Easternizing American Bookmaking
A Study of Chinese Bookbinding and Papermaking
Faculty Mentor: Pamela Barrios, HBLL Special Collections
The Chinese hold their craftspersons in high esteem, likewise they treated me as a student
craftsperson with respect and honor. My guide in downtown Beijing, near Heping Gate, Li
Meiqi took me to the private offices of conservationists at work restoring centuries old books.
Although we did not speak each other’s language we communicated through our craft. These
kind and skilled people demonstrated their methods of conservation and bookmaking with
tireless patience and we laughed at misunderstandings and compared our different and similar
practices. It was interesting to find how similar our craft is across East to West though our
cultures and languages are so different.
The first thing I asked when I got to Beijing was where was the papermaking? When I finally
made sense through an interpreter they told me no one makes handmade paper in Beijing, many
towns outside of Beijing do, but no where in Beijing. So I decided to pursue Chinese
Bookbinding solely. I noticed the little shops everywhere sold little paperbound books, mostly
navy blue with white thread (see fig. 1). The next form of book I saw was an accordion style
binding with thick wooden boards and beautiful Chinese cloth coverings (see fig. 2). These two
forms were almost exclusively the only ones I saw with little or no variation across all of Beijing.
In the private offices of conservationists I watched demonstrations of sewing Chinese binding
and rice paper repairs. I looked through and handled centuries old books and studied their form
and compared them to more modern versions of the same design.
Upon my return to BYU I began constructing my own models of the books and cases I saw while
in Beijing. I found the precision and tight fit satisfying. I backed the cloth I had bought in a
store near Li Meiqi’s bookstore. I backed it using the same wheat paste I saw the Chinese
conservationists using, the same that we use regularly here in the west. I used the paper I bought
there too. As I worked my boss and head conservationist Mark Pollei took notice. Upon
completion of the books and case I presented them to Pam Barrios and Mark Pollei. They were
impressed with the skill and care I took with these pieces. (figures 3-6)
Figure 1 – This is commonly known in the West as a Japanese binding,
but with some differences to make it specifically a Chinese binding.
They are very similar and most likely the Japanese took their form from
Figure 2 – Accordion
Style Binding. The ones
I saw on the streets of
Beijing were bound with
boards covered in