Korea has over 1,300 years of papermaking history. There
are various opinions among scholars as to how papermaking
was introduced to Korean peninsula from China between 2-7th
century. However, the prevailing belief that Korea started making
and using paper before the 4th century is based on a piece of paper
found in an ancient tomb, Che Hyup Chong (108 B.C.E.-313 C.E.).
Papermaking skills were then introduced to Japan in 610 C.E. by a
Korean Buddhist monk Dam Jing along with
ink sticks, a millstone, and colorants. This fact suggests that
by the late 6th century, papermaking in Korea must have been well developed.
Once the Korean papermakers took this invaluable skill, they refined
it with an original vision. A unique formation technique that created
Yin Yang Ji was established and handmade paper
became an indispensible material of daily life in Korea. Koreans used paper
not only for calligraphy, painting, and books, but also for doors, walls, windows,
furnitures, umbrellas, lanterns, boxes, baskets, fans, shoes, and clothes.
In fact, Koreans seem to be the only people who used paper as flooring.
The world's oldest surviving wood block print,
Mu Gu Jung Kwang Dae Da Ra Ni Kyung (circa 751 C.E.)
and the world's oldest book printed by movable metallic type,
Jik Ji Sim Che Yo Jeol (1377 C.E.)
are excellent examples of Korea's highly accomplished papermaking and printing
skills. Click on images below for more information on these historic prints on
By the 11-12th century, Korea's papermaking had truly
flourished. The Royal Court of Go Ryeo(918-1392) dynasty
encouraged rapid development of papermaking and printing skills. It published numerous
Buddhist scripts, medical, and history books. The quality of Go
Ryeo Ji (Hanji was commonly referred to as
Go Ryeo Ji during
Go Ryeo and Cho Sun (1392-1910) dynasty)
was renowned throughout Asia, especially in China. Many Chinese books from that time praise
the beauty of Korean paper and state that Chinese scholars regarded Korean paper as one of the best.
Go Ryeo Ji,
Go Ryeo ginseng, and Go Ryeo celadon
became most sought after export items and Chinese aristocrats and
scholars enjoyed exchanging them as valuable gifts. Go Ryeo Ji
in particular became one of the main tribute products levied by China.
Cho Sun (1392-1910) dynasty inherited the excellence of
Go Ryeo Ji and
papermaking technique and its application matured during the
first half of the kingdom (1392-1591). Hanji started to penetrate
every day lives of ordinary people. Colored Hanji became popular
and a variety of plants, such as pine tree bark, rice straw, and bamboo
were incorporated into Hanji.
After this period until the 19th century, Cho Sun dynasty
suffered several major aggressions from neighboring countries. Japanese invasion of 1592,
which lasted six years, devastated Korean papermaking industry as many craftsmen were taken away to Japan.
Also, a heavy tribute of paper was demanded by China during Yuan, Ming, and Ching dynasties and
the Cho Sun government pressured Buddhist monasteries
to supply paper as monks had the skills and were already producing paper for printing of religious
texts. All of these factors contributed to the exhaustion of Korean papermaking tradition.
In spite of the depressed economy and unfavorable circumstances, however, Korea's papermaking tradition
In the early 20th century, foreign influence and the idea
of modernization started to challenge or replace old tradition.
On top of this currency, Cho Sun suffered colonization (1910-1945)
by Japan and many changes started to occur. Western paper mills were
constructed and cheaper machinemade papers started to undermine handmade traditional paper.
Since 1945, Korean lifestyle underwent a dramatic overhaul.
Traditional thatch top houses, which used a lot of handmade
paper for walls, doors, windows, and flooring, were replaced
by western architecture. Hanji was no longer an integral part
of daily life and its main consumers were reduced to artists
who practiced traditional ink painting or calligraphy.
However, in recent years, a renewed awareness and appreciation is growing
and the excellence of papermaking tradition is being rediscovered.
More people are accepting the responsibility to carry on this invaluable legacy
for next generations, opening a new era of Hanji.