I went to SOAS to do my masters with Tim Barrett, he was the expert on the Tang, and I was very excited to study with him. Unfortunately the year I was there he had a sabbatical, and was off writing this book! As it was I got taught by Antonello Palumbo, who was great, young enthusiastic and really knew his stuff. I must have spent an hour in his office every week talking about early modern China.
So I was very excited to learn that Barrett's book had finally been released and ordered myself a copy. It was very interesting, not quiet what I was expecting as Empress Wu didn't turn up till half way through but nonetheless it was very enjoyable.
The book began with complaints about why the West is so preoccupied with Gutenberg as the "inventor" of printing, and looks at the 6th-8th centuries of China and how religion, in particular Buddhism, created a need for printed books.
The book looked at the development of Buddhism within China, and the use of pages of Buddhist texts as relics, and the importance of these relics. Barrett was able to trace the effects of these, and propose why and how they started with Empress Wu around 700 CE.
He tied these in with the "casting the Dragons" ritual that was performed by Empress Wu to secure her immortality through Taoism, but did little to explain the use of both Buddhism and Taoism by Wu.
At the end of the day I'm not entirely convinced by his arguments, it seems like it could have happened the way he described, but there is not enough evidence to say so at the moment. He did acknowledge this himself, and stated that he hoped it would promote further research....Continua