Wang Chaohui ✿ The story behind family history books and wooden movable type


30 August 2021

Wang Chaohui is making wooden movable type

Peixuan Lyu finds that the craft of type carving continues in China as a way of keeping alive the connection between generations.

“Half a second to find a word, ten minutes to cut a character.” Wang Chaohui, a devoted national intangible cultural heritage inheritor who has practiced for more than 40 years to keep his crafts subtle and faithful.

The traditional concept of family is a core element of Chinese ancient philosophy. In my family, my parents always emphasized family traditions and the faith of ancestors. Nowadays, when I go back to my hometown, it is still a basic courtesy to visit family members according to generations from grandfathers to fathers.

The family history book, a book that chronicles the lineage of a family and the deeds of important people, is fading away from contemporary society. In the village in Ruian, Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, Mr Wang Chaohui is persistent in making wooden family history books. He is the 23rd generation inheritor of the wooden movable type in Wang’s family. In the era of electronic typography and lead printing, Wang Chaohui and his heirs are insisting on polishing their craft on the woodcut of books. Wang suggested, “One book needs to be repainted every 30 years.”

According to scholars, from the middle and late Qing Dynasty, the wooden cut has evolved from the classic movable type, one of the four major inventions in ancient China. However, the difference is that the latter uses mud to carve while the former is carved on wood.

Woodcut details of the character “杰 (Excellent)”

Pick blocks, cut the wood and record family history. This is Wang Chaohui’s life routine for the past 20 years. There were dozens of wooden grids on his workbench, which were filled with 30,000 Chinese characters, each carved into a 1.1×1.1 cm piece of pear wood. “This craft is delicate in the texture of family history books. ” Wang said.

So how do you find the character you need out of 30,000 blocks immediately? The ancestor created a formula with 32 sentences and 160 words, which included 5000 Chinese characters that are common, in accordance with the radical orderly arrangement.

On a cloudy afternoon, the light was very dark, he sat at the table, picking out the blocks as if he were playing the piano from one key to another.

Wang Chaohui is  cleaning the blocks

“The work needs patience and care,” Wang suggested that an ancient family history book contains more than 100,000 words, which has to take months to print and complete for him. A family history book with the craft of wooden movable type records the stories and perceptions of families. Wang Chaohui is doing the mission of passing on the craftsmanship from Chinese ancestors.



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