US historian campaigns for return of 'Jikji' - The Korea Times

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US historian campaigns for return of 'Jikji'

Richard Pennington holds a banner for 'Bring Jikji back to Korea' in front of Heungdeok Temple. Courtesy of Richard Pennington
Richard Pennington holds a banner for 'Bring Jikji back to Korea' in front of Heungdeok Temple. Courtesy of Richard Pennington

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Cover of 'Jikji, and One NGO's Lonely Fight to Bring It Home' by Richard Pennington
Cover of 'Jikji, and One NGO's Lonely Fight to Bring It Home' by Richard Pennington
"Jikji Simche Yojeol," or simply known as "Jikji," is the world's oldest surviving book printed with movable metal type.

The Buddhist document was published during the Goryeo Kingdom in 1377, at the Heungdeok Temple in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province. This was 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible, the "42-Line Bible," printed by Johannes Gutenberg, which was widely known as one of the earliest books printed using metal type.

Despite its historical significance, "Jikji" was only officially confirmed as the world's first movable metal type printing in 2001, being inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World list.

The remaining pages of "Jikji" are kept at the National Library of France, not the book's home in Korea.

Richard Pennington, a historian from Texas, founded the Committee to Bring Jikji Back to Korea and wrote "Jikji, and One NGO's Lonely Fight to Bring It Home" to raise awareness of "Jikji's" importance.

Some Koreans might feel awkward or ashamed that a foreigner is on the front line of the fight to bring the valuable book back to Korea. However, Pennington reaches out to those who are interested in the issue. "Don't' fret, I say. We are working together as a team for a valiant cause," Pennington wrote in his book.

In "Jikji, and One NGO's Lonely Fight to Bring It Home," Pennington covers over 1,100 years of history and a multiplicity of issues about the world's oldest extant document printed using movable metal type.

The history of "Jikji" part begins with an introduction to Monk Baegun, who compiled stories of revered Buddhist monks in "Jikji," which literally translates into "Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests' Zen Teachings."

The original metal type print "Jikji" had two volumes, but only part of Volume 2 survived and is now at the National Library of France. A less-expensive woodblock print version, produced the year after in 1378, remains intact, giving a glimpse into Monk Baegun's achievement.

The book resurfaced in the early 20th century when Collin de Plancy, a French ambassador in Seoul from 1887 to 1905, acquired "Jikji" along with other Korean antique books. The book, labeled as the "oldest book printed in Korea with movable metal type. Date: 1377," was listed in French ethnographer Maurice Courant's "Hanguk Seoji."

Later, the book went to French collector Henri Vever and then was donated to the French national library.

Pennington, who came across the existence of "Jikji" during a trip to Cheongju in 2013, decided to form a non-governmental organization to bring "Jikji" back to Korea.

"We believe the time has to come to bring 'Jikji' back home," Pennington wrote in the earliest version of the NGO's petition "It is right and proper that this priceless document ― recognized by UNESCO, historians and cultural anthropologists from both East and West ― be housed and displayed in the National Museum of Korea."

Then he continues on about the numerous meetings and letters, showcasing the NGO's effort to bring "Jikji" to Korea.

Pennington also paid tribute in his book to Park Byeong-seon, a Korean-French bibliographer who worked at the National Library of France and rediscovered "Jikji" and "Oegyujanggak Uigwe" (royal protocols) in the French library's collection.

Pennington wants the book translated into Korean to reach a wider readership.

"A Korean version would be of great value since more people here would be able to read it and understand the significance of 'Jikji' and the East Asian origins of the printing press," he told The Korea Times.

"English may be the international language, but this is a Korean story through and through. A Korean version of my book, widely read, might spur more Korean citizens to ask the government to put pressure on the French to repatriate it. This is my sincere hope."


Richard Pennington holds a banner for 'Bring Jikji back to Korea' in front of Heungdeok Temple. Courtesy of Richard Pennington
Richard Pennington holds a banner for 'Bring Jikji back to Korea' in front of Heungdeok Temple. Courtesy of Richard Pennington

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Cover of 'Jikji, and One NGO's Lonely Fight to Bring It Home' by Richard Pennington
Cover of 'Jikji, and One NGO's Lonely Fight to Bring It Home' by Richard Pennington
"Jikji Simche Yojeol," or simply known as "Jikji," is the world's oldest surviving book printed with movable metal type.

The Buddhist document was published during the Goryeo Kingdom in 1377, at the Heungdeok Temple in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province. This was 78 years before the Gutenberg Bible, the "42-Line Bible," printed by Johannes Gutenberg, which was widely known as one of the earliest books printed using metal type.

Despite its historical significance, "Jikji" was only officially confirmed as the world's first movable metal type printing in 2001, being inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World list.

The remaining pages of "Jikji" are kept at the National Library of France, not the book's home in Korea.

Richard Pennington, a historian from Texas, founded the Committee to Bring Jikji Back to Korea and wrote "Jikji, and One NGO's Lonely Fight to Bring It Home" to raise awareness of "Jikji's" importance.

Some Koreans might feel awkward or ashamed that a foreigner is on the front line of the fight to bring the valuable book back to Korea. However, Pennington reaches out to those who are interested in the issue. "Don't' fret, I say. We are working together as a team for a valiant cause," Pennington wrote in his book.

In "Jikji, and One NGO's Lonely Fight to Bring It Home," Pennington covers over 1,100 years of history and a multiplicity of issues about the world's oldest extant document printed using movable metal type.

The history of "Jikji" part begins with an introduction to Monk Baegun, who compiled stories of revered Buddhist monks in "Jikji," which literally translates into "Anthology of Great Buddhist Priests' Zen Teachings."

The original metal type print "Jikji" had two volumes, but only part of Volume 2 survived and is now at the National Library of France. A less-expensive woodblock print version, produced the year after in 1378, remains intact, giving a glimpse into Monk Baegun's achievement.

The book resurfaced in the early 20th century when Collin de Plancy, a French ambassador in Seoul from 1887 to 1905, acquired "Jikji" along with other Korean antique books. The book, labeled as the "oldest book printed in Korea with movable metal type. Date: 1377," was listed in French ethnographer Maurice Courant's "Hanguk Seoji."

Later, the book went to French collector Henri Vever and then was donated to the French national library.

Pennington, who came across the existence of "Jikji" during a trip to Cheongju in 2013, decided to form a non-governmental organization to bring "Jikji" back to Korea.

"We believe the time has to come to bring 'Jikji' back home," Pennington wrote in the earliest version of the NGO's petition "It is right and proper that this priceless document ― recognized by UNESCO, historians and cultural anthropologists from both East and West ― be housed and displayed in the National Museum of Korea."

Then he continues on about the numerous meetings and letters, showcasing the NGO's effort to bring "Jikji" to Korea.

Pennington also paid tribute in his book to Park Byeong-seon, a Korean-French bibliographer who worked at the National Library of France and rediscovered "Jikji" and "Oegyujanggak Uigwe" (royal protocols) in the French library's collection.

Pennington wants the book translated into Korean to reach a wider readership.

"A Korean version would be of great value since more people here would be able to read it and understand the significance of 'Jikji' and the East Asian origins of the printing press," he told The Korea Times.

"English may be the international language, but this is a Korean story through and through. A Korean version of my book, widely read, might spur more Korean citizens to ask the government to put pressure on the French to repatriate it. This is my sincere hope."


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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