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Buddhist Sutras Printed Using Traditional Techniques

Donga, Jan 4, 2007

Seoul, South Korea -- A copy of the Buddhist sutras is printed by a method used during the Joseon Dynasty through wood printing block of the Cheonggyesa Temple, tangible cultural property No.135.

The Gyeonggi Culture Foundation organized the event, which was held at the Cheonggyesa Temple, in Uiwang, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday.

445 copies of 18 different books were printed, including Myobeopyeonhwagyeong. The 40,000 pieces of the finest Jeonju Hanji (Korean traditional paper) made from paper mulberry trees and 60 kilograms of ink and 40 kilograms of salt to clean printing blocks were used.

Typography and print during the Joseon Dynasty

Metal typography and printing flourished during the Joseon Dynasty, but the technique of woodblock printing inherited from Goryeo also continued. In early Joseon, Buddhism persevered among the royalty even in spite of the official anti-Buddhism policy of the new dynasty and provided the support for the continued printing of Buddhist scriptures.

During King Sejo's time, Gangyeongdogam, a special printing office was established to translate and print Buddhist works. The influence of the royal court could be seen in the delicate engraving on the printing blocks.

But the largest portion of woodblock printing during the Joseon period took place at local government offices, temples, or village schoolhouses. Equipped with the necessary manpower and material resources, temples were particularly active in producing Buddhist scriptures as well as poetry and essay collections and even Confucian writings. They were the professional woodblock printers of the time.

Woodblock printing remained quite popular throughout the Joseon Dynasty, as there was no limit to the number of copies that could be made and the blocks were easy to keep. But as the centuries passed, the quality declined and the engraving became coarse.

It is noteworthy that misprints are hardly ever found in Korea 's ancient books. This, however, is not surprising, since the system did not permit error. As indicated in Gyeonggukdaejeon (Grand Code for Managing the Nation) and other historical records, punishment of related workers was severe: for a single error found in an entire volume, everyone, from the top supervisor to the lowest level intern, was caned thirty times; five or more mistakes led to dismissal.

Indeed, the Joseon Dynasty developed a uniquely rich tradition in printing: for five centuries, the government took the lead in creating metal characters, local entities kept alive the tradition of woodblock printing, and great books of impeccable type were printed. Throughout world history, it is difficult to find a comparable example.

However, these days, Korea is an importer as far as printing and publications are concerned, despite the honor of having been the world's first user of metal type. There is a growing awareness that the glory of the past should be revived.

Source: http://www.koreanculture.org/06about_korea/symbols/11printing_heritage.htm

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