Hidden Treasure, Jikji

United States of America Korean War Commemoration website

Throughout its history, Korea has been invaded, annexed, colonized and occupied by a variety of other countries. There is a Korean proverb that says a shrimp is crushed in a battle between whales. Korea has been the shrimp caught between whales on many occasions.

American world history textbook

Q: Koreans see their land as a “shrimp between whales”. Explain what this statement means.
A: When you look at a world map, you can understand why a Korean proverb refers to their land as a “shrimp between whales”. Throughout its history, Korea has served as a bridge between its powerful neighbors of China and Japan.

British tourism web portal

Surrounded by the economic and military giants of Japan, China and Russia, the South Korean peninsula has long been a ‘shrimp between whales’. Today it is a significant shrimp … but despite this, the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ still remains an unexplored gem. 

History of Japan and China = whales?
History of Korea = shrimp?

This is not the true history of Korea.
It is a distorted history.

Japanese Occupation Period (1910-1945)
Japan distorted Korean history to justify its invasion and colonial rule.

Distorted Korean history has been spread all over the world by Japan.

Korea has never been a cultural colony of Japan.
Rather, it was a major influence on the creation of ancient Japanese culture.

Japan’s Asuka culture was strongly influenced by the ancient Korean kingdom of Baekje. China has made substantial effort to incorporate Korean history into Chinese history. Historically, many countries paid tribute to China, but China specifies that Korea was a tributary state.
Paying tribute by no means proves that Korea was subordinate to China. China was the dominant power in East Asia.

Tribute was a part of diplomatic policy that many Asian countries practiced to maintain their economic relations and cultural exchanges with China.

There is a record that Japan also tried to establish a tributary relationship with China.

China has spread the China-centered view of Korean history to incorporate the Korean kingdoms of Goguryeo and Balhae into Chinese history. Throughout its 5000 years of history, Korea was invaded multiple times by neighboring China and Japan.

However, Korea has never lost its autonomy, except during the Japanese Occupation Period. World history consists of numerous invasions and control by foreign powers.

Being invaded does not mean being colonized.

With this logic, every country in the world was ‘a colony’.
Korean history is not of a shrimp being crushed by foreign invasions and exploitation.
Korea was rather a hidden hero that changed the history of Asia and the world.
There is evidence that Korea stood in the middle of historic change in Asia and the world.

Metal Type Printing Technology

Recognized by Time Magazine, the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post
The Greatest Invention in the History of the World, Movable Metal Type Printing
Information and knowledge used to be the privilege of those in power.
Metal type printing brought change to this unfair system.

The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, and the Civil Revolution were all made possible due to the great invention of metal type printing.

Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible is widely thought to be the first book printed with movable metal type. However, there was another book that was printed 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible.


Korea’s Jikji was officially recognized as the oldest book printed with movable metal type, and was included on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2001.

“Korea’s metal type printing technology didn’t have as much historical influence as Gutenberg’s.” Jikji is often devalued because it is relatively unknown. Actually, Jikji is the world’s greatest invention that changed the history of Asia and the world.

“We learned metal and wood type printing technology from Joseon.”
- Tokiyoshi-kyoki, Japanese book in the 16th century –

Jikji had a profound influence on the culture and history of Asia. Some metal type printing experts even suggest that Gutenberg imitated Korea’s printing technology. Korea’s printing history substantiates this claim.

Mugu Jeonggwang Dae Dharanigyeong (704)
The oldest extant printed book in the world 

Around 600 years later, in 1377
Printing of Jikji, the oldest printed book using metal type

Starting from Mugu Jeonggwang Dae Dharanigyeong to Jikji, Korea had over 600 years of printing experience. Experts say that metal type printing technology requires extensive knowledge and experience. It was impossible for Gutenberg to invent this technology from his experience of less than 10 years.  They suggest that Korea’s printing technology might have spread across Europe and the world through the Silk Road.

Printing technology led to the Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Scientific Revolution in the West. Hidden stories about Korean metal type printing have been slowly revealed. Between 1438 and 1448, a cardinal was dispatched to the Orient from the Vatican.

There is a record that a cardinal was a friend of Gutenberg.

It is known in the West that Gutenberg invented printing technology for the first time but it is far from the truth. The printing technology using metal movable type was learned from Joseon through a papal delegation visiting the Korean kingdom. I learned this at the Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing and Printing.

The pope’s delegation included a friend of Gutenberg and he brought back some records related to printing technology from his visit to Joseon.

- Former U.S. President Al Gore’s keynote speech at the 2005 Seoul Digital Forum

The greatest invention that sparked revolutions in Asia and the world
It was Korea’s Movable Metal Type Printing.

With the creativity that enabled the printing of Jikji, Koreans have established their country as a global IT powerhouse.

Korea is not a weak neighbor of Japan and China. Korea is the country of a hidden treasure that influenced the cultural and historical development of Asia and the world.  Now we know why Korean history has been degraded as “a shrimp between whales”.

It was because Chinese and Japanese versions of history were ‘recorded’ in world history books.  It was also because their versions of history were ‘promoted’ to the world.

For a long time, the people of the world were more familiar with Japanese and Chinese versions of history than true Korean history.

It is the result of efforts to promote their history and culture to the world. The governments and the people of China and Japan have made their history known. Korea has many ‘hidden treasures and heroes’ to be discovered by the world.

Movable metal type
Hunmin Jeongeum (Korean alphabet) manuscript
Goindol (dolmens)
Changgyeonggung Palace
King Sejong
General Yi Sunsin

They have often remained unrevealed to the world. However, they are great treasures and heroes that changed Asia and the world. VANK is taking a step forward with young Koreans.

We are promoting Korea’s “hidden treasures and heroes” to the world. Korean history was not of a shrimp caught between two whales. After many years, those hidden treasures and heroes are still inspiring the Korean people.

With their proud history, Koreans are making changes in Asia and the world. Over ten million Koreans get on international flights each year. The number of Korean overseas volunteers: the third largest in the world

With those people, VANK would like to reveal Korea’s glorious history to the world. Korea still has a lot to offer to the world. Korean history should no longer be of a shrimp between whales. Korean history will become a driving force for historical change and give hope to Asia and the world.

Someday, the people of the world will say that Korean history and culture have changed the world.

With us, you will become the leaders of these changes.

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