The Creation of Bamboo Books

In reading Chapter 1 of Amaranth Borsuk’s book titled The Book As Object, I found that the section titled “Scrolls and the Advent of Paper” stuck out to me most. Specifically, I found it interesting how Borsuk discusses how the earliest forms of the book were developed by the Chinese, who used an abundant plant fiber of bamboo and named jiance. Borsuk draws attention to how this form then provided an excellent model for the idea of grain and how it encompassed the direction in which a sheet of paper’s fibers lay (Borsuk 25). In addition, many traditional Chinese writing styles, such as the assortment of writing from top to bottom with a column of single characters of text continuing to the left, come from the book’s materiality, which developed from the origins of jiance (Borsuk 26). Ultimately, I find Borsuk’s response to the evolution of the form and content of the book intriguing.

After doing some further research, I found that a lot of attention is directed towards Cai Lun and his contributions to the form and content of papermaking in 105 CE. Specifically, one source stated, “In the book, The 100 – a Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael H. Hart, Cai Lun is ranked as the seventh most influential person in history due to his invention or discovery of papermaking (Alft 2018).” In addition, I discovered several contemporary artists who work with the jiance papermaking form. Specifically, Japanese bamboo artist Nagakura Ken’ichi explains how his passion for beachcombing and fossicking in nature, combined with an appreciation for the work of twentieth-century modern sculptors, has resulted in his composition of natural amorphic shapes that suggest human forms (Crothers 2018). Nagakura is known for creating pieces that express natural amorphic shapes that suggest human forms. For example, in 2014, he produced a ‘beautifully balanced work Women,’ which displayed one long piece of bamboo split into many fine strips excluding the last few centimeters, which was then interlaced to create one finished form. He completed his piece by rubbing a mixture of lacquer and powdered clay into the weave to give it an organic finish that gave it a natural appearance rather than a manufactured object (Crothers 2018). In conclusion, it is incredible to see how the early forms of the book were influenced by materials such as bamboo, which continues to be implemented by contemporary artists today. 

[ Image Description: A photograph of a bamboo book that displays its binding and contents. This specific book is titled The Art of War and is part of a collection at the University of California. Credit: (Written by Sun Tzu and transcribed by Qianlong Emperor) ]

Works Cited

Alft, Lori. “Cai Lun.” Paper Discovery Center, 31 December 2018, 

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018.

Crothers, Wayne. “Bamboo: Tradition in Contemporary Form.” National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, 6 July 2016, 

1 thought on “The Creation of Bamboo Books”

  1. You just sent me down the most wonderful rabbit-hole, Brianna, into the bamboo work of Nagakura Ken’ichi. Ceiling fans, slinkies, bodies, towers of babel – the forms are so suggestive of familiar things and yet so strange and surprising. Thanks for sending me there!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s