The Korea Herald


World's oldest movable metal print book 'Jikji' to be shown in Paris

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : April 11, 2023 - 15:33

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An extract from An extract from "Jikji" housed at the National Library of France (National Library of France/ Yonhap)

"Jikji," acknowledged by UNESCO as the world's oldest book printed in movable metal type, will be presented to the public for the first time in 50 years at a major exhibition in France.

The book will be on display at the National Library of France from Wednesday until July 16, at an exhibition that focuses on the history of printing technology.

"Jikji" is the shortened title of "Jikjisimcheyojeol," a text written by Baegun Gyeonghan, a Buddhist monk, in 1372. The book is a compendium of teachings of the great Buddhist priests of the Goryeo Kingdom (918–1392).

The book was printed in 1377 at the Heungdeok Temple in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible -- also a movable metal type script printed in Europe during 1455.

"It will be fascinating to view how each letter's brush strokes are delicately embodied in the metal prints," Lee Jae-jeong, a senior researcher at the National Museum of Korea specializing in old printed books, told The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

French Minister to Korea Collin de Plancy (1853-1922) acquired "Jikji" for his personal collection while serving in Korea, according to the Jikji Global website run by the Cheongju Early Printing Museum.

The book was first revealed to the public at the Paris Exposition in 1900. In 1911, it was sold to Henri Vever, an antiques collector who purchased the piece at an auction held at the Hotel Drouot in Paris. In 1952, the book was donated to the National Library of France, according to the collector's will.

Historian Park Byeong-seon (1923-2011), who worked as a librarian at the National Library of France, officially proved in 1972 that the book predates the Gutenberg Bible.

A year later, the library held an exhibition to mark the International Book Year, and showcased "Jikji" as one of the great treasures of Asia.

Meanwhile, the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation has been cooperating with the French library, working to translate the Chinese characters into French in 2021.

"It took a substantial amount of time to gather historical knowledge to interpret the book," an official at the foundation said. "We hope the exhibition will serve as an opportunity for France to once again recognize Korea's great academic interest in and love for 'Jikji.'"

The publication originally consisted of two volumes, but only the second volume exists at the French library.