Skip over navigation to page contentThe Library of Congress >> Asian Reading Room

Asian Collections: Library of Congress, An Illustrated Guide

HOME  Preface  Introduction  The World of Asian Books  Chinese Beginnings  Tales from the Yunnan Woods  The Diplomat and the Dalai Lama  From the Steppes of Central Asia  The Japanese World  Korean Classics  Homer on the Ganges  White Whales and Bugis Book  Barangays, Friars, and "The Mild Sway of Justice"  The Theravada Tradition  The Southern Mandarins  Modern Asia  East Asia  Inner Asia  South Asia  Southeast Asia and the Pacific  Epilog  Publications on the Asian Collections

KOREAN CLASSICS

Woodblock of the Tripitaka Koreana.
Woodblock of the Tripitaka Koreana. The carving of the woodblocks for the Korean Tripitaka (Buddhist canon) began in the early eleventh century and was completed in 1087. The original woodblocks were destroyed during the thirteenth-century Mongol invasions. The Tripitaka Koreana that remains today is a later edition, begun on Kanghwa Island, where the court had taken refuge from the Mongols. It was completed in 1251. Requiring about 81,200 woodblocks, this edition combines accuracy with beauty. This woodblock was presented to then- Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin by Dr. Hong Joo Moon, President of the Academy of Korean Studies, in 1986. (Korean Collection, Asian Division)

The Library's Korean collection has made up for a relatively late start and now stands as the largest and most comprehensive outside Korea. Although the collection is largely contemporary (this aspect is discussed later), it does contain a number of valuable pre-nineteenth-century publications in traditional format. Korea, like Japan and Vietnam, absorbed early cultural influences from China, including language, and many of its early classics were written in Chinese. Old Korean books, however, are quite different from their counterparts in China and Japan. They tend to be larger and are often printed on tough, durable paper, which is noted for its beauty and uniform whiteness. Because of the paper's quality, Korean versions of Chinese classics sometimes survived the original printings in China. For example, the only existing version of an important fourteenth-century Chinese map, Sheng-chiao Kuang-pei t'u (Map of the Vast Reach of China's Moral Teaching), is a fifteenth-century Korean work containing a copy of the original.

The Library has some 480 titles (3,300 volumes) of rare Korean books, printed on mulberry paper in Chinese characters, many of which were obtained in the 1920s. While the majority of the Korean rare books are in the Asian Division, thirteen titles are in the Law Library. There are also rare Korean maps in the Geography and Map Division, including those provided to the Library by the American geographer Shannon McCune. Unique Korean photographs may be found in the Prints and Photographs Division.

Yi Munsun Chip (1241).
Yi Munsun Chip
(1241). The collected works of Yi Munsun (the literary name of Yi Kyu-bo), the great poet, scholar, and statesman of Korea's Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), were edited and printed with metal movable type by his son Yi Ham in about 1241. This was some 215 years before Gutenberg used a similar process to print his famous Bibles in Germany. Printed on handmade mulberry paper, the eight-volume work contains Yi Munsun's essays, poetry, descriptions of early printing, warnings against shamanism, and his autobiography. (Korean Collection, Asian Division)

The most important contributor to the Library's classical Korean book collection was Dr. James S. Gale, a Canadian missionary who arrived in Korea in 1888 and spent the next forty years there. A prodigious scholar, Gale translated many of Korea's literary classics into English and wrote numerous books on Korean history, literature, and culture. Gale helped the Library procure a number of Korean classics, including rare books from the estate of the Korean scholar Kim To-hui. In 1927, the Library received the major portion of Gale's own library, more than doubling its Korean holdings.

Korea made a special contribution to the technology of printing by developing movable cast metal type, beginning in 1241. Although China first used movable type made of clay, it was in Korea that printing with movable metal type reached a high point in the fifteenth century. Korean printing technology spread to China and Japan, but movable type was not a commercial success and by the nineteenth century had been almost completely displaced by the older woodblock printing. This technology in turn soon gave way to European typography. The Asian Division holds some fine examples of Korean printing from metal movable type. These include the collected writings, printed in 1744, of the renowned sixteenth-century Confucian scholar and statesman Yi I and the 1834 reprint of the works of the "father of Korean literature," Ch'oe Ch'i-won (857-915 A.D.). Examples of rare woodblock-printed books include a history of the Koryo Dynasty (Koryð Sa), printed in 1590, and the law code of the Yi Dynasty (Kyongguk Taijon), printed in 1630.

Map of Korean Peninsula.
Map of Korean Peninsula.
This map of Korea is one of twelve handcolored maps in the manuscript atlas, Tae Choson Chido (Great Korean Map). The atlas, dating to circa 1800, has individual maps of the provinces of Korea and maps of the world, China, and Japan. (Geography and Map Division)

Tonqui Pogam (A Valuable Treatise on Oriental Medicine). Tonqui Pogam (A Valuable Treatise on Oriental Medicine).

The Tonqui Pogam was written by the physician Ho Chun at the order of King Sonjo (1567-1608). Completed in 1611, it combines Chinese and Korean medical writings on disease and treatment, and covers topics such as pediatrics, gynecology, acupuncture, surgery, and general medicine. The most important medical compendium of Korea's Yi Dynasty, the work was widely read in China and Japan. This 1754 edition, consisting of twenty-two volumes, was printed with wood blocks. (Korean Collection, Asian Division)


HOME  Preface  Introduction  The World of Asian Books  Chinese Beginnings  Tales from the Yunnan Woods  The Diplomat and the Dalai Lama  From the Steppes of Central Asia  The Japanese World  Korean Classics  Homer on the Ganges  White Whales and Bugis Book  Barangays, Friars, and "The Mild Sway of Justice"  The Theravada Tradition  The Southern Mandarins  Modern Asia  East Asia  Inner Asia  South Asia  Southeast Asia and the Pacific  Epilog  Publications on the Asian Collections


The Library of Congress >> Asian Reading Room
( November 15, 2010 )
Legal | External Link Disclaimer Ask A Librarian