Early Printing in Korea - 5.2 The Private Publications

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Understanding Korea Series No.2
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1) The Government Publications (官) 2) The Private Publications Reference

During the Joseon Dynasty, publications were made by Buddhist temples, local schools, families and individuals, in addition to the government. The private publication activities of individual entities are as follows.

Publication activities by the Buddhist temples had been reduced considerably during the Joseon Dynasty compared to that of the Goryeo Dynasty, but they still made up a substantial portion of private publications. Often, Buddhist temples published Scriptures in form of an offering by the members for blessing in addition to be used for memorial services and missionary works. In the early Joseon Dynasty, prints were re-engraved editions of the Goryeo Era, and in the 15th century, woodblock printings based on famous calligraphers’ manuscripts were published. After the 16th century, temples made re-engraved editions of sachalpan (publications made by Buddhist temples) from the previous era, Gangyeongdogampan, the King’s edition, the Royal editions and the Jujaso movable type editions. Of these, a few are original works: analects of famous high priests, anthologies and translated Buddhist canons, poetry collections and workbooks. The printing notes, the offerer’s name and the name of the inscriber are indicated at the end of the sachalpan books; this helps understand the book making process and cultural milieu of the time.

Seowon is the most typical Confucian educational institute, publishing books on Confucianism, the people related to seowon and Confucian scholars. Some seowons published books from as early as the late 16th century: Cheongryangseowon (淸凉書院), Cheongokseowon (川谷書院), Myeonggokseowon and Imgoseowon. Nupango includes the list of wooden plates maintained by seowons and mentions that there were 184 kinds of re-engraved book plates in 84 seowons: the sewon in Gyeongsang-do Province had 127 kinds; Chungcheong-do, 22; Jeolla-do, 21; Hwanghae-do, eight; Gyeonggi-do, Pyeongan-do, and Hamgyeong-do two each. The publications by seowons in general were relatively scarce and the quality of the printing was not as high as government publications.

Books published by families and individuals during the Goryeo Dynasty were chiefly Buddhist-related, whereas during the Joseon Dynasty, collections of poems, biographies and genealogy books were more prevalent. The publication of anthologies continued from the foundation of the Dynasty till the end, although personal anthologies from the early Joseon period are rare. From the latter part of the 16th century, analects (實記) and genealogy books (族譜) started to be published and became popular after the 18th century. These private publications are low-quality in terms of their engraving and printing levels, but they are indispensable relics reflecting the culture of that time.

In the early Joseon Dynasty, books for sale were almost non-existent compared to adjacent China and Japan, and independent commercial bookstores were unheard of. There were persistent discussions on establishing a state-run book store of sort, seosa (書肆), but it never came to a fruition, causing a limited circulation of books in all of Joseon. However, after the Japanese invasions in the late 16th century (Imjinwaeran), merchants selling books for money started to appear from the 17th century, multiplied during the 18th century and reached their heyday in the 19th century. Those books for sale were called banggakbon. Banggakbon is fundamentally different from previously-discussed books, since it was published for profit. In China commercial books appeared in the Tang Dynasty and were thriving by the Song Dynasty. The appearance of banggakbon in Joseon seems relatively late compared to China; this is because, as discussed earlier, from the foundation of the Dynasty the books functioned primarily to spread national ideology.

The heaviest quantity of banggakbon was published in Seoul area and they were called Gyeongpan (京板) banggakbon. There were also banggakbons from other areas: Wanpan (完板, Jeonju), Dalpan (達板, Daegu), Taeinpan (泰仁板, Taein), Geumseongpan (錦城板, Naju), and Anseongpan (安城板, Anseong). The genre of the published books consists of study materials for children’s education, scriptures and history books for state entrance exams, poetry collections, ceremonial books, books on agriculture, books on medicine, letter manuals and Hangeul novels. These books are highly regarded as they helped educate the common people and expand the number of readers.

The advancements and changes in the early printing technique are interrelated, reflecting both the evolution of their forms and social phenomena. The metal movable type, in particular, has revolutionized the means of communication and is one of the greatest inventions that changed the history of humanity. Metal movable type technology from the Goryeo Dynasty and early Joseon period played a critical role in the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty, which developed for the next 500 years by spreading more efficiently knowledge in all areas, including political, economic, social and cultural.

The printing technology of Korea has been improving since the 8th century United Silla Period, and the book plates and movable types are witnesses to it. Metal movable types can produce a much higher quantity of books of various kinds compared to woodblocks; however, because the cost of production was relatively high, and the government kept a strict control on the supply of metals, this method was not popularized like other printing methods, unfortunately. When it was critically necessary, the government disseminated knowledge and culture by printing and distributing books. Local governments and individuals that had difficulties accessing the metal movable type used the wood re-engraving method to produce reprints. This satisfied their cultural needs and contributed to the circulation of knowledge at the same time.

More meticulous, profound research on metal movable type printing, typecasting technique and typesetting methods is in progress, and interest is expanding to the fields of documentary heritage and the history of science.

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