[Visual History of Korea] The Jeungdoga book is perhaps the oldest movable metal type printed book
The combination photo shows the 1472 woodblock printed version (left) and the 1239 version of “Nammyeong Cheon Hwasangsong Jeungdoga,” which some scholars believe were printed with metal movable type (Photo © Hyungwon Kang)
Early moving metal type prints from the Goryeo Kingdom period show ink surface tension, which is a common tendency of the liquid on the metal surface at rest to shrink into circular liquid drops.
An 87-page book from 1239 is full of Hanja characters printed on hanji, traditional Korean paper made from mulberry bark, showing the characteristics of movable metal type printing.
Power has always been right in the kingdom of Goryeo. The political elite of the 13th century consisted of military leaders.
When the Mongols invaded Goryeo in 1231, the military leaders of the Choi family protected the kingdom from annihilation by settling in the fortress on Ganghwado Island, now part of Incheon. The defenders delayed outright victory with periodic tactical concessions.
Unspeakable brutalities during the 40-year-long Mongol invasion of Goryeo turned the people of Goryeo to Buddhism, seeking protection from the divine power of Buddha.
When the first wooden printing blocks of the Tripitaka Koreana, which were carved in the early 12th century, were burned by Mongol invaders in 1232 at Buinsa, a Buddhist temple in Daegu, the Goryeo people began carving in 1237 a recreation of the Tripitaka Koreana. , resulting in a set of more than 81,000 wooden blocks. The project would take 15 years to complete.
No civilization has succeeded in documenting all the known thoughts of Buddhism as the Goryeo Empire did by creating the wooden carvings of over 52 million Hanja characters in the Palman Daejanggyeong, which means “80,000 Tripitaka” .
Meanwhile, in 1239, during a time of war and clash of empires, the Goryeo people achieved another milestone in history: the printing of books with metal movable type.
In “Nammyeong Cheon Hwasangsong Jeungdoga”, the 87-page “Song of Enlightenment with Commentary by Buddhist Monk Nammyeong Cheona”, printed with metal movable type in 1239, Choi Yi (1166-1249), the de facto leader of the Goryeo government in self-imposed exile in Ganghwado, just southwest of Gaegyeong, the capital of Goryeo — currently North Korea’s Kaesong — Choi formulated his goal for publication in the back page of Goryeo books:
A close-up view of what is believed to be the world’s first book printed with metal movable type shows an air pocket on the metal print (top right), while surface tension is visible on other Hanja characters, a common feature of metal type. . (Photo © Hyungwon Kang)
“Nammyeong Jeungdoga is an important book that plays a central role for those who practice Seon meditation. There is no one who does not reach the deep principles of meditation through this book. But the book is hard to find and is not widely distributed.Therefore, in the early part of the 9th month of the year Kihae (1239), I gathered metal type casting workers and made them carve metal types again, so that the book will be passed down for a long time. Choi Yi of the Jinyang Choi clan.”
When Goryeo’s national resources were devoted to making advanced wooden printing blocks since the Silla Kingdom period, Choi turned to reusable movable metal type for printing the Jeungdoga book in 1239.
“The Gonginbon version is the product of metal type printing at a time when woodcarvers were deployed to carve the ‘Palmandaejanggyeong,'” said Park Sang-kuk, a former member of Korea’s Cultural Heritage Committee.
While Korea is said to have been ahead of the West in inventing movable metal block letters in the early 13th century, the benefits of Korean printing were limited to the royal palace and Buddhist temples.
The Jikji of 1377, so far the oldest extant book printed with metal movable type, is a product of Goryeo metal movable type printing tradition.
Despite the Goryeo people’s invention of movable metal type printing, the earliest woodblock printing was the preferred and most effective method of printing, as movable metal type printing was imperfect with misaligned metal types when printing and metal type casting cost significantly higher than sculpting. Hanja on wooden blocks.
Once carved, wooden printing blocks could be reused indefinitely, while movable metal type printing required the printing plate to be disassembled after each use.
The woodblock printed version of the Jeungdoga book of 1239 was first listed as a “Treasure” by the Korean government in 1984.
“It was with Professor Cheon Hye-bong that I designated the woodblock version of Jeungdoga’s book as a treasure in 1984,” said Park, who retired from the Cultural Heritage Administration. after 31 years of service. Ancient book researcher Cheon Hye-bong, who died in 2016 at the age of 90, reviewed a reprinted woodblock version of the original 1239 book when the four Jeungdoga books available to researchers were printed versions on wooden block.
“I can’t blame the late researcher, but he misinterpreted Choi Yi’s Hanja preview as a woodblock reprint of the earlier metal movable-type version, not the book printed with movable type metal,” Park said.
The correct translation of the front of Choi Yi, according to Professor Yun Jae-seug, a Hanja specialist in the History Department of Kyungpook National University, reads: that the book will be passed on for a long time.
But due to the power of the late Cheon’s first printing and scholars’ lack of critical thinking, 1239 remained the year the original metal-type book was reprinted in woodcuts.
Ven. Won-jin holds what is claimed to be the first extant Jeungdoga book printed with Goryeo movable metal type in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province. (Photo © Hyungwon Kang)
When a Jeungdoga book printed with metal movable type surfaced in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, in 1988, it did not receive as much national interest or attention as Jikji, the book of 1377 printed with metal movable type which is now in France.
In June 2001, the late Park Dong-seup of Andong looked up to Ven. Won-jin in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, to exchange his book Jeungdoga from 1239, the oldest book printed with metal movable type, for other Goryeo books in Won-jin’s possession.
Park had been discouraged by scholars and the Ministry of Culture not accepting his valuable book Jeungdoga as a movable metal printed book, predating the Jikji printed in 1377.
Won-jin studied the 87-page Hanja book for 11 years before he was able to convince the Ministry of Culture to recognize Jeungdoga’s 1239 version Gonginbon as a state-designated treasure in 2012.
In recent years, the comparative analysis of images of individual characters, character lines, pages and borders of the six versions of Jeungdoga’s books has given a clear result that “the Gonginbon version is the version printed in metal while the rest comes from woodblock prints which originally were carved in different eras from the metal type version or the woodblock printed versions,” said lead researcher Woo Sik Yoo, semiconductor physicist in Palo Alto, California.
To celebrate the Jikji and the tradition of metal type printing, a local government built the Cheongju Early Printing Museum on the site of Heungdeoksa Temple where the Jikji was printed in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province in 1992 .
Movable metal type printing is one of mankind’s great inventions, advancing the knowledge of anyone who has recently had access to printed books.
Around 1440, goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg successfully manufactured the movable metal type printing press in Germany, which sparked the “printing revolution” in the West.
By Hyungwon Kang ([email protected])
Korean American photojournalist and columnist Hyungwon Kang is currently documenting Korean history and culture in pictures and words for future generations. — Ed.
By Kim Hoo-ran ([email protected])