Uncovering the truth
The author is the head of the international teamof the JoongAng Ilbo.
Before I became the head of the international team, the last issue I covered in the culture team was the metal relics from the early Joseon period excavated in Insa-dong, Seoul. More than 1,600 metal movable types estimated to have been made between Sejong and Sejo periods in the 15th century and other various scientific and technological inventions were found. Aside from the hangul metal types retaining the original notation method at the time, Chinese character metal types were found, and there is a possibility that some of them, at least eight, are likely to be Gapinja cast in 1434. If true, it is expected to have a global impact as the oldest existing metal type with identified production date.
National pride filled me. But let’s say that the Joseon metal type is confirmed, created before Gutenberg’s movable type in 1440. Does it change history? Gutenberg’s metal type led to the rise of commercial publishing and made a critical contribution to the Western knowledge industry. How about the metal types of Joseon? Oh Gyeong-taek, head of the excavation team, said that the relics were found in Insa-dong, where middle-class people lived, and it was unusual to find the metal products which were normally only used in the highest offices, including the royal court. In the early Josen period before the Japanese Invasion of Korea, printing was controlled by the government, and it is generally believed that commercial publishing spread after the 18th century.
The publishing and printing culture that blossomed in the 15th century was halted by a number of political upheavals, wars and limits of class system. The creation of hangul was similar. John Man’s 2003 book “The Gutenberg Revolution: The Story of a Genius and an Invention that Changed the World,” says “Even an invention of undisputed brilliance by the emperor himself was not enough to overcome the weight of conservatism, with nowhere near the impetus to inspire technical and social change.”
“What matters is making a story and accumulating new content from the value,” said Lee Jae-jeong, a researcher who found 30 hangul types from hundreds of thousands of metal types from the National Museum’s collection in 2007. The significance of the invention and excavation of the metal types depends on added value.
Professor Ok Jeong-young of the Central Institute for Korean Studies said, “We need to study how the publishing systems in the East and the West were different and how each society’s desire and pursuit were different.” It is scholars turn to uncover the “truth.”