Early Printing in Korea - 2.1 The Emergence of Printing Culture and Korea

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

Whether in the East or West, printing techniques originated from the desire to relay information to as many people as possible in the shortest time. Communities began forming due to the development of agriculture, and the subsequent population explosion caused those communities to grow ever-more complex at a rapid pace. The need for widely accepted rules within the community to create a harmonious coexistence engendered the invention of scripts. Individual human beings, as the vessels of their own creation and discoveries, are inherently mortal, and there exists a definite limit in the preservation and transmission of their knowledge and information. Something to record and distribute scripts more efficiently was needed: books appeared and printing techniques were developed. They created a leap in cultural progress.

The development of printing was revolutionary. It made the mass production of knowledge possible. Although the technique was not perfect from the beginning, it evolved through countless trials and errors. Printing’s specific origins, where and when, are yet to be revealed. Nevertheless, when one traces back the development process of printing it is widely accepted today that the origin of printing technique may have started with various forms of seals where one engraves letters or images on the surfaces of stones or metal and stamped.

Mugujeonggwangdaedaranigyeong (無垢淨光大陀羅尼經, Sutra of Pure Light), the world’s oldest surviving woodblock print, is in Korea. This short religious scroll describes the process of building and dedicating a stupa, and generally estimated to have been published before the mid 8th century, during the United Silla period. Buddhism was transmitted and popularized in Korea long before then; technology and sciences such as casting and astronomy were already thriving, and Korea was cultivating its own unique culture in the midst of an active cultural exchange with China. The probability that Koreans of that time used printing technique to promote philosophy and culture is fairly high. Even though there exist some disputes regarding the dating of this scroll, its value as the earliest print should not be underestimated. It has a definite potential to act as a key in solving questions related to the origins of printing techniques, not only in Korea but also worldwide.

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