What is Hanji?
Hanji is traditional Korean Paper, hand-made from the bark of the "paper"-mulberry tree. After paper had been invented in China in the 2nd century B.C., the method of paper processing spread to Korea and Japan. It is not clear when exactly the first paper was made in Korea. However, it is a fact that the oldest book in the world (woodcut) was printed on hanji as soon as 751 B.C.
What´s the difference between Western, Chinese and Japanese paper?
As hanji is made from pure natural materials, it is free from synthetic chemicals. According to scientific proof, there is practically no chemical reaction from this paper, that´s why in Korea it is often used for wrapping food.
Another difference to the Western paper used today is the high resistance and durability of hanji. A proof is the discovery of a Buddhist scroll in Bulguksa-Temple in Gyeongju in 1966: it is the oldest text in the world which was printed with a wooden block, probably in 704 A.D., more than 1300 years ago! It is amazing that this scroll written on hanji has maintained its original form until today.
The secret of long durability lies in the natural fibers of mulberry tree bark, which are longer than the fibers used in typical Western paper. The bark is made to lye with wooden sticks, thereby leaving the natural characteristics of wood intact, particulary the long fibers.
The Chinese paper processing method, by contrast, uses a millstone to crush the bark. The long fibers therefore do not remain intact.
There is only small difference between Korean hanji and Japanese washi paper, which comes from the slightly different production method. During the production of hanji long fibers of mulberry tree bark are mixed with glue from mulberry tree and water. The resulting lye is poured into a mould to produce paper sheets.This mould is being moved forwards, sidewards and backwards to make sure that the fibers run into all directions. During the production of Japanese paper, by contrast, the mould is being moved forwards and backwards only, with the result that the fibers run in only one direction.
The historical and modern use of Hanji
Hanji, which had the reputation of being the best paper in the world, had been imported by the Chinese emperor families over a long time. Many Chinese emperors had used hanji for their drawings and calligraphy. Hanji was responsible for the evolution of printing and the publication of books in Korea.
"The Buddhist Scripture of Jikji", which had been printed on hanji in 1377, is exhibited in the French National Library in Paris.
Hanji has strongly influenced everyday life in Korea: wall papers, window fillings, floor covers, transport material, storage boxes, bags, huts and even weapons were made of hanji.
Unfortunately, as the production of hanji is very labour-intensiv and time-consuming, it is nowadays gradually being replaced by Western paper - which exists only since 1884.
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source: "KOREAheute", June 2000, Embassy of the Republic of Korea; 2001-2004 Galerie Nettels.