Wu Zetiam, the Printed Word
After declaring herself Emperor of China, Wu Zetian left inscriptions across the kingdom proclaiming her power and commemorating her ancestors. This carved stone, still protected by the fiercesome Shaolin monks, as it was in whose own day, is a poem praising her dead mother. The majority of the poem is actually rather melancholic is a very beautiful descriptions of the landscape around here. But then you find a couple of lines that really explain what it is that matters to Wu. "Truly, it falls to those of benevolent means to aid the Almighty to perfect the world." Basically, what she's saying is that Buddhism needs her as much as she needs it.
Wu's pragmatic devotion to Buddhism had an unexpected consequence, a kind of side-effect that would change the course of civilisation.
At the height of her power, a new technology was emerging in China. 700 years before the first Bible was printed in Europe, Wu realised the printed word could help her gain ever more religious and political influence.
Timothy Barrett from the University of London is an expert on Wu and early printing.
I'm right in thinking, aren't I, that this is the oldest printed book in the world?
Professor Barrett "Yes, it's certainly complete. It stated in 868, quite clearly at the end. This is the first real book where you can see the whole thing printed from end to end. This is a Buddhist text, as you can see from the Buddha being right up at the front there."