Bring Jikji to the world

Why do we devote this website to Jikji?

With 5,000 years of history, Korea has a rich cultural heritage. Why did we choose Jikji?

First, Jikji as the world’s oldest extant movable metal type print exemplifies Korea’s advanced culture throughout its history.

You probably learned about movable metal type and the Gutenberg Bible in school. Papermaking and the printing press, including woodblock printing and metal type printing, are important milestones in world history and are widely covered in textbooks. Movable metal type printing democratized information and knowledge and triggered revolutionary events, such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Civil Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. The Gutenberg Bible is featured in all world history textbooks because it was printed with movable metal type that enabled mass publication. It is one of the best-known documentary assets in the world. On the other hand, Jikji is unfamiliar to most people around the world, despite being the world’s oldest extant movable metal type print, printed 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible.

Thus, VANK launched a campaign to promote the universal value of Jikji to textbook publishers, encyclopedias, museums, and libraries around the world. As a result, we added Jikji to the websites of major textbook publishers like Dorling Kindersley, encyclopedias, libraries, and museums, as well as other education websites.

Second, Jikji can improve the global perception of Korean history.

In many world history textbooks, Korean history has been written in the framework of Chinese and Japanese history. In this framework, Korea is often described as a victim of foreign invasions and colonization throughout its history. Consequently, many people around the world perceive Korean history as dependent on China and Japan. The biggest problem is that Korea’s unique and creative cultural heritage is not reflected in international history textbooks.

Why is Korean history distorted in world history textbooks? One of the main tasks that Japan focused on during its occupation of Korea (1910 – 1945) was reshaping Korean history. Japan created and spread the image of Korea as inferior, unoriginal, and lacking in the ability to self-govern. Also, by depicting Korea as a vassal state of China, Japan justified its annexation of Korea, as if it liberated Korea from China. Japan used this distorted image of Korea to gain international support for its colonial expansion.

VANK is determined to break the negative stereotypes about Korean history, which are remnants of Japanese imperialism. Jikji attests to Korea’s originality because it is the world’s oldest book printed with movable metal type, which is considered one of the greatest inventions in human history. With its advanced printing technology, Korea printed the Mugujeonggwang Daedaranigyeong, the world’s oldest woodblock print, in 751, and Jikji, the world’s oldest movable metal type print, in 1377. A long history of printing books indicates that Korea has had a unique and advanced culture. In addition, Korea has the fourth largest number of documentary heritage assets inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World (MoW) Register. As of 2018, Germany and the United Kingdom are ranked first with 23 assets respectively and Poland is second with 17 assets in the number of MoW inscriptions. In the Asia and Pacific region, Korea is ranked first with 16 assets, preceding China with 13 assets and Japan with 7 assets.

Third, Jikji can break Eurocentrism by conveying the history of Asia’s advanced culture.

Eurocentrism is a worldview that regards Western civilization as superior to others. Jikji challenges that worldview, demanding a shift in perception. It stimulates the imagination that Gutenberg’s printing press, the proudest invention of the West, might have been influenced by the Korean kingdom of Goryeo in Asia. Jikji preceded the Gutenberg Bible by 78 years and Goryeo had a close relationship with the Mongol Empire to the extent that it had an empress from Goryeo. It is possible that Goryeo’s movable metal type technology was spread to Europe through the Mongol Empire.

A Canadian documentary director went on a journey to explore this possibility. David Redman directed a documentary titled “Dancing with Jikji.” He suspected a possibility that Goryeo’s movable metal type technology might have been transferred to Western Europe through the Mongol Empire, which had frequent interactions with the Vatican.

In the documentary, Redman explored the possibility that Goryeo’s movable metal type printing press influenced Gutenberg. He particularly focused on the period between the printing of Jikji in 1377 and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455 in search of the possibility of a cultural exchange. After hard work, he finally made a great discovery at the Vatican’s Secret Archives. It was a letter that Pope John XXII’s sent to a king of Goryeo in 1333. The pope expressed his gratitude for Goryeo’s hospitality to his delegation.

This letter rewrote the history of the Catholic Church in Korea that had recognized Gregorio Cespedes, who came to Korea in 1594, as the first European priest to visit Korea. It also suggested a cultural exchange between Goryeo and Europe. Former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore backed this idea. In a global forum, he said in his speech, “It is known in the West that Gutenberg invented the printing technology for the first time, but this technology was learned from Korea through a papal delegation that visited the Korean kingdom. I became aware of this fact at the Swiss Museum for Paper, Writing and Printing. Gutenberg had a friend in the papal delegation.”

As described above, there is a distinctive possibility that Goryeo’s printing technology influenced the invention of the printing press in Europe. The Mugujeonggwang Daedaranigyeong, the world’s oldest book ever printed, is the evidence. There is a historical record that Korea transferred its metal type technology to Japan. Also, the Goryeo period when Jikji was printed coincides with the Mongol Empire’s world domination. During this period, there were active cultural exchanges between the East and the West through the Silk Roads. It is not farfetched to imagine that Goryeo’s movable metal type printing technology reached Gutenberg in Germany.

When Jikji is known to the world, it will inspire westerners to see the world with a more balanced perspective by breaking Eurocentrism.

This website was created to help you gain a new perspective on Korean history and discover the value of Asia through Korean history by introducing you to Jikji.