The Influence and Importance of the Korean Metal Type

Though the Korean Metal Type was created earlier than Gutenberg‘s, there are someone who think that it is of less significance because it was less influential from a historical point of view.

I admit that it can be seen like that but isn’t this from a western perspective? Because mankind evolving from a western basis, views of the west have been enormously influential to the world. However, there are something in Asia that the westerners don’t know. Hence, the value is under rated. Jikji, the oldest extant movable metal type printing, is a good example. We would like to enlighten the world with the hidden values that await to be found. This is how we got to start this kind of work. From this point on, it is my humble wish that you accept the following not as a contradiction but merely as information of the unknown Korean as well as Asian values directed to ones of the world who are yet unfamiliar to content of this nature.

The main reason for Koreans using the Metal print was to, as Gutenberg. distribute mass information quickly. The fact that Koreans were, in early 13th century, 200 years ahead of Gutenberg, and widely using this technology is a very significant fact considering the importance of information distribution. I think that the people of the world should be aware of this. This is why UNESCO registered Jikji, which proves that Korea invented and used the Metal type, and Gutenberg as a Memory of the world in 2001 . Mr. Bendik Rugaas, Chairman, Norwegian, Memory of the World National Committee, explains the historical significance.

Jikji is the oldest existing Metal Printed Book. It has influenced on human beings and spread out, so it was recognized to be the most influenceable legacy. Additionally, the rarity was mainly considered in selecting it, because there is only one volume in France right now.

Metal type

In the east, the fact that the Korean Metal type was imported to Japan and used to print books is recorded in Japanese history. This shows the fact that Korea’s Metal type influenced Asia. For a more detailed example, in 1592, the Japanese General, Toyotomi Hideyoshi plundered the Copper type and in his journal 2nd year (1593), it says that he offered this to the Emperor Huyangsung. The Emperor commanded the printing of Gomun hyokyung. This is recorded in Shikyung Kyungki but there is no existing copy. Using a wooden type in 1597, Kwonhakmun was printed. In the preface, it states that the wooden type printing method was from Joseon dynasty, the ancient dynasty of Korea.

After Jikji, it was passed down, improved and used by more Koreans. This is a detailed reference in the Korean history book. In the Joseon dynasty, the printing technology continued to improve. After Gyemija in 1403, Gyeongjaja in 1420, Gabinja in 1434 and Byeongjinja in 1436 were used to print various books. After Hangeul was promulgated in 1446, a Metal type was used in 1447 to print Wolinchungangjigok.

From a western view, more research is needed to see how much influence this was inflicting. Also, there are some historians who claim that Gutenberg’s metal type casting method was from Korea. For reference, this is what Al Gore, USA’s former vice president, said in 2005 in his opening speech at The Seoul Digital Forum 2005. He said that he was surprised with Korea’s advanced IT technology and he added saying, “Many know Gutenberg as the inventor of printing but this technology was obtained after the Pope’s delegation after visiting Korea.”

He also said, when Gutenberg invented printing press, he had talked with the Pope’s delegation. He was friends with the delegation who brought him many different records of printing technology.” He added that The Swiss printing Museum was the source of his information. (Yeonhap News May 19, 2005)

1) I would like to conclude that the Korean metal type was for swift distribution of mass information, just like Gutenberg.
2) Also in 2001, UNESCO registered the Jikji and Gutenberg for changing the world by informing massive amounts of information.
3) Last, the Korean Metal type influenced publishing books in Japan and this can be thought of as Jikji influencing Asia.

Therefore, Gutenberg and Jikji influenced the history of man (western history). But, besides comparing these two and the American and European view that Gutenberg has more significance than the Jikji, I believe that we need to study the significance of the Korean Metal type and look upon this from a worldly view. And as we do this, it is my hope that there is a balanced understanding of the Eastern Jikji and the western Gutenberg, both Metal types of the East and West, and that this is reflected in textbooks, encyclopedias and in the Internet.

I wish that this article will change your views on the Jikji and furthermore be of some help in making people from all corners of the world learn the right facts about Jikji.

Written by Cheol-hee Lee(Former director of Early Printing Museum)

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