With vast financial resources at the disposal of the Ch'ing dynasty imperial clan, the Imperial Printing Office was formally established in the 19th year of the K'ang-hsi Emperor's reign (1680) at the Wu-ying Palace. This office specialized in the printing of books that were imperially commissioned, which is why these court publications forming the core efforts of the Imperial Printing Office at the Wu-ying Palace are known by the abbreviation "Palace Imprints". In modern terms, these would be the equivalent of publications by the central government.
The engraving and printing of books by the government in China actually has a long history. Back in the Five Dynasties and Sung dynasty period, the central government agency responsible for the publication of books was known as the "Directorate of Education". In the following Yuan dynasty, the government established the "Supply and Printing Office" for this purpose, while in the Ming dynasty the "Repository of Books" under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Ceremonial was responsible for the production of books.
The Manchu rulers of the Ch'ing dynasty, after establishing control over China, temporarily borrowed from books on government and administration in both Manchu and Chinese that had been printed by the Directorate of Ceremonial under the previous Ming dynasty and used these to teach their own children. After the Imperial Printing Office was formally established, a series of books reflecting the political ideals and cultural inclinations of the Ch'ing emperors was printed, forming a systematic collection of publications differing greatly from those produced by the courts of previous dynasties. The titles of such Ch'ing imprints often bear the prefix "Imperially Produced", "Imperially Selected", "Imperially Annotated", "Imperially Commented", and "Imperially Endorsed", along with "Imperially Produced Preface" that appears from time to time. All of these prefixes proclaim the fact that Palace Imprints carry the explicit will and authority of the emperor.
In addition to fastidious attention to the contents, the strict and precise workmanship of the carving, special emphasis on the materials used, and beautiful bindings are all important features of the appearance of Palace Imprints that also reflect the sumptuousness and great refinement of the imperial clan. Likewise, the present exhibition has been divided into two sections. One deals with directions in editing and printing based on their contents, including the such categories as "Pursuit of Cultural Traditions", "Implementing Political Ideals", "Civil Administration and Military Success", "The Collection and Appreciation of Cultural Artifacts", and "Venerating Buddhist Beliefs". The other section deals with these imprints on a more technical level. In addition to following achievements of the Ming dynasty and prior traditions of carving wood blocks and printing, large-scale classified books and collectanea were set and printed using movable bronze and wood typeface as well. There was also a fusion of Chinese and Western techniques, the engraving and printing of various block images and illustrations, and the use of sets of polychrome ink blocks, all of which reveal the great diversity and exceptionally high quality of Palace Imprints produced by the Ch'ing dynasty government.