The greatest invention, Movable Metal type printing and Jikji

What do you think the greatest invention throughout the entire human history?

This chapter will guide you to learn more about the development of printing methods and its remarkable contribution to civilization. And we introduce you representative movable metal type printings. You may know Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible as the first metal type printed book. However, JIKJI was printed with movable metal type in 1377 which was 78 earlier than Gutenberg’s one. Someone says the effect of JIKJI on world history was insignificant. But, isn’t this the westerner’s perspective?

We gently suggest you to examine and recognize the value of JIKJI through this chapter.

Why is the movable metal type printing the greatest?
The world’s most famous news media, such as BBC, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Time Magazine reported that movable metal type printing was the greatest invention throughout the entire human history.

For instance, in 1997, the Life Millennium which was published by Time-Life magazine reported 100 cases making world changed for last millennium. Time picked the invention of movable metal type printing as most important of the second millennium.

All of these media recognize the contribution of movable metal type printing to civilization. This invention stimulated popularization of Information and provoked collapse of information-monopolizing class. Hence, Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution and the Great Rebellion took place. These great events in human history affected on present-day and civilization.

How did the movable metal type printing influenced civilization?
Before movable metal type printing invented, wooden block printing was the best method to publish books. Publishers carved each pages of a book in each wooden block. As a result, they could publish only one book by wooden block printing in same time. It was the weakest point of wooden block printing. If they attempt to print other books, they had to carve many wooden blocks again and again. This caused the high price of a book. Consequently, only the wealth and scholars possessed books.

On the other hand, it was able to print many different books in same time if publisher have a set of movable metal alphabet types. This enhanced mass production of diverse books at lower cost. More people began to read books and the public’s desire to acquire new knowledge was stimulated. Therefore, many authors were able to spread their new ideas and knowledge among the public. Martin Luther was the one of them. His book was widely read throughout Europe after he published it. As a result, the Protestant Reformation took place. Furthermore, another authors’ ideas gained widespread support and led more changes and revolutions.

In conclusion, the invention of movable metal type printing enabled to spread information widely and massively.

Representative World’s Movable Metal Type Printings
In Europe, Gutenberg published the 42-line bible in 1455 while, Korea’s Jikji was published in 1377. Those two books were inscribed on the UNESCO on the same day. In Sep 4th, 2001, UNESCO registered them on the Memory of the World which is UNESCO’s programme aiming at preservation and dissemination of valuable archive holdings and library collections worldwide.

Gutenberg’s 42-line bible is the first book printed in Europe with movable types. From Mainz, the location of Gutenberg’s printing office, the new technology spread all over Europe and the world. Of the originally 30 Bibles printed on vellum only four have survived in their complete form with all their 1282 pages.

Korea had already used the movable metal type in the early 13th century. In early 1200, Jeungdoga was printed with movable metal type. From 1234 to 1241, 28 copies of Sangjeongyemun were printed. In 1377, Jikji, the oldest extant metal printed book in the world was printed.

Introduction to Jikji


The original title of Jikji is Baegun hwasang chorok buljo jikjisimcheyojeol which means literally that Baegun hwasang copied and recorded meaning of Buddha’s the most important words, Jikji. Jikji’s writer and publisher were different. Baegun hwasang was the writer. Venerable Baegun was born in 1289 and became a Buddhist monk in his early age. He was the Seon* master and passed away in 1374. After his death, his pupils, Seok-chan and Daljam printed this book with movable metal type in 1377. Biguni**, Myodeok sponsored them by offering.

Buddha’s the most important words, Jikji is abbreviation of Jikji-insim-gyeonsong-songbul which means you may realize the original nature of mind through meditation, and you can attain Enlightenment. It can be literally translated by several meanings: indicating accurately, honest mind and managing directly.

Content of this book is the collection of Buddhist treatises and teachings. Baegun’s pupils printed first and last volume of this book at Heungdeoksa temple of Cheongju city. Only last volume of this book was found and this volume has been kept in the National Library of France.

National Library of France

* Zen Budhism is also known as Seon Budhism in Korea
** Budhist nun is also known as Biguni in Korea

Why Jikji has been kept in France?
The first French ambassador to Korea, Collin de Plancy collected it and brought to France when he returned to his mother country. After his death, his collection was auctioned. A curio collector, Henri Vever bought and kept it. By Henri’s will, Jikji was donated to the National Library of France.

The Korean historian, Dr. Byeong-seon, Park who was working for this library discovered it. Jikji was displayed in 1972 at Special Exhibition for ‘Book’ in Paris. There, experts recognized the value of the book. Jikji turned out the oldest existing book ever printed with movable metal type.

The proofs that Jikji was printed with movable metal type

After Dr. Byeon-seon, Park found Jikji, she researched on it and found various proofs that this book was printed with movable metal type. First, a postscript of the last page of Jikji prove it. It says ju-ja meaning metal type.

Second, upside down printed letter prove it. Its original shape is this . If Jikji was written by handwriting, this upside down letters wouldn’t be found. But same upside down letters was found throughout the pages of Jikji.

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