (a more accurate translation of the Sanskrit title might be, the Vajra Cutter Sutra). It is a short Mahayana sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom (prajna-paramita) genre, which teaches the practice of the avoidance of abiding in extremes of mental attachment. A copy found among the Dunhuang manuscripts in the early 20th century, is, in the words of the British Library “the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book.”

The first translation of the Diamond Sutra into Chinese was done sometime around the beginning of the fifth century by the venerated Kumarajiva. The Kumarajiva translation is the version that appears on the 868 CE Dunhuang scroll. The copy is a scroll, over 5 metres long, was purchased in 1907 by the archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein. Hidden for centuries in a sealed-up cave in north-west China, in the walled-up Mogao Caves near Dunhuang, a monk guarded the caves which were known as the “Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.” Read more