History of Paper

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The first historical mention of paper is 104 A.D. in China. The Empress of China at that time loved books and wanted to have a lot of them made. At the time everything was written on silk scrolls which were extremely expensive and time consuming to make. She wanted something cheaper and easier to use and so she asked one of her servants, a gentleman by the name of Tsi Lun to come up with an alternative. He worked for over nine years experimenting with different things and finally came up with hemp, mulberry tree bark, silk and old fishing nets all ground up into a mushy pulp. I wonder how he ever thought of it; the history books don't say. The Empress was very pleased and Tsi Lun was elevated to a high rank in the court. Unfortunately for him, the Empress then asked Tsi Lun to spread malicious gossip about some of her enemies at court. When the Empress fell out of power, those people were extremely angry with Tsi Lun and he was either put to death or forced to commit suicide.
Strange, isn't it, how things go in the world? And, of course, all of this that I am sharing with you is just one version of history. Others will perhaps be able to give a different rendering. I have read many. I like the story of Tsi Lun. Most people agree on that one. But, as for the spread of papermaking as an art, well, there are different stories told. To gather such accounts and compare them falls within the discipline of "Historiography", the history of the writing of history. (If you ever want to scamble your brains and loose all concept of the solidity of reality, just study the hisotry writing of history.) The following, I believe, is most likely closest to the truth.
Papemmaking remained a secret Chinese art until around the year 700 A.D. when, during a war with China the Arab nations captured an entire town of papermakers and took them back to the middle east as prisoners where they were forced into labor making paper. The craft was learned a couple hundred years later by Westem Europeans during the Crusades. Curiously, the Church in Westem Europe initially banned the use of paper calling it a 'pagan art' believing that animal parchment was the only thing 'holy' enough to carry the Sacred Word. That strange prejudice lasted for more than 100 years, but they got over it.
In the 17th century Europeans were making paper from cotton and linen rags. When paper is made ...

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...which does not add to the pollution in the environment. Natural fiber paper makers have told me that they neutralize their caustic solutions with vinegar and baking soda. After the cooking process, once it is neutralized and checked with a litmus strip, the fiber cooking water can be disposed of down the drain without any fear of adding to the toxic waste in the environment, so there is hope.)
The sad tale of our time period for the health of the eco system is that just as cotton and linen rags as sources for paper making were becoming scarce in the 17th century, trees in the 21st are also dissappearing. As an example, one single edition of the Sunday New York Times requires 30,000 acres of trees. And that's just the New York Times. What about the London Times? L.A. Times? And the millions of other papers printed around the world? Experiments have begun to find alternative sources of fiber and I have recently heard the European mills are turning toward hemp. Hemp yields 4 times the amount of cellulose fiber per acre than trees and is renewable within a year or two compared to 100 years for trees. As a lover of trees, I hope the rest of the world soon follows the European example.

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