Korean Movable Type: A Mini-History

Most scholars credit China with the conception of printing. The oldest surviving printed book, The Diamond Sutra, dates back to 868 AD. For reference, Gutenberg’s bible was printed in 1455. Fast forward a century from the Diamond Sutra and we meet Bi Sheng who was the first person to create movable type between 1039 and 1048. 

As time progressed, it is still unclear whether this technology spread throughout the rest of Asia or if iterations of these technologies were already being conceived independently. Early Korean records show examples of movable type, most likely of wood. Korea refined the printing process, creating the first movable type cast in metal, which allowed for more durability and standardization of dimensions. 

In our collection, we have some examples of these specimen pages of Korean movable type! The book shows examples of documents that include varying type faces and a brief description of the history of each one. It also includes an introduction of printing’s history in Asia and provides resources to conduct more research on the topic! 


As a printmaker and as someone who works in a library, I have heard about Johannes Gutenberg and his bible more times than I can count, but rarely do we accredit Bi Sheng, the Diamond Sutra, and all the printing technology and methods that Asia has pioneered. As the nation is celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, let us take this moment to note and appreciate the community’s history and contributions. Below I will be linking some resources and another blogpost created by Kyung Kim, a colleague in the library, highlighting this month that I highly encourage you all to look over. The post includes resources on Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, history, and statistics that are a must see.

Resources:

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Blogpost by Kyung Kim

Google Exhibit on Korean Movable Type

Technological Advances During the Song by Columbia University

The History of the Book by the International Printing Museum

Specimen Pages of Korean Movable Type – FSU Libraries Catalog

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