Wisdom of Ancient Koreans Chrystalized in Inventions

In the age of the great flourishing states of Koryo (918 - 1392 AD) and the Li Dynasty (1392 - 1910 AD), Korean people achieved various epoch-making inventions, contributing to the cultural development of the world.

Most characteristic among them were invention of metal printing types in Koryo and that of an original Korean phonetic alphabet in the Li dynasty.


World's First Metal Type Born in Korea

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More than 200 years before the invention of printing types by Gutenberg of Germany, Korean craftsmen in the medieval kingdom succeeded in molding metal types for the first time in the world history, demonstrating Koryo's highly developed culture to the world.

In Koryo, a state which existed in 918 - 1392 AD, the world's first metal type was invented and put into use in printing already in the late 12th century.

Based on the highly developed wood-block printing technique which had already been in practice since the time of the Three Kingdoms in the 7th century, Koryo craftsmen of the highest order made it possible to achieve this innovation in printing.

As metal types were made in the process of casting molten metal in wooden, olds, the work required high techniques and precision; a slight difference in the condition of molten metal caused blowholes and the contraction of the metal.

The success in the technical achievement by the Koryo people is proved by a document written by the then great writer Ri Kyu Bo (1168 - 1241), who says in it that during the 8 years from 1328 when Koryo moved its capital from Kaesong to Kanghwa Island in the West Sea of Korea due to invasion by Mongolians, 28 copies of "Kogum-sangjongryemun," a book of famous quotations, were printed with metal types.

A story on Confucius titled "Congkakao" and the Buddhist scripture "Chikchismguong" were printed with the cast types, respectively, in 1324 and 1317.

Today, the Jirea History Museum exhibits a metal type discovered in Kaesong City which was the capital of the Koryo kingdom.

The type in the museum was unearthed in a place about 300 meters from Manwoldae, Kaesong, where the royal palace was located. The 8-mm-high metal represents a Chinese character. It is 10mm by 10mm and made of bronze mixed with lead, iron and aluminum.

With these historical facts, it was proved that the widely accepted idea that metal types made in Holland in 1423 or those in Germany invented by Gutenberg in 1450 were the first cast types in the world is wrong. The cast types by Koryo craftsmen preceded 200 - 300 years these successes in European countries.

Consequently, the UNESCO in 1972 made an international announcement that the "Chikchisimgyong" is the oldest metal typed printed book in the world and made the fact acceptable by exhibiting a copy of the book at the exhibition in the international book festival in the same year.

This invention was a great event in the development of medieval printing and a technical achievement of the highest order Korean ancestors had contributed to the development of printing.


King Presents Unique Alphabet for Korean People

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In the Li dynasty period, Korean people developed their culture, especially in the age of the fourth King Sejong. The greatest cultural invention in all Korean history was brought to light in that period, that is, the invention of the Korean alphabet, first called Hunminjongum.

Korean ancestors had long used letters called "ridu" evolved Chinese characters since the period of the Three Kingdoms (1st century B.C. - mid 7th century A.D.) by modifying Chinese characters according to their meanings and pronunciations in order to give a form of writing to the Korean language.

Even in the mid-13th century when Korea was under the rule of King Sejong, Korean people used the "ridu," despite the fact that the character originated from Chinese letters were difficult to learn and that it was all but impossible to adapt Chinese characters to the Korean language, because of fundamental differences between them. That meant that writing was a privilege only of the upper class.

Motivated by the necessity to educate illeteral people for his rule, Sejong started to pursue his linguistic research with scholars in 1422.

Gathered in the Chiphyonjon, a royal academic institution, according to the king's order, the then leading linguists Song Sam Mun and Chong Rin Ji and other scholars made hard work to invent a phonetic alphabet for Korean language.

After 20 years of tireless research, scholars finally succeeded in January 1444 in inventing "Hunminjongum," providing all the Korean people with easy-to-understand phonetic symbols. "Hunmin" stands for "to educate peasants," while "jongum" means "to write down correct pronunciation."

Hunminjongum was composed of 17 consonants and 11 vowels. The alphabets were shaped according the shapes of the vocal organs when pronouncing them. The number of the letters was few and there were double vowels and consonants and that the relations of consonants vowels were rationally dealt with. Though there are many kinds of characters used in the world today, their origins are only three or four kinds of characters including Chinese characters and cuneiform.

Hunminjongum is a rare alphabet which was invented originally, and besides, the intention, the theory and the method of the time inventing it, as well as its inventors and the time of its invention, are clearly demonstrated. As such it is unprecedented in the world. This original character has changed little since it is phonetically almost perfect.


Korean people also succeeded in inventing the udometer in 1441 for the first time in the world.

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These cultural inventions fostered cultural development in the state, and under the wise king, people greeted a Renaissance in the Korean Peninsula.

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