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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 1.1 (2018): 1–42;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism in the West)

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Korea’s Possible Contribution to the Printing Technology in Europe: A Historical Survey

KIM Jongmyung
Academy of Korean Studies

Abstract: The purpose of this article is to examine Korea’s possible contribution to the development of metal type printing technology in Europe with a focus on its presumed influence on the printing technology of Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1398–1468), a German regarded as the ‘inventor’ of this technology in the West. To this end, this research discusses textual evidence and historical circumstances to discern Korea’s contribution to this printing technology. Historically, few records indicate Korea’s direct contact with Europe. However, scholars more recently began arguing for Korea’s possible influence on Gutenberg’s metal type technology. Textual evidence and historical circumstances strongly suggest that Europeans were in direct contact with Koreans in the mid-fourteenth century and, therefore, Korea’s contribution to Gutenberg’s invention of the metal type printing press. Recent scholarship also proved through experiments that Gutenberg’s printing technology was the same as Korea’s. As a prerequisite for printing, paper was also transmitted to Europe from the East, and already circulated in Europe before the time of Gutenberg. Premodern Korea was well known to the Chinese for their high-quality paper production. However, these issues still remain for future research.

Keywords: Basel Paper Mill, Chikchi, Jikji, Central Asia, China, Europe, Gutenberg, Korea, metal types, Pope John XXII, Silk Road


About the Author: Jongmyung Kim is professor of Korean and Buddhist studies at the Academy of Korean Studies. He is the author of four peer-reviewed monographs in Korean: Sangwŏn Yŏndŭng hoe wa Chungdong P’algwan hoe 상원연등회와 중동팔관회 (The Lantern Festival in January and The Assembly of Eight Prohibitions in November 2018), Kugwang ŭi Pulgyo kwan kwa ch’iguk ch’aek 국왕의 불교관 과 치국책 (Korean Kings’ Views of Buddhism and Their Statecraft, 2013), Han’guk ŭi segye Pulgyo yusan 한국의 세계 불교 유산 (Korea’s Buddhist World Heritage Properties, 2008), and Han’guk chungse ŭi Pulgyo ŭirye 한국 중세의 불교 의례 (Buddhist Rituals in Medieval Korea, 2001). He is also a contributor to multiple volumes, including Korean Religions in Relation (2016), Zen Buddhist Rhetoric in China, Korea, and Japan (2012), Tradition and Tradition Theories (2006), Makers of Modern Korean Buddhism (2010), and Korea and Modernization (2002).


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.