Essay: Korean Traditional Style of Printing and Bookmaking
As time passes, the life changes around us. New inventions, developments, technologies that occur change and improve our daily life. It can seem for somebody that all things that he or she has today always existed. But in reality the occurrence of all things that we have today has the long background. Even such simple things like books that we have the possibility to have today, have the long history of development from the manuscripts to the printed texts. In different countries this development took place differently and lasted different period of time. Some invented new technologies of making books by themselves, some borrowed already existed ones and developed them further. Through the time different styles of printing and bookmaking occurred. Books, in any of these styles, influenced and helped to develop the culture of nations and therefore had a big significance for the countries. Realization of this important issue made the progress to develop the bookmaking industry further and further. It would be mistake to say that only European countries had a big influence in the process of improvement and development of the printing industry. Other countries also had a big influence. One of them is Korea. It has the long tradition of styles that were used in order to write, print, and copy texts and then to make books. Koreans used such styles as wood blocks, and movable metals. The production of paper is also a big issue in the bookmaking traditions. About each of this style and the tradition of making books I will tell further in the paper.
One of the first forms of printing that appeared in Korea was the printing with the wood blocks. Originally this type was invented in China in 868 A.D. Then it started to be used in Korea. The technique to produce the wood block is the following. At first the original document should be produced, and then it should be laid on the large and smooth wooden and fixed into place reversely. Then the craftsmen carved this document into the block of wood. These documents could be of various types. They could be texts or images, could be written, drawn or painted. Craftsmen were also distinguished by different skill levels. They were ranged from master carvers (those who made a fine work) to assistants who were less talented and made cheaper blocks or less important sections. Later with development of the color inks, the wood blocks started to be color. The wood block printing was very convenient when the large number of exemplars of some particular book was necessary.
This type of printing flourished during the Koryo dynasty (918-1392). Many kinds of books were published at that time and special libraries were built to store these books (Kim, 1980). Tripitaka Koreana is one of the oldest collections of woodblocks. It consists of 81,258 woodblocks and is the testament to Goryoe’s support to Buddhism and a great faith of Korean people during the times of wars. This collection was created by a long and hard process. The blocks were made from white birch and silver magnolia, the wood was impregnated in seawater for three years, sawed into board, and then boiled into seawater.
The text was first written by ink on the block and then curved. Then they were capped with wood and bronze (The Korea Society). By reading how much work was done for this collection we can understand the importance of it. But what we can also see is the amount of time needed to produce a book. This factor brought a significant inconvenience which lead to further development of printing traditions in Korea.
In 1400 A.D. the new type of printing was invented in Korea. It was printing with movable metals. Korea was the first country which developed this type of printing, after 200 years Johann Gutenberg invented it in Europe. However there is no evidence that there is some connection that development of it in Europe was influenced by the Easter developers.
Printing with movable metals was also invented during the Koryo dynasty and became widely spread during the dynasty of Joseon. It was widely used in printing books on astronomy, philosophy, history, law, etc. The principle of movable metal printing is the following. Each letter was punched into the end of a steel punch which then was hammered into a cooper blank. The cooper imprint was inserted into a mold and molted alloy was poured in. Then the alloy cooled and resulted in the reverse image of the letter which was then used to print texts. This innovation has resulted into easier and faster printing. Now it started to be convenient and favorable to print the small number of copies of some particular book. Such books were commonly used in the education of the upper-class families. There were also some disadvantages. One of them is that the Korean language contains a lot of different characters that are difficult in procreation. (Sohn 25-30). In any way this invention resulted in faster production of books and made them more accessible for people. But in order to print books the material on which they could be printed was necessary. Therefore the paper-making craft was very claimed during the time of movable metal printing. The great demand for paper occurred which led to development of paper industry.
The craft of paper-making was introduced in Korea from China. The production of paper began as early as the 6th century. Beginning from Koryo Dynasty the paper was made from mulberry, which is now considered to be the traditional type of Korean paper.
Because it was easier to raise the bush of a mulberry then of hemp, Yi Dynasty craftsmen made more paper from mulberry and even encouraged farmers to grow the shrubs and to produce paper at home. Yi Dynasty introduced advanced paper-making methods from other countries and encouraged craftsmen to learn Chinese and Japanese techniques. Therefore the method of manufacturing the mulberry paper was quite similar to the Chinese and Japanese. This method is the following. Mulberry is put into large boiler and steamed there until it becomes possible to remove the bark. After it is dried, the bark is soaked in water in a tub or stream for 24 hours. In this way the craftsmen soften it. Then the pith is removed and the material is bleached in the sun for several days. Then the bark becomes white and is again dipped into water until swollen. Then it is mixed with lime and boiled for three, four hours. Then it is put in the bag and placed into stream for about a week until all impurities are eliminated. And finally the material is sun-beached which then results in the paper. The Korean paper has can be easy distinguished from any other type of paper by presence of “laid lines” and “chain lines”. (Kyoto Comparative Law Center) As we see the production of paper was not very easy but resulted in the paper of the high quality. In modern Korea the paper is produced by modern standards but the technology of production of mulberry paper is not lost, and this sort of a paper is now considered chosen paper.
The process of making books in pre-modern Korea takes the beginning from the times of wood blocks printing. At the beginning it was represented by the collection of wooden plates with the caved inscriptions, and then it started to be the paper one. The most part of the wooden-block printed books were the Buddhist books. A number of historical records showed that many Buddhist books were published during the Koryo Dynasty. This dynasty had king’s libraries called Naesuhsung that published some books. With the invention of the movable metal printing technique started to be printed, but before this they were simply written with the help of the inks from lampblacks. Before the printing press came about, Koreans published books by transcriptions. They were the main method for duplicating copies of the original books. In the 10th century the demand for the transcribed books rose dramatically. A lot of people wanted to read government published books in order to study for the exams that promised the government jobs. Due to fast increase in printing books the literacy of the people increased also which led to further increase in the book printing. Due to the war with Mongolian people most of the books from the Koryo library were burned. With the invention of the metal movable printing technique the government decided to reprint all books that were burned and to print new ones from the vast amount of new knowledge that were available now. King Gongyang decided to print books decided to print books on medicine, military tactics, and the legal system to strengthen national military power by educating scholars. Also the books about Buddhism continued to be published. The main reason for this was that Buddhism was not religion of the whole nation but also the religion that was saving the kingdom. Monarchs and the people of Koryo believed that this religion has the power to save the country from Mongolia. With the coming of the Chosun Dynasty the public school system was promoted.
Therefore the readership increased which in turn led to higher demand for books and further development of printing. The technology stayed the same but the new institutions were developed. The first one was department of books which selected books for printing according the ideology of the country. The second was the type foundry that cast metal types and published books that were previously selected by the department of books. The development of printing press had a close relationship with the political power. All kings and scholars wanted to control printing institutions because it was a strong educating tool that they could use for their interest (Lee, 1993). As we see in the beginning of the history of printing, making books was the craft that demanded a lot of skills. Through the time it became the craft that needed sufficiently modern equipment.
So, as we see Korean people had an access to the advanced science and technology in ancient time. The duly developed printing technologies and invention of new played a big role not only in the printing industry but also in the overall inelegance of the nation.
Availability of a lot of books on different subjects and issues made it possible for many people to educate themselves. The change in the communication process is believed to change the social life and form a little bit different structure of the society. Although Koreans were the first who invented metal movable printing technique, the social stagnation that was in the country wasn’t strongly effected. On the contrary, Korea stayed an aristocratic society till the 19th century. In any case the printing traditions of this country have left imprint in the history.
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