Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Pen and Paper (07/17/14)
TITLE: Beyond Bamboo and Bone
By Jack Taylor
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Cai Lun bowed low before the Emperor and spread out his gift. He subtly adjusted his courtly robe so as not to appear immodest while his face was to the ground and his back was turned to the raised dais. “Heavenly One, I bring words of life from the west.”
“You may turn your face to the sun.”
Cai Lun slowly spun toward the voice while keeping his nose to the ground.
“Look upon the Lord of all.”
Cai Lun slowly raised his eyes. The golden robed guardians stood motionless on either side of the most powerful man on the planet. Their swords were sharpened to do his bidding. A hundred other lesser guardians stood motionless around the room.
The Heavenly One set his hand before his mouth and whispered to his interpreter. His words were conveyed. “The Heavenly One wonders what the words are written on. It is not bone or silk or leather or bamboo.”
Cai Lun prostrated himself fully on the floor. “I have watched the bees and wasps at work. They create something that is strong and light. I mashed together the bark of trees, hemp, rags and fishing nets and let them dry. The ink from my pen keeps a clear form.”
“What good will this do for the greatest empire on earth?”
“Heavenly One, with this substance the Han Dynasty traders will be able to carry many records without weariness. Your courts will be given better accounts. News of your wisdom will travel through all countries and last many generations.”
“And how did these words of life arrive in our land?”
“The words were on a leather scroll taken from a trader who got it from a holy man who had come to Persia from Syria.”
“And what is the message you dare to bring on this new substance?”
“We had to interpret from Greek, Heavenly One. The best we can understand is what I have written.”
“Read it to me.”
“Heavenly One, the reading is as follows. ‘The Word was from the beginning. He was with the divine. He was the divine. Everything was made by him. Nothing came into existence without him.”
Cai Lun put his nose to the floor and waited for the sword to fall. He was sure he had offended the Heavenly One by speaking words of another divine soul.
Instead he heard the interpreter’s questioning voice. “Who is this divine one who creates all? Do the holy ones of the west speak of me or someone else?”
Cai Lun spoke as clearly as he could from his prostrate position. “I don’t know, Heavenly One. I have only made enough of this substance to take these words.”
The whispering continued until Cai Lun felt the sharp blade of a guardian’s sword against his neck. “The Heavenly One wishes you to create more of this substance and to bring more of these words. He wants to know who else would claim his position.”
Cai Lun spent seven dawns stripping the bark off than trees and mashing it with mulberry leaves and old rags and fishing net. He flattened it with heavy rounded boulders and let it dry in the sun.
The courtier cut it into large manageable strips and then took out his pen to write.
A guardian stepped in and stopped him. “The Heavenly One wishes to see if the words he says can be written and preserved. Before you bring more words from the west, he wishes to send out his words from the east. There are many kings and dynasties who have fallen before his sword. The world must know.”
Cai Lun carefully rolled up the leather scroll with the ‘words of life’ and set about to record the Emperor’s words.
Cai Lun’s daughter learned her father’s skill at writing and paper making and practiced copying the strange script from the west. She hid her copy with the original leather scroll until her father passed away.
For six generations and through several emperors the skills increased in the descendants of Cai Lun. And then one day, in 635 AD, a Syriac speaking Persian arrived along the silk road. Emperor Taizong sent Duke Fang Hsuan-ling and an honor guard.
Alopen, the first western missionary to China was housed in the home of an educated minister who showed him an old scroll and dozens of paper copies. Finally, the words of life captured by pen on paper were understood and explained.
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