Early Printing in Korea - 1. Korea’s Memory of the World and Early Printing (古印刷)

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Understanding Korea Series No.2
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Acknowledgments 1. Korea’s Memory of the World and Early Printing (古印刷) 1) The Emergence of Printing Culture and Korea

Nowadays, people can easily and instantaneously acquire anything they need. Speed has become a virtue, and society and its members must move fast to keep up with the pace. All the necessities have been commodified, and the rapid logistics of supply systems help people move quickly so they can accommodate the speed of change. This commercialization is not limited only to physical goods. Knowledge, information, and even people’s emotions are handily packaged and readily supplied. Modern society is often described by the following words: the abundance of material and the flood of information. Now is such a time.

When modern society’s development process is examined, people understand that its speed is usually due to hidden efforts behind every success. First, people recognize the inconvenience; second, they create some device to overcome that inconvenience; and lastly, they reinvent the device to compensate for its weaknesses. This evolving process involves the collective efforts and experiences of countless people. The media that contain knowledge and information work in the same way.

A book is a typical medium that contains knowledge and information, and the history of books, in strictly functional sense, regardless of their form or material, began with the birth of scripts. Now more books are becoming digitalized; this too has a long history.

Recorded materials are defined more inclusively and encompass manuscripts and prints. Korea has an enduring history of recorded materials. Old or antique books, made in the traditional methods, are sources of national pride as they are commonly referred in the dating of print technology. Korea possesses nine UNESCO Memory of the World properties, and five of those are antique books printed using traditional methods. Also, the world’s oldest extant woodblock and movable type prints are produced in Korea as well.

The precise origin of Korea’s printing technology is still veiled; yet it has been pointed to as a means for the transmission and dissemination of Buddhism. Buddhism reached the Korean peninsula for the first time and began propagating in the 4th century. By the 8th century Unified Silla period, Buddhism was flourishing, and woodblock printing technology was used for mass production of the Buddhist canons.

Materials printed by traditional methods can be classified according to the following techniques: xylography, typography, reprography, and lithography. Typography can be further categorized into wooden and metal type depending on the material. Gyonihwalja (膠泥活字, clay movable types), Dohwalja (陶活字, ceramic porcelain movable types) and Pohwalja (匏活字, movable types made of gourd) were also used. The invention of metal movable type, in particular, is pivotal even in world history.

In order for a book to be perfected, various technologies and tremendous labor power had to be harnessed, under that particular period’s social system. The knowledge and information, or the religious views and philosophies contained in the book reflect the social and cultural trends of that period. Understanding the compilation and publication background of an antique book, and dating that book to learn about the various trends and aspects of early printing culture, can be a worthwhile undertaking. It may be a short cut to attaining a better picture of Korean culture and its characteristics at the time.

This paper aims to promote the basic understanding of Korea’s early printing culture by introducing its origins, the early prints and their various differentiation methods, and elaborating on major printing techniques, including metal movable types and their meanings. The differentiation method that uses printing as criteria, and the characteristics of different periods, will be examined first.

Understanding Korea Series No.2 Early Printings in Korea

Foreword · Acknowledgments

1. Korea’s Memory of the World and Early Printing (古印刷)

2. The Origins of World Printing Culture and Korea · 2.1 The Emergence of Printing Culture and Korea · 2.2 The Development of Printing Materials

3. Woodblock Printing and Movable Type Printing · 3.1 Woodblock Printing · 3.2 Movable Type Printing · 3.3 Other Early Printing

4. The Invention and Development of Metal Movable Type Printing · 4.1 Metal Movable Type Casting · 4.2 Metal Movable Type Typesetting

5. The Publishing Entities of Korean Traditional Prints · 5.1 The Government Publications (官) · 5.2 The Private Publications

Reference · Glossary · Sources · About the Author