Koreana SUMMER 1993 Vol.7 No.2
Feature
Printing Since the 8th Century in Korea
Sohn Pow-kee
Former Yonsei University Professor
Visiting Professor, Dankook University
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The invention of printing is one of the most blessed achievements in the development of human civilization. Through printing, ideas could be exchanged in an unfettered manner between people, but more importantly these ideas could be passed from one generation to the next. In short, printing has provided the vehicle for the transmission of civilization. It is widely accepted that the invention of modern typography provided the foundation from which modern intellectual development flowered.
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The origin of printing and papermaking techniques is attributed to China; handwritten records on bamboo strips and silk are known to have existed there long before the invention of woodblock printing. However, China historically preferred preserving texts to the publication of books. For instance, there is a quantity of extant stone slabs on which Buddhist scriptures were carved during the Tang Dynasty at Yunchii-shih Temple near Beijing, but no printed books of that period are found.
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Research has concluded that Korea, in contrast to China, was more interested in the propagation of Buddhist doctrine and therefore printed multiple copies of important religious works. This is partially evidenced by a scroll of the Pure Light Dharani Sutra, printed between 706 and 751, and found in a stone stupa (pagoda) in Kyongju, Korea. This sutra was printed with 12 woodblocks and glued together to form a scroll of 630 cm in length. It was printed on Korean paper produced from mulberry bark This sutra is so far the earliest printed specimen in the world. Why was Korea compelled to develop printing instead of carving on stone slabs? The answer can be found in the Korean enthusiasm for education. It reminds us that Korean parents are noted for repeating following words to their children: "One who wishes to live better must learn first, you can only survive when you learn well."
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This tradition must have been transmitted throughout the ages. Korea developed xylography to print Buddhist scriptures to teach and pray for the blessing of the Buddhist world as well as Chinese Confucian classics. During the Silla Period (6-10th century), especially numerous Buddhist books were written by Silla monks such as Wonhyo. During the Koryo Period, from the 10th to 14th century, innumerable Buddhist texts were printed with woodblocks for religious and national security purposes. The voluminous Buddhist Tripitaka was carved twice and the supplementary treatises that were missing from the first Tripitaka were also carved and printed in many editions. The total number of carved woodblocks of the Tripitaka amounted to more than 300,000 folio pages, counting both recto and verso.
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There are two extant copies of Pobyobin Dhatu Karanda Dharani Sutra, one in Korea, and the other in the Japanese National Museum. Both of them were printed at Ch'ongji-sa Temple in Korea in 1007. The Korean xylographical edition was highly reputed among the Sung Chinese scholars for its superb quality. Korean paper was also highly admired by Chinese scholars. Moreover, Korean inksticks, renowned for their quality, were even exported to China. Koryo was also known as a country with a superb collection of books and rare editions. Sung China once made a request for 117 titles of books already lost in China, whereupon Koryo supplied 13 of them. The famous literary figure Ssu Tung-po even made recommendations to the Chinese sovereign to prohibit and suspend book exports to Koryo as the Koryo people were too alert in "stealing knowledge" from China. This proves that the Koryo people were eager and enthusiastic for new knowledge and science in the 12th century.
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In the same century Sung developed a prosperous trade and accumulated a large capital. But it was attacked by the Chin state in 1126 and Sung Emperors Hu tsung and Chin.tsung were captured. The Sung capital was desieged by Chin who occupied northern China.The Sung had to flee to south of the Yangtze River. At the same time, the Koryo palace buildings and royal libraries were reduced to ashes in an unsuccessful coup attempt Koryo faced an intellectual vacuum and felt an acute need to acquire books of many different titles. As Chin held the northern Sung territory including the capital, there was no way for Koryo to acquire books any longer. Some Southern Sung Chinese merchants transported certain woodblocks of books from southern Sung but they were limited in number, as southern Sung was no longer interested in book publication. Koryo had to secure an easy and fast method to restore its book collection. This provided a golden opportunity to invent alternative techniques for producing books without hewing down trees in large quantities and time consuming carving.
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If the individual characters are carved on a small, inch-square, clay cube, it can be cast in the green-sand casting method with bronze or brass-incidentally, this was the method used to cast ancient coins. Coin-casting techniques already prevailed in the beginning of the 12th century. Only forty years after Koryo began the coin-casting of the Haedong T'ongbo (the monetary unit of Koryo), the application of the same technique became integrated to the invention of type-casting, after the destruction of Koryo libraries. At this juncture movable metal type was invented as an innovative improvisation to meet an acute need. It is natural that type-casting became a historical event and fact. To the Koryo people the new technology of movable type casting was a simple step in their history and was not construed as a landmark achievement.
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But it heralded an immense historical revolution in the spread of human knowledge and education. The resultant savings in lumber, labor, space and printing costs were enormous. Moreover, it spawned flexibility in printing, that is, a variety of books could be printed on an as-need basis. By printing with cast type it became easier to print both small or large quantities, although the work to produce an even and smooth type plate was laborious. Some titles in large demand were thus printed with woodblocks.
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Precision of type shapes such as face, heels, and sides had to be refined and uniformity had to be maintained. Such technical advances were required for the improvement of printing quality. Many innovations were made under the direction of Sejong the Great who is most revered for having invented the scientifically and geometrically based Korean alphabet in 1443.
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Paper-milling was brought to Tashkent in the 8th century by a naturalized Koguryo-Chinese general Ko Son-ji (Kao Shan-chi) and printing technology to Tarbriz in the 14-15th century by Yuan Khanate through the printing of paper currency. Gutenberg may have received his initial inspiration when he visited Nuremberg before he produced metal mould for type-casting. Throughout the ages, man has recorded changes using some form of making. From small scale to mass production through carving, printing and computerization, all has been set down for posterity.
 
 
 
     
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