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.

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kwon Mee-yoo [email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr

“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.”

Cour­tesy of Richard Pen­ning­ton

Richard Pen­ning­ton holds a ban­ner for “Bring Jikji back to Korea” in front of He­ungdeok Tem­ple, Go­he­ung County, South Je­olla Prov­ince.

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