Letterpress printing: Safeguarding cultural heritage before it disappears
By Meng Yaping

2017-01-02 19:25 GMT+8

1969km to Beijing

“I hope to introduce this traditional practice to people before it disappears, and to explain to them the history of letterpress printing in Hong Kong.”
--YAM WAI-SANG, who runs a letterpress printing workshop in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Yam demonstrates how to use a letterpress printing machine. /Photo: Mao Dan
Letterpress printing with movable type was once considered one of the Four Great Inventions of Ancient China. But today, it's a dying art, especially in a fast-paced city like Hong Kong. However, printer Yam Wai-sang refuses to say farewell to his life-long practice, and is working hard to preserve this traditional craft.
Letterpress printing is complex work. It involves multiple procedures: pick the types, work on the type setting, and then put them into the machine for printing. 
Chinese characters are in reversed form on the movable types. /Photo: Mao Dan
Letterpress printing with movable type is believed to have been invented in China by Bi Sheng some 1,000 years ago during the Song Dynasty.
Letterpress printing once had a glorious history in Hong Kong.
The letterpress printing machine. /Photo: Mao Dan
From the 1970s to the 1990s, there were over 200 letterpress companies around the districts of Sheung Wan and Central. They served local trading companies, printing their business cards and contracts. But today, no one would imagine the work of assembling thousands of individual characters to print a book, or working for around an hour to print a simple business card.
The letterpress printing machine. /Photo: Mao Dan
To preserve the craft and cultural heritage, Yam now runs a workshop at his Kwong Wah Printing Company in Sheung Wan. Though most of the types have gone over the years, he encourages visitors to pick their names from the remaining 10,000 types and then show them how letterpress printing is done.
(Story by Mao Dan)