Early Printing in Korea - 3.2 Movable Type Printing

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Understanding Korea Series No.2
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1) Woodblock Printing 2) Movable Type Printing 3) Other Early Printing

Movable type printing is a process of arranging types created by either engraving or casting in a case and then printing. Moveable type has an enormous significance in the history of printing. The metal movable type, in particular, takes the most effort, requires exceptionally refined and high technology and is the pinnacle of that era’s cultural products. The unprecedented invention of metal movable type printing in the mid-Goryeo period became a fundamental technology for spreading knowledge in human history, and possessing such technology is a source of pride for Koreans.

The most notable advantage of movable type printing is the freedom to rearrange the sorts once they are created. They can be used to publish different books. This is the obvious distinguishing point from woodblock printing, which cannot be corrected once the letters are engraved.

(1) Mokhwaljabon(木活字本, Wooden Movable Type Print)

Mokhwaljabon is a book created by making a typeset from wood types and printed. It was invented and used before the creation of metal movable type. The oldest one was used in the Uighur region in the 12th century and is still preserved. It came into practical use during the Yuan period in China.

The initial record of wooden movable type production appears in MengxiBitan (夢溪筆談, Dream Pool Essays) written by Shen Kuo of the Northern Song (北宋) Dynasty. When explaining the use of Gyonihwalja, fire-hardened clay (terra-cotta), created by Bi Sheng (畢昇), he asserts that since wood grain has different densities, it becomes uneven when wet, making the board face irregular. It is also difficult to separate when chiseling because it is put together with adhesives, and as are sult, he decides to use clay movable types instead. The use of wooden movable types are clearly confirmed in the records mentioning Wang Zhen (王禎) of the Yuan Dynasty, who made 30,000 wooden types and printed a book he authored, Jing De Xian Zhi (旌德縣志, A County Annual about Jing De). Two years later, he wrote Nong Shu (農書, Agricultural Treatise) and described the printing process of wooden types in detail in the concluding section of the book, Wooden Type Printing Methods (造活字印書法).

It is uncertain when Koreans started using the wooden movable type, since there is no record of it. However, it must have preceded the metal movable type invented during the Goryeo period, so it is estimated that it should have been widely used before the metal kind. The abundant prints preserved from the Joseon period prove that it was utilized extensively not only by the central government but by the private sector as well.

The earliest extant print of wooden movable type in Korea is Gaegukwonjonggongsinnokgwon (開國元宗功臣錄券, Certificate of Titles and Rewards for the Contributors for the Foundation of the Nation, the National Treasure of Korea No. 69) which was awarded to the contributors for the founding of Joseon. Around the same time, Seojeokwon (書籍院, the Royal Publication Institute) published Daemyeongnyuljikhae (大明律直解, the Great Ming Code) using the wooden types made by Seo Chan (徐贊).

(2) Metal Movable Type Print

Metal movable types are made by melting and casting metal for printing, and metal movable type prints are books made using the metal movable types. These types are classified according to the kinds of metal used, such as copper, lead and iron. Traces of minor metals were usually alloyed with the main metal. In general, metal movable type usually refers to any movable type made of metal material, regardless of its kind.

There is no decisive record of the invention date or inventor of metal movable type. Several hypotheses exist in Korea, dating it to the 11th, 12th or 13th centuries. Based on recent research, the latter hypothesis has been accepted as the most convincing, since various beongakbon and movable types dated to the early 13th century have been found.

In the concluding section of jungjobon (重雕本, re-engraved edition) of Nammyeongcheonhwasangsongjeungdoga (The Song of Enlightenment of Namyeong) published in the 26th year of King Gojong’s reign (1239), the year the Goryeo court moved the capital to Ganghwa Island, Choe I (崔怡) states that “the Song of Enlightenment is very critical to the study of Zen (禪門), yet it is no longer in circulation, therefore, I commanded manufacturing of a re-engraved edition based on jujabon (鑄字本, metal type edition) so it can be distributed widely.” This record suggests that the original metal movable type print was printed and in circulation before 1239.

Recently, the authentic metal movable type that was used tj print for the first time of this book was excavated.

With this evidence, a record in Yi Gyubo’s Donggukisanggukjip (東國李相國集, Collected Works of Minister Yi Gyubo of Korea) which says “in the newly printed edition’s epilogue of Sangjeongyemun (詳定禮文, Authentic and Detailed Code of Etiquette) written instead of Jinyaggong (Choi I)” attests that the Authentic and Detailed Code of Etiquette was printed using metal movable type in the 21st year of King Gojong’s reign (1234), which also supports the previous claim that Korean metal movable type dates to the early 13th century.

Baegunhwasangchorokbuljojikjisimcheyojeol (白雲和尙抄錄佛祖直指心體要節, Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests’ Zen Teachings) is the oldest extant metal movable type print, recognized as the oldest cultural heritage in the world. The first edition was printed in two volumes using the metal movable type, juja, in the Heungdeoksa temple on the outskirts of Cheongju, in July of the 3rd year of King U (禑王)’s reign of Goryeo (1377). The second volume, missing its front cover, has been passed on and is preserved in La Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris in France. The letter size and the fonts in this metal type print are inconsistent, since it was printed in a local temple instead of the government printing offices of Goryeo.

The Jujaso (鑄字所, National Foundry) was first reinstated in the Joseon Dynasty in the 3rd year of King Taejong (1403), and metal movable types were manufactured there for several months. Those typefaces produced were named Gyemija (癸未字) after the name of the year, Gyemi, according to the 60 year Chinese calendar computation cycle called Ganji (干支). The movable-type casting process and methods of base character inscription, carving and casting were vastly improved compared to Baegunhwasanchorokbuljojikjisimcheyojeol, but the letter size and fonts were still inconsistent, the thickness of movable-types were uneven, and the lines were disconnected in places, so the prints were not immaculate. The typesetting technique was also refined enormously; however, type pieces of irregular sizes and heights were jammed into a fastened square case, with a copper plate fixed onto the top and bottom borders in order to arrange the letters tightly. This caused the border line to bend and the letters on top and bottom to be interposed.

The Gyeongjaja (庚子字), an improved version of Gyemija, was manufactured in the second year of King Sejong’s reign (1420). The Gyeongjaja’s fonts are much smaller than those of Gyemija, yet the strokes appear more intense, powerful and beautiful. The copper plate was leveled and the movable types were made more uniform to fit better, so the copper types stayed in place and allowed more convenient printing. The only drawback was that the letter sizes were too small.

The third and improved movable type of the Joseon Dynasty, Gabinja (甲寅字), was cast in 1434. The thin and crowded Gyeongjaja fonts needed a larger type. The sizes of big and small fonts became uniform, the four squares of the letters became flat, and the typeset became completely assemblable. The ink could be applied more evenly on Gabinja, so the resulting print appeared clean and clear. The initial prints were even more meticulous and beautiful: they may be the ideal of Korean metal movable type prints.

The wooden and metal movable type prints discussed so far can be differentiated due to factors like certain characteristic differences in the fonts, the strokes of letters, wear and tear, and engraving marks, due to variances in type materials and manufacturing methods. This is an important field in the movable type research, where the major weight is sometimes put on distinguishing wooden movable type printings from metal ones and differentiating various metal movable type prints. The differentiation of prints directly influences the estimated publication dates for particular books.

Extensive experiences and careful observations are required when making these distinctions. In many cases, antique books tend to suffer damage from various factors over time, whether it be their covers or contents; when there is considerable wear and tear or corrections, it is especially difficult to differentiate the prints. Even so, some typical differentiating factors can be identified.

Metal movable types are cast using molds and thus tend to be thinner, more uniform and regular. Wooden types, on the other hand, have no identical-looking letters, even when using the same characters, so their strokes tend to be irregular. When the types are worn down, metal type strokes become even thinner, and deformed in some cases, but the strokes are usually still intact. For wooden ones, the wear tends to blot out the letters, so the print appears more coarse. There are no engraving marks in metal type prints whereas clear chisel marks are apparent in wooden types at times, and sometimes knife marks appear in the crossing point of vertical and horizontal strokes. The metal types are finished with a file after casting, so the end of each stroke usually appears round; no tattered parts are shown in wooden type prints. Because the metal type prints typically use yuyeonmuk (plant oil charcoal ink), spots can be observed if seen under a microscope. Songyeonmuk (pine charcoal ink) is used for wooden types, and the ink color tends to be more intense as a result. When seen under the microscope, ink is smeared around the letters.

(3) Gyonihwalja(Clay Movable Type), Dohwalja (Ceramic Porcelain Movable Type), and Pohwalja (Gourd Movable Type)

Clay, ceramic porcelain and gourd movable types were used alongside wooden and metal movable types. The clay movable type was the first attempt at creating movable type print, crafted by Bi Sheng between 1041 and 1048. This manufacturing process is recorded in the Paninseojeokjo (板印書籍條, the printed book) section of Mengxi Bitan (夢溪筆談, Dream Pool Essays) written by Shen Kuo of the Northern Song Dynasty. It was created by flattening and thinning clay dough and inscribing onto it and separating and baking each individual letter. The typeset was prepared as a stereotype, and pine tar (松脂臘) mixed with paper ashes was applied. In order to expedite the printing process, two iron plates were prepared, so printing and making typesets could be alternated. The clay movable type is significant as the first serious attempt at creating a convenient printing method. However, the coagulative strength of the adhesives used was not strong enough, causing the types to fall off or be shaken during the printing process. Since clay’s fragility meant the types were easily broken and disfigured, they were never used widely or practically.

Dohwalja is also referred to as Tohwalja (土活字, earthen movable type), and was used in the latter part of the Joseon period for private printings. The manufacturing method for this type is recorded in a manuscript called Donggukhusaengsinrok (東國厚生新綠, The New Report on Korean Welfare), which includes a summary of commander Yi Jaehwang’s experiences when he was staying at the military quarters in Haeju, Hwanghae-do during the Joseon Dynasty. His type-making instructions are: take clay usually used for porcelain and pound it; let the clay half-dry in the sun after flattening the dough on a wooden plate; on a thin paper, write down big and small letters as needed with care; melt beeswax and put it upside down on the plate; let the carvers engrave in intaglio and bake the individual type.

Currently, a couple of verified dohwalja prints are extant: Gogeummyeongyu (古今名喩, the Classic Epigrams of China) and Kim Seryeom (金世濂, 1593-1646)’s Dongmyeongseonsaengjip (東溟先生集, Collected Poems of Teacher Dongmyeong) printed in July of 1737. The distinguishing characteristics of this type, when compared to the wooden one, are: no trace of wood grain is found on the prints, the stroke ends are not as sharp, and the shape and thickness of fonts are not as regular.

Pohwalja or bagajihwalja (both mean ‘gourd movable type’) is created by inscribing letters on the surface of a gourd and cut into types. Although records or prints are yet to be found, it can be assumed that this method was used among the lay people, since it makes small type and thin strokes possible.

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