Resurrecting the art of China's dragon scale bookbinding
August 14, 2020 6:10 PM   Subscribe

At his studio in Beijing, artist Zhang Xiaodong layers hundreds of sheets of thin paper on top of one another until they form a complete and impeccable image. When the chapters of his elaborate books are unfolded, the pages move like the bellows of an accordion. This ancient Chinese art, known as dragon scale bookbinding [CNN], stretches back more than 1,000 years to the Tang dynasty. Passed down between generations of royals and literate upper class families, the finished works were thought to resemble dragons, each page appearing like a "scale." Video | More examples
posted by Johnny Wallflower (9 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
There is nothing more sublime than a book. A tangible book. From the outside, each book is a small, delineated object that you can hold. On the inside a book can hold an entire world. These books are magical. I would love to be to touch one and turn the pages. Thank you.
posted by njohnson23 at 7:03 PM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

This looks fascinating. Does the creation of the book go as far as to have whatever particular "scale" you turn, the accompanying text and/or artwork revealed would be related to whatever slice of the scale picture you had just peeled away somehow?

I still am having a hard time really envisioning what this really look like. But they're beautiful, and I guess they're sort of a hidden edge book, only the edge is meant to be found and is a feature of the book itself and not just a little surprise.

Also, I'm glad the books are just said to resemble the scales on a dragon, and not actually books that are scaled for dragons to read.
posted by hippybear at 7:30 PM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

A few things to note about the video:

1. The video's editing is a little erratic and has many jump cuts. It also has animated text in between certain shots that unfolds like the books being discussed. These two things made it difficult for me to watch the video without getting nauseous or dizzy, especially when trying to view on mobile.

2. Since the video is hosted on CNN, there were ads before it starts. The ones I saw were about animal cruelty in factory farms being the cause of the next pandemic (or something.) It was disturbing and unexpected. I could not skip the ad like you sometimes can with videos on other sites.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 8:51 PM on August 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

I still am having a hard time really envisioning what this really look like.
If you scroll down to the slideshow or even more to the last picture, it shows the one called Dream of the Red Chamber which is a good example. This seems similar to fore edge paintings.
posted by soelo at 10:31 PM on August 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

I saw the pictures of the book. I guess what I'm wondering is... there's a description of the book when closed as looking like a scroll, but what I see in the photos is more a series of hard-backed planks set up in a V formation. And I think, I guess, that each book is a series of paintings on consecutively larger edged paper upon which a painting has been created, but each leaf of each painting contains text underneath? So maybe each painting is a chapter of the story with lots of pages within the chapter, each of which involves the turning of a "scale" to read?

I'd love to see one in person, to understand it better. It's a beautiful and fascinating sort of book art. I love book art.
posted by hippybear at 6:59 AM on August 15, 2020

This is both fascinating and frustrating - I want more technical details on how it works! Really interesting!
posted by leslies at 7:01 AM on August 15, 2020

Wow, too cool, I know this guy! Met him a few times through a mutual contact, and have seen first hand a presentation of a few of these incredible books. Picture 1/7 "Dream of the Red Chamber", I distinctly remember that one. Amazing and beautiful stuff. He is a youngish guy, too, so still many years of this excellent art forthcoming!
posted by Meatbomb at 7:41 AM on August 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

It really is an intersection of book / art / puzzle... incredible in the level of detail and craftsmanship. I cannot give much specifics of the functioning other than, everything seemed so perfect and we just stood there jaws gaping in awe. No touching, he showed everything with that fancy book turning stick you can see in the photos. Really this is too delicate for anything other than a museum or similar. I do not know Chinese, but the way they explained it the pictures and text were intricately linked and as the images shifted that was represented by the text as well...
posted by Meatbomb at 7:52 AM on August 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

The video really got me feeling more and more edgy as it went on. I can enjoy seeing some process before the finished reveal but this just seemed to move in circles and I never got a real sense of how the steps played into the construction.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

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