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JAPANESE WOOD ENGRAVINGS

xylography, its Oriental manifestations, past or present, even for the professed student of the subject, have but the most nebulous kind of existence, and the reason is not far to seek. It is only within recent years that the antiquity and characteristics of the woodcuts of China and Japan have received any attention from Sinologists and Japanologists, and even at the present time the material available for the historian is far from complete. There is, however, enough to supply indisputable proof of two facts: that these two countries, with Korea as a third, were our xylographic precursors; and that Japanese engraving has certain qualities which may convey useful lessons to ourselves. It is indeed probable that in a professional sense the wood engravers of China or Japan may claim a direct ancestral relation to those of the western world. Be this as it may, the story of the progress and practice of Turanian xylography is a missing chapter in the history of the art.

The outline now offered deals mainly with Japan, but a study of the early history of almost every Japanese art or art industry leads us back inevitably to China, either directly or through the intermediation of Korea, and the art of the wood engraver forms no exception to the rule. It is unfortunate, however, that the historical data as to its origin in the older nations are still very scanty, but it is desirable to give them the first place.

Pictorial Engraving in China.

The history of block-printing and that of pictorial engraving are necessarily linked together, for, given a pictorial art as well as a literature in a nation that has just brought into use the art of printing from engraved blocks, a picture would be executed as readily as a letter or ideographic character, and would be cut on the wood whenever the need of such an illustration of the text might chance to suggest itself. Now, it has long been known that printing from engraved blocks was employed in China at least as early as the sixth century of our era,[1] and the processes then invented were identical with those practised by the

  1. See the Guide to the Chinese and Japanese typographical and illustrated books exhibited in the King's Library of the British Museum in 1887, by Professor Robert K. Douglas.