ZUOQIU, Ming (5th century B.C., attributed to). Guoyu [in Korean: Kugo]. [Seoul: Royal Government Publications Office, c.1434-38].
Volume 1 (of 21), 2° (375 x 223mm). 32 sheets of Korean paper, printed on one side only, 10 columns of 18 characters to the page, double line edge (outer thicker, inner thinner), solid fishtail folding guide, pronunciation guides printed on black ground. Inserted at the front are 2 leaves written in Chinese in a later cursive hand, the first leaf containing a 4-line, 7-character pastoral poem in Chinese. (Stained, paper weakness in first 4 sheets resulting in small tears with slight loss, 2 sheets reinforced on verso, upper corners slightly worn, most sheets separated at fore-edge fold.) Early, probably original, Korean pressed oiled paper wrappers with floral motif affixed with cord dyed pink through five holes at spine (repaired, rear wrapper reinforced, backing possibly removed, cord replaced), modern Korean-style pawlonia wood box. Provenance: early brush-strokes marking passages -- Lee Gyum Ro, rare book dealer at Seoul (Korean inscription at end, signed with his chop in red: 'This book T'ang Liu Sien Sheng Tsi was printed from Kabin-ja type in the reign of King Sejong', signed with the name of his shop, 'Tong Moon Kwan', and his chop; accompanying letter of authenticity, sold in 1961 to:] -- Melvin McGovern (American authority on Korean printing, with his letter of authenticity, on his death the book passed to his widow).
A RARE EXAMPLE OF KOREAN TYPOGRAPHY, PREDATING GUTENBERG. While Gutenberg is independently credited with the invention of printing, i.e. casting movable metal type by means of punches and matrices and developing a press for typographical printing, an earlier method of casting and printing with movable metal type was discovered in Korea half a century before Gutenberg which continued in use for over 500 years. Printing by various means began significantly earlier in Asia than in Europe. Woodblock printing was practiced there from at least the 8th century (a Dharani Sutra, dated to before c.751 and considered to be the world's earliest extant example of (woodblock) printing, was discovered at Pulguk Temple, Kyongju Province in Korea in 1966); experiments with printing from clay type by a 12th-century Chinese commoner, Bi Sheng, are recorded; and wood-type editions have been dated to the 12th century.
The exact origins of casting movable metal type in Asia are keenly contested by Chinese and Korean printing historians, but it is known that printing with metal type was practiced in Korea from the early 13th century, first at Buddhist temples where metalwork skills were applied to the craft of type-casting. The earliest extant example of a Korean typographical edition is the Chikchi simch'e yojol, preserved at Paris in the Bibliothèque nationale; it was printed in 1377 at Hungdok temple. The systematic production of typographical editions was refined at the beginning of the 15th century under the enlightened third and fourth kings of the Yi Dynasty, when it formed part of their programme to ensure that Koreans were well read in the great literature of classical China. It was an ambitious programme instituted by King T'aejong and embraced by his successor, King Sejong. To implement his programme T'aejong established a Bureau of Type-casting charged with the casting of type and printing of typographical editions for distribution to government officials and scholars and ordered a fount to be cast in 1403. It was produced by sandcasting, and type-pages were composed by setting individual types in a tray, fixing their pointed ends into a beeswax base. The type often came loose from the beeswax, however, hindering production, and it fell to T'aejong's successor, King Sejong, to seek superior types and method of printing. T'aejong's type was followed by a second metal type, called Kyongja-Ja, ordered by Sejong in 1420. It was smaller, neater, and had a flat heel which facilitated setting in the forme. Its small size, however, was also a disadvantage, and in 1434 Sejong ordered a third, larger fount to be cast: Kabin-ja.
THE PRESENT EDITION IS SET IN KABIN-JA TYPE, 'CONSIDERED THE FINEST OF THE EARLY TYPES'. Its genesis is recorded in the Yi Dynasty Annals and in the third foreword to the Yok Dai Jang Gam Bak Ui of 1437. Both regretting the small size of the Kyongja-Ja type and wishing to improve productivity, Sejong ordered a new type -- Kabin-ja -- in 1434; within two months 200,000 pieces of Kabin-ja type had been cast, enabling more than 40 sheets per day to be printed. Kabin-ja, based on Chinese Ming calligraphy in the style of Madam Wei, was the most successful Korean type and was recast as late as 1777.
Early Korean typographical editions were printed in small numbers, usually in 100 to 300 copies only, for distribution to an elite of government officials and scholars. The present text, the Guoyu, attributed to Zuoqiu Ming, is typical of the productions of early 15th-century Korea. It is a classical Chinese history of the 5th century B.C., recording discourses from eight of the Warring States; it was required reading for those hoping to pass the exams to become a government official. The copy offered here shows evidence of such study in the brush-stroke markings indicating important passages. Owing to the small edition sizes as well as the vicissitudes of survival, ALL KOREAN 15TH-CENTURY TYPOGRAPHICAL EDITIONS ARE RARE. No copy of the present edition is recorded in RLIN; the renowned Asami Library at the University of California, containing over 900 titles of Korean printing, has only 1668 and 1859 editions of this text (cf. Chaoying Fang, The Asami Library. Berkeley and Los Angeles: 1969).
Melvin McGovern, the former owner of this volume, was an American authority on Korean printing. His book, Specimen Pages of Korean Movable Type (Los Angeles: Dawson, 1966), remains a succinct summary of early Korean printing. In addition to his own statement, the authenticity of the present volume is attested by Dr. Kim Won Yong, curator of the National Museum, Seoul; Mr. Lee Song Ui, rare book dealer, Seoul; Mr. Min Yong Gyu, Librarian at Yonsei University, Seoul; and by Dr. HyeBong Chon, Professor Emeritus, Sung Kyum Kwan University, Seoul, a noted authority on the subject. Dr. Chon has dated the edition to 1434-38.
Melvin McGovern. Specimen Pages of Korean Movable Type. Los Angeles: 1966
Jixing Pan. 'A Comparative Research of Early Movable metal-type Printing Technique in China, Korea and Europe,' Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 1998, 36-41.
Seong-Rae Park. 'Six Perspectives in the History of Printing,' Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 1998, 42-47.
John Stevens. 'Early Printing in Korea', Korean Culture, 3:1, March 1982, pp.10-13
Po-kee Sohn. 'King Sejong's Innovations in Printing', King Sejong the Great: The Light of 15th Century Korea, ed. Young-Key Kim-Renaud. Washington, D.C.: 1992, p.53-57
Po-kee Sohn. 'Invention of Movable Metal-type Printing in Koryo:its Role and Impact on Human Cultural Progress,' Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 1998, 25-30
Po-kee Sohn. Early Korean Typography. Seoul: 1982
Christie's gratefully acknowledges the aid of Beth McKillop, curator of Korean printed books at the British Library, in researching this volume.