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Monk finds ancient newspaper

If dates are accurate, it could be world’s oldest such publication
Apr 19,2017
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A newspaper piece on Nov. 23 of 1577, in the lunar calendar, discovered by monk Ji Bong of Yonghwa Temple in Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang. Possibly part of the oldest newspaper ever printed, the piece contains records on the weather and the constellations. [KIM JUNG-SEOK]
What is possibly the oldest newspaper ever printed has been discovered by a monk of Yonghwa Temple in Yeongcheon, North Gyeongsang. Scholars have yet to verify the authenticity of the newspaper, which is recorded to have been printed in 1577, 83 years ahead of Leipziger Zeitung, the world’s first newspaper, which was printed in 1660 in Germany.

“I found it at an auction website that sells old documents and books this month,” said monk Ji Bong on Tuesday. “It was up on the website from January but no one seemed interested. I have been interested in old books and bibliographies for 20 years, so I bought it.”

Ji Bong did not specify how much he paid for it or who he bought it from.

The newspaper is in eight pieces and not all are intact. The dates printed on them are: Nov. 6, 15, 19, 23 and 24, all in 1577, in the lunar year calendar system.

The pieces contain articles about Queen Inseong’s welfare and the fact that the regular discussion of state affairs among the king and the ministers were not held on Nov. 6; that hundreds of cows died of infectious disease on Nov. 15; some records of the weather and the constellation on Nov. 23; and the welfare of ministers, including one by the name of Lee Jung-hyeong, on Nov. 24.

The existence of the oldest newspaper is mentioned in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty are the records of the dynasty (1392-1910) from 1392 to 1863, completed in 1,893 chapters in 888 books. Thought to be the longest continual records of a single dynasty in the world, the annals have been registered at the Unesco Memory of the World since 1997.

In the annals for Nov. 28, 1577, in the lunar calendar, King Seonjo (1552-1608) is recorded to have rebuked his ministers for printing newspapers without the king’s permission. Seonjo is recorded to have shut down the publication, rounded up some 30 people who took part in it and sentenced them to a severe punishment.

Historians have said the king was against the publication of a newspaper at the time because he was afraid that state secrets may be leaked to ordinary citizens or foreign powers.

“The publication of the newspaper at the time was a big deal to the royal court,” Ji Bong said. “They say the people who published the newspaper disappeared one morning and the people who possessed any copies had to destroy or hide them.”

Some experts have said the newspaper pieces are authentic.

“In examining the pieces’ physical appearance and contents, I have approved them as authentic,” said Nam Kwon-heuui, professor of history of bibliography and printing at Kyungpook National University in Daegu. “The natural characteristic of the paper, the way the letters are printed, the state of the printing type derived from the letters and length of blank space allotted on the paper match the printing style of late 16th century, and the content also matches the records of events at the time.”

Nam said the newspaper pieces have a “supreme value for those studying the history of library and information science.”

“I didn’t know that the newspaper at the time would be produced in a folded-fashion like in a book, and I find it fascinating that the mix of traditional Chinese characters and Korean words were used together on the paper,” he said. “But I don’t know if the newspaper will be able to be registered as a national cultural asset, because the pieces are too few in number.”

“We’ve discovered hand-written manuscript of newspaper of the later era of Joseon Dynasty before,” said Kim Yeong-bok, a bibliography scholar. “It’s the first time that [what’s suspected to be] a printed newspaper of the early days of the Joseon Dynasty [before the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592] has been found.”

The newspaper pieces are to remain with monk Ji Bong at the temple, and will be open to public view at the temple’s museum.

BY KIM JUNG-SEOK, PARK JUNG-HO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]