Is the Jikji Connected to Shakespeare?
The New York Times states, "The folio, whose discovery was first reported by the regional French newspaper La Voix du Nord, is not the rarest book the St.-Omer library owns. It also has a Gutenberg Bible, of which fewer than 50 are known to survive."
France has 1 of 50 copies in the world of Gutenberg’s bible. This Bible was long thought to be the first book printed with metal movable type. Indeed for hundreds of years, metal type printing was thought to have been invented in the west and then spread throughout the world. However, although many people may not be aware, this has been proven to no longer be true. The Jikji is the oldest extant book printed with metal movable type. It is arguably one of the most valuable extant texts in the world. Not only is it first known book printed with metal movable type- printed in 1377-78 years before Gutenberg’s Bible, the discovery of Jikji changed the history of printing.
The Jikji left Korea due to a French campaign against Korea in the year named Byeong-in Year (1866). The attack was made after the Korean government’s execution of several French priests and Korean followers of Roman Catholicism in January the same year. A recent Aljazeera article noted "The Korean government did not look favorably on the gradual spread of Catholicism. It was seen as potentially dangerous because it could be used by Western powers in their imperialist endeavors."
During the French campaign the island’s Oegyujanggak Library that contained some 5,067 books, portraits, protocols, seals and other priceless records was burnt down. The rest of the artifacts that managed to survive the fire were taken. Collin de Plancy, who served in Korea as a diplomat, is thought to have eventually purchased the Jikji while in Korea and brought it back with him to France at the beginning of the 1900s after (allegedly) purchasing it for a nominal sum. There is no proof that the purchase was made. The conditions in which the transaction took place are not specifically known and the question of whether it was done under duress is also unanswered.
Theatre Amoeba's Jikji Theatre Project explores the movement and dynamic of the Jikji and the story of Dr. Park Byeong-seon - who spent her life in France working to bring this ancient Buddhist text, among others back to their home in Korea. The Jikji is presently still in France. Where France argues that it is a world property and that France is better suited to take care of it. (www.jikjijikjijikji.com)
Edited 1/14/2015- Thanks to Richard Pennington from The Committee to Bring Back the Jikji for pointing out that this entry needed more clarity.
1. Lankov, Andrei, "Why is Catholicism important in South Korea? A history of scientific pursuit and democratic activism has set a special place for Catholicism in Korean society." Aljazeera Web. 8.18. 2014.
2. Schuessler, Jennifer, "Shakespeare Folio Discovered in France". The New York Times Web, 11.25.2014.