Controversy about metal type reignites
Lawmaker calls for re-examining of ‘Jeungdogaja’
“Jeungdogaja,” a set of metal movable type which was declared in 2017 not to be the oldest in the world, has been brought to attention once again during a National Assembly audit session on the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA), Monday.
The 101 pieces of metal movable type became known to the public in 2010 by Kyungpook National University bibliography professor Nam Kwon-hee. Nam and antique dealer Kim Jong-chun insisted that the set of metal type was used to print “Nammyeong Cheonhwa Sangsong Jeungdoga,” a Buddhist book published around 1239 during the 9181392 Goryeo Kingdom. If approved as authentic, it would have surpassed “Jikji,” the oldest known metal type made in 1377, by over 100 years.
In 2011, Kim’s wife applied for cultural property status of the metalloid type to the CHA.
However, after years of debate, the CHA rejected the request in 2017, concluding that it is difficult to confirm the type’s exact production date from scientific evidence such as metal component analysis or radiocarbon dating of ink due to lack of credibility in the preservation environment.
“There were some insufficiencies in the process when the Jeungdogaja was rejected to be listed as a state cultural property in 2017. According to the stenographic records, the committee members do not negate the possibility of the metal type being made during Goryeo Kingdom. The CHA should have continued researching and preserving it considering its value,” Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lawmaker Chung Sye-kyun said.
Rep. Chung urged the CHA to protect Korea’s legacy of metal type as China is preparing to submit metal movable type for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
“Some are worrying about the outflow of the metal type overseas in the shorthand report,” Rep. Chung said.
Chung Jae-suk, chief of the CHA, answered that she looked into the process and experts researched and analyzed the metal types multiple times. Chung was not head of the state-run organization back then.
“The National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage and outside specialists ran a series of scientific tests and compared the typeface. I don’t think there was any improper bias in the verification process,” Chung said. “We will continue to collect more concrete data on Jeungdogaja to make progress in the research and look back into previous deliberations on the metal type.”
Dabosung Antique, owner of the metal type, revealed all 101 pieces of the set to the public for the first time at the National Assembly inspection.
Chung Jae-suk, second from right, chief of the Cultural Heritage Administration, and lawmakers look at “jeungdogaja,” a set of metal movable type, during a National Assembly audit of the culture agency, Monday.