Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book-making: Hong Gil-dong Jeon Method

Hong Gil-dong Jeon most often translated as “The Story of Hong Gil-dong” is a fictitious piece of work attributed to Heo Gyun, who was the second son of a yangban family. Some may think that Heo’s writing was allegorical—a possibility—because Heo Gyun fought against the regimentations of a strict class hierarchy, much like his character Hong Gil-dong, and ultimately and despite strict hierarchical structurings, he created a character of illegitimate birth but who could rise from the humble commoner class to a hero who fought against the bigoted upper-classes for a better society. In the end, Heo transformed Hong Gil-dong commoner into a righteous king.

A YouTube movie of Hong Gil-dong (1:44.31) ends with his older half-brother of legitimate birth begging the king to allow Hong Gil-dong to marry Hong's love, a daughter of a high yangban official, but even though the king had promised Hong anything he wanted—land or wealth—he would not grant Hong the right of social mobility through marriage, as counseled by members of the yangban fearing for their future stability as rulers of society. The radical Heo Gyun (if indeed he did write the tale) showed the time period's inability to promote change and laud wisdom in making decisions that open-mindedly promoted a better society. And so Hong Gil-dong boarded a boat with his rabble—reformed thieves but now fighters for equal rights—and his love, and altogether they sailed away to found another kingdom where everyone would have equal status (despite Hong Gil-dong being king).

Until recently, historical studies have seemed to agree that the intellectual radical Heo Gyun (1569-1618) wrote the book in the late 16th to 17th century, but more recent research argues that the writer was of “secondary or commoner status” while Heo Gyun was undeniably of yangban class. Heo Gyun was a prominent politician, poet, novelist, scholar, writer and also radical. Writing under the pen names of Gyosan and Seongso, Heo wrote 19 other scholarly works. He was also exiled several times for his radical ideas, and ultimately was executed for charges of treason in 1618 during the rule of Prince Gwanghae, 15th king of the Joseon Dynasty. Prince Gwanghae (r. 1608-1623), a king who encouraged publications during his rule—Donguibogam and possibly Hong Gil-dong Jeon were published at this time—was deposed in a coup d’état five years after Heo Gyun’s execution. Those were political times, and despite the peace from invasions political maneuverings were tumultuous.

There are 34 known and somewhat varying manuscripts of Hong Gil-dong Jeon, but it is uncertain which is the original. In the 18th century under the rule of King Yeongjo (r. 1724-1776), peace and prosperity relaxed social standards somewhat and with the increase of literacy (a lot in part to the creation of hangeul) a market opened for novels, and therefore, it is suggested that Hong Gil-dong Jeon had a surge in popularity at this time.

The fictitious character Hong Gil-dong is the equivalent of the English folk hero Robin Hood and the Australian hero Ned Kelly. Hong Gil-dong is also the common Korean version of John Doe—used on applications of bank forms, public offices, airports, hospitals, etc. Since the appearance of the novel, the character has inspired films, TV shows, comics, story-telling sessions, video games, musicals, and even a Hong Gil-dong theme park and festival in Jangseong believed to be the birthplace of the character. Korea’s most famous folk hero has been translated into English, and his character takes on even more mythical qualities as it is adapted into more forms of media and revised through translation.

Making a book like that of Hong Gil-dong Jeon

Most important to the Hangeul Museum is that Hong Gil-dong Jeon was the first novel written in hangeul. With the theme of the book focused on the righteousness of a commoner, I rather doubt this would have been a well-received book, despite being a novel, by the average Chinese-character-literate yangban who saw themselves as superior to the commoner class. Being in hangeul, obviously the commoners were the targeted readers.

The Hangeul Museum collects many artifacts that promote or define the hangeul writing system developed during King Sejong's reign (r. 1418-1450). Books during that time and through much of the 20th century read from top to bottom, right to left, as does Hong Gil-dong Jeon. To facilitate such a reading method, books were bound on the right and opened toward the right, unlike books in English print that open to the left. Therefore, the museum designed an experiential class to make a book using the Hong Gil-dong Jeon traditional bookbinding method.

Each participant was given a kit with supplies:
  • a stack of large hanji papers
  • 2 hanji papers cut in half
  • 2 cardboard pieces with 5 hole punches
  • 2 pieces of textile 4 cm longer and 4 cm wider than the cardboard pieces
  • construction paper name tags papers with a Hong Gil-dong jeon sticker
  • 1 long piece of embroidery thread
other supplies needed:
  • glue stick
  • darning needle
  • awl for hole punching
  • clips for keeping stacked papers firmly in place
Step 1: Fold neatly in half the several pieces of hanji (except one which is set aside for printing)

Step 2: Printing a cover page. Move over to the printing area and print the reserved sheet of hanji. This sheet will be the first page of the book. If it were an actual Hong Gil-dong Jeon, then all pages would carefully be printed, folded, and compiled. In traditional Korean books there were no page numbers so care in proper ordering had to paid attention to, especially because once the book was bound with thread, it was tediously time-consuming to reorder the pages.

To print, ink an inkstone with ink paste. The assistants kept adding dabs of ink retarder to keep the paste from drying out. Use the roller (traditionally a wide brush was used) to dampen, but not excessively, the type on the woodblock, making several horizontal and vertical roles. Once well inked, place the large sheet of hanji carefully on top, aligning its edge with the edge of the woodblock. Press downward and then stroke from many directions the paper with a flat wood press. After many swipes with the press, lift a corner of the paper and gently remove. The damp ink weakens the fibrous paper so gingerly peal it back. The printed paper will dry in moments and then can be folded to add to the other folded papers.

Step 3: Aligning the pages. Take the stack of folded papers and the printed folded paper and align them neatly. Clip them together to be used soon.

Step 4: Preparing the covers. Place the textiles face downward and side by side on the table and centrally place a cardboard on each textile. With the awl, score the textile around the edge of the cardboard. Once scored, glue the cardboard to the textile, framing the cardboard within the score lines. Snip triangles off of the corner-edges so when they're flapped over the cardboard and glued down, they don't overlap. Then glue the extended edges of the textiles and firmly press them onto the inside of the cardboard pieces. Once firmly attached, take the half sheets of pre-cut papers, which are somewhat smaller than the cardboard pieces, and glue them centrally on the cardboard to hide the glued-down edges.

Step 5: Preparing the covers for sewing. Take an awl and pierce holes through the textiles, following the hole patterns in the cardboard. Take the stack of folded, neatly clipped papers and snuggle them between the textiled cardboards. Koreans traditionally read top to bottom, right to left so the sewn spine should be on the right. (I consciously put mine on the left. I'm right-handed and intend to use this book, and so a spine of the right would be utterly annoying!) Once the pages are aligned with the covers and firmly clipped, take an awl and push holes through the mass of hanji papers, following the initial holes in the covers. 

Step 6: Sew the book together. Ai-igo! Too difficult to explain. Go watch a video or take the class next time it's offered.

Step 7: Enjoy your book! Sorry, hid my name, but to emulate the Heo Gyun, I wrote my name plus added "jeon" (story). What fun!


Hong Gil Dong - 24 online episodes, complete (Jan - Mar 2008)
The Legend of Hong Gil-dong
Wikipedia: Hong Gil-dong jeon
YouTube movie on Hong Gil-dong (1:44.31)

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