Monday, May 21, 2012

Blood Writing

Among the Chinese manuscripts from the Dunhuang cave there are several with colophons stating that they were written using the scribe's own blood. The practice of blood writing was popular in China for centuries, mainly, but not exclusively, in the Buddhist tradition. It was not uncontroversial, with some Buddhists considering it an extravagent form of asceticism. But for many it was a way of showing powerful sincerity in the act of copying Buddhist scriptures. Most of the Chinese manuscripts written in blood do not look particularly bloody; the ink is often indistinguishable from ordinary ink, and perhaps in these cases only a few drops of the scribe's blood were mixed in with the ink. On the other hand, the Tibetan manuscript shown above (IOL Tib J 308) has the appearance of having been written in pure blood. Recent tests by Renate Nöller, a conservation scientist specialising in pigment identification, and working with IDP, confirmed that the ink on this manuscript has a very high iron content. For more on this manuscript, and references to further reading on blood writing, see this post on

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